2020-01-08 HR Examiner article dr chris andrews women in federal politics an insider perspective photo img cc0 by Photo by Linda Xu via unsplash linda xu rj9tNXqCO7Q full 544x360px.jpg

“In thinking about future careers none of my daughters want to be an HR Director. The things we do just aren’t that attractive.” – Dr. Chris Andews

In thinking about future careers none of my daughters want to be an HR Director. The things we do just aren’t that attractive: twenty job applicants but only one ends up happy; change management that creates angst and uncomfortable disruption; thankless performance management processes, the torture of terminating staff, being starved of resources and shut out of planning processes only to be told you’re not ‘strategic’ enough. I could go on…

So, let’s consider their mother: mechanical engineer, senior manager, consultant, mediator and then federal politician. Having seen her climb the political ladder over ten years – would they want to go into politics?

For background, my wife is a federal member of the Australian parliament and is currently in Cabinet (ie top 23 in the nation). The girls have seen her go from a voluntary local political official to the pointy end of the political totem pole. While they have met some special people and gone to some special places, they have also been around a nasty, combative, intrusive, vitriolic and back-stabbing political game. Politics makes HR look like a good career choice.

I thought it might be interesting to ask various women, those closest to the politician and including family, friends and supporters, for their observations. I reasoned they had firsthand knowledge and could therefore provide an insider perspective.

Some of the interesting observations or recollections were:

  • Why be a gender warrior, there are so many better things to do…
  • As a woman in federal politics – it’s akin to running a marathon on one leg…there are too many barriers
  • It sucks to be mistaken for the partner of another federal politician…
  • It’s inflexible when you have children
  • Too much compromise, expediency too often trumps principled positions
  • Having to compromise local campaign decisions to suit distant egos is frustrating
  • Being advised by federal police not to drive a signed-up vehicle for security reasons

The collective verdict – women in federal politics – don’t bother.

Politics is male dominated, thankless, poorly perceived by the public, a personal and family security risk, a potential relationship breaker, a seven day hardly home fly-in-fly-out culture that is relatively poorly paid for the endless hours and the high level of responsibility. Your family can’t work for you but loyalty to the Minister is still a primary job requirement (family business is a much better option in that regard). Your own travel and family travel will be reported and criticized at length even if you stick to the rules. You will be prevented from engaging in a range of investment options (can’t have a perception of conflict of interest) and even the assets you owned before going into politics will become a source of media scrutiny.

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Dr. Chris Andrews | Contributor, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

The media seemingly exist only for the ‘gotcha’ moments and it doesn’t have to be true to be reported. There will be interest in what you wear and how you style your hair. Shoes are a particular focus. Of 10 photos taken the media will choose the least flattering and make it the lead.

You will be expected to know about everything and have a perfect response ready on an emerging topic you know nothing about. You need to be unfailingly positive and never, ever exasperated. Always make sure you’re camera ready.

You will be required to fundraise or contribute to your own campaign 100%, but there will be rules that prevent you from taking money from various interest groups. Even if the local rules provide for the government to give you a monetary return for actual votes received, it will be snaffled by Head Office and you won’t see a cent. Those same people will also spend the money you fundraised in ways they decide are in your best interests. HQ campaign directors have never seen a dollar raised by someone else they couldn’t spend.

There will be online abuse on every form of social media – when they can’t get to you on an issue it will move to be a personal attack, it always does.

Don’t expect any favors from other men or women in politics, this is a win/win scenario. They want to win today and come back and win again tomorrow. Sometimes your opponents are not on the other side of the house. Men will want to label you as ‘difficult’ while they are chasing compliments for being forthright, a potential leader.

Mixing big political egos with alcohol, and being away from home, can lead to poor conduct choices. So, when you don’t drink and then leave events early in the evening, you’re clearly not a team player.

When it’s all over and you are out of politics it will be hard to go back to the same career you once had – as soon as you retire or are defeated you will be quickly forgotten, and the doors of opportunity will abruptly close.

I watch with mild amusement those trendy programs designed to funnel more women into federal politics. None that I’ve seen are realistic about what you are getting yourself and your family into. The views of parliamentary partners, and other close female associates are just not fashionable.

If you do decide to go into federal politics – go in with your eyes wide open. As a career choice HR is looking better all the time.

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