Australian Museum Director & CEO Kim McKay AO speaks at the opening of the Unsettled exhibition in May 2021
Australian Museum Director & CEO Kim McKay AO speaks at the opening of the Unsettled exhibition in May 2021. Image: Anna Kucera
© Australian Museum

I am proud to lead an organisation that is working to build a sustainable future and break the bias, two themes for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD).

Throughout the Australian Museum, we celebrate women who are making extraordinary contributions to their community. From leading climate change projects to advocating for First Nations voices to championing ground-breaking scientific research, women are at the forefront across our organisation. This is quite a change from when I joined the AM eight years ago, when there were no women on the executive leadership team.

As a civic space for Sydney, the AM hosts events which not only speak to our fantastic science and cultural collections and blockbuster exhibitions, but also relevant happenings in our communities. Just last week, we had the pleasure of hosting a book launch for businesswoman, activist and former university Chancellor Wendy McCarthy AO for her new book Don’t Be Too Polite Girls, which really speaks to Australia’s current momentum-driven opportunity to go for systemic transformation through institutional change. Collectively, we are all encouraging each other to #BreakTheBias.

Words – promoted awareness, essentially – are a great start for those new to these conversations. I am all about good communication.

Yet, like the best undiscovered scientific discoveries, say on an archaeological dig, it’s in the facilitated, patient everyday actions of digging uncomfortably into the earth – into our collective and individual human bias, if you will, that yields the real sustainable results.

Discomfort, just like on a dig – the gritty issue of where and how to even start, is tough enough. Sometimes maintaining a new path in this space is equally tough for some – because then it’s not just a fad or a trend or the right thing to do, or to right a ‘wrong’.

Australian Museum Director & CEO Kim McKay AO and the Australian Museum Board of Trustees, December 2021.
Australian Museum Director & CEO Kim McKay AO and the Australian Museum Board of Trustees, December 2021. Seven of the 11 Trustees are female. Pictured here (L-R): Professor Kathy Belov AO, Sara Watts, Dr Rod Kefford AM, FACE, Shauna Jarrett, President of the Trustees David Armstrong, Jennifer Bott AO, Brian Hartzer, Kim McKay AO, Steven Gregg. Image: Ben Williams
© Australian Museum

From a personal perspective, while I have always felt I have supported diversity, equality and inclusion, have mentored scores of women in formal and informal programmes, professionally and personally, as a lifelong learner I also know this is something we all need to dig into and keep learning about. So, we keep finding new ways to be mentored, inside and outside the AM.

It’s hard work. It’s supposed to be. It’s been stuck for a good while. That our national conversation on women’s equality has arrived fifty years late is not the issue. It’s that bias still exists at all.

And what does ‘bias’ really mean when you get into a discussion about it at work? It means unearthing ways to have the very difficult conversations we don’t want to have, the courage to be vulnerable about our biases – because we all have them, all of us, whether we know of them or not; that’s called being human. Being in the difficult, awkward, tricky - is where change begins and takes hold.

The end goal for me, as a CEO and Director, is for there to be no more dominant thinking or cliques that prevail across an institution. On that, of course I’m pleased to see that at the AM this year women make up 65% of our executive leadership team and 64% of the Australian Museum board of Trustees. And while percentages are indeed important, what is as powerful is visible role modelling across all departments – that is the connective tissue for those coming through. We all need to be able to see where we want to go.

Like a rather backbreaking, difficult archaeological dig unearthing muddy accumulative layers to get to the ‘good stuff’, remember that discomfort yields exciting discoveries and community rewards.

Let’s get to the good stuff.

Together we can forge all women's equality. And all equality.