Kim McKay and Laura McBride
Australian Museum Director and CEO, Kim McKay and Director, First Nations, Laura McBride. Image: Anna Kučera
© Australian Museum

Today is a significant day for the Australian Museum. On this International Women’s Day, the AM has announced the first Indigenous appointment to the AM’s executive leadership team, as we welcome Laura McBride as Director, First Nations. Laura, a Wailwan and Kooma woman, has been at the forefront of the AM’s mission to be a strong advocate for First Nations’ cultures. Her ongoing commitment to challenge traditional societal and institutional structures makes the celebration of Laura’s appointment so relevant on this year’s International Women’s Day, with the theme of “Choose to Challenge.”

I think the late, great, Ruth Bader Ginsberg said it best when she said: "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made." I could not agree more. I have been “choosing to challenge” inequality over the course of my career and aim to propel others forward to achieve their potential.

When I joined the AM seven years ago, there were no women on the executive leadership team, and it has been one of my priorities as Director & CEO to change this (I am the first female Director & CEO of the AM in its 194-year history). Laura’s new appointment takes female representation on the executive leadership team to 63 percent. Women also make up 60 percent of our employees, including 57 percent female representation on our management team. Equality means 50/50 representation of men and women – we still have work to do in this space, as women make up 80 percent of our entry level roles at the AM.

We also have a majority of women on the AM Trust and two former female AM presidents in Sam Mostyn AO and Catherine Livingstone AO. Current Trustees include Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt AO, Professor Kathy Belov AO, Jennifer Bott AO, Maile Carnegie, Shauna Jarrett, Josephine Sukkar AM and Sara Watts.

There’s significant evidence of the importance of women holding leadership roles – not only do female leaders reduce the gender pay gap, but they also improve performance. A balance of women and men in the workplace also ensures that we are representing our stakeholders effectively. As a strong supporter of women in leadership, I try to actively promote women within the AM, and also across the Museum sector where I have championed a nation-wide mentoring program through the Council of Australasian Museum Directors. During the four years of the mentoring initiative some 70+ women graduated from the program.

Laura is a great example of someone who has developed in her career throughout her 11 years at the AM. Serving in a variety of roles, Laura has demonstrated her skill, commitment and passion and has played a pivotal role in assisting the executive leadership team in planning and actioning the objective for the AM to move beyond its colonial past towards a more connected future with First Nations stakeholders and knowledge-holders.

Laura has built a team of committed First Nations staff at the AM – many of them women – and has championed First Nations storytelling through developing the Garrigarrang: Sea Country gallery, the award-winning GADI exhibition, and most recently through the curation of the Unsettled exhibition, opening at the Museum in early May.

While Laura’s appointment and the gender equity we see at the AM are reason to celebrate, I want to do more to ensure women are effectively represented at all levels across the AM, including in science.

Former Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI) Dr Rebecca Johnson AO served at the AM for 16 years and was the first woman to be appointed to the position of Director of AMRI. In early 2020, Rebecca took up the prestigious role of Chief Scientist and Associate Director of Science of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

The entire AM community is proud of Dr Johnson’s outstanding success and her contribution to the international museum sector will ensure she continues to collaborate with the AM well into the future. I’ll be working with our new AMRI Director and Chief Scientist Professor Kris Helgen to ensure that women in science continue to be celebrated and elevated within their roles at the AM. There are so many great female scientists here at the AM including Dr Anne Hoggett, Dr Amy Way, Dr Jacqueline Nguyen, Dr Isabel Hyman, Dr Mandy Reid, Dr Elena Kupriyanova, Dr Helen Smith, Dr Leah Tsang, Dr Sandy Ingleby, Amanda Hay, Dr Greta Frankham and Dr Jodi Rowley and many more, including our women technical and digital officers, senior fellows, volunteers, students and honorary associates.

Museums are fantastic places to work and because of this, people rarely leave until they retire. The NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet has initiated a program to transfer roles to allow people to grow within the cultural sector. We look forward to collaborating with them on this initiative to ensure the women and men of the AM continue to receive the recognition and professional development opportunities they deserve.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, please join me in congratulating Laura McBride on her appointment. I look forward to working with her and all my colleagues as we “Choose to Challenge" today and every day.