She is perhaps one of the most recognisable faces in the country. An author, journalist and television presenter who has anchored programs for ABC TV, Network Ten, Channel 9 and Sky News over the past 30 years, Tracey Spicer AM has seen and experienced many monumental moments in modern Australia. Recently, she lends her time, efforts and public profile in the pursuit of social change, and particularly to equality.
In 2020, Spicer will once again host IML ANZ’s International Women’s Day Great Debate in Sydney.
We caught up with her to get her views on leadership, gender equality and bringing everyone into conversations that result in change.
You’re someone who has observed and reported on the Australian society for many years. Why do you think better leaders create a better society?
I think that if you want to change society you have to start within the community and even within the household. Everyone can be a leader. Often when I speak to an audience about leadership, I ask them to close their eyes and visualise a strong and powerful leader. And then I ask if anyone saw themselves and very few people put their hands up. But everyone has the opportunity even if they’re not Julia Gillard or Shane Fitzsimmons or Michelle Obama. Even if you don’t have that kind of global influence or clout, you can have a ripple effect on people around you.
As a mother of two do you see parenting as a key leadership role?
I learned so much about the power of influence through parenting because you have to use a combination of carrot and stick. Particularly when my children become teenagers – they’re 13 and 15 now. They don’t just naturally believe everything my husband and I say! So as parents we have to really work on how we’re going to get them to think more deeply about issues rather than just be influenced by perhaps the people around them.
Being one of the most recognisable faces in Australia, what are your thoughts around the power of celebrity and its impact on others?
When I think about celebrity influence, I think of Magda Szubanski. She was such a powerful force in the marriage equality debate. Her storytelling, empathy and courage against a huge backlash really helped get the marriage equality issue across the line. I’m really inspired by women like that because I think if you’re given the gift of a public profile and if you don’t use it to try to create some change, it’s a terrible, terrible waste.
In your opinion what should people look out for in the public figures they choose to follow?
Vulnerability. Every human being is flawed. But if people are trying to do good things and being vulnerable about their own opinions, where they stand and where their failures are, then that draws people to them. So, I would say, follow celebrities who are honest and vulnerable, those who will inspire good ideas and good deeds in you.
Who inspires you?
My career started in the early Cro-Magnon era, I like to say! So, interestingly a lot of the people who have inspired me have come to the fore in recent years. I adore Caroline Jones AO. She’s one of the patrons of Women in Media and I like to describe her as an iron fist in a velvet glove. She’s got an absolute will of steel.
I also love the young activists who are poets, authors and speakers because they make me think in a different way. At the moment, I really enjoy reading Maxine Beneba Clark. She wrote a book called The Hate Race, which was about growing up as a woman of colour in Australia. She also edited Growing Up African in Australia. I’ve read both of those books and her perspective on intersectional feminism and the extra challenges that a woman of colour faces is written so eloquently, fiercely and passionately. I do believe that we need to listen to our writers, our poets and our thinkers for the way ahead. It’s conversations and storytelling that changes hearts and minds because it speaks to our empathy as well as our intellect.
Are you optimistic about the future of leadership?
One aspect of Australian leadership that I’ve been admiring, particularly in recent years, is the rise of a lot of indigenous women leaders. I’ve had a lot to do with Antoinette Braybrook from Djirra in Victoria, and she’s a fantastic change maker. So we’re seeing a lot of Indigenous women rising to prominence, speaking about their connection to country, issues within their communities, and what we can learn from them.
It is brilliant living at a time when you hear big corporate leaders talking about social issues because unfortunately, we can’t always rely on government to fix these things. The corporate sector has so much power if it can use that influence for good – that is absolutely priceless. And that’s why the next book I’m going to write is going to be about the tech sector and artificial intelligence because we’re making a lot of change now. But we must be careful since some of the biases currently in society and business are being embedded into the machine learning.
Why do you think it’s important to continue having conversations around gender equality?
A lot of people still say, ‘What’s the point of International Women’s Day?’. I’d say to those people that it’s a reminder that there are still battles to be won. We have to keep breaking [barriers] down. We are in a time in history where fortunately we are talking more… but we need to bring everyone along on this conversation.
Don’t miss being a part of one of the most important conversations of our time. Join Tracey Spicer in Sydney on March 6th for IML ANZ’s International Women’s Day Great Debate. The official Flagship Event of IWD brings together six leaders in three cities for a fun and thought-provoking debate on whether ‘The world won’t listen unless women shout’. Book your tickets now!