From “women want it all” to “the future is female”: 22 years of International Women’s Day debates




Pictured: The affirmative team at the International Women’s Day Great Debate in Brisbane in 2018


It’s one of the largest and most popular International Women’s Day celebrations in Australia. Expecting to draw in a crowd of over 2,500 people across the country this year, the International Women’s Day Great Debate, hosted by the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ), has become a renowned institution in QLD, NSW and VIC for championing women’s equality.


Pitching high-profile business leaders and personalities head-to-head in a passionate and spirited battle of wits, the annual Great Debate was once described as a “true celebration of female wit, wisdom, power and ratbaggery”.


It’s perhaps surprising that The Great Debate started with humble beginnings over two decades ago. A group of passionate Australians began the legacy with a simple debate topic, “women want it all – work and family”, eager to hear what managers and leaders had to say about it. The event was advertised in a small and unassuming listing in the March edition on Management Today, the Institute’s magazine in 1998.


Since the 90s, the event’s popularity has boomed, and the Great Debate has expanded to other capital cities on the east coast. In 21 years, the topics have evolved to reflect the zeitgeist of mainstream conversations around gender equality in the corporate world. Previous topics like “The glass ceiling is only gladwrap” and “Nice girls don’t get the corner office” perhaps reveal the age’s prejudices and misgivings toward working women at the time.


“The evolution of topics is so illustrative of how much progress we’ve made in such little time,” said Ann Messenger FIML, IML ANZ’s Chair of the Board. “I think we can all agree that topic is a bit of an antiquated debate concept and it doesn’t really have a place in 2019! But it also fills me with pride to see just how far we’ve come in more than two decades.”


“We’ve come from “women want it all – work and family” in the 90s, to “the future is female” just last year! It’s clear that in more than two decades of topics, Australia has moved steadily from debating if we’ll achieve gender equality to how we’ll accomplish it together. I am so incredibly excited to see the progress we’ll make in the next decade”, said Messenger.


Pictured: International Women’s Day Great Debate topics of the past 21 years


In 2019, IML ANZ will bring back their signature Great Debate on International Women’s Day, 8th March, with a topic that encapsulates contemporary debate within women’s rights advocacy groups: “Her aspiration needs his cooperation”.


Across the world – from the workplace to education to politics – women are still facing prejudice, intolerance and inequality in 2019. With global campaigns to empower women and girls relying on the support of men to advance the cause, it is frustrating to see the lack of progress in gender equality in our social, cultural and economic systems. The topic, questions whether women need the support of men to succeed.


The lively luncheons across the country will be hosted by some of Australia’s most prominent and bold feminist voices, including Tracey Spicer AM in Sydney, Jo Stanley in Melbourne, and Corinne Grant in Brisbane. They will be moderating the comedic debate between two teams of local business leaders and media personalities, often debating as devil’s advocates about feminism and the future.


“We are living at a tremendously exciting time in history, with women’s voices being amplified across Australia and around the world”, said Tracey Spicer, Walkley-winning journalist and the activist face of the #Metoo movement in Australia.


“True diversity and equality is good for everyone, from the workplace to broader society. I think International Women’s Day 2019 will go down as landmark event, celebrating these advances and building for the future.”


Tickets for the Institute of Managers and Leaders Great Debate 2019 are available at


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About the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand


The Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ) is a non-profit Membership organisation. IML ANZ assesses and awards Chartered Manager, the gold standard marque of management and leadership excellence. For more than 75 years, we have been supporting professionals on their leadership journey. This promotes our vision, “creating better managers and leaders for a better society”.