Maree PetersenYour name and position?
Dr Maree Petersen, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, Program Lead, Masters of Social Work Studies.

What have been your key career achievements?
I am a country girl, the first in my family to have a tertiary education. My primary and secondary schooling was in the public system and I then went on to university. I was telling my students the other day I was like a 'wallaby in headlights', wide-eyed walking lost around campus. This has really set me up in life and I have enjoyed a meaningful career. I think an important career achievement is having a happy family life alongside your work.

Have you faced any barriers as a woman?
I find this difficult to answer, as barriers can be very subtle. I remember clearly as a new graduate social worker working in a team headed by a manager who could only be described as a bully. I wouldn't have been able to name it as such then, but I knew he was manipulative. However, I reached out to my colleagues who offered me support and affirmation. I was also clear in my mind about the quality of my practice at the time. I also think that assumptions are made about you as a woman. I remember my female supervisor telling me she didn't recommend me for a senior role as my children were so young. She recommended an older woman. On the whole though I have worked with some great women. My work before academia was largely in the not for profit welfare sector which is largely staffed by women. I think this makes a difference. There are some great women role models in this sector. This is about women in management or leadership roles but it is also your colleagues who are 'everyday' role models.

What areas are you particularly passionate about that you would like to see change for women in the future?
There are increasing numbers of girls and young women growing up in Australia with little opportunity. It is so so hard for girls growing up in poverty, and facing ongoing disadvantage to have a good future. They grow up with limited education, poor health in unhappy and sometimes violent neighbourhoods. We have to pay attention to the structures in Australia that can make a difference to girls' lives. There is an increasing disparity between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in Australia.

Can you suggest how young women, at any stage of their career or study, can overcome barriers and progress towards gender parity?
I think my previous point about addressing disadvantage is vital if we are to have gender parity. Otherwise women will continue to work in low paid, low status work or not be able to secure work at all. I agree it is an issue that women get paid less than men for doing the same work but I think it is very important to think about the pathways into poorly paid work that many women experience. We won't have gender parity unless we address this.

Anything else you’d like to add?
International Women's Day is both a day of celebration of the achievements of women - political, social and economic, it is also a commitment to giving a voice to and addressing change for women. It applies to women across the world, so it is important to be mindful of the economic, social and political reality of women in other countries. The history of women seeking pay equity in factories and the right to vote over a hundred years ago is important to remember - we are part of a long history. There was a promotion out years ago, 'girls can do anything'. I remember my daughter when she was at primary school having it as a sticker on her pencil case. I sincerely believe this. There is one extra thought to add, you may not have everything at the one time but you can have everything.

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