27 August 2012

Breakfast with Ita Buttrose (a Business Chicks event)


On my overseas trip, I vowed to take up more professional development and networking opportunities. Attend conferences, courses, public lectures and dinners where I will meet people and learn something from a speaker or the attendees. I was in London when I saw a tweet from Business Chicks advertising a breakfast event featuring media superwoman Ita Buttrose. And so I registered a membership with them and snapped up a ticket immediately. I could not miss this event.

When I arrived, I met a number of wonderful blogging and twitter friends including Valerie Khoo, Nicole Avery, Anna Spargo-Ryan, Nathalie Brown and Jasmin Tragas (click on their twitter profiles for links to their blogs). It was great to catch up. The breakfast was yummy and the gift bags were packed with enough goodies to put in my food drawer at work as well as share with my colleagues.

Like others of my generation, I was not aware of Ita's successful enormous career until I watched Paper Giants starring Asher Keddie. I wrote about Paper Giants here. Ita did mention that Paper Giants has meant a new generation are aware of her, and it has boosted her career.

Ita knew she wanted to be a journalist at 11. She commenced work at 16 as a copywriter at the Australian Women's Weekly. She was founding editor of Cleo magazine, here providing groundbreaking advice on women's sexuality (on Friday she spoke of a doctor calling her to ask her advice on whether a couple's sex life would be the same after the woman had a hyresterctomy. She had such influence.) In 1972 she was appointed as the youngest ever editor of the Women's Weekly. Ita was the first female of News Limited and 'womanised' the Daily and Sunday Telegraph newspapers. She has been the spokesperson for the Grim Reaper AIDS campaign and founder of a publishing company.

Ita shows no signs of slowing down - Wimipedia states she was born in 1942. What a woman! She believes in taking time out for ourselves to meditate and exercise. From the Women's Agenda website:

"Ita Buttrose is chairwoman of the Sydney-based digital publishing company, Reddo Media Services, and a regular social commentator on Channel Nine's Today Show. She is National President of Alzheimer's Australia, Vice President Emeritus of Arthritis Australia, patron of the Macular Degeneration Foundation of Australia, and a Trustee of the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. Her 11th book, "A Passionate Life" - the third edition of her autobiography – has just been published by Penguin."

It was truly a privilege to see Ita speak. She was intelligent, composed, and very funny! I loved that she is proud of her many many achievements and not afraid to speak of them. This is a quality I admire so much.

I tweeted a lot of the points that resonated with me. While others may think it is rude to be using a phone during a presentation, I love that tweeting is both making notes for ourselves later and sharing messages with people that couldn't attend an event.

The room was filled with 900 women and about five men. Ita said she is suspicious of the motives of the men in the room, but does see how attending the Business Chicks events are a good way to meet women!

She spoke a lot about the inequality the still surrounds women - drawing on her experiences in male dominated workplaces at the start of her career (men letting lifts shut in her face, saying that they'd have to change their jokey, sweary ways around her) to mentioning the discrimination that still happens today. The discussion of Julia Gillard's clothing and bottom on Q&A was one example she raised, and she also spoke in disgust of the treatment Gina Rinehart has received (see article here). On discrimination, Ita said "if you decide to play in the jungle, you have got to cop whatever the jungle dishes out". I think this is such a salient point for bloggers today - we choose to put our voices out there, and so we need to expect opposing views.

She also talked about how the Cleo Magazine that she created was not the Cleo Magazine of today. It covered important issues about sex, domestic violence, women's health and body image. She said that she did not run articles on diets because she knew they contributed to eating disorders. She stated "media jobs bring with them power, but also huge responsibility". She used her influence in the media to help women.

Ita spoke a little about the success of Paper Giants and how Asher Keddie mimicked her speech and mannerisms so well that at dinner, Ita jokingly asked Asher to stop mimicking her. She said she was stopped in the street recently by a driver who said "are you the real Ita or the actress?!". Hah! She said that Asher performed her lisp well, though Ita did not realise she had a lisp until microphones came in during the 1970s. She spoke of how a speech therapist once told her "how dare you open your mouth in public with a speech impediment like that?". I find this incredibly sad and discriminatory, but Ita did not let her lisp stop her.

She encouraged the room to give back to the community, speaking of the charity work she has done for World Vision amd continues to do for Alzheimer's Australia. She said she enjoyed being involved in a protest on Parliament House recently, protesting with Bob and Hazel Hawke's daughter around funding for patients.

It was intersting to hear how she balanced having children and being in the public eye. She said her children remain unaffected by her success and career, and when her son was very young he used to call out "Mum! ita Buttrose is on TV!" She remarked "I don't know who he thought I was!"

In closing she encouraged us all to do work that makes us happy. "Life's too short to do something that makes you unhappy", she said, and urged us to think about how we'd live our lives on finding out we only have six months left to live. Hilariously she quipped, "you'd move to Adelaide and become an accountant. That'd be the longest six months of your life!"

I am truly in awe of Ita. She really has achieved so much, and is generous to share what she has learnt. She is not only a role model for women in the media, but for all women with career and personal aspirstions.

At the end of the breakfast I purchased her autobiography and was fortunate enough to meet her briefly and have her sign the book. I thanked her for pioneering equality in the media, and briefly told her what I am doing with appearance activism through writing, speaking and TV work. She was so very interested in what I had to say and told me to "keep up the great work". Just look at her posture when signing my book. Look! All class.
Thank you Business Chicks for a wonderful event, and thank you Ita for inspiring and motivating me and taking that one minute to make me feel valued.

(PS - I have been sharing a lot on my blog's Facebook page, so if you are interested in seeing what I am up to between blog entries, click the Like button :)


  1. Of course as soon as you mentioned her name, I had to Google Ida Buttrose, since she doesn't have much of a presence on mainstream media in the U.S. Good for you, for following up on your commitment to network with as many people as possible. I've noticed that you seem more energized since you came back from your world tour. I always look forward to reading your insights.

    (And now, of course, I'm keeping up with Eden, Jess, Brenna and Styling You's Nikki.)

  2. Fab post, I have always been a fan of Ita, she is an inspiration to all women, thanks!

  3. Aw what a great wrap up Carly! I am a huge fan of Ita and can't wait to see her here in Perth!

  4. How brilliant to get to see Ita, she is such an inspiration, even if I don't always agree with her. I love her commitment to giving of yourself. That would have been a brilliant presentation.

  5. Hi Carly,

    Just picking up on Ita's quote about coping with "the jungle",I agree in terms of blogging. In writing publicly, you can't keep out the public.

    Given that I wasn't there though, I thought I'd clarify. Was she suggesting that women like our Prime Minister and Gina Rinehart deserve the personal and superficial criticism they get, merely for being in typically male roles?


    1. Hi Carly,

      I noticed you hadn't responded to my post - I just wanted to let you know, I wasn't trying to be nasty about Ita. It just genuinely concerns me that some people believe women should cop criticism simply because they're brave enough to break gender stereotypes.



    2. Hi Kay
      I am sorry for my lack of reply - I don't always reply to each comment relieved. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      I am not sure if Ita meant Gina and Julia need praise because they've passed the glass ceiling, but I think she meant they deserve the same respect as men get, because men aren't pointed out because of their marital stays, clothing choices or size.


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