Celebrating women in history and today

Kim McKay speaking at the Women@UTS event. Picture by Katia Sanfilippo

Kim McKay speaking at the Women@UTS event. Picture by Katia Sanfilippo

In summary: 
  • Kim McKay is the Australian Museum's first female Executive Director in its 189-year history
  • She says sexism is alive and well and remains determined to push boundaries in the fight for gender equality

Executive Director and CEO of the Australian Museum Kim McKay says men have described her as "pushy". The UTS luminary alumnus and member of the UTS Vice-Chancellor's Industry Advisory Board prefers the word "determined".

McKay was keynote speaker at a Women@UTS event celebrating International Women's Day this week. She took the opportunity to recognise the significant role of women in Australia's history while noting that sexism is still alive and well.

McKay shared her own personal experiences of sexism during her 25-year career, such as the time she was kept waiting for a meeting only to be told by the male associate, "If I knew you were so pretty I wouldn't have kept you waiting." Or the time she was recognised for having "very nice ideas, but also very nice tits". She let neither comment go.

When McKay took on the director's role in 2014 she was the first woman to hold the position in the Australian Museum's 189-year history. She recalls that when she started there were no women on the executive; today there are three. "Diversity is practical. It's common sense in the workforce, and it's essential if a company wants to succeed," she said.

McKay has initiated much of its impressive transformation; the latest being the restoration of The Long Gallery which will hold 200 national treasures and tell the story of Australia's history.

As part of the lunchtime celebration, McKay highlighted the work of Mary Lee, a 19th-century Irish-Australian suffragist. In 1994, on the centenary of the granting of the vote to women in South Australia, the Australian mint released a commemorative $5 coin featuring Mary Lee and acknowledging her as a national hero. Australia was the second country in the world to give women the right to vote after New Zealand. McKay was instrumental in ensuring Lee received this recognition.

"We need to remember these women on whose shoulders now many of us stand," said UTS Executive Director, Social Justice Verity Firth. "We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery and sense of collective purpose; without them and many other women before us, we would not be here today."

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