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‘Even if not everybody agrees’: Australia Day corporate winners call for date debate

Leading female board director and legal eagle Nicola Wakefield Evans was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her diversity advocacy in the areas of business and law.

On top of her work chairing the Australian chapter of the 30% Club, which campaigns for company boards and CEOs to have at least 30 per cent female representation, Evans sits on the board of several companies including ASX-listed Lendlease and Macquarie Group, and before that spent 29 years at law firm King & Wood Mallesons.

Lendlease and Macquarie director Nicola Wakefield Evans.Credit:Janie Barrett

The business leader is eager to see greater diversity of all kinds across all institutions, and would like to see more done to encourage Indigenous Australians in corporate Australia. She doesn’t see the polarising nature of January 26 as helpful to this end.

“I do think we celebrate the wrong date,” she said. “The more relevant date is the date of federation because that’s when we really became a country, [and] is much more important to modern Australia.”

The increasing presence of strong women leaders in boardrooms has emerged as a clear theme for corporate sector medal recipients this year.

Medical research advocate and ASX board director Jane Hemstritch has been named an Officer of the Order of Australia while former ABC deputy chair Dr Kirstin Ferguson has received the Member of the Order of Australia medal.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medial Research president Jane Hemstritch.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medial Research president Jane Hemstritch.

Hemstritch, who has also served on the boards of Lendlease, CBA, Santos and Telstra as well as the National Library of Australia, the Victorian Opera, and the Global Foundation, paid homage to her former mentors and hopes her achievements will pave the way for others.

“I spent a long time in my career being the first woman and it’s wonderful to have, in a way, blazed a path for other women to follow,” she said.

Along with her impressive business career, Hemstritch is also the president of Australia’s oldest medical research institute, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. She has sponsored and raised significant funds for the institute particularly regarding pancreatic cancer, from which her husband passed away in 2010, and has also pushed for greater gender diversity in the medical sector.

Leadership expert Ferguson received the Australia Day Honour for her years of work in promoting gender equality in leadership.

Kirstin Ferguson, leadership expert.

Kirstin Ferguson, leadership expert.Credit:Attila Csaszar

She pointed to outgoing New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella as contemporary leaders unafraid to lead a nation the same way they conducted themselves at home.

“This is what my call for leaders in Australia is: to not be afraid to share who you are and integrate leadership skills you have at home in abundance, like humility, self-awareness, courage, and empathy, and bring that into workplace because people are looking for that,” she said.

Corporate law reform champion and Emeritus Professor Ian Ramsay.

Corporate law reform champion and Emeritus Professor Ian Ramsay.

Emeritus Professor Ian Ramsay, a former ASIC reviewer and external adviser, has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his work in shaping Australian corporate law and regulatory reform across 35 years.

During his time advising the corporate watchdog, he was involved in reviews, taskforces and reports across two decades, one which led to the establishment of independent dispute resolution body AFCA, and has also worked as a consultant and committee adviser to federal and state governments, the Australian Law Reform Commission and ASEAN.

“We have seen many tangible improvements [since then]. But there is considerable scope for improvement,” he said. “We still see too many instances of consumer harm.”

His appointment as Officer of the Order of Australia also recognises his contribution to the tertiary sector: he has been involved with the University of Melbourne, University of NSW and University of Hong Kong at varying points since 1989.

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