Justine Munro, a management
consultant with experience in the corporate, non-profit, indigenous
and education sectors in New Zealand and Australia, recently gave a
speech at the 125th Jubilee Dinner of her school, Wellington Girls'
College. She shared the speech with us and we asked for permission
to reprint it. Justine's reflections on the old career
advice of "Girls Can Do Anything" make for fascinating
I've been given the honour, at this 125th Jubilee Dinner, of
speaking tonight about my journey - as a Wellington Girls College
student who was lucky enough to obtain a Rhodes Scholarship and
carve out a fairly interesting career since then. I'll do that, but
I also want to place it in a context, of a woman born in the 1970's
and coming of age in a time where "girls could do anything". Here
tonight, we're lucky to have women from many generations, and I
hope that these reflections can be of interest, and possibly
relevance, to many of you, despite the very different courses that
our lives may have taken.
But before I start, I just want to say how proud I've always
been to have gone to Wellington Girls'. Wherever I've gone in the
world, I've always loved people asking me where I went to school. I
reply with great pride - "Wellington Girls' College".
I believe in public education; I believe in big, busy,
multi-cultural schools; and I believe in all-girls' education as an
Wellington Girls' gave me a wonderful launching pad, I had a
blast here, and it makes me very proud to be linked in to the
Girls can do anything
I'm going to start my reflections by showing you a poster which
to me was the backdrop for my whole time at Wellington Girls'. Here
Some of you might remember this: it was produced apparently by
the Vocational Guidance Council of the Department of Labour which
did a terrific job at getting it into every classroom, every
corridor, every office in the country. We said that phrase all the
time, 'Just remember: "Girls can do anything!"' - and I even
remember it as a debating topic - poor you if you had to argue the
Anyway, here it is, with little cartoon figures of smiling girls
dressed up like Bob the Builder, doing all the things that, in the
olden days, people used to think only men could do - being
builders, plumbers, surveyors, scaling the ladder to success. How
crazy we thought they'd been back then, and how great it was to be
a girl growing up now!
So - girls can do anything - that was our mantra, and off we
went. The world was our oyster, as my darling grandfather used to
say, and it really never crossed my mind that anything could stop
me. I think at that point I was going to be NZ's first women prime
minister - damn!, that one got away - but you get the gist.
So from school I went on with a wonderful cohort of Wellington
Girls' students to do a law degree at Victoria, and from there was
awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. That scholarship
was best known at the time for having been given to David Kirk. It
rewards not only academic achievement but also sporting and
cultural achievement and community service. I'd been hugely
encouraged and supported in all of those areas - as a debater, a
fencer and Head Girl - in my time at Wellington Girls' and that had
given me a wonderful start.
Getting the Rhodes and going to Oxford was a defining point in
my life. It was a tremendous honour, it let me build some wonderful
friendships and networks, it opened doors, and it reinforced a very
strong sense of duty, to give back and to repay amply the
investment and trust that had been made in me.
From Oxford, I was wooed by an international strategic
management consulting firm, McKinsey and Company, and went to
Sydney where I got together with my husband, Matt Crockett, a West
Australian Rhodes Scholar who was also new at McKinsey. From there,
I went back to the law as a specialist indigenous lawyer, flying in
small planes around remotest Australia and sitting out at night
under a big wide starry desert sky. It was awesome.
Children & recognition
And then, we decided to have children. Whilst I knew that there
would be some changes involved - and I did have some visions of
myself floating around making biscuits and having morning teas - I
never expected that it would fundamentally change the trajectory
I'd been on.
And I found myself, about two years into it, with an eighteen
month year old and a new baby, totally exhausted, yet bored to
tears, asking in frustration, "Why did you all tell us that "girls
can do anything" when we so patently can't? How am I going to be
the mother I want to be to these children, and achieve my potential
in my career, let alone be a balanced and giving wife, friend and
daughter? How can I change the world when I'm about to drop dead
with tiredness and the baby needs a nappy change?"
And in the thick of it, I actually remember telling my good
friend, Tanya Thomson, who'd also been at school with me, that I
was seriously contemplating heading right on back down to
Wellington Girls' to confront those teachers, tell them that they
were raising false expectations, and demand to set the girls
Well I didn't quite get that far and I've calmed down quite a
bit over the intervening five years. I've had a chance to reflect
on that message as I'd taken it on, and what I think now is a more
useful way of approaching life.
I recognised that I'd interpreted "girls can do anything" as
meaning, first of all, "girls can do anything that a man does". You
see those little women running up and down those ladders: they're
not redefining the game, they're just dressing up in the same
clothes the men wear, they're playing the same game the men are
And the other interpretation of "girls can do anything" actually
meant "girls can do everything". Not only would I now do all the
things I'd seen my mother doing, I'd do all the things I'd seen my
father doing too. And because you've always got to do everything
better than your parents, I'd do it all even better.
And the other part - "girls can do anything" actually meant
"girls should do everything". We owed it to ourselves, our mothers,
our daughters, to our peers and everyone who'd ever believed and
invested in us to do it all. Sure we all joked about superwoman,
but really, that's who we had to be.
Well, it's pretty obvious that this was heading for a
road-smash. And I definitely did go through a few phases here:
embracing full-time motherhood, which, it is good to know, is
really not for me; taking on part-time work that bored to me to
tears; and being really angry at the generation before - where are
my role models? Why aren't the women who've gone before and smashed
these glass ceilings reaching back to help us? What has really
Ultimately, what I have discovered, however, is that there is a
whole group of women who are, often quite quietly, modelling a new
way. Their focus is not so much on the "doing", or even on the
ability to do. What matters is the outcome. The line then is not
"girls can do anything", or, as I took it, "girls should do
everything", but that "girls and women - and men - can create a
life they want to live".
Hard won insight
Some of the aspects of this were:
- If you can't win at the game as it's currently defined, create
your own one. Sure, try very hard to make your workplace flexible
and appreciative of difference, but be prepared also to create your
own business, your own non-profit, your own networks, and make them
work for you and for people like you. You'll be responding to
challenges and opportunities the old games cannot, and pretty soon,
they'll be coming to you.
- Get rid of this idea of the divide between "work" and "home" -
the person I have to be and the person I want to be; the things I
have to do and the things I want to do. You can work in a way that
reflects your values and your priorities. The whole thing is your
life and it has to feel good.
- We need each other - we can't dream big and do big by
ourselves; we can't step on others as we clamber our way to the
top; we need to partner, to collaborate, to support; to reach out -
forward to those who have gone before and back to young people
- And on a really personal level, we all need time out, time for
ourselves, time to turn our minds off. You can't be a good mother
or a good friend or an inspiring leader if you're an exhausted
And the responsibility for creating this life - well, it's up to
us. There is no sense in which my generation are victims, and the
opportunities are here for us to take. Those mothers of ours and
their mothers and their mothers who fought for the right to vote,
to equal pay, to reproductive freedom - they helped create them.
And it is up to our generation to be bold, to be brave, to be
resilient, and to be true to all the parts of ourselves, to take
those opportunities and craft them into a life we want to live.
So what does this life look like? Here are just a few women I
know who inspire me:
First, my friend Maria Clarke, a lawyer who recently set up NZ's
first sports law firm - Maria Clarke Lawyers - and has just been
appointed to the legal commission of the International Association
of Athletics Federations. Her national body clients include the
Academy of Sport, Bike NZ, tennis and surf lifesaving and she
represents elite athletes including the Evers-Swindell twins and
Valerie Vili. She's wowed them all with a creative and responsive
approach to legal services they'd never find at the big law firms.
But part of the reason for striking out on her own is that Maria
also has two gorgeous boys and a wonderful husband that she wants
to spend time with, and so she does it all on three days a week.
And Andy, her husband, he works four days a week as a teacher so
that he gets his share of time with the family.
Another friend - Jacky Toepfer. Jacky's background was in
travel, but when she was at home with her kids she started taking
regular sanity breaks at the local pool. She started to really get
into her swimming, met a whole group of new people and ended up
representing NZ at the World Triathlon championships, coming 14th
in her age group. And what Jacky had learnt around health and
fitness, she started to teach others - myself included - developing
fitness and nutrition regimes for busy mothers and school students,
as well as elite athletes. She's put that all together in her
just-launched business, Dynamic Health.
And myself, well, I've started my own consulting practice in the
social services/ non-profit space, and I'm working on a number of
projects with some great people and organisations including the New
Zealand Institute; a new community investment firm, Investing for
Good; and the Springboard Trust, an education non-profit on which
I'm a director. I work three days a week, but the thing I still
look forward to the most is my Wednesday morning mother help at
I could go on, but you get the picture - that here are women
whose focus is not on doing anything and everything, keeping up
with the boys and more. Here are women whose focus is on building,
step by step and together with their families, a life they want to
And of course, rising to this big challenge requires skills and
capabilities and support. Here, I want to bring the thread right
back to Wellington Girls', because I feel that this school gave me
so many of the skills and experiences I draw on today as I craft a
life I want to live.
In closing, I feel very privileged to be a Wellington Girls' old
girl, and I feel privileged to be part of the generation I am.
We've got a lot to contribute and - watch this space.
Justine Munro, Director, MAIA Consulting
Justine Munro is a management
consultant with experience in the corporate, non-profit, indigenous
and education sectors in New Zealand and Australia. Justine has led
a number of projects in these sectors with clients including the
New Zealand Institute, the University of Auckland, and a McKinsey
& Company/ Knowledge Wave Trust initiative. She worked
previously as a consultant with McKinsey & Company and a lawyer
specializing in indigenous issues. A New Zealand Rhodes Scholar,
Justine has an M Litt degree in Law from Oxford University and a
LLB (Hons) degree from Victoria University of Wellington. She is a
trustee of the Springboard Trust.
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