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"A Man is Not a Financial Plan," and Other Words of Wisdom from Julie Reilly

January 1 | 4 minute read

Memo Mpower Julie Reilly Interview Hero 16x9

Words by Julie Reilly OAM

Originally published on | March 6

In our MECCA M-POWERED interview series, fearless women from around the globe share their incredible stories – from overcoming adversity to following their passions and inspiring a future generation of female changemakers.

To mark International Women’s Day, Julie Reilly OAM – CEO of leading non-profit Australians Investing in Women – is guest editing for The MECCA Memo in partnership with MECCA M-POWER, sharing insight into why she’s so committed to supporting gender equality and how she thinks we can build a better future.

Content warning: the following contains traumatic themes that may be confronting for some readers.

Our family lived the powerful reality that investing in women – and particularly in their education – is key to escaping poverty
Julie Reilly

As the youngest of four girls in an all-female household, I had some early life lessons on the cost of gender inequality. My mother left a violent marriage in an era when domestic violence wasn’t discussed – there were no women’s refuges, nor supporting parent’s benefits. And, when superannuation was first introduced [prior to the compulsory Superannuation Guarantee in the early 1990s], women were denied access. It shaped my understanding that a man was most definitely not a financial plan!

On the positive side, our family lived the powerful reality that investing in women – and particularly in their education – is key to escaping poverty. Mum was a grateful beneficiary of the Whitlam Government’s free tertiary education system, which led to a long and impressive teaching career that ensured our family an income.

It was always clear to me that the rules were different for girls – we were schooled to be mindful of our physical safety and, while Mum encouraged broader thinking on the career front, everywhere we looked, those in power were almost exclusively men – including in the Catholic Church, which loomed large in our childhood.

All of this, and much more, has fuelled my passion to see a world where being female is not a limitation in life. Having two daughters of my own, and wanting them to see them realise their full potential, has further strengthened that resolve.

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AIIW works with philanthropic, corporate and community leaders to advocate for investment in women and girls.

A vital mission

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and the foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. Yet, despite years of work striving for equality, women’s inequality persists in Australian communities, and around the world.

The Status of Women Report Card 2024 published by the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, shows Australia is ranked 26th for gender equality internationally by the World Economic Forum (WEF). It notes that while we have the fourth highest level of tertiary-educated women, our ranking for women’s workforce participation is still low, at 38th. The WEF estimates we are still at least 131 years (approximately five generations) away from global gender equality.
The WEF estimates we are still at least 131 years (approximately five generations) away from global gender equality.
Julie Reilly

I find these statistics alarming. Not only are they unfair, but they are, quite frankly, a sign of waste – wasted talent and wasted opportunity for a large percentage (50.2%) of Australia’s population. By raising awareness of the systemic barriers that persist for women in all spheres of life, from workplaces to parliaments to personal relationships, we can help drive positive societal change.

So much of gender inequality is grounded in gender norms that have developed over centuries, and they simply do not serve women in modern economies and contemporary life. There is growing evidence that gender norms have negative impacts for men too, and particularly for those whose nature and ambitions lie outside the gender binary.

To empower the next generation of women, it is crucial to foster an environment where aspirations are not restricted by preconceived notions of gender roles. Many young people are not cognisant of gender inequality until they reach adulthood and learn that they are operating in inherited systems designed – by and large – by men.

Looking to the future

In forging a gender-equal future, the significance of women holding visible positions of influence cannot be overstated. In 2023 I was buoyed by regular news headlines celebrating the cultural and economic power of Taylor Swift, the Matildas and the iconic Barbie movie.

In political arenas, and through the work of visionary philanthropic leaders and programs such as Pathways to Politics for Women and Women for Election Australia, we are seeing more women in leadership contribute to the crafting of more inclusive policies and legislation.

Julie with presenter and philanthropist Melissa Doyle AM.

So much of gender inequality is grounded in gender norms that have developed over centuries, and they simply do not serve women in modern economies and contemporary life.
Julie Reilly

Issues that have historically been sidelined or underrepresented such as healthcare, education and social welfare gain more prominence when women have a seat at the table.

I believe that a gender-equal future is a necessity for building societies that will address the needs of all of its citizens and can unleash their full potential.

And, while changing systems and inherited biases is frustratingly slow, I’m proud of the role that Australians Investing In Women (AIIW) has played in growing awareness of the benefits of gender-wise giving and gender-lens investment in philanthropy and the social sector.

Championing the evidence-based rationale for sustainable change drives my commitment to shake up philanthropy, so that giving with a gender-lens is universally adopted by individuals – and private and corporate foundations – no matter what the cause.

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Julie in conversation with Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO at the 2023 MECCA x NGV International Women’s Day event.

Succeeding together

We know that sustainable societal change is a collective effort; it requires collaboration between individuals, communities and institutions to create a world where the contributions of women are celebrated and valued. I’m delighted that AIIW is part of the MECCA M-POWERed Collective and will benefit from the passion and commitment of this amazing group of leaders in building a gender-equal world.

I’m also inspired by the next generation of young Australian women, like Yasmin Poole, Grace Tame and Chanel Contos, whose courage in calling for change empowers other young women to stand up, speak up, and demand a better deal. There is definitely cause for optimism but absolutely no room for complacency.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress’. I invite you all to consider how you can help speed up progress to gender equality by asking, ‘How will this investment (of time, money, policy, etcetera) impact women?’

It is something I am happy to note is in MECCA’s DNA – and it's one of the best ways to build a better world for us all.


MECCA M-POWER is joining forces with MECCA COSMETICA to celebrate International Women’s Day with the release of the Limited Edition M-POWER To Save Face SPF50+ Brightening Sun Serum. It’s in-store and online now, with 100% of proceeds going to support M-POWER’s mission of equality for women and girls. Purchase with purpose and help future generations be their best!


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