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Why Kirstin Ferguson started the #CelebratingWomen project to take on the trolls

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Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an Australian Broadcasting Corporation director and the founder of Orbitas Group, an international consultancy that specialises in safety governance and leadership for boards and senior executives.

I was at the Australian Defence Force Academy during the early 1990s. That period of ADFA’s history has come under much scrutiny, particularly for the poor treatment of female cadets.

Fortunately, I was able to succeed in that environment despite the many challenges. I think it was probably due to adapting to the culture early on, learning how to work as a team and above all, understanding and embracing resilience.

The military teaches you leadership skills and qualities that are invaluable, particularly when leadership is thrust upon you at a very young age.

I started my career in the military, then found myself in professional services before running a global business of psychologists. Every culture was different. I now sit on a range of different boards.

The denigration of all women, particularly online, is something I am really passionate about. It is simply not OK. I have seen women in the media denigrated online with comments that if said in a face-to-face meeting would result in that person losing their job or the police being called.

Certainly, if I heard them say it in my presence, I would not stand by and allow it to continue without speaking up.

So just because we are in an online environment, I don’t think it should mean we are any more tolerant of those words and actions.

I suspect all of us at some point in time find ourselves in situations where things are said, actions taken or decisions made that challenge our own morals or ethics.

The response has been incredible

My advice is to do what you can to influence and positively change the culture around you but if it isn’t possible, you need to move into an environment which is aligned with your own approach and where you can add value and drive change.

I started the #CelebratingWomen project at the start of the year to see more celebration, and less denigration, of women online. I made a public commitment to share the profiles of two women, from all over the world, every single day in 2017.

The response has been incredible, with female role models now being made visible from all walks of life. We have had high-profile women including government ministers, authors and leading businesswomen involved but the project is primarily aimed at those women who would not otherwise be visible. I believe every woman is a role model in their own way and the more diverse female role models we can recognise and celebrate, the more we can inspire one another.

I am not naïve enough to think projects like #CelebratingWomen are going to fix the issue but the goal is to make enough noise focusing on women in a positive way that it drowns out, even in a small way, the denigration that exists.

Kirstin Ferguson spoke to Joanne Gray.

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