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The Canberra Times | In The City Magazine | SPRING
It's a crisp winter morning and Julie McKay is walking to
her office in Civic where she will begin a day of advocating
and raising public awareness for gender equality and
development issues for developing countries.
At just 28 years old, Julie is the executive director for the head
office of UN Women Australia (formally known as UNIFEM),
which is one of 18 national committees across the globe that
focus on gender equality as a mechanism to achieve poverty
reduction and development.
On a daily basis the young director is responsible for
managing a team of seven staff and seven interns at UN Women
Australia who through advocacy, fundraising, membership
and campaigning, help raise awareness
among Australians and ensure the Australian
government recognises gender equality issues in
its nearest neighbours.
But for the Brisbane-born woman, a career in
the non-governmental sector wasn't a childhood
dream. After studying business and international
relations Julie went into banking and loved it.
However, it didn't take long for her desire to
challenge society to take her on a new path.
At the end of 2006, at just 23, Julie decided
to leave her stable banking job to move to
Canberra to work for Homelessness Australia,
a peak body that looks at homelessness and
domestic violence in Australia.
"It was one of those decisions that I made very
quickly, so literally from thinking about leaving,
to leaving, moving and starting in a different
city was about three weeks," Julie said.
"My family thought I was crazy moving from Australia's biggest
bank to a four-person operation out of Hackett, which was
challenging but worthwhile."
In an attempt to meet people in Canberra, Julie became
involved in the YWCA to be engaged with in the local community
and joined the UN Association because of her passion for
While on the board of the UN Association she met the women
running UNIFEM (the precursor to UN Women Australia) and
when they were looking for a staff member to work in Australia
she got the job and made her case for the head office to be in
Now UN Women has staff in Canberra, as well as volunteers
across the country, who are responsible for influential national
campaigns such as International Women's Day, where thousands
of events are held worldwide to inspire women and celebrate
achievements. But when Julie started, she was alone, and while
she had the support from the board and a network of people, she
admits it wasn't always easy.
"It was a lonely first year," she said.
"I used to sit in the corridor of this random company, they
were fabulous, but back then it was just me, them and a corridor.
"There were definitely moments where I would think I could
still be in banking, working in my tower building somewhere in
Sydney, but four and half years later I'm still
here, so it's a good thing."
Since her first difficult year, the organisation
has gone from strength to strength, and while
Julie is one of the youngest directors of a
successful national organisation, she is still
very humble about her achievements.
"I think I get to take credit for a lot of the
achievements which aren't actually mine; they
are team achievements," she said.
"I think this year's biggest achievement
would be International Women's Day, which
was absolutely huge in terms of achieving
awareness and what we were able to do with
that momentum was capture people about
what UN Women is all about."
Now, Julie and her team are about to launch
their spring campaign which will run through
the month of September, to help end violence
in the South Pacific; and Julie has just completed her thesis after
doing an executive MBA program at Sydney University for the
past 18 months. If the work in the past couple of months is any
indication of Julie's workload, she is one 28-year-old woman
with a lot on her plate.
"As anyone who is running a small business would know,
when it's you it's you, so often you work longer hours than you'd
normally need to, but I think if you love it, it doesn't matter," she
"Are there days when I'm tired? Yes. Are there days where I
dream of a European holiday? Yes. But we will get there."
For most 28-year-olds working for the United Nations would seem almost impossible, but
for one Canberra women, this is exactly what she does every day in a small office in the
heart of the city. BY MELANIE CLARK
thought I was
biggest bank to
operation out of
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