White Ribbon Australia CEO Announces Retirement
10 January 2018 at 5:15 pm
Libby Davies, the CEO of Australia’s only national, male-led organisation to stop violence against women, has announced she will be retiring after nearly a decade leading the organisation.
Davies, who has led White Ribbon Australia for the past seven years, will be retiring effective of early July 2018.
She told Pro Bono News she had been on an “incredible journey” with White Ribbon but the time was right for her to move on and “let someone else pick up the reins”.
“So over the last seven years I have given a lot of time and effort and commitment to White Ribbon, and whilst when I do retire I will still be involved in some ways, I feel that as I look back the organisation is healthy, strong, the movement continues to grow and it is time for me to think about other things that I want to do with my life, particularly with my family.
“Both my children live outside of Australia, one is on a three year posting in Bangkok and the other lives in Phoenix, Arizona, so having the flexibility and time to be with them is very important for myself and for my husband, and there are other things that I want to do. And I think you come to a point where you realise that the only way you are going to do all of these other things is if you step out of something that is so absorbing.”
Davies, who has previously held CEO positions in national organisations such as Family Services Australia, UnitingCare Australia and Brain Injury Australia, said leading White Ribbon had been “wonderful” but was “a very big job”.
“The sector itself, and the field and those people who have experienced violence or even those who have been the perpetrators of violence, you feel what they have experienced, what they go through, as much as you can, your empathy is certainly there and so it is a very difficult area,” she said.
“It is probably the most difficult area of social policy that I have worked in because of what is involved, but also because there is a reluctance by some who have been engaged in this work to accept the engagement of men in the prevention of violence against women, that it is a men’s issue too, and men need to stand alongside women to be driving the change that is needed.
“There are some feminists who believe that men should not be involved or who don’t take the time to understand the extent of the nature of the involvement.
“So it is a movement that is gathering change, gathering focus and so on, but it can also be a movement that comes under scrutiny as there is a tension between the social policy, the social activism and the theory that sits behind the engagement of men, because what we don’t want to perpetuate is this sense of male power and privilege through the engagement of men in the prevention of violence against women.”
Davies said the movement was about engaging, educating and enabling men to stand alongside women to bring about the changes needed in all areas of community that impact on men’s violence against women, men’s disrespect against women, men’s harassment of women and discrimination against women.
“The role of men is to understand how those very privileged behaviours and attitudes have become embedded in our community and how they manifest themselves not only at the pointy end of violence against women but in the discriminatory end and the harassment end,” she said.
“And we’ve see that come out now more and more in various ways in our community; how that sense of male privilege and power has resulted in harassment of women.
“And so what men need to do is to understand that it is the language that they might use, the behaviours they engage in, the laws that are made and how they are from a male perspective, so understanding and unpacking all of that and standing alongside feminists.
“If we’re going to really drive gender equality and see real change, and that’s where White Ribbon is so critical, it is about working with men and educating them and giving them the tools to stand alongside women to be the change.”
She said the conversation had “changed amazingly” in the past seven years.
“The whole conversation around feminism, and men’s understanding about what the feminist movement is about has changed,” Davies said.
“There has been a huge advance in acknowledgement in the way in which discrimination, harassment, violence against women, and disrespect of women and inequality manifest itself.
“And I think social change movements like White Ribbon, have been a huge driver in men understanding what happens, why it happens and how they can be part of the change. By taking leadership, I don’t mean taking control, or taking the power away from women feminists but men are understanding how they need to be speaking out, how they need to be part of transforming the very elements and constructs of our community that drive this disrespect and that’s what we see in our work.”
She said the workplace accreditation program, which gives workplaces the tools to create a culture of respect, was a good example of the change that had taken place.
“If you had said to me seven years ago, workplaces would be actively engaged in this social change movement, I would have said ‘yes that is what we aspire to but I’m not sure we’re going to get there’,” she said.
“What I have seen is this huge transition of workplaces and schools for example as focus areas where White Ribbon has really fuelled their commitment to being part of this change.”
Davies said they were now evidencing and measuring this change.
“White Ribbon as an organisation, and in my time over seven years, has matured and our longitudinal studies have captured in our programs evidence of positive change. And we’re talking intergenerational change here, so for me it is just wonderful that I can step out of the organisation at a point where we absolutely have in place our social impact measurement framework to ensure that we are recording the impact of the work that we do in this space,” she said.
White Ribbon Australia chair Nicholas Cowdery AM QC said Davies’ expertise in “leadership, strategy, advocacy, lobbying and management” had established White Ribbon Australia as the leading authoritative body in Australia for engaging men to make women’s safety a men’s issue.
“As CEO of White Ribbon Australia, Ms Davies has been responsible for nurturing and growing this critical social change movement to the outstanding position it occupies today, creating a pivotal platform in prevention that engages men to stand beside women to drive the change needed to prevent men’s violence against women,” Cowdery said.
“Her stewardship has been supported by her thorough working knowledge of the intersectionality of the causes of violence against women and drivers of gender inequality, and of the DFV policy field.
“Ms Davies has made a tremendous contribution to developing and improving the management of the organisation, embedding program logic across all the programs and ensuring measurement of outcomes. White Ribbon Australia is now fully accountable for its performance.”
The White Ribbon Australia board will be undertaking a public search for its new CEO through an Australian-based recruitment agency.
Davies said her advice to the incoming CEO would be to “come in with a very open mind about the work and the environment”.
“Understand that it is a very dynamic, challenging and sometimes contested area of work and when dealing with a population level problem, that requires generational attitudinal behavioural change, this sometime requires an approach that really does push the boundaries of theory, ideology and activism, and so our values are really critical, and we need to be very courageous, and our integrity needs to be without a doubt,” she said.
“I guess my advice is this is an inspiring, innovative, social change movement and it is a privilege to be part of it. So come in with an open mind, ready to really become engaged in the way in which it manifests itself in many different ways, not just within community services and social welfare and that arm, or for-purpose sector, but it is also very much part of our broader community, it has interfaces with so many different levels, including corporate Australia.
“And so you have to be very dynamic in yourself and very much part of what I would call a transformational leader.”
Davies said she would miss working with her wonderful team, and the amazing energy that was part of the work but she was looking forward to doing other things, including joining her husband in their “sea change” business.
“I do love to write and I’ve been dabbling in writing a bit of children’s stories, and I’m going to join my husband in our business in Mollymook,” she said.
“We have established a very successful bed and breakfast, and so he had a sea change from corporate law, running a bed and breakfast and it is only small but it a high end one and we have just been astounded at its success. We’ve only ever run it on weekends, he does all the work at the moment and manages it all, so I’m looking forward to joining him in that.
“But I will always stay involved in some way with White Ribbon most definitely.”