Likening her career to a ‘patchwork quilt’, Jamila’s ability to bring a sense of humanity to politics, feminism, and disability through everything she does is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
During our visit we had the chance to talk to Jamila about her incredible work with FW (previously Future Women), pinch me moments throughout her career and advice she’d give to parents doing the work-life juggle.
This is our favourite interview to date, so get a cuppa and enjoy the brilliant and generous mind (and home) of Jamila!
Tell us a little bit about your home - who lives here with you and what do you love about the space most?
It wasn’t until the rolling Melbourne lockdowns that I really appreciated where we live. The Yarra River runs past the end of our street, amongst a seemingly endless stretch of bushland. During a difficult two years, that space gave my family and I a sense of freedom, despite the restrictions. I grew up in Canberra, which I suspect unconsciously attracted me to the wide streets, 1970s architecture, gum trees and bird calls.
I love our home. My husband Jeremy son Rafi and I have lived there for about five years, with Sonny (the dog) joining us in 2021. It’s where Rafi lost his first tooth and learned to ride without training wheels. It’s where Jeremy and I became ‘proper’ grown-ups, finally being permitted to host the extended family Christmas. It’s where I recovered from brain surgery and radiation treatment, surrounded by friends so dear, they made it bearable.
Design and decoration are not my strong points - my sister got the artistic genes in our family. Our house is bright and airy, full of books and a random assortment of colour aesthetics I’ve fallen in and out of love with. My husband brings a steadier vibe, with his love of Scandinavian design and a more consistent colour palate of gumleaf green, cream, medium oak and touches of steel blue.
You have an amazing list of achievements behind you and we’re BIG fans of your ability to bring a sense of humanity (and often a solid side of humour) to politics, feminism, and disability. What did 15-year-old you see for her future and what have been some of the big milestones in your career journey to date?
I suspect that fifteen-year-old me would have been surprised but pleased, to learn how her life turned out. At school, my best subjects were drama and economics. This tended to baffle teachers, who did joke on several occasions that a career in politics would allow me to combine the two. I was – and remain – an enthusiast. I believe in running at life full throttle, having a go at everything, and giving it my all.
My career is like a patchwork quilt; the pieces don’t appear to fit together but when you stand back and look at the whole, somehow it works. I started out in politics, working in the Rudd and Gillard Governments before applying to become editor at Mamamia, after seeing a tweet from Lisa Wilkinson. After my son was born, I began writing books and hosting podcasts, with a little consulting on the side.
I am now deputy managing director at FW (previously Future Women), where I work alongside founder Helen McCabe, to drive gender equity and inclusion strategies for Australian employers. We’re working on more projects at any one time than I could count on my fingers and toes combined but I am especially proud of the FW Jobs Academy. That’s a government funded program helps unemployed women and gender diverse people, to return to work and secure their economic futures.
Your work with Future Women is a standout. Please tell us a bit about this incredible organisation and what you do there?
With pleasure. You’ll note that I already sneaked a little bit of this into the previous answer. I joined FW, when you could fit the whole team in a standard five-seat car. Five years on, we’re a diverse team of more than forty, spread across five states plus New Zealand. I am abundant proud of what we’ve created and the change each team member is part of.
At its heart, FW delivers professional development, advice, content, and events, to build more equal Australian workplaces. We work with hundreds of Australian employers to train their next generation of women and gender diverse leaders, as well as supporting their executive teams to overcome gender bias. We advise employers on how to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at work, including to eliminate sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
FW also hosts events and creates articles, newsletters, video, podcast, and social content for our tens of thousands of members and subscribers. We’ve built a community of people who are genuinely committed to gender equity and as invested in one another’s professional success, as they are their own. I am consistently humbled by the generosity and achievements of our members, particularly those in the Jobs Academy, who overcome enormous challenges to return to work or training.
In various roles, you’ve had the opportunity to not just work with but advise or interview an unbelievable roll call of influential Australians. Can you tell us what the biggest “pinch me” moment was and who is still on the bucket list to work with?
Last year, I interviewed Roxane Gay for the Wheeler Centre, during her visit to Australia. I admire her enormously, for both her writing and advocacy. Being on stage is part of my job, so as a rule, I’ve moved past the point of getting really nervous. But Roxane’s brain is approximately the size of a planet, so I was terrified of not being able to keep up with her. I also knew there was an audience waiting for her of mega fans, just like me, who I didn’t want to disappoint.
My voice wobbled through the introduction but after the first question, Roxane put me completely at ease. And yes, I recognise that it was my job to put her at ease, not the other way around. She was exactly as warm, clever, and funny as you’d imagine. It took everything I had not to ask her to be my best friend when it was over. Honestly, top of my bucket list is probably interviewing her a second time but I’d also love to sit down with Serena Williams, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michelle Yeoh, Taylor Swift, Naomi Osaka, Shonda Rhimes, Margaret Attwood, Julie Andrews, Janelle Monae, and Mia Mottley. A girl can dream, eh?
In addition to being a best-selling author, podcast presenter, and gender equality advocate, you’re also a full-time mum (what can’t you do?!) to your son, Rafi. What advice would you give to other parents doing the juggle?
Parenting was not meant to be done alone. I do not say that in a paternalistic ‘make sure you choose the right person to have children with’ way. Not at all. What I mean is that gendered expectations make mothers feel like they must pull everything off perfectly, all the time, and without help. We are subject to cruel social pressure that, as Annabel Crabb says, means we’re expected to work like we don’t have kids and parent like we don’t have a job. The truth is, none of us are capable of that, and nor should we be aspiring to be so.
The help I am talking about comes in all forms: friends, family, government support, community support, and paid support. My advice to parents is to ask for the support you need, knowing that it is nothing to be ashamed of. We were never supposed to live alone in these little white picket fenced prisons. Humans have always needed to share the load of raising children, cooking meals, and keeping ourselves safe. Doing ‘it all’ is a rubbish myth that only serves to hold women back.
You have worked with a tonne of amazing organisations that are a great source for us all to listen and learn about current issues, and we loved checking out what’s on your bookshelf and bedside reading. What are your go-to sources to stay informed about the issues that matter?
My daily domestic news roundup includes The Age, The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, and the ABC. I particularly keep an eye out for political analysis from Rick Morton, Laura Tingle, Nick McKenzie, Phil Coorey, Peter Hartcher, Amy Remekis, Samantha Maiden, and Katharine Murphy. There will be clever people I have forgotten, so I am already embarrassed.
For culture and entertainment, I am a Shameless devotee along with half the nation, and listen religiously to The Drop, The Imperfects, Emsolation and pod newcomers Cool Story with Bri and Bridie. Globally, my go-tos are The Daily podcast from the New York Times, Slate’s Political Gabfest and of course, Vanity Fair and The Cut. I’d go on but imagine you’ll run out of internet to print this.
Summer is just around the corner! What do the next couple of months look like for you and the fam?
I am an unashamed workaholic, which means work is never far from my mind. October and November will be dominated by scaling up FW Jobs Academy for our new year intake and conversations with the government about expanding our programs. In December. I’m taking some time away from FW to finish a book that co-author Rosie Waterland and I have been working on since roughly the dawn of the 18th century. I’ve got a couple of new podcast projects in the works as well before the year is up.
Summer also means time at the beach and time with family. We usually shift residences to my husband’s family’s place on the Victorian coast during January. Life slows down as much as we’re able to let it, with the gaps between meals and walks and swims shortening. I will be honest that I am nervous about the drastic climate events we’re already seeing in Spring and what they’ll mean for our country over summer. But for now, I am dreaming only of yellow sand, blue sea and tumbling white crested waves.