Meet the lawyer who’s dedicated her life to social justice and gender equality

9 October 2018
'Reframe the way they think'
Adele Langton has always known that her life’s happiness would stem from having true purpose and an impactful footprint on the world.
Adele Langton

After a brief stint in corporate law following university, Langton didn’t take long to pursue a path that held more meaning. She went on to work in Parliament House for the Federal Attorney General and Minister for Justice where she was involved in a handful of notable reforms including amendments to the Family Law Act and Sex Discrimination Act to better support women—a policy area she was particularly passionate about as a result of her upbringing.

“I remember being genuinely shocked by the differences in how girls and boys were treated as early as kindergarten, when my older sister had to lead a student movement to let the girls do the same schoolyard chores as the boys” she says. Her parents and teachers encouraged her to recognise sexism, step forward and call out discrimination wherever possible.

“I was surrounded by strong females and constantly encouraged to be outspoken when I saw women being treated differently to men,” she says simply.

Following her time in Australian politics, Langton moved to Washington D.C where she joined a range of women’s community, not-for-profit groups and lobbied for issues including domestic violence policy, women’s safety, homelessness and leadership. It was during this time though, that she became increasingly aware that something was missing from her perspective: a corporate outlook.

“I realised I didn’t have the tools to be able to take my understanding about gender that I’d gained from public sector and non-profit work to the next level,” she tells me.

This motivated Langton to apply for an MBA scholarship set up by the University of Sydney in line with UN Women NC Australia which has an active focus on enhancing women’s rights and opportunities. Langton became one of just two recipients to be awarded the $60,000 prize in 2017 which she describes as a career “game-changer”.

As well as increasing her understanding of core business principles, Langton says the MBA opened her up to “learning about entire industries and jobs” she didn’t know existed.

“I’m getting insights into really interesting options for pursuing my interest in women’s leadership and diversity professionally, and I’m getting amazing guidance in to how to be an effective, authentic, and ethical leader.”

“It’s very apparent that the program cares about producing all-rounders who are thoughtful about the world they’re living in, rather than just accounting and marketing experts,” she says.

When asked why women’s leadership is particularly important in today’s society, Langton is emphatic.

“I don’t need to list all the research about the benefits of having diversity in workplaces and the reams of evidence specifically connecting women in leadership with better business outcomes” she says.

She stresses that Australia still has far to go to shift gears and truly afford women the same opportunities as men.

“It’s so disappointing that many of the statistics about gender gaps in Australia that I can recall from high school have barely shifted in all this time,” she says.

“While there has been great progress in some areas, it’s also concerning that this may generate a perception that we don’t need to fight as hard or that the gaps are just going to eventually disappear on their own.

There are still so many things that need to be tackled – violence against women, women in male dominated industries, women on boards, women in sport – we need people working on advocacy, support, and policies to move the needle,” she explains.

On a personal level, Langton recogises the profound impact female leaders have had on her own career trajectory.

“I can identify a real silver lining of some of my worst professional experiences, which has been building up a network of amazing female leaders that I can turn to for support and advice,” she tells me.

“I have experienced some incredibly overt sexist moments in my career, and some less overt but equally crushing instances of being overlooked or ignored on the basis of being a young woman. I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve had access to strong women in my network – including through the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship – who I’ve increasingly come to lean on and learn techniques for tackling situations like this.”

Langton says she seeks to offer this same support to women who may look to her as a role model. “I want to always make sure to support and guide younger women as so many people have done for me,” she says.

As for the best advice she’s ever received? Langton encourages everyone to reframe the way they think about common challenges.

“Early on in my career, I was telling an old boss that I was dreading a big presentation I had to deliver. He gave me great advice that I think about a lot. He told me that if I wanted to have life that was interesting and extra-ordinary, I couldn’t dread things that were intimidating or challenging but rather, look forward to conquering them,” she says.

“It’s really changed my perspective on tackling challenging tasks, and helped me to lean in to amazing opportunities that I think I may otherwise have avoided or been afraid to pursue.

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