Successful Australian entrepreneur Therese Rein says she has about “18 plans” for her international employment services business Ingeus, and has urged women to keep agitating for increased opportunities for women here and abroad.
Questioned by SmartCompany about her plans to rebuild the Australian arm of her business – it was sold in 2007 and subsequently reregistered last year – Rein said: “Because I have a crazy brain, there are about 18 other things we’re going to do.”
“We have identified a whole range of organisations and population groups we believe we can help,” said Rein, the wife of former prime minister Kevin Rudd.
But Rein, the founder and managing director of Ingeus, was tight-lipped on the details. She told a laughing crowd that “you have to do the drum roll and the slow unveil.”
In a wide-ranging speech to celebrate International Women’s Day this week, Rein called on the 200-strong audience to improve conditions for women worldwide.
Rein started with an expression her mother told her as a child: “Of those to whom much is given, much will be expected.”
“And I didn’t really understand what she meant,” she said.
“And then she would tell me stories about the women in our family,” detailing the difficult but improving conditions her forebears faced, culminating in Rein’s mother being sent to boarding school, becoming the first in her family to go university, and combining her work as a healthcare professional with motherhood.
“All their stories made my life the new norm for women, actually, because their stories – and the stories of all the women who’ve preceded all of us here in this room – have made life possible for us here today.”
Rein said women in Australia have come far, but that’s not to say “what happens here doesn’t need disrupting”.
“We know, for example, that the representation of women in senior executive positions within the ASX top 200 companies is low. It has not exceeded 13% in the past decade.”
“That ain’t right. That can’t be right.”
“Sixty-two percent of the ASX 200 companies do not have any female executives. It’s bizarre.”
“And 80% of women in a recent survey done in Bain and Co believe that they don’t have equal opportunities for promotion to senior management.”
“And 50% of the blokes in those organisations agree with them.”
She says progress had been made across the world, with women accounting for almost one-third of CEO positions in Thailand, holding 34% of China’s senior management positions, and large corporations in Japan and India doing all they could to promote female talent.
Rein said it fell on today’s women, who have benefited from the courage of their forebears and enjoy opportunities denied to women overseas, to improve equity.
“We can and we should expect much of ourselves and each other,” she said.
“We can still do some disrupting, some challenging of the status quo.”
Rein also paid tribute to her husband, Kevin Rudd, who last week lost a bid to regain the Labor leadership.
“Kevin certainly has always supported me and encouraged me and believed in me – not the picture you always get,” Rein said.
She also paid tribute to the women she met during her time at the Lodge, including late artist Margaret Olley and Dr Catherine Hamblin, who treats women suffering obstetric fistula in Ethiopia.
Rein started out as a rehab counsellor and founded Ingeus in the late 1980s. She sold the Australian arm of her business when Rudd won the 2007 federal election, but registered Ingeus Australia last year.
Ingeus operates in 10 countries across Asia and Europe.
In October, it acquired Assure Programs in Australia and New Zealand, a business psychology company.