'It was pretty lonely': Julie Bishop on being the only woman in cabinet

Julie Bishop knows all about working in male-dominated environments.

She was a partner in a corporate law firm before making the leap to federal politics in 1998, where she has gone on to be deputy Liberal leader for a decade and Australia's first female foreign minister.

But even she was taken aback by the attitudes she faced as the only woman in Tony Abbott's first cabinet in 2013.

Former Governor General Quentin Bryce, 7:30 host Leigh Sales, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and ABC presenter Annabel Crabb at the Australian Women's Weekly event on Wednesday evening. Photo: https://twitter.com/JulieBishopMP

Former Governor General Quentin Bryce, 7:30 host Leigh Sales, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and ABC presenter Annabel Crabb at the Australian Women's Weekly event on Wednesday evening. Photo: https://twitter.com/JulieBishopMP

"It was pretty lonely," Ms Bishop told an Australian Women's Weekly event on Wednesday evening. "I would be sitting in a cabinet with [18] men and me."

Ms Bishop spoke of her frustration at suggesting ideas, only to have them ignored and then copied by other (male) members of cabinet, which included senior members of today's cabinet: Malcolm Turnbull, George Brandis, Barnaby Joyce, Scott Morrison, Greg Hunt, Mathias Cormann and Christopher Pyne.

"I would say something, come up with an idea, put forward a point of view and wait for a response. Nothing."

Ms Bishop said she would then see another colleague propose "exactly my idea, exactly my initiative".

"And the others would say, 'brilliant, what a genius idea!'"

Mr Abbott came under sustained criticism for appointing only one woman to his first cabinet. When he announced a reshuffle in 2014, he doubled the numbers by adding Sussan Ley as health minister. Today, Mr Turnbull has five female cabinet ministers - not including Ms Ley, who resigned earlier this year amid an expenses scandal.

Ms Bishop told the Women's Weekly event in Sydney that when other women joined cabinet, they made "a little deal".

"It didn't matter what the other woman said, the rest of us would say, 'oh, that is brilliant!'" she said.

Ms Bishop put her experiences down to "unconscious bias" on the part of her male colleagues. "It's almost a deafness that we still see in Australian society".

The Foreign Minister, who took up the role in 2013, also spoke about dealing with other world leaders who are not used to women in charge.

"I just try and be charming and disarming," she explained. This includes making jokes such as, "I won't bite you."

Ms Bishop talked of her enjoyment when appearing at international meetings with Australia's first female defence minister, Marise Payne.

"When the Australian team turns up, it's me and Marise and it causes a great deal of comment around the world."

Speaking on a panel moderated by Today show host, Lisa Wilkinson, Ms Bishop added that women needed to support each other in their professional lives.

"It's not for the faint-hearted, politics," she said.

"If I believed everything that was written about me, I would put the doona over my head and never get out of bed in the morning. So you've got to be very resilient. But that's where women can support each other. And say we can do this. We can be legislators, we can be policy makers. We can be leaders."

Follow us on Facebook

This story 'It was pretty lonely': Julie Bishop on being the only woman in cabinet first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.