When women avoid poverty in retirement it’s thanks to the work of feminist giants like Catherine Wood AM.
Ms Wood has been a strong advocate for workplace equality for more than 20 years in a career that spans trade unions, super boards and charity organisations – too many to name.
It was her work in these fields – both paid and unpaid – that earned her a Queen’s Birthday honour (Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia) yesterday, Monday 8 June, for services to super, women and trades.
Ever the activist, Ms Wood said while she “very much appreciates” the nomination, she would like to acknowledge the award within the context that fewer women receive these awards than men.
Ms Wood was born and raised in a Catholic family in Box Hill, Melbourne.
Her mum worked in the family home to raise her and her four siblings and her dad was a tax inspector.
She said it was this family setting that instilled in her a strong belief in the rights of ordinary working Australians, particularly female workers.
“You could say it was in my blood,” she said.
Her career began in the Victorian trade union movement in the 1980s where she worked on the negotiation of compulsory superannuation – something younger women have come to take for granted.
But she said when she got involved in super, it was a “joke”.
“Women lost their super when they left the workforce, which they almost always did to care for their family, sometimes they weren’t even allowed back to work,” she said.
This policy negotiation led her to a life in Canberra and directly to super funds and boards.
Ms Wood said being part of the evolution of super in the 1980s and 1990s was “very fulfilling”.
“It had elements of all the social equality issues I cared about and it was a new area that required lots of learning and provided lots of stimulation.”
It was a time of change for women and she enjoyed a strong comradery with other females in the field.
“I worked with loads of women in super who were all great feminists and we became activists together,” she said.
Ms Wood was the inaugural chair the Canberra Mother’s Day Classic in 1998.
The event was supported by Women in Super – an organisation of which Ms Wood is the chair.
She said they started the event to raise money for breast cancer research, which at the time was unfunded and a major health issue.
Along with creating massive structural change for women, Ms Wood has also raised five children of her own.
She said it’s her contributions to shining a light on the problems within the superannuation system that she’s most proud of.
“It’s now commonly known that women retire with less money than men and receive less tax concessions than men,” she said.
“The awareness has grown, but there are still problems.
“We still have a long way to go.”