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Women of Influence alumni: Fran Wilde

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Shopprice New Zealand

Nominations for this year’s Women of Influence awards close Friday, August 14 at midnight. Presented by Westpac and Fairfax Media, the awards acknowledge and celebrate women who are helping to shape the future of the country. We profile some of the awards’ alumni.

Fran Wilde is former chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council, a former Wellington mayor and Wellington Labour MP. She was the local and regional winner in 2013.

Usually it is the issue, so my life has been a series of issues that needed resolving. It’s been a very unplanned career, in that I have always seized the opportunity to make a difference. I was a journalist, and I was elected to parliament in 1981. In my [most recent] role the issues run from public transport to environmental enhancement, so there are quite a number of gnarly regional issues.

Sometimes it takes forever, for example we finally got Transmission Gully through and it’s just starting to be built now, I’ve been working on that since I was in parliament for 30 years. Then you have things like the gay law reform, which I spearheaded the law change on but other people had done the groundwork on for years and years before me.

These days I am a gardener. I had three young children and I was an MP and a mayor, now the kids have left home and we have a big garden in the Wairarapa which is really my stress relief.

What’s your career highlight so far?

I really loved being in parliament and a minister because we had our hands on the levers. I really enjoyed being the CEO of Trade NZ, we had a great team working there with exporters who were keen on getting into the market. I loved being mayor of Wellington, my home town, which allowed me to do a lot for it. Westpac Stadium is the thing people remember, but we also resolved the issue of the sewerage plant – or figuring out where to put our s**t – which was pretty important.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your life?

The current issue is always my biggest challenge. I’ve had, as have many women have in their 60s, health scares, I’ve had cancer twice, this and that, but you just had to move through that. I always say you’ve got to have inner strength, which I put down to my family upbringing which gave me a lot of ability to have faith in myself and others.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

So much that I’d write a book. Probably don’t plan a career because it won’t happen that way. I didn’t plan mine, there were just opportunities I saw and took.

What does being a woman of influence mean to you?

I’m more aware of being a role model now because I used to be the youngest around, but now I’m one of the oldest and I don’t know where those middle years went. Women still do not have equal opportunities, and it is beholden on all of us who have succeeded to open the doors to women who are coming in. I have to say young women nowadays are amazing.

What are the biggest roadblocks facing women in the workplace?

The perception that we’re not as good as men, and probably we don’t promote ourselves as much as men do. The old mythology that women will leave and have babies, therefore we’ll hire men.

Have you ever encountered discrimination and how have you dealt with it?

Oh god, yeah. You’ve just got to box on, I know that sounds ghastly, it depends on the circumstances but sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and otherwise you’ve just got to get on and prove you’re as good as anyone else.

How do you balance home and work life?

I don’t really. I pretty much work a lot and I’ve got no kids at home now. My husband and I met when I was mayor of Wellington so we are both incredibly busy – we will always compare diaries on Sunday and see if there’s going to be a night we’re both home.

Which of your attributes are you most proud of?

My ability to see the big picture and be strategic.

Which of your attributes could you live without?

I’ve got a loud voice and a terrible laugh and I’ll often jump to a conclusion too quickly.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Pinot noir. Well no, I’m proud of that actually, especially if it’s grown in the Wairarapa.

If you could change a single thing about the world, what would it be?

As a country there is no excuse for us to have child poverty, and that should be a priority for us. I’d have every child in New Zealand growing up with the kind of opportunities I had, that would be brilliant.

What’s your karaoke song of choice?

That’s a hard one. I used to be a singer, I used to sing opera years ago when I was young, I was a student violin player. I could have been a musician, but it was that or journalism and journalism won out.

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