This year, we saluted Wendy McCarthy AO, a woman of kindness and strength and a feminist who has helped the careers and lives of so many strangers and many dear friends. She is a bright star in the Sydney community. A woman who believes in life-long learning and is not afraid to take risks.
In a career spanning five decades and most continents, Wendy McCarthy AO has remained committed to the belief that education for women and children is the best investment any nation can make. Teacher, educator, writer, social advocate, business woman and executive, she is also mother of three, grandmother of five and a friend, mentor and role model to many.
Wendy finished school at Tamworth High at 16 and enrolled at the University of New England, Armidale on a Teaching Scholarship. She graduated BA, Dip Ed in 1961, the first of her family to go to University. She is forever grateful that the state invested in her education.
Teaching first at Cremorne Girls High, Wendy thought she would be a classroom teacher forever. For over a decade she taught in girls’ schools in Sydney, London and Pittsburgh.
Her first experience as an activist came about in 1968 when, newly pregnant, she joined the Childbirth Education Association to campaign for birthing choices and the rights of fathers to be present at the birth.
With the birth of her first child, she confronted systemic barriers for women in the teaching profession – no maternity leave, promotion based on seniority, no childcare and very little part-time work. She left teaching for activism and change and became a street marching feminist and a community educator.
In 1972 she established the NSW branch of the Women’s Electoral Lobby, before taking on the role of community educator with the newly funded Family Planning Association of NSW.
She quickly learned that education happened in places other than the classroom.
Throughout her career she has enjoyed combining executive and non-executive roles, in the public, private and community sectors. She has held many significant leadership roles including eight years as Deputy Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ten years as Chancellor of the University of Canberra, and 12 years of service to Plan Australia as Chair, with three years as Global Deputy Chair for Plan International. In June 2016 she completed eight years as chair of headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.
Wendy is chair of Circus Oz, deputy-chair of Goodstart Early Learning and a non-executive director of IMF Bentham.
Wendy founded Australia’s first professional mentoring practice in 1998. McCarthy Mentoring is now owned and operated by her daughter Sophie McCarthy. Wendy’s mentoring of Australian political, cultural and business leaders over the past two decades has ripples that only she and her mentees would know.
She is the author of 7 books including her memoir Don’t Fence Me In.
It’s no surprise that Wendy was a driving force behind the founding of a community foundation for Sydney and of Sydney Women’s Fund alongside Lucinda Brogden.
View the gorgeous events photos taken by Yann Le Berre Photography on the Sydney Women's Fund Facebook page.