Star Observer sat down with Mardi Gras co-chair and Sydney Pride Interim CEO, Kate Wicket.
Kate Wickett remembers standing outside The Colombian several days before a Mardi Gras parade on her very first visit to Sydney. She was in her early 20s and Oxford Street was in its heyday.
“For the first time in my life I realised what it was to have community and a sense of place,” she recalls. “Completely overwhelmed…started tearing up…the sheer awe. So I promised myself that day, as I was standing there on a Wednesday afternoon, that I would do everything in my ability to make sure that no one felt as lonely or as isolated as I did growing up.”
Wickett grew up in Adelaide and came out at age 16, in a town that had little to offer a young lesbian. The external response to her sexuality was mixed. At home, it was positive.
“I had very supportive parents. Very, I suppose, traditional parents but not conservative.”
Elsewhere, it was different.
“I was bullied throughout high school, even before I came out, and then after I came out.”
That experience influenced her own internal response to her sexuality, galvanising her inherent deep sense of justice and belief that everyone should be treated equally.
Manifesting that belief in the most literal way possible, Wickett attained a law degree. She worked initially in a commercial firm, then diversified into strategic projects, big infrastructure projects or services projects, procurement and similar.
“What I really enjoyed about that was the diversity of work and the diversity of people I got to work with. My motivation in my life has always been to be surrounded by a diverse range of people with, most importantly, cognitive diversity.”
Cognitive diversity is the bringing together of people with various problem solving techniques, thinking styles, levels of imagination. Wickett once worked with an engineering firm where she interacted with environmental scientists, graphic designers, transport planners, architects. She loves to surround herself with people who can share unique skills, think inventively, and collaborate generously.
“Running large, multi-disciplinary teams is what I’m interested in; harnessing the energy and diversity of thought and empowering people to go away and think creatively.”
Wickett was included in the Deloitte Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders in 2016. She attributes much of her success to special people who have coached and supported her.
“I’ve just been so lucky in my career to have such wonderful mentors, and interestingly, most of my mentors have been middle-aged white men.”
It’s a curiosity she reflects on often. Of course, she has also had key women mentors, and she herself has been a mentor. Mentorship is something she considers invaluable, in particular, for young lesbians.
Despite her mostly positive experience, Wickett says it’s still a battle ground for women in the corporate world.
“I don’t think I have ever been discriminated against in the workplace for my sexuality, but I have absolutely experienced discrimination because I’m a woman.”
She feels that attributes are interpreted differently in women than in men: aggressive vs assertive and so on. There also tends to be a focus on individual achievement in the corporate world, whereas Wickett is a strong proponent of “a culture of team”.
“The best results and the most interesting, rewarding work comes from multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted, diverse groups of people.”
She also believes in constantly challenging your own limitations.
“You achieve the most rewarding things outside of your comfort zone.”
Parallel to her corporate career, Wickett has an impressive portfolio of volunteer work. She began in her teens, volunteering with the Northern Territory AIDS Council. When she moved to Melbourne she was a volunteer on the Midsumma board for three and a half years, and when she transferred to Sydney she joined the Mardi Gras board.
She has been co-chair of Mardi Gras since 2017 and, consequent to the success in securing World Pride 2023, has been appointed interim CEO of Sydney World Pride.
The new role will fuse all her corporate skills with her community passion.
“Stakeholder engagement, complex negotiation, contracts, complex strategy, is all culminating in my volunteer world. [The two worlds have converged] and I’m just thrilled!”
As interim CEO, Wickett’s primary job will be to set up the structure and secure funding.
“We’re effectively a start-up,” she explains, “but with the deep knowledge and experience from everyone at mardi gras, from staff to volunteers.”
Although Sydney World Pride and Mardi Gras will run a joint festival in 2023, the two organisations are distinct entities.
The branding for the 2023 festival will be predominantly Sydney World Pride but it will use the Mardi Gras template – with bonus features and a wider footprint.
“What we really want to showcase […] is that richness and diversity of who we are and what we have in Australia but also in the Asia Pacific,” explains Wickett.
It’s the first time World Pride will be held in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s a great opportunity to bring focus to the assets and also the issues in the region.
“This is about more than Sydney. This is about rural and remote NSW, but also Australia, and our neighbours in the Asia Pacific, where there are some of the most heinous crimes against the LGBTI community,” says Wickett.
A cornerstone of the festival will be a three day LGBTQI Human Rights and Health Conference which will cover a raft of topics, feature special guest presenters from around the Asia-Pacific region, and look at violence, discrimination, and persecution with the communities.
There’ll be a lot of regional representation, including First Nations people.
“I think the First Nations component is extremely important; First Nations content curated by First Nations people, for First Nations people.
“We’ve got our marquee events that are already Mardi Gras events, but we’ll also have a number of new events that haven’t been in Mardi Gras before. And really, an opportunity – as Mardi Gras does already – is to promote emerging queer artists,” says Wickett.
“This is going to be really well planned and thought out, and there is a coherent theme and coherent consistent messages that go through the entire festival.”
For details about Sydney World Pride visit www.mardigras.org.au/worldpride