Women for Election was thrilled to have Lord Mayor Sally Capp join us for our February In Conversation interview to share with us her political journey and why she wants to see more women’s voices enter public office.
Sally Capp was a former property industry chieftain, a lawyer and employee of the city’s big accounting firms, before she decided to run for the role of Lord Mayor of Melbourne. Out of 104 Lord Mayors only 3 have been women and Sally is the first woman to ever be directly elected as Melbourne Lord Mayor, after being elected in 2018 and again in 2020.
According to Sally, her interest in politics was sparked by Labor MP, Ros Kelly, who married her uncle. Ros was “very inspiring” for Sally. Minister Kelly was the first woman to give birth while in office and was the first female Labor minister in the House of Representatives.
While Sally was always “interested in politics (she was) never interested in being part of politics.” That was until her experience as the CEO for the Committee for Melbourne and as the first woman to hold the post of Agent General for Victoria in the UK, Europe and Israel.
This gave her a “real understanding of Melbourne policy issues,” and allowed her to “interact with all levels of government and really galvanise people around common goals.”
Sally reminded the audience that there are “many different ways to enter politics. . . some as staffers, some are like myself.” She noted that “it’s very important for all women to understand that there are different avenues in and it doesn’t have to be a traditional avenue working your way up.”
Sally initially became interested in the job of Lord Mayor when she felt “really triggered by . . . the sexual assault allegations which unfolded at Town Hall and its impact.” This “motivated me to get involved.” Sally talked about this as a “sliding door moment.”
Sally wanted to –
“Be a part of change and leading change,” and felt that she could “make a difference.”
Sally noted that “being an elected representative is a brilliant avenue for that,” and she has found that being Lord Mayor of Melbourne is “much more satisfying” than her other roles in the private sector.
In her toughest moments, Sally focuses on “that driving passion inside you, that sense of purpose and wanting to make a difference.” Here at Women for Election we are always emphasising the importance of knowing your purpose and relying on that when political life gets tough.
When Sally first took office, she hoped that her new position would remind her niece and other young women “that the old gender rules no longer applied like they had.” Sally explained that by taking the role of Lord Mayor she wanted other women and girls to feel “that this is normal. . . and this is what we should expect in life.”
Sally emphasised that –
“The old gender rules no longer apply like they had.”
Sally hoped that her experience could “help build momentum and confidence towards more women putting up their hand to run for public office.” Being the first women directly elected as Lord Mayor already signals this change.
She wants to –
“Help build momentum and confidence towards more women putting up their hand to run for public office.”
There are “a lot of barriers and systems we’ve got to break down, but if we don’t have women putting up their hands, we are never going to get through those barriers,” says Sally.
For Sally, her involvement in politics has provided measurable benefits to her community. ”If something matters to our community and I can play a role by knocking on a door or pushing a door open, I never hesitate to jump on the phone,” she said.
For example, after her interview with Women for Election, Sally was going to “ring the CEO of Telstra who I’ve never spoken to before . . . and talk to her about a local issue I’ve got here in Melbourne. She probably doesn’t even know about it, but it doesn’t matter. I’m the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, I represent our people and I’m going to call or see whoever it takes to make that happen.”
“Sometimes you’ve got to knock on that door over and over again and it’s scary sometimes . . . I do take deep breaths and get nervous and perspire . . . but I think that sense of really representing the interests and getting good outcomes for my community is what emboldens me to kick down doors.”
Sally always refers to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “to get her through those moments: “you’ve got to do what you believe is right in your heart because whatever you do, you’re going to get criticized. Somebody’s going to criticize you and in politics that’s par for the course. . . you’ve got to be up for that.”
When faced with aggression and gaslighting, Sally has become very conscious of the fact that “if people are in the debate or they’re writing to you, then they feel passionate about something.” That is why Sally constantly looks in her emails and on social media and “I look for the issues, even if people are being extremely nasty.”
She views such correspondence as “feedback and involvement and I don’t want to be too Pollyanna-ish here, but. . . we can get some sort of use and value out of it by understanding what the issues are.”
Sally noted that trolling behaviour is “normally coming from a place of fear”. As Sally so eloquently put it “it’s a reflection of them more than you, but it really does impact you, so having some mechanisms for that” is important.
Women for Election are grateful for Sally’s unwavering commitment to sharing her stories with our alumni and wanting to inspire other women to run for public office. As Sally declared: “I don’t want to waste an opportunity to make a positive difference.”
Watch Lord Mayor Sally Capp’s In Conversation interview with WFE’s Kali Goldstone: