It was just another day on the job for Larissa Waters that happened to end in internationally breaking news: The senator was the first member of Australian parliament to breastfeed (an act that occurs 8 to 12 times a day by the millions of new mothers around the world) while in session--and it became viral.
Waters took to Twitter to react to the media's response, saying, “we need family-friendly and flexible workplaces for all so this isn't news anymore." Waters, who takes is also co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, is working to equalize rights across the board for all new parents, both in Australia and beyond.
Larissa Waters. Photo courtesy of ABC
As effective as Waters' breastfeeding image was at generating social buzz, it is also a reminder of the type of trending news that falls by the wayside just as quickly as it peaks--making it more difficult for these practices to stay relevant, in order to be implemented.
As is showcased in the cases of past headliners, Spain's Carolina Bescansa and Italy's Licia Ronzulli, who brought their newborn's to parliament, and Iceland's Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir who made history last year, when she breastfed her baby during a debate. Each had her five minutes of fame, while the larger conversation was avoided.
It may have been Waters who resurfaced the discussion this week, but the conversation will once again revert to behind-closed-doors until the next issue surrounding the topic of mothers at work, and the overall treatment of parents in the workforce.
So, in order to keep the discussions relevant. SWAAY was curious about who Larissa Waters was outside the headlines. We wanted to what she stands for
Waters is the first Greens senator for Queensland. She stands behind The Greens' strong beliefs of representing women throughout Australia. Since her 2011 election to senate, and 2016 reelection, Waters has dedicated her time to achieving equality for all, through “creating a fairer society and achieving gender equality."
Along with The Greens' group beliefs, Waters' personal beliefs have been a lead factor in stimulating action for women in the workforce, particularly around equal pay and family-friendly workplaces. She played a large role in the Australian Parliament's 'family friendly' rule changes last year, most notably the passing of law that permits female politicians to nurse in the chamber--influencing the law and being the first to act on it, seemingly brought her work full circle. In leading up to the rule change, Waters said, “If we want more young women in Parliament, we must make the rules more family friendly to allow new mothers and new fathers to balance their parliamentary and parental duties."
Waters also firmly stands behind The Greens' message of inclusivity. “There is no place for gender discrimination in our society," she has said. "We will continue to fight it in all its forms and stand up for gender equality against outdated conservative attitudes." Waters reinforced her support on this stance when she posted on Instagram to recognize her daughter's birth, which incidentally coincided with International Women's Day.
A snippet from her post reads,
“I'll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in parliament with this little one in tow. She is even more inspiration for continuing our work to address gender inequality and stem dangerous climate change. (And yes, if she's hungry, she will be breastfed in the Senate chamber). Happy International Women's Day to everyone working for a more equal future! #IWD2017"
To further her support of women's rights, Waters has also been a prominent force in addressing Australia's domestic violence crisis, where according to The Greens' site, “more than one woman per week is dying at the hands of a current or former partner." With underfunded front line services, Waters took action to establish a Senate inquiry on domestic violence, which overturned existing funding cuts to these critical shelters and protective services.
Aside from her campaigns surrounding women and parents, Waters and her co-deputy, Scott Ludlam, are also taking action for Australia's tourism, mining and resources, environment and biodiversity, as well as gambling reform.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.