Woman Mahlab, Eve (1937 - )
- Businesswoman and Lawyer
- Alternative Names
- Dickins, Eve (Anglicised Maiden)
- Dickstein, Eve (Maiden)
Written by Larissa Halonkin and Clemmie Wetherall, Trailblazing Women and the Law Project
Eve Mahlab is an influential Australian lawyer and businesswoman who has successfully advocated for women's advancement in society and the workplace, through her achievements in business leadership, lobbying and philanthropy. Mahlab's contributions to civic, business and cultural life in Australia over many decades has improved the lives of women in Australia.
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1937, Mahlab was the only child of Robert and Gertrud (Trudy) Dickstein (later anglicised to Dickins). She migrated to Melbourne, Australia with her parents in 1939, one year after Austria was annexed by Germany. After studying at Korowa Anglican Girls School and the Methodist Ladies College in Kew, Mahlab matriculated at age sixteen. Her results enabled her to enrol at the University of Melbourne Law School in 1954, and she graduated with a Bachelor of Law in 1959.
After graduation Mahlab travelled to Europe, completing further studies at the University of Perugia, before returning to Melbourne to complete her articles year at a family law practice operated by Norman Landau. She was admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor in 1959 and married her husband Frank Mahlab, an American with a business and economics background, the same year.
Mahlab moved to Sydney with her husband where she began work as a solicitor for the Public Solicitor's Office, a pre-cursor to Legal Aid, before returning to Melbourne shortly before the birth of her first child. She had three children between 1961 and 1964, and continued to practice family law from home before securing a part-time position with a sole practitioner. Mahlab's experience as a mother trying to develop her professional career led to the establishment of the business Mahlab Recruitment in 1968. This innovative business was initially designed to helped women find part-time work in the legal industry, but she realised it had greater potential. A particularly significant enterprise in the history of the legal profession, Mahlab Recruitment was the first vehicle which actively promoted and facilitated women's entry and retention in the legal workforce. The business grew to become the national Mahlab Group of Companies, incorporating Mahlab Costing and Mahlab Publishing between the years 1969-1989. Mahlab Costing offered a unique system which enabled women lawyers to work from home on legal costings.
Having observed women's disempowerment in society more generally through her early legal work in family law Mahlab identifies this early career period as being critical to the development of her feminist awareness (Mahlab and Rubenstein, 2010 and Capper, 2013). In early 1973 she joined the Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL), a feminist, not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation. Mahlab described the feeling she had after attending her first WEL meeting as one of 'finding her home' (Mahlab and Rubenstein, 2010). Inspired by women such as WEL founder Beatrice Faust, she quickly became deeply involved with WEL, contributing to the redrafting of its Constitution. As a member of WEL's coordinating committee she worked to address discrimination against women in the workplace and lobbied Attorney General Lionel Murphy and members of parliament for family law reform. The Family Law Act 1975 revolutionised divorce law in Australia, replacing previous faults with just one: irretrievable breakdown.
In the the lead up to the 1973 Victorian state election Mahlab designed and chaired a forum called 'Why should women vote for you?' Political leaders from the contesting parties addressed more than two-thousand spirited women at Dallas Brooks Hall in East Melbourne, answering questions on childcare, abortion, equal pay and contraception. TV rights to broadcast the forum were bought by the Channel Seven network. The following year, Mahlab was appointed by Premier Rupert Hamer to the Victorian Committee of Inquiry into the Status of Women.
In 1975 Mahlab became the first woman elected to the Monash University Council, where she remained for several years. In the same year she began her brief political career as a member of the Liberal party unsuccessfully standing for pre-selection in the Federal seat of Higgins. Mahlab ran for pre-selection two more times before deciding it was not a public activity she was committed to pursuing (Mahlab and Rubenstein, 2010 ). Instead she lobbied for change within the Liberal Party itself, co-founding the Liberal Feminist Network (LFN) in the Victorian Division of the party, with Julie McPhee in 1981. The LFN produced a discussion paper in 1982 which vehemently opposed the views of then Liberal Minister for Social Security, Senator Fred Chaney on the role of the family as an alternative to publicly-funded community services (Sawer, 2008).
Mahlab's activity in public, civic and business life flourished in the 1980s and her achievements increasingly attracted opportunities and recognition. In 1980 she led the Victoria delegation at the Australian Plan of Action Conference in the lead up to the United Nations Decade for Women, and in 1982 she was named Qantas-Bulletin Australian Businesswoman of the Year. Her acceptance speech, in the presence of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, spoke of the importance of childcare in relation to women's participation and empowerment in the workforce. In the same year she founded Sydney Carols in the Domain with Robyn Hobbs OAM and she initiated a business education project called 'Know Biz' as part of the 150th anniversary of Victoria's statehood. The 'Know Biz' Business Education Project ran for a number of years and enabled over 138 000 students and 8000 teachers to visit large and small businesses across Victoria. In the same year she founded the first Australian assertiveness courses for women with psychologist Ruth Wisniak OAM.
In the mid-1980's Mahlab was profiled by journalist Susan Mitchell in a book called Tall Poppies. The book and subsequent ABC TV series increased her public profile. She was featured by the ABC as part of an in-depth profile series called The Woman in Question in 1982 (The Age, 1982), and was profiled in 1995 by author Jan Bowen in her book, The Fabulous Fifties. In 1983 Mahlab catalysed the Australian branch of Femmes Chefs D'Enterprises (known as Women Chiefs of Enterprise in Australia) with Noel Waite AO and she advised Barbara Cail AO on the establishment of Chief Executive Women in Sydney. She officially retired from business management in 1987, selling the Mahlab Group of Companies in 1989, but continued to increase her involvement in public and private organisations, joining the Victorian State Training Board in 1988, and serving as a board member for the next six years. In 1988 she was honoured with the Order of Australia for services to business, government, the community and in particular, for services to women.
In 1990 Mahlab became the first woman to join the Board of the Walter and Eliza Institute of Medical Research and in 1991 she participated in the Jewish Commission for the Future as the only woman committee member. In 1992 she was the executive director and part-financier of an SBS documentary on women in leadership called, Not A Bedroom Wall. Mahlab made history in 1993 as the first woman elected to the Board of the Westpac Banking Corporation, a position she held until 2002. At this time Mahlab was also appointed by Prime Minister John Howard, as an Ambassador for Honouring Women. The ambassador positions were created in recognition of Australia's failure to commend the achievements and contributions of women in civic, public and private life.
As a Board member of Westpac, Mahlab travelled to Beijing in 1995 for the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women with the theme being: Action for Equality, Development and Peace. In 1997 she was part of a women's ticket seeking election to the Constitutional Convention on the question of whether Australia should become a republic. Though Mahlab was doubtful Australia would see a republic during the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth, she said "if there is going to be a grass roots push for it, there has to be a woman's voice" (Mahlab and Rubenstein, 2010).
Mahlab accepted an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Monash University in 1997 in recognition of her contributions to the university and the legal profession and in 1998 she became Deputy Chair of Film Australia. In 2001 she was awarded a Centenary Medal for service to the community through business and commerce. At the beginning of the 21st century Mahlab continued to dedicate her energy, resources and skills to women. She was a consultant on diversity issues to JB Were, an investment bank and private wealth management company from 2002-2003 and President of Philanthropy Australia from 1999-2000.
Mahlab's experiences at a conference in the United States in 2007 for the Women's Funding Network, an organisation of more than 100 women's funds from around the world, inspired her to spread her own philanthropic activities in Australia. She returned to Melbourne from the conference with a 'crystallised' idea in her mind to 'liberate the flow of money and increase it to women's organisations and women's projects' (Mahlab and Rubenstein, 2010). The following year she funded Mary Crooks, the Executive Director of the Victorian Women's Trust to attend the conference. In late 2007 Mahlab co-founded the Australian Women Donors Network with Jill Reichstein OAM, in which she remains active as the organisation's Chairwoman. The Australian Women Donors Network promotes and facilitates gender-sensitive practice in the social investment and grant-making sector. The network also advocates for greater investment in women and girls (Australian Women Donors Network).
Self-described as "an advocate for building a better world through women and girls" (Mahlab and Rubenstein, 2010), Mahlab remains active and committed to public affairs and social issues. Her advocacy continues to have an significant impact on Australian culture.
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection
- M. Davidson, S. Fielden, and G. Wood, Minorities in Entrepreneurship: An International Review, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, Cheltenham, United Kingdom, 2012. Details
- Sawer, Marian, Making Women Count: A History of the Women's Electoral Lobby in Australia, Radford, Gail, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2008, 317 pp. Details
- Mahlab, Eve, 'Does Gender Still Matter?', Australian Philanthropy, vol. 71, no. 3, 2008. Details
- Mundy, R, "I'm not a superwoman: I've just been lucky" Eve Mahlab, Bulletin / Qantas Businesswoman of the Year, Australian Women's Weekly, 1981. Details
- Mahlab, Eve, 'Report on the Family Law Bill', Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) News, vol. 15, April 1974. Details
- Eve Mahlab, The Woman in Question, Television Series, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 1985. Details
- 'Mahlab, Eve (1937 - )', The Australian Women's Register, National Foundation for Australian Women, http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE4421b.htm. Details
- 'Businesswoman, 1981', The Canberra Times (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory), 17 November 1981, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126858866. Details
- 'New series is heavy going', The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), 29 March 1982, p. 2, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19820329&id=4T9VAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gpQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6119,7249603. Details
- 'Victorian Women's Trust', in Trove, National Library of Australia (NLA), 2008, http://trove.nla.gov.au/people/554673?c=people. Details
- 'All About WEL in the 21st Century', in Women's Electoral Lobby of Victoria (WEL), c.2013, http://www.welvic.org.au/aboutwel/. Details
- About the Network, Women Donor's Investing in Women and Girls, http://www.womendonors.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=38&Itemid=95. Details
- Capper, Sarah, 'A Bonza Eve Mahlab', Sheilas: An initative of the Victorian Women's Trust, The Victorian Women's Trust, 14 March 2013, http://sheilas.org.au/2013/03/a-bonza-eve-mahlab/. Details
- L. Holroyd, 'Liberal Feminist revival - or is it?', The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), 29 January 1986, p. 18, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=lswzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U5UDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3074%2C7620259. Details
- Board of Directors, Westpac, 1999, http://www.westpac.com.au/docs/pdf/aw/ic/p2wbc99.pdf. Details