Karen Andrews took a liking to maths and science at an early age and excelled in both subjects at school. But when it came time to choose a career, boys who were similarly talented were encouraged to become engineers. She was told to become a maths teacher.
Fortunately, Andrews didn’t listen and she graduated as a mechanical engineer in 1983. But the member for McPherson remains pragmatic about the gender
expectations that existed at the time and accepts the fact that there were more distinct gender roles than there is now.
‘It was clearly a reflection of the time that boys will go on to do engineering,’ says Andrews. ‘And I, as a female, would be better suited to teach maths.’
Perhaps surprisingly, Andrews did not perceive these expectations as an indication of gender inequality. She maintains her choice to pursue an engineering career was not an act of rebellion. She was simply inspired when engineering was mentioned at a careers session in year twelve.
‘I did my research and thought, well, I could do that and I’d enjoy doing that, so that’s why I went down that path,’ says Andrews.
Andrews credits her career in engineering and in industrial relations with heavily influencing her decision to enter politics. ‘My involvement with the unions and negotiating solutions drew similarities between industrial relations and politics,’ says Andrews.
She joined the Liberal National Party and was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 with a huge margin of 10.27 per cent. The seat of McPherson incorporates the southern tip of the Gold Coast all the way down to Coolangatta and many residents work within the tourism sector. As a businesswomen herself, Andrews has been active in supporting small businesses and workers in her community.
Andrews has been especially critical of the carbon tax and its potentially negative impact on small businesses. ‘Times are tough. They are really tough for a lot of sectors here on the Gold Coast, and the last thing they need is another cost input on them,’ Andrews recently told parliament.
The tough times had a direct impact on the recent Queensland elections, says Andrews. And she thinks the biggest issue facing people is the increased cost of living. Andrews suggests that people don’t necessarily recognise this as a result of the carbon tax, but that people are simply becoming aware that their pay or pensions do not go as far.
Andrews openly agrees the Queensland election results were outstanding for the Liberal National Party. But she is aware of the huge task in front of her in the lead-up to the next election.
Before she became politically involved, Andrews worked on local projects with the Scouts, the Red Cross and helped with the Red Shield Appeal. She also provided community support to schools through assisting them with the sports carnivals as well as helping out at the school tuck shop.
But since joining parliament, Andrews says it’s been hard to find the time for other activities. ‘As far as hobbies go, at the moment it’s pretty limited,’ says Andrews. ‘It would have to be cooking when I get a chance.’ She also makes sure that she catches up with her family and walks her dogs.
Andrews has two daughters and she is aware that her guidance is particularly needed at home right now. One of her daughters is currently in year 12 and is trying to decide what career path to follow. Mindful of her own experiences, Andrews says she advised her daughter to keep her options as open as she possibly can. Interestingly, Andrews admits she could see her daughter entering politics.
But with the wisdom of a mother who knows how hard it is to balance a career in politics with family and other commitments, she adds: ‘I would have loved her to become an engineer but I don’t think she’s going to do that.’
Athena Marangos is a student at La Trobe University.
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