Ms Gillard said while it is up to the nation to think in a sophisticated way about that, the gender revolution of the last 50 years had failed to leave as deep an impact as hoped.
Ms Gillard highlighted the historically high numbers of women in major roles in her government and said some sections of the community may have felt challenged, even threatened, by so much change.
She was saddened the new government didn't have the same level of women's representation.
"I despair that we have gone so far backwards in women's participation," she said.
"I despair even more when I read the false debate about equality versus merit, which is adding insult to injury.
"The simple reality is, equality and merit go hand in hand.