Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has talked candidly about her time as the most powerful woman in her country - and also the most criticised.

Speaking at an event at the University of Auckland last night, she said being a female leader often meant she had to deal with gender-based stereotypes and criticism.

She acknowledged that the media and sometimes the public's focus on her appearance was upsetting.

"It's not just the time wasting - taking longer than a man to get ready ... and then even talking about it."


She pointed to times when she would attend or speak at an important event and then see that media had mostly focused on her outfit.

"[One] news report was: 'Ms Gillard was wearing black pants and a white jacket'. It takes focus off of real issues."

Ms Gillard became Australia's first female leader when she took the role in 2010, taking over from Kevin Rudd. She also became the first woman to lead the country's Labor Party.

Last night she told a gathering of about 600 people about some of the revelations in her new book, called: My Story.

She said she was surprised at the huge amount of praise she received following her now famous misogyny speech, in which she raised the issue of sexism in Parliament and called out then opposition leader Tony Abbott.

But others said she was playing the gender card.

"But actually it's not - it's called standing up for your rights."

Ms Gillard, who was born in Wales and raised in Adelaide, said she would not speak about New Zealand politics but acknowledged that she had always felt the familial bond between the two countries when she was prime minister.

Ms Gillard has been working on a number of projects over the past couple of years, including joining forces with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The pair, along with more than 30 partners, recently announced $600 million would go towards girls' education.

She said it was an initiative she was passionate about and also gave advice to young women looking to get into politics.

"Make sure you know why you're in it - politics is not about celebrities. And nurture your self worth.

"You can't afford to mortgage out how good or bad you feel because of tomorrow's headlines."