2015 She Leads Conference: an inspiring day of women’s leadership

25 May 2015

When 250 women come together with some of Australia’s most distinguished women leaders and thinkers for an event exploring women’s leadership, it’s set to be a big, inspiring day.

The annual She Leads Conference is a key professional development opportunity for aspiring  and established women leaders from all industries and sectors.

The objective is to connect with inspiring women, discover their potential, gain new skills, and ignite their leadership journeys. This year, attendees had the chance to participate in in-depth masterclass sessions the night before the Conference, to develop specific skills in the areas of resilience, innovation, and online communication.

The stage was set at Hotel Realm on Tuesday 19 May, and the day kicked off with MC Tracey Spicer, setting the scene and sharing her advice from her own leadership journey. She stressed the importance of standing up for yourself in the workplace and not feeling pressured to be ‘the good girl’ all the time.

The Conference was split into keynote talks and panel discussions, providing attendees with the opportunity to ask questions and engage with speakers throughout.

More than 150 people who weren’t able to make it to Canberra tuned in via the live video stream, joining the conversation online through social media.

Steph Lorenzo was the first keynote talk of the day, taking attendees on her journey from a career in marketing and PR through to launching her own social enterprise, Project Futures, at just 22 years of age.

‘I was quite angry,’ she said, of being confronted with the injustice of human trafficking. ‘I remember thinking, what do I do with all these emotions?’

Steph went on to encourage attendees to ‘unlock their purpose’ and find what they’re truly passionate about, to become the most effective leaders they can be.

The morning moved on to a panel discussion on ‘Lessons from leaders’, with Emma Bennison, Kate Carnell AO, and Nipuni Wijewickrema. Tracey Spicer led the discussion around personal pathways to leadership, which highlighted some of the key barriers women face, and how to balance your values with leadership.

Nipuni discussed the potential barrier that age plays in leadership, and said that really, age has nothing to do with her capacity and skills as a leader.

Kate Carnell discussed how she managed her career as former ACT Chief Minister around her family, and admitted to not always succeeding at finding the right balance. She also discussed making difficult decisions in leadership, and advised attendees not to compromise their values.

Attendees also heard from Emma Bennison on combatting misconceptions about people with disability and their capability as leaders.

‘People with disability are expected to be the ones needing assistance,’ she said.

It’s important to challenge these stereotypes and make leadership accessible to all people.

Attendees reflected on the first panel and talk over a delicious morning tea, before heading back in to hear from Clare Bowditch, one of Australia’s leading singer/songwriters, on the myth of work-life balance.

The lights were dimmed, and anticipation high as Clare took the stage.

Getting attendees on their feet, the ARIA award-winning singer led them through a group sing-along that built a real sense of community and engagement, before delving into her journey to leadership.

She shared her advice for dealing with work-life balance – that it’s important to keep your expectations manageable, and not try to be everything to everyone.

The second panel discussion was led by Sarah Burr, YWCA Canberra Board Director, and focussed on ‘Leadership for a new era’.

Panellists Rebecca Skinner, Dai le and Tjanara Goreng Goreng discussed questions around inclusivity and diversity in leadership, and how to change and challenge workplace cultures to be more welcoming of women in leadership roles.

Over lunch, attendees had the chance to connect with She Leads Principal Partner, PwC, and participate in their survey on women’s experiences of gender equality in the workplace.

Attendees were also interviewed by She Leads Live Stream Partner Newcast, who provided the capturing their reflections on the day.

The third keynote talk was from Yamini Naidu, on the power of storytelling.

Yamini explored the concept of hard power versus soft power, and gave attendees practical skills in creating narratives and influencing change.

The energy in the room was only growing, as attendees settled in for the final panel discussion of the day, on ‘Calibrating your leadership compass’.

Angela Priestley from Women’s Agenda led the discussion, with panellists Jessica May, Stephanie Foster and Hala Batainah.

Panellists shared how their personal values have shaped their leadership pathways. As Hala Batainah said, ‘You can teach people many things, but not passion and values’.

After a quick afternoon tea, attendees reconvened for the final and possibly most-anticipated keynote of the day, from Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Professor Triggs spoke with passion about the challenges she has faced in her role, as well as the status of gender equality in Australia.

She expressed disappointment about the slow progress of feminism since the 1960’s, but was optimistic about the potential for accelerating this progress towards a truly equal society in the future.

It was the perfect way to round out a huge day of inspiration, learning and engaging with a vibrant network of women.

The personal stories shared and the intimacy of the She Leads Conference, despite 250 people in attendance, was testament to the community YWCA Canberra has created for women from all backgrounds, ages, and interests.

Attendees left feeling invigorated to take the next step in their leadership journeys, following the footsteps of the amazing women leaders they had heard from that day.

YWCA Canberra would like to thank our She Leads Conference Partners for their support in producing this landmark event:


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