2018 She Leads College – 5 Quick Questions with Hannah Gissane

20 March 2018

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

The She Leads College Conference, taking place on Thursday 22 March, is a one-day event for girls in years 11 and 12, equipping participants with the practical skills and knowledge they need to become confident leaders. This year, we have an amazing line-up of inspiring young women who will discuss their pathways as trailblazers. Today, we chat to Hannah Gissane, a Trailblazer panelist.

Hannah Gissane is a passionate feminist and gender equality advocate. She is the Project Coordinator for the Equality Rights Alliance (ERA) – a national advocacy network of women’s and gender equality organisations.  In this role Hannah has twice participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), coordinated a Young Women’s Advisory Group and collaborated with activists on women’s rights policy research, advocacy and campaigns. Hannah also coordinates, with Amy Jowers-Blain, Young Women Speak Out – an activist capacity building program for 16-17-year-old feminists in Canberra. Prior to joining ERA, Hannah served a term on Lake Macquarie City Council and, at 19, was one of the youngest women ever elected to a Council in NSW.  In 2017, Hannah was a finalist in the ACT Young Women of the Year Awards. She holds a double degree in Communications and Law from the University of Newcastle and is in the process of completing a Graduate Certificate in Gender Mainstreaming and Policy Analysis from Flinders University.

Describe your leadership journey in 30 words of less

My journey is really my evolving understanding of what leadership is. You can be a leader without titles or being at the top because it’s about courage and collaboration.

What was (or is) your biggest leadership challenge?

Confidence and trusting my capability. I struggle with nerves and confidence at times (not always) and know all too well that telling women to just ‘be more confident’ is about as useful as ignoring the evidence on quotas. There are so many factors that play into our confidence levels and understanding of our own capabilities and skills, there simply isn’t a switch we can flick that brings about confidence. For what it’s worth, I find talking about these issues much more helpful than hiding behind a bravado and ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ attitude.

Why do we need more women leaders, and what difference can women in leadership make in terms of gender equality?

Evidence suggests that when women reach 30 per cent representation in decision-making bodies, that constitutes a sufficient critical mass for impact. I like to reflect on that idea and remember that the positive impacts of women’s leadership, particularly in terms of gender equality issues being on the agenda and prioritised, are only possible with the elevation of many women. Change is a collaborative, networked and collective effort and so is leadership.

In addition to the need for more women leaders in formal decision-making spaces, we need to get better at recognising and valuing the leadership women practice every day. There’s no doubt that too many forums are deficient in women’s representation but equally women’s leadership is everywhere, woven into the fabric of our communities, homes, families and our lives and we tune that out of our understanding of leadership.

What book should every aspiring women leader read? 

I adore the herstories that are written about local and grassroots feminist organisations in Australia. These books chronicle the unsung and almost forgotten shoulders that we stand on today. In particular, I cheered and cried my way through Single but not Alone, a truly remarkable tribute to the movement for single mothers’ rights and dignity in Victoria. Surveying the evolution of issues an organisation like CSMC has worked on for over 40 years is a testament to their incredible impact!

I also love Powered by Girl by Lyn Mikel-Brown. This book is a manual on intergenerational partnerships and a must-read for any older/grown-up/adult feminists working with girls and young women. It’s a vital lesson on how to listening, elevating, expanding space and most importantly, partnering with girls and young women within feminist movements.

Share with us the best piece of advice you’ve been given.

Improvisation has given me the best advice for life. These two rules of impro should be applied to life, work, relationships.

Yes and… is about accepting offers. When you accept an offer in impro it’s less about literally saying yes, and more about agreeing to a reality or vision or idea of your fellow players/partners/team. Yes and forces us to listen and add value to the work of others in our team, rather than block or shutdown. Before you revert to saying ‘no, but…’ think about how you can be open to that idea, how you can embrace that contribution, how you can yes, and.

Rise together, Fall together… Attempting to be the centre of attention or upstaging fellow players in impro is a ticket to disaster. A good scene is not down to one player, but the well oiled machine of a group of people generously working together. Give everyone a chance to shine and the scene will flourish. And if you fail, have fun doing it together.

To hear more from Hannah Gissane, register to attend the She Leads College Conference now. Make sure to also follow She Leads on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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