She Leads Conference: A day of learning, collaborating, and leading

4 September 2014

Zoya Patel

Zoya is the Senior Manager of Corporate Relations and Communication at YWCA Canberra.

On Tuesday 13 May more than 170 women converged on Hotel Realm for the inaugural She Leads Conference.

The Conference complemented the YWCA of Canberra’s She Leads Diploma of Management program, and pulled together a diverse and inspiring line-up of women leaders from numerous industries to empower and motivate delegates.

The morning kicked off with a warm welcome from YWCA of Canberra President Jane Alver, and a welcome to country by Aunty Agnes Shea. The room was filled with eager anticipation as Keynote Speaker, Dr Anne Summers took the stage. Summers spoke with gusto and vision on the topic ‘What women should…’, outlining some of the key challenges she sees when it comes to women participating equally in leadership positions, as well as the actions she believes women should take to start combating this inequality.

With the conference delegates then passionately keen to see the current situation for women leaders change, the first panel session kicked off – ‘She Leads: personal reflections on leadership’. Panelists Khadija Gbla, Lauren Anderson, Casey Keed and Virginia Haussegger shared their own leadership journeys with the audience, as well as some key advice they had.

Haussegger made the important point that we ‘have to be in it to change it’, when it comes to the leadership environment. Gbla added to this with her own advice – to play the game, but to play it with integrity. Anderson and Keed both encouraged delegates to be aware of their own capacities when taking on new challenges and opportunities. As Keed put it, it’s about being aware of ‘when saying yes to someone else means saying no to yourself’.

Following the panel and after a delicious morning tea, delegates got stuck into their first workshop session. The workshops were rotated throughout the day, facilitated by three leading women experts: Suzi Skinner, Managing Director of Roar People,  took delegates through ‘What’s your leadership ID?’; Dianne van Meegen, Principal of Directions for Change, delivered her workshop on ‘Personal effectiveness techniques’; and Julie McKay, Executive Director at UN Women, engaged delegates in a workshop on ‘Communication and leadership’.

The workshop sessions buzzed with engaging conversations between delegates, and saw women sharing their insights and experiences in the safe space of the Conference.

A second panel discussion titled ‘From Statistics to Solutions: overcoming our biggest leadership challenges’ featured an in depth and engaging discussion between Dr Caroline Lambert, Executive Officer of YWCA Australia; CEO of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Yolanda Vega; Helen Conway, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency; and Deputy Secretary People Strategies and Policy in the Department of Defence, Carmel McGregor. The panelists unpacked the key issues affecting women’s participation in leadership positions in Australia, and explored the actions needed to overcome these barriers.

By the time the She Leads Conference was drawing to a close that afternoon, with MC Susan Brennan providing a thoughtful summary of the day’s key takeaways, a strong sense of excitement and empowerment resonated throughout the group. She Leads was an important day of sharing and learning between women who brought with them a diverse range of experiences and skills, leaving delegates with renewed energy, new ideas, and a sharpened focus to take the next step in their own leadership journeys.

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