She Leads College Conference – empowering the next generation of female leaders

11 August 2016

Courtney Lawler

Courtney Lawler is YWCA Canberra's Communication & Events Coordinator.

Have you ever considered how different the world would look if young women were supported to speak up, have their voices heard, and believe in the ability to lead? We have.

That’s why YWCA Canberra hosts the annual She Leads College Conference for girls in years 11 and 12 – to empower the next generation of women leaders.

On Tuesday July 26, nearly 100 young women came together at the University of Canberra’s Ann Harding Conference Centre to explore their leadership values, make new connections, and develop skills to ignite their leadership journeys.

It was a chilly winter’s day, but that didn’t dull the spirits of attendees, partners or the YWCA Canberra team. The day was kicked off by Conference MC, Bel Yorston, whose energy and enthusiasm were truly infectious.

After a warm welcome to country from Ngunnawal woman, Selina Walker, and powerful opening remarks from YWCA Canberra Vice-President, Caitlin Sandercock, attendees were up out of their seats making the first of many new friends.

Bel’s advice “the more you step out of your comfort zone, the closer you are to your growth zone” encouraged attendees to connect with students from a range of schools, and discuss questions from ‘what is your biggest challenge as a leader or change maker?’ to ‘what do you love about being a woman in the world today?’.

Attendees were then lucky enough to hear from Founder and Director of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network and 2015 Bob Brown Young Conservationist of the year, Amelia Telford. Amelia shared her inspiring leadership journey, from her high school days when she started thinking about climate change and conservation, to attending her first AYCC conference, to her decision to create a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth striving to achieve climate justice.

One of the key takeaways from Amelia’s speech was that while environmental sustainability is important, there is nothing more important than self-sustainability, and as a leader, looking after your physical and mental health is paramount.

There was lots of laughter and great discussion throughout the morning session, where Bel spoke about the positive impacts of leadership and reinforced the idea that you do not need a title to be a leader – you just need to keep your eyes open for opportunities, back yourself, and stick to your leadership values.

This was the perfect lead in to the workshops presented by yLead’s Bel, and the Defence Force Recruiting team led by Flight Lieutenant Annie Szekely.  These engaging workshops got attendees thinking about leadership values, perseverance, accepting and supporting others, and how to lead from the middle rather than the top.

Attendees also had the chance to write an individual purpose statement – we were so moved and impressed by the purpose statements we were lucky enough to hear read aloud!

The highlight of the day for many came in the form of the afternoon networking session. In small groups, attendees had the chance to chat to 666 ABC radio producer, Farz Edraki, Global Resolutions ambassador, Caitlin Figueiredo, robotics and STEAM expert, Erica Hediger, gender quality advocate, Emma Pocock, professional cricketer, Ange Reakes, 2016 ACT Young Woman of the Year, Rachael Stevens, DFR specialist recruiter, Annie Szekely, and CEO of Country to Canberra, Hannah Wandel.

These inspiring women leaders gave so much incredible advice and left the audience (and the Y Canberra team) in awe. Some of the lessons attendees took away were; the only person who can choose your path is you, always believe in yourself and put together a support network of family, friends, and mentors, don’t be afraid to change your career if you find your passion later in life, and that you should always speak your ideas out loud.

After a day packed full of leadership development and thought provoking discussion, attendees left feeling inspired to pursue their leadership goals. We have no doubt these young women will go on to transform their communities and create positive change using their newly acquired leadership skills!

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YWCA Canberra would like to thank our She Leads College partners:

You can see more great snaps from the College Conference on our Flickr.

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