2017 She Leads High – 5 Quick Questions with Holly Vanderpol

25 October 2017

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

The inaugural She Leads High Conference is a one-day leadership event for young women, including female identifying and non-binary people, in years 9 and 10. The event will take place at the University of Canberra’s Ann Harding Conference Centre on 28 November 2017.

In this interview, we talk to Holly Vanderpol, one of our speed networkers at the upcoming High Conference. Holly Vanderpol is an undergraduate student studying Cultural Anthropology. She has a lived experience of domestic violence, and mental illness including depression, anxiety and PTSD, which has made Holly a strong and active advocate for these issues. Holly works with MIEACT to break down the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage young people to seek help. She also runs a Facebook support group called Canberra Women with PTSD. Holly has recently become an executive member of the National Council of Women Australia ACT and the Partnerships Coordinator for the National Council of Young Women ACT. She has been appointed to the ACT Multicultural Advisory Council.

After converting to Islam two years ago, Holly has become actively involved in the Canberra Muslim community. Since choosing to wear the hijab, Holly has realised just how pervasive the effects of racial and religious discrimination are for minority and ethnically diverse people living in Australia. Holly uses her lived experience as a Muslim woman to educate those who are racially privileged to understand how their thoughts and behaviors can work to reinforce racist structures within Australian society. She hopes to have a career in Anthropology researching racism and Islamophobia to assist Australia in moving toward becoming a more inclusive and welcoming society in the future.

Describe your leadership journey in 30 words or less.

To me, becoming a leader means accepting and embracing who you are and choosing to use your unique qualities to make the world a better place.

What was (or is) your biggest leadership challenge?

Learning not to get discouraged by other people’s negativity.

Undertaking leadership projects or roles can require a lot of belief in yourself and the cause you are working for, so it’s important to surround yourself with passionate, like-minded people who build up that sense of belief and enthusiasm.

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

Without women society cannot function! As women, we have so much to offer and no one should tell us otherwise.

Given that half the population are women, women’s voices and opinions are essential in ensuring that we are included and represented at all levels. This question really shouldn’t exist in the first place, it goes without question that women should be included because although women and men are different, at a spiritual and intellectual level we are equal in the value that we can contribute.

What book should every aspiring woman leader read?

To be honest, I don’t read much for leisure anymore. With my PTSD, sometimes reading all of the research and journal articles for my Cultural Anthropology degree can be challenging enough on its own.

One book that has inspired me as a Muslim woman is Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed. The book takes you on a spiritual journey and teaches a philosophy of letting go of material possessions and learning not to place your happiness in the hands of other people or material things. I think this is a lesson we all need to learn regardless of our spiritual beliefs.

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

Believe in who you are and that you are here for a greater purpose. No matter what happens, you have been put here for a reason, whether or not you believe in God, something/someone loved you enough to bring you here and give you this life; the fact that you exist is itself a beautiful miracle.

Never doubt your potential or the purpose that exists inside of you.

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