Can’t stop, won’t stop: She Leads High Conference 2020

4 November 2020

On Friday, 30 October, 100 girls, including female-identifying and non-binary people in years nine and ten from high schools across Canberra came together to attend the 2020 She Leads High Conference. Held at the Kambri Cultural Centre at the Australian National University, the conference theme was Unstoppable, where students learned to find their voices and lead with authenticity.

The students heard from inspirational young leaders and learned fundamental skills necessary to be a leader, including the three important selfs: self-confidence, self-awareness and self-care.

Ciára Duggan, YWCA Canberra’s youth program leader, led the day as our MC and established a safe space for our speakers and students to share. They shared their own leadership journey, all the way back from when they were a (most adorable) baby.

Our keynote speaker was Madeline Diamond, the 2020 ACT Young Australian of the Year who made national news by literally wearing her passion on her chest with the bold statement of ‘Climate justice’ at the national awards ceremony.

Maddie spoke of her journey into climate change advocacy from a very first meeting where she knew no one, to now being the founder of Trash Gather, a youth-led volunteer group that organises regular rubbish clean-ups in Canberra, and the Executive Officer of SEE-Change, a volunteer-based community organisation that aims to make Canberra more sustainable through community connection.

As a strong believer that “It’s time for young people to carve out their own space”, Maddie also acknowledged that “wanting to make change is exhausting work… It’s important to find time to slow down and recharge. Making time for self-care will be important to your success as a leader.”

The day included two hands-on workshops, from the incredible mindset trainer Angie Ford and our Youth Engagement staff.

Angie works with world number one athletes, CEOs, entrepreneurs of the year, national best-selling real estate agents, and AFI award nominee actors, to help them explore their self-beliefs and develop positive mindsets. She also worked with the girls on identifying their support networks and how best to draw on them in need, as well as being part of other people’s networks so we can all build each other up together.

Our Youth Engagement team led the workshop #SMILE (Self-care – Makes – Inspirational – Leaders – Emerge), where students engaged in the practice of self-care and mindfulness. In this workshop, the girls thought of ways to de-stress and shared methods to help promote a healthy mental mindset. This was then followed by a peaceful meditation session which offered students time to reflect on their personal qualities and achievements.

A highlight of the day was our powerhouse panel on ‘Finding Your Voice’, facilitated by Taylor Fitzgerald, a Kamilaroi woman who stands proud with the greatest of qualities handed down to her from her long line of Elders. She is an activist, survivor and 2018 NAIDOC Trainee of the year. She spoke to panellists Kasey Dragisic, Kat Reed and Tikarra Looke, all young women and non-binary leaders under the age of 25.

The panel discussed how they had each come into leadership roles, including what barriers they had encountered and how to overcome them. With Taylor, Kasey and Tikarra all being Aboriginal women, Kasey working in the male-dominated field of firefighting and Kat being a queer person with disabilities, they each had unique insights into developing self-confidence and self-belief to overcome systemic discrimination they had encountered.

For Tikarra, her journey started slowly, with poor attention to schooling. However, she had one teacher who changed it all by telling her parents that Tikarra’s contribution to the school was valued and important. “That was when I decided to apply myself to teaching and education”, Tikarra said. She now works in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education sector as a Cultural Integrity Coordinator, creating supportive and inclusive communities for First Nation’s students and families within ACT public schools.

For Kasey, when asked how she responds to people saying she can’t do her job as well as a man or only got selected because she’s a woman, Kasey responded: “it motivated me more… I knew it wasn’t just about me, it was about other little girls who wanted to become firefighters”.

Kasey also shared what unstoppable means to her: “It’s not about ‘if’, but when. If I didn’t make it through the first recruitment round with the ACT Fire Service, I was going to keep trying until they got sick of seeing me.”

For Kat, their advocacy work started with environmentalism, but they soon found their passions were more in queer rights advocacy. Kat encouraged students to find what they were passionate about, what drove them and to follow that path.

They also had great advice about confidence, saying that “Confidence is a skill, not something you just have. You can train it.”

The day wrapped up with students telling us what Unstoppable meant to them. There were so many messages of confidence, support and togetherness, with one school group saying “Our differences make us who we are and should not be used to hold us back”.

Want more? Visit our Flickr album to view all of the wonderful photos from the day or check out this blog post to read all of the student’s goals from the day. You can follow our Facebook and Twitter pages, and subscribe to the monthly She Leads Newsletter to receive updates on future events. You can also join as a member to receive discounts on future events and other opportunities.

Our last She Leads event in 2020, She Leads In-Conversation with the Hon Dame Annette King is coming up on 24 November 2020.

She Leads High wouldn’t be possible without the support of our partners. We are very grateful for our partners Rubik3 for helping us to make this event as accessible as possible, and to our venue partner, Kambri at ANU, for the incredible venue space and assistance on the day. Finally, our printing partner, Prinstant, allowed us to provide our interactive and keepsake activity booklets.

Interested in partnering with us? Get in touch at caf.team@ywca-canberra.org.au

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