Challenging the status quo on women’s leadership at the 2017 She Leads Conference

5 June 2017

The 2017 She Leads Conference, held on 1 June at QT Canberra, brought women from a range of sectors and at all stages of their leadership journeys, together with some of Australia’s most inspiring women leaders.

This year’s program explored the theme ‘Challenge’ – focusing on stories of overcoming personal and professional challenges and experiences from women leaders who are transforming their workplaces, industries and communities.

Guests were welcomed with an authentic and inspiring Welcome to Country from Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Jannette Phillips, whose welcome was peppered with sage advice such as “look after your teeth… and moisturise,” as well as telling us “to take what we learn here and walk it!” And “to take away something from this conference, even if it is just a word.” It was an inspiring start to the day.

YWCA Canberra President, Jude Burger followed on from Aunty Jannette, setting the stage by reaffirming that the day was an opportunity to explore the ways that women are still experiencing in-equality and the chance to start workshopping a toolkit for change.

The morning kicked off with a poetry recital from the wickedly funny journalist and business woman Tracey Spicer, who also led us through the day as our MC. Tracey, who is renowned for the courage of her convictions, passion for social justice and commitment to equality, read the still relevant poem originally published in 1975 ‘Because we’re women’ by Joyce Stevens, reminding us all “how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.”

Our first speaker, Drisana Levitzke-Gray told us to “never underestimate the power of passion” and spoke about how “as an advocate [her] biggest focus is ensuring that everybody has access to language and break the misconception that you have to hear to succeed.” By the end of her talk it was clear that her passion and dedication in advocating for the human rights of deaf people, raising awareness about Auslan (Australian Sign Language), and the right of deaf children in Australia to access Auslan from birth, is what drives her to challenge people because “we all have the power to create positive change… and help remove unnecessary barriers.”

Next up was the fierce and fabulous Michelle Deshong. Michelle’s warm but powerful presentation spoke about how creating meaningful change means breaking down the things that oppress us. She reminded us that “history is full of challenges. When people accept the challenge great things can happen. Let’s reflect on those instead.”

We were then lucky enough to hear the amazing Caterina Giorgi in discussion with three inspiring change-makers, Shen Narayanasamy, Elise Burgess and Christine Castley, who are all engaged in challenging the system and creating change. The take-away from this inspiring session was that the key to affecting change and having maximum impact is by having a constantly questioned and adjusted strategy.

A clear highlight of the day was being challenged by Clementine Ford, who asked us “what does it mean to be a proud feminist in today’s society?” Clementine encouraged us all to speak up without fear, “women have a lot to fear already, they shouldn’t have to fear their own voices.” And said for her a proud feminist is about being “uncompromising, fearless and relentless” “a bulldozer” and a “wrecking ball” and not having to smile sweetly because it makes men more comfortable.

Next up was a lively and engaging discussion about the challenge of changing gears with Alex Sloan, Myfawny Galloway, Captain Stephanie Steel and Summer Edwards. The panel discussed the choices and sacrifices that women have to make in their careers, particularly when it comes to having, starting or raising a family. Summer Edwards said that we can use gratitude, grit, and connection to help us get through difficult times.

Ending the day was the hilarious, warm and powerful words from Nakkiah Lui, who told us that in addition to our identities we have an authentic voice and the greatest form of activism is to use our authentic voice, so “what does your authentic voice have to say?” She challenged us “as women [we need] to examine our biases because we all have them.”

Nakkiah encouraged us to be active in sharing stories from Aboriginal women and support Aboriginal voices because knowing that people have your back makes you braver. She also said to challenge media biases by consuming Aboriginal media to “make the networks challenge their ideas about who their audience is.”

We hope that everyone left the conference with new connections and a renewed sense of what they want to achieve in their leadership journey, as well as pointers on how to get there, and in the words of the fabulous Clementine Ford, we “look forward to seeing you next year at She Annihilates!”

Thank you to our valued partners who made the event possible:

As well as our esteemed She Leads Friends:

Visit Flickr to see photos from the day, and be sure to follow She Leads on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more on women’s leadership.

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