Inspiration, motivation and empowerment at the third She Leads College Conference

23 March 2017

Eliza Hughes

Eliza is the Communications and Marketing Officer at YWCA Canberra

Now in its third year, the She Leads College Conference continues to provide a safe space for students in years 11 and 12 to be inspired by young women leaders, and gain the confidence and practical skills to kick-start their leadership journeys.

On Tuesday 21 March, more than 80 young women came together at the University of Canberra’s Ann Harding Conference Centre for a day of learning new leadership skills, making new friends and connecting with a diverse range of inspiring local women leaders.

The day began with an impassioned welcome to country from Ngambri Elder, Matilda House.  Aunty Matilda asked the whole cohort to pause for a moment’s silence to consider of all the women (indigenous and non-indigenous) whose work to break down barriers and challenge attitudes has ultimately paved the way for the next generation of young women to rise as leaders in our communities today.

YWCA Canberra member Madalein Tier delivered the opening remarks, acknowledging all of the opportunities that have been afforded to her through her connection to YWCA Canberra and the broader YWCA movement. She noted that the She Leads College Conference was just one of the many ways that YWCA Canberra works to empower women and girls, and ultimately aims to achieve gender equality.

Next, conference MC, YLead’s Bel Yorston got everyone up on their feet and ran a series of high energy, interactive activities. This session encouraged attendees to get to know each other and brainstorm some initial ideas about what effective leadership looks like. They also unpacked the meaning behind the theme of the day, ‘Dare to Lead’, and discussed the idea that we are all defined by our actions, intentions and motivations.

Other key ideas that were identified included the importance of working as a team, being gracious and humble, working outside of your comfort zone, and being an advocate for others. Summing up the session in a profound reflection, one attendee said “great leaders take action; they don’t wait for someone else to tell them to do something”.

Building on these broad ideas about leadership, Sarah Moran, Co-Founder of Girl Geek Academy, talked about her own journey in her keynote address, “Changing the World is a Marathon, Not a Sprint”. She discussed some of the challenges that she came up against while pursuing her goal to start her own tech start-up business, and provided some great advice about being persistent and overcoming adversity.

Sarah encouraged attendees to surround themselves with supportive people who compliment their own skills and values; a tactic she described as “finding your girl gang”. Sarah also reminded attendees that their youth was one of their biggest assets, and implored them to take the opportunity to figure out their strengths and interests while they’re young, and use this knowledge to guide their own journey into leadership.

In the afternoon, attendees participated in two workshops presented by Flight Lieutenant Esther Suh from Defence Force Recruiting, and YLead’s Bel Yorston. These workshops delved deeper into ideas about leadership through a range of practical and theoretical exercises. Both workshops had attendees experiencing ‘aha!’ moments, and encouraged meaningful reflection on their own values, ideas and aspirations, and of course, a whole lot of laughter.

After lunch, we were joined by nine incredible and diverse women leaders for a ‘speed dating’ style networking session. Attendees formed small groups, and had the opportunity ask questions and discuss a range of insightful, practical and varied ideas about what it means to be a leader, and how to forge your own path.

Speakers included Buzzfeed’s Political Reporter, Alice Workman; local Canberra activist and comedian, Codie Bell; Canberra-based theatre practitioner, Cathy Petocz; Women’s National Cricket League’s Sally Moylan; plumber and business owner, Elissa Pirotta; ANU PhD student, Alexandra Schumann- Gillett; DFR Flight Lieutenant, Esther Suh and YWCA Canberra’s Senior Youth Engagement Officer, Ciara Duggan. These fantastic women then came together in a panel for a few final questions and reflections, before the day concluded.

We are very grateful to all of our supporters who made the event possible, including our Principal Supporter, Defence Force Recruiting (for the third year running), as well as Venue Partner, University of Canberra, and Thankyou and Belconnen Fresh Food Markets for providing a range of healthy and delicious snacks throughout the day.

Visit our Flickr page to look through all of the terrific photos from day, or visit our website to find out more about upcoming She Leads events!

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