She Leads? Yes she does! Thoughts on the 2021 She Leads Conference

27 August 2021

After our 2021 She Leads Conference, we asked a select group of women the question of how attending the event has enriched their lives. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing their answers and insights with you. Here is what Clare Hourigan had to say. 


I entered the SheLeads 2021 conference with a pretty open mind. I knew that one thing I wanted to get out of the day was ideas on how to support others to thrive and achieve wonderful things. Here are three things that I learnt.

1. Champion initiatives to keep women in roles where they can progress, roles where they have opportunity.

I learnt from both Cath Grassick, former AFP Superintendent, and Paula Goodwin, Group Executive at the Bureau of Meteorology, that often when women return to the workforce (commonly after caring for children), they don’t seem to return to the right roles or get offered opportunities that lead to progression. Cath spoke of initiatives in policing to enable women to return to operational roles, without having to return to full-time shift work. This helped to maintain a pool of women who were eligible for promotion into senior operational roles.

Paula spoke about a project that identified that women who have returned to work in the APS are often not offered the complex projects: projects that would give them great experience and evidence to support progression and promotion. Yet when this is considered, and women are offered the projects, behold! They are willing to take them on.

I totally soaked up these insights. To me it appeared that both of these initiatives boost the representation of women in decision making positions, and showed that just because “that’s the ways it’s always been”, does not mean that’s the way things have to continue.

2. Find the supporters. Squash the detractors.

During a panel session on ‘breaking up the boys’ club’, I heard all four speakers recount people who had been there to support them. I loved hearing that Jo Farrell, GM Kane Construction, is now deliberately supporting power for other women in the construction industry.

Dr Mehreen Faruqi, NSW Greens Senator, also spoke of finding her supporters in the public. In a response to frequent online abuse, Dr Faruqui’s office undertook a social media activity called ‘Love letters to Mehreen’, a tongue-in-cheek exercise to call out the online abusers. Now while it is appalling that Dr Faruqi was exposed to this abuse in the first place, what this exercise did was draw out her community of supporters, people who were also willing and empowered to call out the abusers. This community was now taking back the power from the abusers.

3. Put the stars in the spotlight, and let them shine for themselves.

A point that really stuck with me was voiced by two of the keynote speakers on the day, Dr Faruqi and Cath Gassick. Support others by speaking up. Give them space and a platform to express: “Stand beside me. Stand behind me. Just don’t stand in front me!”

Inclusivity and representation is essential. People need to see people like them in all roles and industries to know that they belong there.

I feel that I can’t wrap up this article without acknowledging the inspirational people that I met amongst the other attendees too. From the woman completing her PhD in role of gender in food insecurity, to the first year uni student soaking up the opportunity to ask all the questions, to the woman who has started up a sole trader organisation to advocate for equity and inclusion for women with disabilities; everyone that I spoke to as we sat down for presentations, or mingled during breaks taught me something unique.

So, when I reflect on the day and all the truly impressive leaders I encountered, I recall something that happened at the very start of the day. I was grabbing a coffee on my way into the conference and bumped into an old friend. Here’s a snippet of our quick catch up

“Are you here for the conference?”
“Yeah, She Leads? ”
“Yes She does!”

And I can’t help but think that little exchange really foreshadowed the day that was She Leads Conference 2021.


The 2021 She Leads Conference happened on Friday, 23 July. You can read more about the event, and read what Margaret Hinder, Ebony Brown, Meg Wilson and Sarah McDonald took from it.

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

Want more information on upcoming She Leads events? Make sure you subscribe to our She Leads Newsletter and don’t forget to join as a member to receive discounts on future events and other opportunities.

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