YWCA Hong Kong Conference 2020 speech by Frances Crimmins

14 December 2020

On 4 December, our Hong Kong sister YWCA held an international conference to celebrate its 100th anniversary, under the theme Solidarity for a Better World.

Keynote speakers included Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, and Mira Rizeq, President of World YWCA.

YWCA Canberra CEO Frances Crimmins was invited to speak as part of a session on ‘Envisioning 2035: Intergenerational Leadership’, alongside Mimi Han, Vice President of World YWCA & Executive Board Member of National YWCA of Korea.

Frances’s speech is below.


Good evening everyone.

It is such a pleasure to be here tonight, and to be part of YWCA Hong Kong’s 100th year anniversary celebrations, and this incredible line up of presentations.

As is customary in Australia, I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that I am joining you from, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and future.

This acknowledgement of country is one way in which Australians recognise and pay respect to the history of this land, which was stolen from the first nations people during colonisation. Given we are talking about women’s leadership tonight, I wanted to frame what I am going to share with you around this point, which is that any genuine leadership towards gender equality in Australia has to be driven alongside a movement towards reconciliation.

While I am speaking tonight, I will continue to share these photos that you can see as a slideshow. These are images from our She Leads suite of programs and events, which I will be telling you more about tonight. I find them incredibly inspiring, and they demonstrate the key principles of our leadership model, which is transformative, authentic, inclusive, intersectional and intergenerational.

So, before I delve in, I think it’s important to note that my white, able-bodied privilege frames my values and opinions. I have a safe home to live in, I have two children, a loving family, I live well.

I like to draw attention to this privileged position when I speak publicly, as it’s something that is often overlooked by people who are lucky enough to possess it.

This includes people in positions of power, who have the ability to address the complex intersections of disadvantage experienced by many people in our community—be it due to their gender identity, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, religion, physical or mental capability, or simply their appearance.

As the CEO of YWCA Canberra, one of the longest-standing women’s organisations in Canberra, I have the privilege of continuing the work of the wonderful Y women who came before me, who worked tirelessly for the last 90 years to make our city a more equal, safe and inclusive place for all.

We have a way to go to improve the leadership landscape in Australia: the state of leadership at a global level is an unfortunate reflection of many of the issues we face here in Australia.

It is time in this country for some truth telling. We are stuck in the status quo and maintaining a leadership identity built on a history of patriarchy and colonisation. We must rebuild the leadership paradigm to reflect our communities’ expectations and the diverse society we are today in modern Australia. In order to move forward, we must acknowledge our leadership legacy is one that was built on non-inclusive privilege and power held by few.

Yes, there have been waves of progression in leadership; however, we really have not come far enough and a fundamental element we need in our leaders today is to embrace and value difference. Leaders who are brave and recognise difference contributes, rather than degrades. Leaders who have the integrity to be a transformational change agent. Leaders who have the self-awareness to challenge their own paradigms of leadership identity. Leaders who have humility and are accountable.

So, what is She Leads, and how does it further our strategic vision of ‘Girls and women thriving’?

For us, a society where girls and women are thriving is one where we are able to live free from violence and gender-based discrimination; it’s a society where women and girls are recognised for our unique skills and world view, and the impact that we can have on our communities; it’s where every girl grows up being able to see women in senior leadership roles across our government, industries and community, as role models of women’s leadership.

Of course, to achieve this, we have to also address the systemic issues of gender inequality, and YWCA Canberra does a lot of work in this space through our community services programs.

But equipping young women with the skills and knowledge to be effective and successful leaders is a key part of reaching these goals.

In 2013, YWCA Canberra first began developing our suite of She Leads programs. We knew that while there was a nationally-recognised qualification for a Diploma in Leadership and Management, this generic course wouldn’t address the specific barriers and challenges that women face in leadership roles.

We developed a course curriculum and format that not only delivers the required training to achieve a Diploma in Leadership and Management, but that also explores gender-barriers to leadership, and engages participants in a community of empowerment and solidarity to support their leadership journey.

In 2014, we launched the She Leads Conference, a one-day leadership event that is the key aspects of the Diploma delivered over a day—connecting attendees with inspiring women leaders from a range of sectors, with practical, skills-building sessions and the chance to meet with other women to build networks.

In 2015, we added to this program again, with the introduction of She Leads College, a conference targeted at girls in the final years of high school, and since then we also have introduced: She Leads In-Conversation events with prominent women leaders; She Leads High, for girls in years nine and ten; and She Leads workshops, which are short, practical workshops on different topics relating to leadership.

All of these programs are underpinned by our model of leadership. We believe women’s leadership should be nurtured at all levels of society: within families, communities, in education and in policy and decision making. Gender equality is achievable when a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and opinions is at the table to inform decision making.

In addition, the model of leadership we teach in She Leads is one that is authentic, transformative, and inclusive.

I’d like to break this down for you.

Transformative leadership means building trust and confidence in people, to empower them to join you on a journey of innovation, change and progress.

Authentic leadership is about self-awareness, emotional intelligence and honestly building a relationship of genuine understanding, positive modeling and authenticity.

Inclusive leadership is about acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of your community—in terms of experience, age, gender, race, ability and more. It’s about recognising the unique perspectives that each person brings, and empowering them to contribute.

YWCA Canberra’s leadership programs are built around these fundamental pillars, that have been developed according to thorough research and extensive literature reviews of leadership models around the world.

These are closely aligned with World YWCA’s women’s leadership model, and informed by the lessons learnt globally through the YWCA movement.

But if we zoom out for a moment, beyond the She Leads programs, and look at our strategic vision—Girls and women thriving—how does our leadership model help us achieve this goal?

At any single point in a girl’s lifetime, she might interact with YWCA Canberra through multiple avenues. And at each of these points, she will be exposed to our leadership model, through the way our staff deliver services, to the messaging in our programs, right through to the direct skills-building in our professional development programs.

A girl might first attend one of our early childhood learning centres, from as young as six months old through to the age of four or five. Each day that she attends one of our centres, she will be encouraged to try new things, to direct the focus of her own education, to be empowered to make choices and have agency. She will be taught and cared for by educators who are more than just qualified: they embody the values of the Y movement.

As a young girl or teenager, she might reconnect with YWCA Canberra through one of our youth engagement programs. Perhaps she will attend a session of Y-Aspire at her school, where she will be introduced to the first stages of our leadership model, sparking her imagination and goals for the future.

Or perhaps she will attend our Computer Clubhouse or visit our youth centre, where she will be encouraged to try new things, let her creativity flow, and fail safely in an enabling environment.

Then, she’ll attend a She Leads High or College conference, and be inspired by the role models who speak to the audience about resilience, authenticity and their own journeys. She’ll leave with a clear sense of what inclusive leadership looks like, and a baseline of the type of leader she hopes to grow into.

Years later, she might attend the She Leads Conference or Diploma program, keen to build her skills further and connect with other likeminded women. She might apply for a Board Traineeship program, and have the opportunity to learn from the incredible women leaders who govern our organisation and are on our Board.

Or maybe her journey will be complicated by other intersectionalities. Perhaps she will connect to the Y through our community services, after an experience of domestic violence or while suffering housing stress.

She will be met with compassion, inclusion and empathy, and she will be empowered by our strengths-based approach that underpins both our community work and our leadership model.

No matter when or how she connects with YWCA Canberra, she will see the same values embodied in all of our work, through every staff member, speaker or facilitator.

This is embodied leadership. It’s fundamental to our mission, and it’s the pillar of how we support girls and women in our community to thrive.

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