How we’ll encourage young women to get ambitious about leadership | Women's Agenda

How we’ll encourage young women to get ambitious about leadership

One whole Australian generation has now grown up with female political leaders having led in every state and territory and even one as our prime minister – with the interesting exception of South Australia.

It’s interesting due to South Australia’s pioneering past of being the first Australian jurisdiction to not only allow women to vote, but also to stand for parliament, and gain university degrees.

It all started with Rosemary Follett as ACT’s Chief Minister in 1989 and here we are today with a female Governor General.

Some people can therefore be forgiven for thinking that enough progress has been made and as one young woman said in a YWCA survey in 2011: ‘It (equality] was done ages ago, stop going on about it!’

There are, however, young women who are aware that the national percentage of women in Australian parliaments is hovering around just 29%, and that in 2013 Equal Pay Day – which symbolises the end of the additional days women have to keep working past the financial year in order to achieve pay parity with men – has pushed out to the 4th September.

These are the same young women who are struggling to cope with the gendered nature of attacks on Julia Gillard during her prime ministership and the same young women who are feeling vulnerable about their own leadership ambitions.

One woman told me recently that the day after the June leadership spill, not one person in her workplace uttered a single word about the events of the previous night.

At YWCA in Adelaide our 2013 University of Adelaide Arts Intern is currently undertaking research that explores the impact of the treatment of Julia Gillard on young women’s engagement with politics and leadership aspirations. To provide an element of hope, she will also find out what we need to do to reinvigorate leadership aspirations for those who have been disillusioned.

Our job as an organisation is to support young women who will be the next generation of leaders in this country. We achieve this by financially supporting members to do things like attend the annual Commission on the Status of Women event in New York, as well as facilitating programs that build positive body image among girls in primary school.

Of note, a group of young women who have participated in our inaugural year-long SHE Leads Program will graduate on 9 August. They will raise a glass to their achievement having a firm understanding of the presence of the glass ceiling. Many questioned its existence at the outset of the program and it has been our responsibility to elevate their awareness, increase their ability to transcend it, and continue our daily advocacy to tackle the structures that hold the glass ceiling in place.

Jane Sloane recently generously offered a glorious list of 50 tips for young women on Women’s Agenda which included everything from learning stillness and reading books, to seeking out a mentor and (a personal favourite) ’embracing a cohort of ethical leaders’.

Number eight is about strategic networking and 42 tells us to learn public speaking skills – excellent tips for our next generation of female leaders who we need to continually make aware of some of the challenges that still exist, but also the possibilities for change.

The YWCA of Adelaide’s annual SHE Leads Conference on 16 August for early-career young women is designed to increase the skills, confidence and networks of delegates.

Women’s Agenda readers can attend the conference at the special member ticket rate of $110. To express your interest in this ticket offer please email

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