The situation is critical: Celebrating women's leadership is necessary

The situation is critical: Celebrating women’s leadership is necessary

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Below is an edited extract of a speech Angela Priestley shared at the 2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards on Thursday the 29th April. See the winners of the awards here.

I’m the co-founder of Agenda Media, the publisher of Women’s Agenda. My other half is Tarla Lambert: the best collaborator I could have ever hoped for  — who you’ll hear from a little later on. 

For those who don’t know, we are a daily news publication. We have a tiny team of journalists, a slightly larger team of regular contributors, and we really try to call it like we see it. We do this every day, and have done so for the past 8 years. 

Some days (a lot of days at the moment) it’s in calling out misogyny in parliament

Other days, it’s in responding to the prominent female CEO who was humiliated on the floor of Parliament.

It’s calling out the male CEO, who was promoted into a multi-million dollar job, despite being known to have sexually harassed a subordinate

It’s in calling out the racism, the discrimination and additional barriers women of colour, Indigenous women and women with a disability face

It’s in highlighting women’s specific health issues that have gone unheard and underfunded for so long. 

It’s in continually being across the dire stats concerning women’s health and safety — including the large rise in calls to domestic violence hotlines this past year, and the 11 women who have died from violence so far this year. 

We call it as we see it — and unfortunately, it’s not always a great sight. 

But we’re also never short of positive stories — of inspiring stories about women, of women resetting everything we know about leadership, and transforming businesses, communities, teams and innovation for the better. 

That’s why we established this awards program — to shine a spotlight on these leaders, to recognise those who have their heads down doing extraordinary things, and deserve an opportunity to get their stories heard and celebrated. 

Ultimately though: we don’t do this because it’s a nice thing to do. 

We’re not here simply to feel good, for a moment. Although I can tell you — you will all leave here inspired. 

We’re here to celebrate female leadership because this leadership is necessary. 

The situation is critical. 

The leaders who take us into the decade ahead will determine the future of this planet, more so than possibly any generation behind it. 

The past year has given us a powerful and devastating example of what can go wrong. 

We saw the failures of a strongman style of leadership, of egos of arrogance. Of those unwilling to listen to the science, unwilling to take decisive action. Unable to communicate and collaborate. 

On the other hand, this past year also gave us powerful and optimistic examples of what can go right. 

We saw collaborative leadership. Compassionate leadership. Courageous leadership. We saw leaders who aimed to consult, empathise and successfully respond and adapt to constant change. 

Aminata Conteh-Bigeh was named the 2021 Agenda Setter of the Year.

We saw leaders who delivered radical candour and transparency. Who were open, honest and vulnerable. 

We didn’t see these leaders everywhere. But we did see them in many places: and we certainly did see positive trends in how women responded to the crisis we’ve faced over the past 15 months. 

Much has been made of how female heads of state have led their countries during the pandemic — often to astounding success. Women lead a tiny 10% of  countries, yet they’ve come out on top regarding Coronvirus responses. Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand. Tsai Ing-Wen in Taiwan. Erna Solberg in Norway. They kept COVID cases and COVID related deaths down. 

These leaders make headlines. But let’s also consider the leadership that kept things running: in hospitals, schools, early childhood education, cleaning services. There’s the leadership that occurred in family homes across Australia and the world where we know women took on the brunt of home schooling. 

This leadership is not always celebrated, nor is it always given a proper job ‘title’, and rarely is it given the pay it deserves. Rather, it’s leadership that makes the work happen. 

Our goal is to elevate this leadership — so it can not only be appreciated for what it is, but actually resourced as necessary, paid fairly and where given job titles and promotions it needs. 


Our shared experiences of the past year have also presented a reset — and we are deep in the process of seeing this happen. We have assessed the failings, oftentimes delving deep into the systemic problems that made it happen. 

We’ve seen the opportunities to support a new approach, a new order, a new way of operating. 

We have seen the power of collective action in declaring Enough. 


As we know from those gathered in this room, from the 900 or so nominations that we’ve had for these awards, we are far from short of the talent that is and will make this reset happen.  

We have 34 finalists in a program. 32 who are here tonight. Can we please take a moment to applaud all of our finalists?  

Being a finalist is a massive achievement. It celebrates your ability to have impact, to collaborate, to deliver with compassion and courage. Yes winners have been selected. But ultimately it’s about all of you, elevating your achievements, your leadership and everything that you do from here. 

Thank you everyone for being here tonight. It’s taken a lot. A little over a year ago — Tarla and I really had to be frank about the future of Women’s Agenda given the challenges the pandemic had thrown up– I would not have believed that we’d be here, at this point, by April 2021. 

I can’t express enough gratitude to those who’ve made tonight happen.

Georgie Dent, our superstar MC who is here — who yesterday was part of a campaign and joint policy statement and coalition urging the government to prioritise the economic security and safety of women. But has made it to be here with us tonight. 

To Madi Howarth, who gave that beautiful and moving Acknowledgement of Country. To share such raw emotion took such compassion and courage, exactly what we’re here to elevate and highlight tonight.

Thank you to our panellist speakers, who you’ll hear from over dinner. 

And our incredible judges who took on this task with such dedication and passion to the cause.  A special note to Shirley Chowdhary — who has not only acted as a mentor and advisor to me and Tarla on this program — but also brought this stellar lineup together. She absolutely personifies all the leadership traits that we are celebrating tonight: care, compassion, great communication, resilience, collaboration and impact.

Thank you to Telstra Health, for partnering with us for the first time on this event, your team have been so passionate about elevating brilliant female leadership and a pleasure to work with. 

And to Salesforce, our headline partner and a company that Tarla and I have long admired for its strong progressive stance on issues that we really care about — as well as its long history of stellar leadership, driven from the founder down and into the likes of people like the incredible Pip Marlow, who leads Asia Pacific. 

Enjoy your evening. Congratulations to the finalists of the 2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.

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