Lessons from female leaders who’re leading their own way | Women's Agenda

Lessons from female leaders who’re leading their own way

Today, Women’s Agenda has joined a roomful of women in Canberra to address the theme of ‘Challenge’ at the YWCA’s SheLeads event.

We’re learning about real and practical things women can do in their everyday leadership actions to bring about real, systemic change that can deliver positive outcomes for everyone.

With a diverse line-up of speakers, below’s what we’ve learnt from the event so far.

We’ll continue to update these lessons throughout the day.

Talk your talk. In a stirring Welcome to Country, Aunty Janette shared her personal story and what she’s learnt escaping a domestic violence relationship, and later raising seven children. As well as urging those in the audience to look after their teeth (banish the coca cola) and moisturise, she offered this: “Talk your talk, it doesn’t matter who is listening. But when you talk it, walk it … Be strong, have faith in yourself. “They used to burn us as witches. Now, we know how to fight back.”

Leadership is holistic, use all of it. YWCA Canberra President Jude Burger noted that there are many elements to leadership, that are much more than a position title or a place in an organisation. Leadership includes working to change society by leading by example. Leadership is also an opportunity to challenge – to consider some of the ways women are experiencing under-representation, exclusion and inequality – and to play a part in changing it.

Have passion. “If you have passion, as a professional, as a woman, you can achieve so much,” said advocate for deaf people,  Drisana Levitzke-Gray. “If you leave with one word today, leave with the word passion.” Meanwhile, Drisana noted there are 72 million deaf people in the world. “That’s not so little, we’re not a little group of people”. One in six people are deaf in Australia or have some degree of hearing loss. By 2050, it’s estimated that number will be one in four. “It’s not something we can sweep under the carpet or dismiss. Many people are deaf, it’s important we acknowledge their rights. And one of those is access to education.” Just 17% are receiving some form of education across the world. Drisana noted that a lot of people don’t know just how marginalised deaf people are, particularly when it comes to language. “Access to language is essential.”

Know great things happen when you accept the challenge. Michelle Deshong noted how she wants to change the conversation to one that looks at what Indigenous women have achieved. “I acknowledge our history is one of trials and tribulations and sadness and challenge, but also when people accept the challenge… great things can happen. So instead of thinking about what hasn’t happened in the last 50 years, I want us to reflect on what has.” She noted a number of major events and firsts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, from Pat O’Shane in 1975 who became the first Aboriginal Barrister to Linda Burney who in 2015 became the first Aboriginal woman in the Federal House of Reps.

Deshong also noted that Aboriginal women are fighting the “white patriarchy” and the “black patriarchy” at the same time – especially where violations of women’s rights are disguised in culture. “For most of us that’s where our fight begins, that we have to convince people in our families and communities that we can define women as leaders,” she said.

There’s power in small, collective action. Shen Narayansamy said that when GetUp put out a call to say they were planning on targeting Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s seat at the next election, more than 5000 people gave an average of $38 each, raising $200,000 in the process. Collective action is powerful.

Don’t leave anyone behind. “For me, I pose the question in this room, what about those last two ladies,” said Michelle Deshong. “What are the challenges that are existing between Indigenous and none Indigenous women. I pose for you to take up the challenge and to do something differently, in this space. When people say “It’s great to have Aboriginal women, we need more of you in this space, I respond ‘well what have you done to do that?” Consider how we can shape the next fifty years as decades that will be inclusive for all women.

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