YWCA SHE Leads Conference

Don Dunstan Foundation staff member Olivia reports on the YWCA SHE Leads conference.

On Friday August 17 I was lucky enough to attend YWCA Adelaide’s sold out SHE Leads Conference at the Adelaide Town Hall. Held in the beautiful Queen Adelaide Room and various other locations within the Town Hall, it was a fantastic day with an impressive array of high profile women speakers.

Not only were all the speakers engaging and inspiring, the whole day was extremely well organised, with a couple of very cool ideas about how to keep the inspiration going well after the event – I’ll go into more detail about that later.

Mia Handshin was the MC, and she was an excellent choice – passionate, enigmatic and articulate. Aunty Josie gave the Welcome to Country and then we launched into the action packed program. All of the speakers gave their own personal perspective on leadership and to go into detail about each one would be a long essay, so I’ll just highlight some of the messages that came through loud and clear.

Diane Ranck, the Director for the Marketing and Communications Office at Flinders University, set the tone for the day with her enthusiastic style, and story of being determined not to let motherhood stop her from achieving her professional goals.

The Hon Kate Ellis MP shared some great insights into her own career. She spoke passionately about paid maternity leave and domestic violence saying that it “is the greatest crisis of our time”.

Rebecca Vassarotti the Executive Director of the YWCA Canberra encouraged her audience to “be brave, be bold and don’t let the fear of failure stop you”.

Susan Brennan, the Vice President of the World YWCA for the Pacific Region, told some extraordinary stories of women from all over the world who had inspired her with their leadership. She also gave some sobering global statistics about women and girls, for example, “one third of girls worldwide are denied access to secondary education”. She also raised the topic of conflict free mining and described the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo as “the war that ends in women’s bellies”. She asked us to consider every time we send a text, if we are using resources mined from conflict. You can see a list of electronics companies and how they rate on the conflict free mining scale here:

Adelaide City Councillor, Megan Hender, urged us all to consider Council as a valuable leadership opportunity. She highlighted that “in 140 years, only nineteen women have served as Adelaide City Councillors, and we should all consider being the 20th”.

Katrine Hildyard, Branch Secretary of the Australian Services Union SA and NT, had this wonderful, pertinent, piece of advice “even if your voice is shaky at the start – you need to find your voice and speak up”.

Niki Vincent, the Chief Executive at the Leaders Institute of South Australia was thoroughly engaging and talked about the value of being a mentor and a mentee. She also suggested that when going for that next step in a leadership career, women should apply “even if you have 80% of the skills for a job, apply anyway! Stretch yourself”.

It was great to see Senator Penny Wong introduced by Don Dunstan Foundation 2012 YAP, Shae Mortimer. Penny gave some personal insights into her career development and tried to convince us she wasn’t funny, despite having the audience laughing out loud regularly. She had many pearls of wisdom, for example: “the most limiting factor in your life is your own perception of what you can be”, “find your own voice because you will always speak with more power if you do”, “our aspirations for our daughters should never be less than for our sons”, and finally, something very relevant to the values of the Don Dunstan Foundation, “it is incumbent on every generation to improve things for the next”.

Finally to close the day, we heard from Vickie Chapman MP, Shadow Minister for the Status of Women who said “leadership skills are not just for public and professional life” which I heard as a call to action to lead by example in all aspects of your life, and to speak up when you feel passionately about something whether it be at work, at home, among friends or in your community.

There were two things that the YWCA did as part of the conference that I thought were fantastic and worth mentioning. Firstly, one often ends a day like this feeling energised and inspired, only to go back to ‘normal’ life and eventually forget about all the wonderful ideas and insights one had. The YWCA cleverly anticipated this, and at the end of the day, we were all asked to write our address on a provided postcard and three things that we were going to take away from the day. The YWCA then promised to mail us our own postcard in a few weeks time, to remind us of how we’d been motivated by the conference. Brilliant.

Secondly, using the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water”, we were invited to take a pair of teabags (in a delightfully designed little packet), seek out a woman who inspired us, and invite her to have a cup of tea. I felt this was a genius idea, and a real call to action to use our networks and be brave enough to make positive steps towards our leadership goals. Well done YWCA!

In conclusion, whilst all the speakers of the day had varying backgrounds and areas of interest, when it came to being a woman in leadership, or aspiring to be one, there were a couple of messages that were reiterated throughout the day. They were: Be bold, be courageous, be resilient and be yourself.

I’m very appreciative to work for an organisation that values and invests in my professional development, and I am grateful to the Don Dunstan Foundation for supporting my attendance at this wonderful event.

For more information about the YWCA SHE leads program visit

Olivia Power
Manager, Administration and Events
Don Dunstan Foundation

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