Inspirational stories for women leaders

Almost 100 women in leadership or with leadership aspirations came together to share their stories at the IEUA’s inaugural Women in Leadership Conference held in Canberra in March.

There were a large number of keynote speakers at the two day event, including Ged Kearney ACTU President, Naomi Steer UNHCR National Director, author and journalist Maxine McKew and Professor Carmen Lawrence, as well as senior women from the IEU. The conference focused on the knowledge and skills IEU women need to exercise leadership of various levels of union engagement, including in the workplace and beyond.

As an outcome from the conference, the proposed IEUA Women and Leadership Development Program will have a significant future focus on the development of women’s leadership skills and will involve development opportunities such as webinars, professional conversations and mentoring opportunities over a three year period.

My students were horrified to learn that married women were not allowed to work in the public service.

Wagga Wagga Christian School teacher Holly Wright, who also attended the IEU’s Activist Conference three years ago, loved the conference and the opportunity to network with other like minded women.

“Ged Kearney stood out with her overview of women’s status in the union movement and the inspiring story of how she overcame challenges as a young working mother,” Holly said.

“Even now she still faces discrimination – someone recently said ‘it’s about economics, you wouldn’t understand’ to her.

“Naomi Steer also had a profound personal story. She was the first female diplomat with DFAT to take a spouse overseas. She got that job when married women had only just been allowed to continue to work in the public service.

“It’s not really that long ago. I took that story back to my students and they were horrified to learn that married women were not allowed to work in the public service,”Holly said.

Holly also enjoyed the work of Megan Dalla-Camina, a researcher who shares evidence based strategies with women to stop their thinking from holding them back from fulfilling their leadership potential.

Leadership is not just about a formal qualification or a job leadership can be incorporated into every part of life.

Regina Coeli Catholic Primary School teacher Seeta Kildea said every woman should aspire to be a leader in everything they do.

“I aspire to be a leader in the classroom, as a mother of two girls,” Seeta said.

She attended the conference because the union movement needs an injection of fresh talent, especially from young women.

“I feel passionate about finding ways to empower the next generation of people to get involved in the union movement, and I wanted to see how other women are doing that.”

Inspiring speakers included Jennifer Moses, Equality Officer from the UK teaching union NASUWT, who spoke on issues for women and the LGTBI community.

“She spoke about trans teachers and students, and how their union is supporting them, that’s something we don’t talk about enough in Australia,” Seeta said.

Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan also inspired with her passion.

“She talked about taking her kids on the picket line.”

Kristin Rooney from the Coast Christian School, Bensville found networking and resetting priorities invaluable at the conference.

“I truly appreciated the opportunity to network and liaise with women nationally, it was incredible and I was blessed to meet a remarkable woman from CAPS Coolgardie Western Australia. This is a Christian Aboriginal school, six hours east of Perth.

“In the short time we had to talk with each other we shared stories about our schools, the conditions and workload expectations. I hope this is the start of a relationship between two unionists and two Christian schools on the opposite sides of the country.

“I really appreciated that ACTU President Ged Kearney’s message about prioritising what we do, the key being ‘don’t agonise – organise!’ and I was reminded that you don’t need to be at the top to lead but can be a leader where ever you are and in what ever you do. It’s such sound advice. From a number of speakers the message was clear: take the initiative, be active in what you do where ever you are.”

Kristin said: “I learnt so much from the conference; it ended with the NSW/ACT Branch members meeting together to work on our ‘bold ideas’. We all agreed it was a great way to prepare the way for implementing bold ideas for women in our branch.”

St Bernard’s Primary School Batehaven teacher Sallyann Burtenshaw said the conference was a fantastic opportunity to network with other women and hear from some great speakers.

Sallyann said she wanted to bring learning back to her fellow members.

“Many of our schools are rural and coastal and we don’t get the opportunity to hear from many great speakers.

“I wanted to share what I learnt with my chapter, but it’s turned out to be wider than that.

“Learning about the way women hold themselves back in their thinking has lead me to think about other aspects of my life.

“I would love to see more networking going on through the Union to allow teachers in more isolated schools to meet with city teachers on a regular basis – we are looking at getting something like that happening since the conference.”