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Diverse forms of leadership

Frances Crimmins

As an organisation driven by creating gender equality, we talk about women’s leadership a lot at YWCA Canberra.

We strive to tackle inequality and provide practical support such as professional development and seed grants to support women in reaching their leadership potential.

Does this mean we want to see more women at the helm of Australia’s boardrooms? With women occupying a dismal 22.7 per cent of spots on ASX200 boards, you bet.

But women’s leadership is not simply confined to corporate corridors or boardrooms. These traditionally male emblems of power must become equally available to all, but in no way can they begin to capture the non-executive forms of leadership for which women must be recognised.

And you don’t need to look far to find incredible women leading change their way.

Carly Findlay works tirelessly online to challenge attitudes and assumptions about those with visible physical differences. Indira Naidoo is energising city-dwellers to grow their own food to boost sustainability and wellbeing. Canberra’s very own Jeanette Purkis, an autism and mental health advocate, facilitates a support group for women on the Autism spectrum.

We need to value and promote the achievements of such women who transform their industries and communities, and encourage others who wish to follow suit.

The substantial leadership contributions by women like these within their communities are often unrecognised and undervalued, contributing to the broader issue of gender inequality.

Just this year, it was reported that Australia had fallen again in international gender equality rankings. Out of 33 OECD nations, Australia fell from 17th to 20th in terms of female labour force participation, the gender pay gap and the share of female employees in full-time employment.[1]

In an example closer to home for Canberrans, the Australian Public Service Commission this month released data on gender inequality in the federal public service, revealing that “fewer than 34 per cent [of female employees at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] serve in senior executive positions and only 27 per cent are heads of mission.”[2] Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull echoed concerns about gender equality in the bureaucracy only last month. [3]

Clearly, something is going severely awry. But what do we do about it? It is our belief that precipitating a change in ideas of what constitutes ‘leadership’ will facilitate a change in the perception that women must meet traditionally male criteria of ‘leadership’ in order to achieve leadership roles.

We believe that women’s leadership is integral to advancing gender equality, and part of our work here is changing the perception of what a leader looks like.

We are honoured to host Carly, Indira, Jeanette, and many more inspiring women at our annual She Leads Conference, to share their experiences of leadership and transformation.

This unique event advances of our goal of recognising and promoting diverse forms of women’s leadership. For more information, visit

[1] International Women’s Day PwC’s Women in Work Index

[2] Where are all the women? Senior APS ranks maintain male majority. The Canberra Times

[3] Turnbull wants more women in top public service roles and more tech-savvy staff

Image of ‘smiling businesswoman‘ via Shutterstock


Frances Crimmins

Frances has a passion to see women achieve their potential and shape their communities. Frances was YWCA Canberra Director of Operations before being appointed Executive Director in 2013. She is Chair of the ACT Ministerial Advisory Committee for Women, the current Co-Chair of Anti-Poverty Week in the ACT, a representative on the ACT Governance Community Linkages Committee, and is a member of the ACT Women’s Services Network. Frances loves living in Canberra with her husband and children, and is committed to YWCA Canberra making a real and lasting difference to this community. She is conscious that the organisation stands on the shoulders of the women who have gone before, and is keen to take it strongly into the future. More about the Author

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