Four things we learned at YWCA Canberra's She Leads Conference 2019 | HerCanberra

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Four things we learned at YWCA Canberra’s She Leads Conference 2019

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YWCA Canberra is an organisation that strives to create opportunities for women and girls to thrive. 

So it was fitting that this very word, Thrive, was the theme of She Leads 2019 where some of Australia’s most inspiring female and non-binary speakers gathered to share their wisdom earlier this month.

She Leads is always a powerhouse of an event. Held over one day in Canberra, the conference is a beacon of progressive thinking and radical ideas and it’s an event that HerCanberra has been proud to support the last three years as a media partner.

After all, we’re both working towards the same goal – a more equal world for women and girls. More opportunities, more understanding, better balance and a more inclusive future. These were all topics tabled at She Leads 2019 across keynote speeches and panels where tips and tricks and ideas and lived experiences were shared by inspirational women across all industries.

For those who weren’t able to make it on the day (although if that’s the case, we strongly suggest you sign up for YWCA Canberra’s ENews here so you don’t miss out on any of their future events), we’ve distilled some of our favourite takeaways below.


Yumi Stynes has been a broadcaster and commentator for almost two decades. You may remember her from Channel [V]’s “heyday of music television”, her time on The Circle or from her current ABC podcast, Ladies, We Need To Talk.

Yumi, quite honestly, blew me away. Her powerful keynote about her career spotlighted both high and low points and had me glued to my seat. Yumi spoke with conviction, passion and determination and completely electrified her audience.

The takeaway: Don’t be afraid of failure, in your career or otherwise. There is always time to turn it around, and opportunities are only ever over the next hill. Also, be kind to people on the internet.


One of the many side-splittingly funny moments of the What are Your Limits panel was when panellists Kemi Nekvapil (executive and personal coach, and author), Clare Moore (advocate and CEO of Women with Disabilities ACT) and Nakari Thorpe (journalist with SBS World News) were asked how they wind down.

Suddenly, the conversation descended into who had the worst trash TV habit, with Nakari admitting she loves renovation shows and moderator Hannah Wandel of Country to Canberra topping that by saying she loves Real Housewives.

The takeaway: No matter how serious your day job or how big your workload, don’t be ashamed of how you wind down. Don’t take your downtime too seriously.



If there’s a moment that I will never forget from this conference, it will be when Deborah Cheetham AO gave us a welcome to country from the traditional owners of her hometown of Melbourne, the Kulin Nation.

This wasn’t just moving because Deborah herself is a proud Yorta Yorta woman. But because she is a renown soprano and instead of speaking the welcome, she sang it.

The effortless blending of opera and Indigenous storytelling is at the core of Deborah’s career. Through her own opera company, Short Black Opera, she created Pecan Summer, Australia’s first Indigenous opera, which tells the story of the Cummeragunja Mission walk-off.

Deborah also has started a dialogue around the seemingly inevitable demise of the soprano in well-known operas.

As Deborah puts it, almost every iconic opera has the soprano die a gruesome and tragic death. What does this say about a society trying to address the scourge of violence against women?

Deborah instilled in us the importance of looking to Indigenous stories in the arts, as well as thinking critically about the portrayal of women in those arts.

The takeaway: If you think something is missing, step up and create it yourself. Then fight for it.


HESTA CEO Debby Blakey had more than just sage words for us during her keynote, Grow Forward. She also had admissions about the mistakes she’d made in her own career.

To hear someone so accomplished speak frankly and fearlessly about the twists and turns their enviable career had taken was refreshing, to say the least.

Debby spoke about taking a role in an organisation that she thought was a great fit only to realise six months in that their priorities were not aligned.

Once you find your ‘why’, says Debby, you need to make sure you follow it.

The takeaway: Even if you’ve set yourself on a particular course, there’s always time to change it.

HerCanberra was a proud media partner of YWCA Canberra’s 2019 She Leads Conference.

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