Women for election: Breaking through the barriers

Women for Election: Breaking through the barriers

Today I attended the Women for Election masterclass, at NSW Parliament House, a forum put on to inspire and equip women to succeed in Australian politics.

There was a line-up of very impressive speakers including The Hon Kristina Kennelly, Narelle Hopper, Jenny Morris, Dee Madigan, Dai Le, Michael Morgan, Joanne Yates, Heather Forton, Virginia Haussegger AM, Jenny Aitchison MLA – Maitland, Jodie Harrison MLA – Charlestown, Jenny Leong MLA – Newtown, Tamara Smith MLA – Ballina, Kate Washington MLA – Port Stephens, The Hon Natasha Maclaren Jones MLC, The Hon Sarah Mitchell, Penny Sharpe MLC, The Hon Bronnie Taylor MLC, Ms Dawn Walker MLC, Michelle Blicavs Councillor – Wollongong Council.

So much was covered on strategies to break barriers for women entering and thriving in politics. Here are a few of my key take aways which equally apply in non-political settings:

1)     Know who you are and what you stand for – there will come a time where this is questioned and it may be a slippery slope – where a series of small compromises on the things that matter (e.g. ethics) can lead to big issues down the track.

2)     Be really clear on the message you are sending – we are assessed before we even open our mouths. It’s important to be conscious of how your constituents may be interpreting your message – is your message sent the message they receive (personally I would like to see more of this question being asked in the corporate world by leaders about how they communicate with their teams!).

3)     Be authentic and real, and also be mindful of the of the difference between your public and private life – be real from the start and don’t try to craft or try to stage authenticity – equally important is holding firm if other people are trying to shape your image.

4)     Study the best speakers (in this case in parliament) – look at what they do that is different and how they own their space.

5)     Embrace the knowledge that you will get somethings wrong – so embrace the learnings that you’ll gain from mistakes and failure – you will survive it and be more resilient because of it.

6)     Respond rather than react – there will be heated arguments and debates – be part of the debate knowing that it is not about you personally but about the issues – there is a need to develop a high level of conflict tolerance and compartmentalise the argument from the personal attack.

7)     Read media and speak to people that you don’t always agree with and genuinely try to understand their perspective and the arguments.

8)     To gain cut through – aim to understand the sentiments that are out there in the community – and amplify the issues that are out there. Work on the issues that really matter to you and demonstrate why they really matter to you.

There are many incredibly talented women out there who would make outstanding political leaders. In reference to gender in politics Julia Gillard stated 'It doesn't explain everything, it doesn't explain nothing, it explains some things, and it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey' I’d love to see more being done in this space and commend Women for Election for providing such a great forum for this important conversation.  


Heidi Sundin is the Director of The Agenda Agency — a boutique consulting firm specialising in corporate strategy, SME growth and gender strategy. She works with organisations to drive growth, innovation and gender diversity. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer-centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans strategy development and creating transformational programs across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. Check out theagendaagency.com