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First UC cohort graduates from Pathways to Politics Program for Women to change the face of political leadership

Emma Larouche

13 November 2023: A cohort of 19 has graduated from the Pathways to Politics Program for Women offered through the University of Canberra, for the first time this year.

The program was launched by the Trawalla FoundationWomen’s Leadership Institute Australia, and University of Melbourne in 2016. It is a fee-free, non-partisan initiative that aims to lift gender equality and diversity in Australian politics and is delivered by a national network of universities, with the inaugural Canberra cohort joining a national alumni network of over 400.

The eight-week program began in August, when the participants attended in-person workshops, gaining insights from current and former politicians, speech writers, journalists and academics, to name a few.

Program Director Amy Kilpatrick said the participants came together in a collegial atmosphere, with a shared passion for equity in politics.

“The women in this program have come from incredibly diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. For some, it was the first time they had been in a university setting before – even though this is not a traditional university course,” she said.

“The line which connects this cohort is their commitment to make things better for all of us through fairer and more equitable government, with more women and greater diversity at every decision-making table.”

The unique learning experience culminated in the participants delivering their political stump speeches in a graduation event at Old Parliament House on 25 October.

Sarah Queenan was among the graduates, who joined the program with a long-term goal of entering federal politics. Ms Queenan grew up in Bawley Point on the NSW South Coast, and is a proud Psychology and Law alumna of the University, who has gone on to have a successful public service career, and in 2021 established her own Human Resources consulting firm in Canberra.

“Throughout my career I have often been the youngest and only female leader in the room, this has at times been challenging, but this lived experience has only strengthened my belief that women belong in all places where decisions are made, particularly in politics, as we all benefit from the contribution women can make when they are supported to lead,” Ms Queenan said.

“Being part of this cohort of amazing women has inspired me - and although I’m busy running my successful business that I am so grateful for, when time is right, I hope to continue my career in politics and give back to the community.”

Fellow graduate and legal professional Soëlily Consen-Lynch has ambitions to run in the next ACT election. She was born in Suriname, a small former Dutch colony in the Caribbean, and raised in the Netherlands. She moved to Australia in 2013.

“28 per cent of Canberrans are born overseas and come from a diverse background and I believe that people who feel heard and represented provide a more positive contribution to society,” Ms Consen-Lynch said.

“Whether other Pathways graduates decide to pursue politics or not, the insights offered in the program are transferable in the work environment, business, or engagement with clients and I think this inaugural Canberra cohort has planted the seeds of a close friendship group and a supportive sounding board for years to come.”

The University will deliver the program again in 2024, hoping to attract more participants from Canberra and the Southern NSW region who are eager to change the political landscape.

“I am so proud to be part of a university that backed this program,” Ms Kilpatrick said.

“The University of Canberra knows direct action and connection to community is needed to achieve gender equity. Pathways does both. We are changing the face of political leadership in Australia for the better.”

Applications for the next intake will open in March 2024. Find out more here.

Photos by David Beach.