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Community Connections

A pathway to finding passion and purpose

Nicole McMahon has always been interested in politics. She has already carved out a career in Canberra, working closely with government, but has always thought about pursuing her passion and purpose to make a difference, potentially as a politician.

“I’d thought about entering politics at some point in my life, since my two girls were babies, but the timing was never right,” Nicole says.

At the last minute, she applied for the University of Canberra’s inaugural Pathways to Politics Program for Women and was accepted as one of 20 participants.

“Even though I’ve been working with both sides of government for a long time, I’m looking forward to getting a different perspective through the Pathways program and understanding what it actually takes to run for public office,” Nicole says.

“I'm really looking forward to honing skills such as my media skills, as I’m not a fan of public speaking. I also think I've got some really good ideas and I'm very passionate about the potential for technology to benefit our lives- from improving health outcomes, providing access to critical services and ensuring Australia can thrive in the global economy.”

Nicole is also excited to learn alongside other inspiring women from all walks of life, who have joined the program from the public service, healthcare, small business, and the community sector to name a few.

“I think everyone’s got something unique to bring to politics – there are a lot of areas of our society still underrepresented,” she says.

“I’ve certainly been in a male dominated culture for a lot of my working life, and I understand what that’s like, and I know how hard it is to find a voice sometimes.”

Throughout her career, Nicole says she has worked alongside women whose voices are being heard, and whose work she greatly admires.

“Maha Abdo, Rosie Batty and Carolyn Frohmader are all trailblazing women, with their passion and drive making a difference to people from many walks of life,” she says.

“But it’s not just the women in my career - I was privileged enough to be the first executive aide for David Thodey, who later became the CEO of Telstra. Observing how he valued people, no matter their role, with a dignified approach, and considering their views and input as important, was a learning experience that I'm very thankful for.”

From the outset, Nicole has said she won’t set a timeframe for becoming a politician, as she is making a difference in a job she loves as Group Owner for Government at Telstra, looking at strategies and aligning capabilities for federal, state, and local governments.

“Being in politics requires commitment and there’s a lot of public scrutiny, but if I think if I've got something of value to add, then that will be the right time and opportunity and I don’t think anything would stand in my way,” she says.

“I love what I do, but I've also had some challenges which tell me that life is not forever, and I don't want to leave this earth until I've really explored all my passions and find my purpose.”

Nicole’s biggest life challenge came in 2017, when she was working as the general manager of 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family, and sexual violence counselling service. She had been called to a Senate Inquiry and missed her breast cancer diagnosis, later finding out she had a seven-centimetre tumour when she had landed in Los Angeles with her two daughters.

“The next few years for me became a battle to make sure I stayed alive, to watch my children graduate school - which I did. That's why undertaking further study is a positive thing, because I never thought I’d be here today, nor attend the same university as my daughter!”

Nicole’s eldest daughter, Paris is studying a Bachelor of Communication and Media/ Bachelor of Laws at UC and describes herself as being the “mirror image” of her mother.

“Mum’s work ethic and her approach to life was instilled in me from a young age,” Paris says.

“She has always worked hard and given her all and I feel like I’ve taken that on in balancing the work and study that I do.”

Paris poured her passion into advocating for young people. She volunteered at the ACT Human Rights Commission when she was a teenager, where she attended conferences and facilitated panels of young people, developing her public speaking skills – something she enjoys, unlike her mum!

“I enjoy it (public speaking) when it's something I truly believe in, or when I'm bringing young people together and helping amplify their voices rather than speaking for them,” Paris says.

“I've learned more from watching Paris than anything else,” Nicole chimes in. “She was doing all these great things and she was telling me, ‘Mum, you can't speak for me. Young people have a voice and need to be heard.’”

Nicole described the impact her daughter had when she was facilitating a panel of young people who had experienced incredible hardship to an audience of hundreds of policymakers and representatives from all levels of government.

“You could have heard a pin drop when the talk finished,” Nicole says.

“In the wrap up Paris was asked what her takeaways were from the conference and she turned the question around and said: ‘What I want to know from the audience is, you're all going back to your day jobs, back to your government offices and what are you going to take from what we've heard today and how are you going to make that change in policy and make a difference?’

“The audience responded and told her what they would do, I've got to say, in my 20-plus-year career and taking my mother hat off, that was one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen!”

Paris is still working in advocacy while she studies, returning to the Human Rights Commission for a six-month stint to help establish the role of a Youth Advisor to the Children and Young People Commissioner, Jodie Griffiths- Cook.

“It's going to be really fabulous because there will be a new person in the role every three to six months to bring diverse views to the Commission and offer more young people different experiences,” she says.

Both mother and daughter are on a clear pathway to putting people at the heart of what they do.

Words by Emma Larouche, photos by Tyler Cherry.

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