Poll position: University program aims to make women better at ballot box

A unique program launched by QUT is equipping women with the skills to get above the political fray before Queenslanders march to the polls next year.

May 11, 2023, updated May 11, 2023
Cairns City councillor Amy Eden says the QUT course has readied her for next year's local government elections.

Cairns City councillor Amy Eden says the QUT course has readied her for next year's local government elections.

With a glut of elections in 2024 for Queensland – local on March 16, state on October 26 and maybe even an early federal poll (who knows?) – the timing to prepare women for the onslaught of election campaigning couldn’t be better.

That’s why QUT is reiterating its call for women aspiring to be candidates in the oncoming ballots to sign up for their Pathways to Politics for Women program.

The non-partisan program helps women to identify and improve the skills needed to stand for election, and is supported by elected women from all parties and at all levels of government.

Program director Professor Vicky Browning said the course helped participants build strong networks both within the cohort and with senior party leaders and boosted confidence.

“I think the course really builds their knowledge of politics and their campaigning, but it also has a huge impact on their beliefs about themselves,” Browning said.

“They come in second-guessing themselves, but by the time they leave they have a much stronger belief in their capability.”

Natalie Marr, who may be considered a slightly more seasoned operator after serving a term on Townsville City Council and then contesting the 2020 state election before deciding she’ll run again as the LNP candidate for Thuringowa, said the course still had plenty of new tricks and tips to pass on.

“During the course I kept thinking to myself, ‘I wish I’d done this before I ran in an election’,” she said.

“It has given me the confidence of how I can do things better, and it really would have prepared me for the election, especially as a woman.”

“I understand my community, and know I’m a hard worker, but after doing the course I am much more confident about communicating my own personal story and how it would be appreciated by voters.”

Marr encouraged women from the regions to apply for the program.

“It is a great opportunity to be surrounded and supported by an incredibly diverse group of positive women,” she said.

“There’s nothing like this in the regions. The fact that QUT, their sponsors and supporters make it available to rural and regional Queenslanders makes it really important. Often when women get into seats in the regions they don’t have the support of other women – they’re quite isolated – but this program gives you a great network.”

Cairns City councillor Amy Eden said the program had made her seriously consider running for mayor in the 2024 local government elections.

“We need more women in local government, and in all levels of government. Men and women think differently, have different lenses and it’s important to have that diversity and representation in our leadership,” she said.

“I’d like to see a more demographically balanced council, one reflective of our community – it’s about balance.

“Since completing the program, I have a greater appreciation of the importance of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ – and we need to lead by example of your women leaders of tomorrow.”

Eden said experiencing the generous support of elected politicians for the Pathways program had helped her to connect with mentors and experts to equip her for a tilt at mayor in 2024.

“This course has helped me have the confidence to reach out to the people who can support me and to learn from their ideas for cities. I’ve gone outside of Cairns because of this course and people are so happy to give time to support the greater good,” she said.

Brisbane based executive Michaela Sargent, who unsuccessfully stood for the Walter Taylor ward in the last Brisbane city Council election,  said the course included support from a leadership coach, who helped her to overcome imposter syndrome, the feeling of inadequacy that stops many women from entering politics, despite having the skills and experience for the job.

She said the coaching also helped her to see her skills as valuable assets that could be used in all aspects of her life.  

“I started a new job as a CEO for an international development contractor at the same time as doing the course and it was incredibly useful in enabling me to launch into that career,” she said.

“It is also helping me to step up into leadership roles in my community even before an election starts.”  

The program sponsors regional and rural women’s travel and accommodation to attend the program in Brisbane, which includes three, two-day workshops over three months, as well as four virtual classrooms, access to an online learning platform, networking functions and coaching sessions.

The Queensland program is part of a national network of independent programs based at Australian universities modelled on the Pathways to Politics Program for Women, which was launched by the University of Melbourne in 2016 in partnership with the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, and the Trawalla Foundation. The network has launched a Pathways to Politics for Women Knowledge Hub.



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