An Interview with Helen Conway, YWCA Australia Board President (designate)

When asked what attracted her to consider taking up the role of YWCA Board President, Helen Conway noted her long commitment to gender equality.

“I have been a feminist for my whole life,” she said. “Very early on in my career, I determined I would give my time, skills and expertise to support women’s rights.”

A lawyer by training, some of Helen’s earlier volunteer and committee roles in the 1980s and 1990s include:

  • Vice-President of the Women Lawyers Association of NSW
  • Executive Committee member and Convenor of the Women’s House for the Judge Rainbow Memorial Fund (accommodation for women leaving the justice system)
  • Steering Committee member for the Women’s Legal Resources Centre
  • Member of the NSW Government Sexual Assault Committee
  • Tribunal Head of the New South Wales Equal Opportunity Tribunal
Helen Conway

“I felt it was important for me to give my time in these volunteer and committee roles,” said Helen.

“Having had a corporate career across a range of sectors, being able to bring those skills to a cause that I am so personally passionate about was very important to me.”

In 2011, Helen’s skills and personal passions converged when she took on the role of Chief Executive Officer of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), an Australian Government statutory authority with regulatory and other responsibilities.

“When I first joined, WGEA had just undergone a review by the government. The then Minister for Women, the Hon Tanya Plibersek, was committed to reforming the Agency in line with the recommendations from the review. I saw it as a great opportunity to make significant change in support of working women.”

During her time at WGEA, Helen was responsible for implementing the new governing legislation which fundamentally changed the way organisations reported to WGEA.

She also led the development of the strategic vision and long-term change agenda for driving improved gender equality outcomes in Australian workplaces. This included delivering world-leading unique standardised benchmark gender data, conducting bold change campaigns and developing innovative educational resources.

To raise WGEA’s profile and draw attention to their strategic vision, Helen was proactive with the media and a regular participant on the public speaking circuit.

“This is when I started working regularly with YWCA, speaking at a number of their events. As a national feminist not-for-profit organisation, YWCA’s work was complementary to the work I did at WGEA as a government regulatory agency,” said Helen.

“Even after I left WGEA, I continued to work with YWCA and provided some pro-bono advice relating to the 2018 merger.”

It was through engaging with YWCA during the 2018 merger process that convinced Helen that the role of Board President was one where she could continue to make a difference for women’s rights.

“I was very impressed with the passion of the people involved in the merger, and the quality of the work done,” she said. “I can see that YWCA is well-positioned to continue, and build significantly on, the wonderful work it has done for women for 140 years in Australia – and that is why I am excited to join YWCA Australia as the new President from 1 July 2020.”

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