You don’t expect a political training course to equip you to become a pandemic media star, but that’s exactly what happened to QUT Pathways to Politics for Women graduate Michaela Sargent in Queensland’s last lockdown in the August 2021 COVID-19 outbreak.
Ms Sargent’s family was one of the thousands forced into compulsory quarantine in Queensland’s August COVID-19 outbreak, with her daughters going to two of the schools declared as close contact sites.
She said the Pathways media workshop helped her speak for her community in local and national media interviews during the lockdown. “I definitely wouldn’t have had as much confidence before doing the course. The journalist rings you at 9am and then you’re being interviewed on TV 45 minutes later — the media training definitely helped me prepare and be able to hit my key points.”
Media training is just one of the aspects of QUT’s Pathways course, which is aimed at redressing the gender imbalance in Australian politics by equipping women interested in standing for election with the skills and confidence they need.
Ms Sargent was one of 20 women selected for last year’s intake and said she applied after running for The Greens in the Brisbane City Council ward of Walter Taylor in the 2020 local government elections. She polled second in the two-party preferred results with an 11.9% swing and says she now has a suite of new tools to apply to future campaigns.
“I would feel much more confident to run again and I’m ready to take on board any opportunity that might come up at any level, whether that be local, state or federal,” she said.
“I took away from the course the things that I need to focus on next time, particularly around fundraising, playing the part of the candidate and having the confidence to be the face of the campaign.”
Ms Sargent 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. The coach also helped Ms Sargent 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. It is also helping me to step up into leadership roles in my community even before an election starts.”
Ms Sargent said course participants heard from a diverse range of female politicians from all levels of government and in all stages of their political careers.
“Every time the doors opened and a new lot of speakers came in it was incredibly impressive. As many of us in the room were political nerds, we were overwhelmed to be able to meet some of our heroes. There was a great mix of women who’d retired and women who were just starting up their political careers and it really helped to hear how things have improved and changed for women in those roles.”
Ms Sargent said the cohort was very close-knit and held a virtual catch-up once a month to see each other and provide issues briefings on their specialty areas.
“There’s some really incredible and impressive women in our cohort. We were all very different from each other, from different political parties and from diverse backgrounds, with a lot of regional women.”
Ms Sargent said they were ready to support a new generation of women at all political levels.
“We are not alone, and we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. We are going forth already knowing about some of the tools and support mechanisms that the women who went before us didn’t have.”