Meet our Pathways to Politics alumni

Each quarter we ask three of our Pathways to Politics Program for Women alumni a few questions about what they're doing now, what they believe needs to change for more women to enter politics and what advice they have for fellow alumni.


Penny Davis

What are you doing currently?

I am the Director of Brand, Customer and Corporate Affairs for Bupa in Hong Kong. My team is responsible for internal and external communications, public affairs and policy, brand strategy and communications and ESG for our health insurance and health services businesses across 1,500 employees, 1.5million customers and our terrific community partners.

What are your political aspirations?

Alongside my corporate career, I’ve followed my passion for politics through academia, staffing, senior Party positions and I have run for preselection. I’m proud of that work, but I’ve needed a rest and a reset. My aspiration is to make a significant contribution to the progress of Australia and particularly my home in Gippsland, Victoria. For now, that might be through my work, community activity or indirectly through the Liberal Party, and in the future may be as an elected representative.

What skills or tips do you have to share with your fellow alumni?

Work bloody hard and then harder still. Know your values and where the ethical line is drawn for you. Retain your humility. Remember that politicians are just normal people with extraordinary day jobs and a fancy title.

What do you think needs to be disrupted to help female politicians thrive?

In the country, remote and virtual ways of working need to catch up to the workplace so that we reduce the massive distances and family sacrifices for people to seek office at all levels, which will drive diversity. In the Liberal Party, generational change in our membership. And amongst women, we need to come at one another differently. When we see potential, we have to point it out and back it. An off-hand comment like, “you should seriously consider running – you would be excellent”, has been enough to light a fire and kick-start many current and former women’s political careers. And this can happen just as well ‘across the chamber’. We can all be champions of one another.

What leader/s do you most admire and why?

I am inspired by people from unsuspecting backgrounds who work hard to make significant contributions to their community. Jim Stynes and Neale Daniher are two Melbourne Football Club legends that are now better known for their incredible work in building the Reach Foundation and Fight MND, respectively. Their ability to create movements and real, lasting impact for families by finding their voice and their tribe is remarkable.


In politics I have had the great opportunity to work for the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer and have a front seat to her political career. She has been a wonderful example to me in her work ethic, unwavering clarity on values, political judgement, and has championed women using her own political capital to help them progress.

What are you reading right now?

To keep up with Australian politics while I’m overseas, it’s The Squiz, Annabel Crabb, and Nikki Sava on Insiders. Otherwise, it’s lots of fiction to escape the daily news cycle and my predicament being ‘stuck’ in Hong Kong! Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’, Jeanine Cummins ‘American Dirt’, and everything by Helen Garner.


Sally Dillon

What are you doing currently?

I am working as a freelance journalist and campaign consultant. I’m writing articles for The Guardian, interviewing interesting people and learning about their work, and I’m supporting community groups and not-for-profit organisations as a campaigner and media advisor. I’ve had great success with my media promotions and I really enjoy helping people to campaign effectively for change: it’s so rewarding to see them empowered and excited to do more in their communities. One of my highlights recently was teaching a group of senior citizens how to be social media champions — after a few technological glitches they took to it like a duck to water and are now busy promoting their cause through community social media channels.


What are your political aspirations?

I would like to run again for the ward of Coorparoo in the 2024 Brisbane City Council elections. Community is where my passion is, and local government is the level of government that appeals most to me. In Brisbane the job of a councillor is almost on par with that of a state government MP — a councillor represents 30,000-plus constituents and works full time.


After my first campaign, which won a 9.8% swing, I am continuing to build my political and campaign knowledge and my profile by supporting local state and federal campaigns and by volunteering in my community.


What skills or tips do you have to share with your fellow alumni?

Get ready! Build your support base, gather your team, develop campaign skills and position yourself for preselection. Work to become well known in your community. Keep an eye on the big picture and be realistic — campaign hard, but if you’re in a two- or three-campaign seat then keep something in the tank and understand that the election you’re currently contesting might be just building towards the next one.


What do you think needs to be disrupted to help female politicians thrive?

If we want to elect more women, especially women with families, women with disabilities, women with carer roles, and women or on low incomes, then we need to provide more substantial support to those candidates. Parties and communities who truly want to want to elect more diverse politicians need to look at innovative ways to provide campaign extras such as income support, household support and child care to liberate women to spend quality time on campaigning to win.


What leader/s do you most admire and why?

The mums who are leading by doing: the unsung heroes who are juggling families and jobs to voluntarily run campaigns against domestic violence, poverty and injustice, mums who are just doing their bit to make the world a better place. A lot of men are put in the spotlight for work they do, but you often don’t hear about the quietly achieving women who make life better for their communities.


What are you reading right now?

I love reading and writing children’s and young adult literature, so I’m reading Paul Jennings’ autobiography Untwisted. He’s a great storyteller and an excellent writer and I’m enjoying reading about his life’s journey and his insights into writing. That’s my backup career — children’s author. Good authors can make a powerful difference in children’s lives.


Susan Yengi

What are you doing currently?

Since completing the P2P program, I’ve returned to my busy life being a mum, working full-time and doing a number of volunteer advocacy programs. My main passions are education and multiculturalism, so a lot of my advocacy work is generally centred around improving educational outcomes for young people across the board as well as advocating for greater diversity and inclusion. As a current member of the ALP, I currently sit on the Multicultural Affairs, Population & Citizenship Policy Committee as well as the Education Policy Committee.

What are your political aspirations?

I think like most women, I suffer from an acute form of imposter syndrome, so I often find myself (depending on the week) alternating between wanting to pursue a career in politics and then feeling inadequate and then thinking maybe I’m not good enough to run at some point in the future. But I spend so much time trying to inspire young people to believe they are good enough and can achieve anything they put their minds to, that I often feel like a hypocrite. So, in essence, currently I’m 50/50. Though I do hope one of these days I can muster the courage to run in the next few years.

What skills or tips do you have to share with your fellow alumni?

I think now more than ever, it’s important to remain true to ourselves and keep fighting for the goals that brought us to the P2P program in the first place. The face of politics is changing and will continue to change, as our communities’ voices get louder and stronger. We have a real opportunity as a P2P collective to create some much-needed change in Australia and I hope we will all try harder to work collaboratively to achieve this.

What do you think needs to be disrupted to help female politicians thrive?

  • Dismantling factional systems…particularly within the ALP

  • Current education system, to ensure that all children, regardless of background/ postcode are given the same access to and quality of education

  • Affirmative action quotas should be applied across all levels of government/as a parliamentary requirement – regardless of what party etc gets elected to government

What leader/s do you most admire and why?

Nelson Mandela – Have to admire Mandela for his tireless efforts to unite a country greatly divided, and with a lot of sever wounds. Truly selflessness. Benazir Bhutto – somewhat controversial but I admire her tenacity, courage, and drive in pursuing a career in Politics despite the tumultuous climate she faced as a woman in Pakistan. Obama – similar to Mandela, being able to unite a country under one purpose. Also, a true inspiration of how dreams can be achieved despite one’s disadvantage. Natasha Stott Despoja – Watched her growing up and always felt inspired by her courage once again to pursue a career in a male dominated space and one that often did not do any favours for women. Julia Gillard – what’s there not to admire about Julia… her resilience, dedication to advancing women’s rights, climate change… and generally surviving the brutality that is politics for women.


What are you reading right now?

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird.


To find out more about the relevant state-based program please follow the links below:

Queensland Program (QUT)

NSW Program (UNSW)

Victorian Program (UoM)