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Women's Leadership Breakfast

NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce shares her career story.

SydneyConnect Video: Highlights: Women's Leadership Breakfast — part of Innovation Week 2022 (Day 3)

Women have shaped NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce's professional life.

"At every step of the way in my career women have shaped and influenced me," Susan said.

She was among the keynote speakers at Sydney Local Health District's Women's Leadership Breakfast at NSW Parliament House, held during Innovation Week 2022.

More than 11,700 women are employed across the District, making up 73 per cent of the workforce.

Hosted by Julie McCrossin AM, the invitation only Breakfast acknowledges the contribution of women in the District, and is an opportunity to recognise those doing inspiring work, or inspiring others.

It's also a chance to celebrate the men and women who support female leaders and future female leaders in the District.

Susan began her career as a registered nurse in Broken Hill in 1988, and during her 30 year healthcare career has climbed the ranks of NSW Health.

She was the state's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, and in 2015 was appointed Deputy Secretary a post she held for six years.

In that role, she led the operational response to COVID-19 in NSW — with women, including the District's Chief Executive Dr Teresa Anderson, in key leadership roles.

"I owe a debt of gratitude to Teresa, as I do to everybody in Sydney Local Health District. What an amazing team. Can-do. Got things done. Just an extraordinary effort," she said.

She was elevated to the top job in February 2022 and now leads organisation's 170,000 strong workforce.

"I'm very proud to have this position. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity. I want to make the most of it," she said.

Her family's support has been crucial and she shared career advice with those who attended the Breakfast.

"It's not about doing it all but it is possible to do most things, if you have the right supports in place," she said.

She was joined by Associate Professor Strasser, a Senior Staff Specialist at the AW Morrow Gastroenterology and Liver Centre, who spoke about her role in tackling the rising rates of liver disease in Australia and mentoring the next generation of women in her field.

"At the beginning of my training there weren't many women in gastroenterology. At RPA, we've always tried to encourage women in our training program. I'm so proud this year, that all our trainees are women," Associate Professor Strasser said.

Professor Robyn Ward AM, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor Medicine and Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health at The University of Sydney, spoke about the value of constructive disagreement in the workplace, which often leads to new solutions for difficult problems.

"It's important for leaders, or future leaders, to encourage civil, constructive disagreement. It can be very challenging, but from my experience disagreement, when managed well, always leads to better outcomes for everyone," Professor Ward said.

"And I would encourage women to stand up and disagree when you see the wrong thing happening," she said.

And, Dr Penny Stannard from the NSW State Archives, shared her insights about how two global pandemics — the 1919 Spanish Flu and COVID-19 — have driven change — with women stepping into leadership roles.

"The past shows us that society reset itself in the aftermath of a global health pandemic and for women, especially women in the public service, and especially in the health sector, this was a time of new possibilities.

"And, many of you would have found yourselves stepping up because of COVID. Perhaps you have had to lead people for the first time in your career or innovate new technologies, or pioneered new approaches to healthcare, gained the trust of a community or mentored younger colleagues," Dr Stannard said.

Innovation Week runs from 30 May – 3 June and this year's theme is Connect. Collaborate. Dream big for a bright future.

Bunnings Alexandria supplied the potted colour each of the guests took home from the Breakfast.