One of the biggest rounds of applause at the marie claire International Women’s Day breakfast was reserved for an unlikely hero: John Borghetti, the CEO of Virgin Australia.
Pilot and guest speaker Michelle Huntington told the audience at the annual Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival and marie claire event how her boss responded to her breast cancer diagnosis.
"I wrote him a letter and I happened to tell him that I found the lump when I was in the shower. I explained that when I was growing up, my mum had this plastic printout in our shower of how to do breast checks, and really, it saved my life.
"He reacted by getting the company to produce these plastic-coated breast check instructions for all female employees at Virgin. It was such a beautiful response.’"
It was one of many highlights from the celebratory breakfast which boasted a stellar lineup of guest speakers, including author and academic, Dr Susan Carland, pro-surfer and MIMCO ambassador, Laura Enever, Michelle Huntington, "I Quit Sugar" entrepreneur Sarah Wilson and hosted by radio star Yumi Stynes.
Huntington, who as a pilot works in one of the most male dominated careers in the country (only 5% of pilots are female), told the audience no-one should let a lack of role models stop them from trying anything.
"When I wanted to get my pilot’s license I went to the bank to get a loan. I told them I needed it to redecorate the house – which was perfectly acceptable to them, so of course I got it. Then I took the $20,000 and it paid for my training. If you really want to do something you will find a way.’"
She says the best remedy to counter any sexist behaviour or if someone queries her abilities, is to take action: "Whenever I hear anything sexist from a co-pilot, I’ll make sure I do a killer landing, just to make a point.’"
Dr Susan Carland said whenever she is faced with difficulties, she draws inspiration from those women who work relentlessly to try to make a difference.
"There are so many women who work in communities, as volunteers, or as paid workers who day-in and day-out devote themselves to making a difference,’" she said.
"We know who these women are – they are the ones who never seek attention, or accolades but just keep going, digging away. They are amazing. If I feel like I’m about to give up on something I think of them.’"
Entrepreneur and writer Sarah Wilson spoke about her long history with anxiety – which she has written about in her new book "First Make The Beast Beautiful"– and advised women to counter our hyper lives by finding the quiet spaces.
"Get out of your head and move your body,’" she said. "I really believe that women need to get back in tune with nature - go hiking, get in the water – take time out from the constant noise.’"
Laura Enever, world champion surfer and new ambassador for MIMCO’s inspiring #BePartOfTheChange campaign, agreed that anxiety is rampant amongst young girls and that staying active is the perfect antidote to a generation reared on social media.
"I really believe that surfing in my youth helped me ward off any issues with mental illness,’" she said. "But I also really wish more of my generation could hear more stories like we are hearing today. All these women are so inspiring.’"