Growing up in Griffith Wade High School, student Matilda Conlan has never been short of strong female role models, but following the Griffith Soroptimists International Women’s Day breakfast on Friday she had one more to add to her list, after listening to guest speaker Detective Superintendent Deborah Wallace give her inspiring address.
Known as the ‘gang buster’ Ms Wallace, who is commander of the NSW Police Force’s Gangs Squad and Strike Force Raptor, was the picture of femininity as she stood in front of the 291 strong crowd in an elegant yellow dress reinforcing the idea women need to change nothing about themselves to be on top.
In an address both moving the crowd to tears and laughter Ms Wallace encouraged those present to be bold for change.
“Women are only restricted by their imaginations,” she said.
“Often women, particularly in male dominated organisations tend to restrict themselves, the glass ceilings are in because we put it in there a lot because we don’t challenge.
“Bust through that glass ceiling, because it doesn’t really exist except in our own minds.”
Beginning as a constable in the police force in 1983 – only nine years after female officers were allowed to carry guns - Ms Wallace said her road to the top was measured in increments.
Working in Blacktown Mt Druitt she eventually was allowed to patrol on Friday night “the roughest night of the week”, something she did fearlessly and successfully despite her partner officer’s certainty they were both going to be dead meat. It was from there and due to her compassionate involvement in helping solve the infamous and terrible murder of Anita Cobby she worked her way up to Detective, something she said she owed to the policewomen who had trailblazed the way before her.
For a 17-year-old Matilda to hear how much things had changed in the police force in the lifetime of and thanks to the woman in front of her was staggering. “You kind of assume these things would have happened in the 1950s.” she said.
“Her perspective on glass ceilings was interesting - I think there are different types of glass ceilings, some are in our heads and some are forced upon us.”