By Monica McGrath


Empowering Women at Aulich

We were recently approached by one of our clients, Deborah Fulton, Director and Founder of Empowered Collective to ask us if we would be interested in getting involved in their Women’s Return to Work program, where organisations offer volunteer work experience opportunities to women who have been out of the workforce for a period of time for various reasons. As Canberrans, we value our community and give back as much as we can. We are also fiercely supportive of programs that assist women, so the decision to get involved was a ‘no brainer’.

We have had a lovely woman from Empowered Collective with us for a little over a month now. She, like many other women, gave up her professional career to raise and care for her children. Now that they are of school age, she is ready to get back out there. Having said that, getting back into the professional world can be harder said than done sometimes. That’s where Empowered Collective comes in to help.

I was lucky enough to pick Deborah’s brain recently to give us more insight into this fantastic program.

Deborah Fulton, Director and Founder of Empower Collective

Monica: Let’s start with the basics, what is the Women’s Return to Work Program?

Deborah: The Women’s Return to Work Program is an ACT Government initiative funded by the Office for Women. My community services business, Empowered Collective currently delivers the Program in partnership with SPARK Ginninderry Training & Employment Program.

Monica: How does the program work?

Deborah: The program provides support to eligible women in the ACT through workshops to develop return-to-work skills, individual mentoring sessions, and promotes access to the ACT Office for Women’s Return to Work Grant (you can learn more about this here).

Our workshops focus on increasing women’s self-confidence and developing job-seeking skills through learning about:

  • resumes, cover letters and applying for jobs;
  • job interview techniques; and
  • personal presentation and workplace expectations.

Following the workshops, the women can attend individual mentoring sessions with our qualified community services staff, where we use a strengths-based approach and coaching principles to assist them to find pathways to their study and work goals. This component of the program is personalized for each woman and is a key success of the program.

During the individual mentoring sessions, we assess the risks, barriers and challenges that may hinder a woman’s progress forward, and we provide referrals to other support services that can help the women to manage these challenges. We then help the women to identify their strengths and their study and work goals, as well as linking them to course enrolment information and volunteering/work experience opportunities. For women who are looking  to re-enter the paid workforce ASAP, we can help them with writing job applications and connect them with short-term volunteer/work experience opportunities. Undertaking a volunteer/work experience placement helps to increase the woman’s self-esteem, engagement with other adults in a workplace environment, gain relevant experience in their preferred industry to include on their resume, as well as a reference from a referee. Often, women have the confidence to successfully enter permanent employment after undertaking a volunteer/work experience placement.

Monica: Who are the women that Empowered Collective supports?

Deborah: We support women from a diverse range of backgrounds who have been out of the paid workforce for a period of time. Many women have been caring for a family member or friend, and now they want to move forward with their study and work goals. Some women have moved to Australia with their family, or experienced significant barriers and challenges in their lives. Attending our workshops and mentoring sessions is a big achievement for them.

Monica: What inspired you to get involved in the program?

Deborah: I have been working in the community sector for a few years, following a long career in the public service. I started my community service business as a sole trader in mid-2020, during the first Canberra lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. I wanted the service to be future focussed, providing flexible and mobile community services to people who were re-entering the workforce. I knew that people who had lost their jobs would be vulnerable, cautious about meeting face-to-face and would need to re-train to secure work in new in-demand jobs.

I partnered with SPARK Ginninderry’s Training & Employment Program because our values align, and it was an opportunity to use my skills and experience in mentoring, coaching, recruitment, and management. Over the last few years, we have helped hundreds of women to move forward with their study and work goals, and it’s such rewarding work. I’m so grateful to the ACT Office for Women for funding these programs, so that we can make positive change to the lives of people in our community.

With advice from Aulich along the journey, the business has now grown to a company structure, and I have five casual staff on my team. We all work from home, and we meet up with women from our programs in locations that are convenient for them.

Monica: How can other organisations get involved?

Deborah: Aulich is partnering with us to give some of the women a short-term volunteer/work experience opportunity in their office, and we are very grateful. We need other businesses and organisations to get on board too. Anyone who is interested, can contact me via our website:

If your organisation has the capacity to get involved, we encourage you to do so. We have gotten as much out of being part of the program as our we hope our work experience trainee has gotten. It has been a pleasure to watch our staff take her under their wing and really try to engage her into the professional environment and pass on their skills to her.