Boss Lady

Wearing a school dress as a 36-year old CEO, and what it taught me


With One Girl’s annual Do It In A Dress campaign currently underway for 2019, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my time wearing a school dress for Do It In A Dress 2018….

Each October, hundreds of people choose to put on a school dress because they believe that girls everywhere should have the opportunity to go to school. It’s an amazingly creative campaign where everyday Aussies do everyday things…all in dresses.

Instagram and Facebook are flooded with posts of incredible fundraising activities in dresses which are life changing for girls and their communities and I genuinely believe that you can’t ask other people to do something that you aren’t prepared to do yourself.

That’s why last year, with much excitement, I decided to be part of it. So, I set up my fundraising page, ordered my dress, and on October 1st, I put it on.

Sounds easy, right?  I have to say, I found it incredibly challenging! I just didn’t realise how self-conscious I’d feel.

I wore my dress in the office, to meetings, at public talks and even when meeting MPs, including Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong. And it was hard. Meeting CEOs and senior staff that I admire from other large not-for-profits made me acutely aware that I was a 36-year-old wearing a school dress. Maybe they wouldn’t take me seriously?

As I rode my bike home that night from the event where I met Wong and other NFP CEOs (yes, wearing my school dress), I questioned why I felt like that. Why couldn’t I be taken seriously wearing a school dress when girls in One Girl’s scholarship program in Sierra Leone tell us that putting on that uniform gives them confidence and makes them feel like they have worth?

Looking at Instagram and scrolling through the hashtag #doitinadress, I was proud and inspired – people all around Australia, and even overseas, were wearing school dresses to school, work and in their community. Teachers and university lecturers, wedding photographers, physical therapists, cafe owners and lawyers – all wearing their dresses with pride and confidence. They didn’t seem to be worried about what other people were thinking of their clothing choice.

Co-founder and CEO of girledworld, Madeleine Grummet, wore a dress on stage speaking about “Empowering Women in Business” and Asha Kayla, a sustainability specialist, even organised a film screening of a documentary on the circular economy and convinced all panel members to wear dresses.

I also saw Elijah Buol’s post; a child displaced by the conflict in South Sudan who moved to Australia as a refugee at 17. Four university degrees later, he has used every opportunity he has been given to become a respected community leader who advises government and authorities in Queensland and is strong advocate for positive change. In 2018 he put on a school dress to raise funds for One Girl and wore his dress to meetings, community forums and even to meet senior officials like the Queensland Chief of Police!

My doubts melted away.

As CEO of One Girl, I thought that it was my role to inspire others to put on a school dress and raise funds and awareness for the girls around the world who don’t have the opportunity to go to school. But, it turns out the hundreds of Australians who signed up to Do It In A Dress in 2018 inspired me.

It takes courage to step outside of your comfort zone and speak up for what you believe in…even more courage if you’re a grown adult wearing a school dress!

Now, I’m proud to wear my school dress because of what it represents. A growing community that’s taking action to create change and empower girls everywhere to get an education and become strong, powerful and independent women.

When a girl gets an education her life, her community and her world changes. Economies grow and poverty shrinks as a result. An educated woman has fewer children, is more likely to contribute to decisions that affect her life, will earn twice as much as an uneducated woman, and will be less at risk of physical and sexual violence.

This year we are once again asking Aussies to put on a dress, get creative and do something different in a dress on 11th October 2019, International Day of the Girl. All to help support the 130 million girls around the world who are denied an education simply because they were born a girl.

Join us! Find out more about how you can get involved in Do It In A Dress 2019 at

About Sarah Ireland'

Sarah Ireland is CEO of One Girl; an Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the millions of girls without access to education in two of the worst places in the world to be born a girl: Uganda and Sierra Leone. One Girl raises funds and awareness through national campaigns like Do It In A Dress to provide thousands of girls and young women with access to education. Since 2009, One Girl has reached over 32,000 women and girls with access to education.

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