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Championing Indigenous women leaders in the public sector

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IPAA Victoria staff were grateful to attend the Diversity Council of Australia’s Championing Indigenous Women Leaders event on 9 August 2019. Bringing together Indigenous women leaders from academia, the media and the public service, the event reminded us that there is a long way to go to provide cultural confidence to Indigenous women in the workplace.

The keynote speech was presented by Biripi woman and academic, Dr Tess Ryan. The panel that followed was joined by Taryn Marks (Wotjobaluk woman and Senior Adviser Indigenous Policy and Strategy at SBS Melbourne) and Robyn Beutel (Kuku Yalanji woman and Director, Diversity Strategies at the Australian Public Service Commission).

Dr Ryan shared her research in Indigenous women leaders, in which she has identified different areas, types and styles of leadership shown by Indigenous women that tend to be overlooked and undervalued. Dr Ryan emphasised the need for cultural confidence, which requires strategies to guard against lateral violence and unintended patriarchal or colonial barriers for Indigenous women in a workplace.

Panellist Ms Marks echoed the need for cultural safety in the workplace, highlighting the need for cultural capability in order to genuinely give effect to any reconciliation action plan. Ms Marks argued that cultural awareness is not enough to create viable workplaces for Indigenous people and that workplaces needed to foster its own confidence in managing diversity.

During the panel discussion, Ms Beutel shared her candid assessment of the Australian Public Service Commission’s Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy. She shared the findings from the strategy’s evaluation, pointing out that career progression, retention and “system navigation” remained barriers for Indigenous employees.

The Indigenous women leaders on the panel referred back to culture. They called for workplaces to make cultural safety for Indigenous workers a priority, underscoring the need for managements to assess and reform their own internal cultures to foster a genuine willingness to adapt and listen.

Written by Judy Kuo, Programs Coordinator, IPAA Victoria