Understanding racism

Everyone’s experiences with racism are unique, and the impact of racism will be different for each individual. Throughout my life, I have seen, heard and experienced racism in many different forms. Some experiences are hard to describe in words, particularly to those who have never experienced racism themselves. But if we don’t try to share our stories, racism cannot be fully understood and stamped out.

We can all do better to understand racism and make our communities more open-minded and welcoming to people of all walks of life. It starts with asking and listening.

For this article, I asked experts and community leaders:

“What can people who have never experienced racism do to better understand what it is, its impact, and how they can contribute to removing racism from society?”

Their answers are below in reverse-alphabetical (Z-A) order by first name.

Wesa Chau, CEO of Cultural Intelligence

Everyone would have had experiences when they are made to feel less or bullied, for example, managers trying to make them feel like they are irrelevant. Whilst this is not fully how people might feel after a racist experience, the feeling is similar. The difference with racism I think is people are made to feel less AND if they try to fight and stand up for themselves, systems are often so against you that fighting it and standing up for oneself might bring in even more abuse. We only need to look at the treatment of George Floyd to understand it – not only did the policeman kneel on his neck for what appears to be a minor crime, his plea to the policeman to ease the pressure was ignored. 

For people who have never had to experience racism, just understand that when people tell you a story that appears unbelievable, rather than judging it immediately and saying it could not happen, suspend judgement, try to ask more and truly understand the situation, because some of these stories could be real and people can be involved in helping resolve it.

[Image description: Wesa is smiling and looking at the camera. She is wearing a red scarf over a dark grey blazer.]

Yasmin Poole, Youth Advocate

The first step is using existing resources and tools to challenge your own worldview. People often say “but, I’m not racist!” and think that’s all they can contribute to the conversation. But this misses the evolution of racism – while explicit racism is less common, covert racism runs rampant. It’s confronting to think about how our history and our ideas of power are rooted in this, but vitally important should we wish to move forward. Instead of asking people of colour “tell me what I should do,” the first meaningful step is challenging your own internal bias and assumptions. I greatly respect those that can do that.

I would also encourage individuals to use their voice to call out discrimination. This can take many forms: from voters demanding that their party or MP takes a stronger stance on these issues, calling out a panel or event for lack of cultural diversity, or asking their workforce to do better in incorporating people of colour. While culturally diverse Australians often experience this, speaking out can be daunting – especially because it can often trigger defensive reactions. I don’t know if racism will ever be completely removed, but collectively sharing this burden would be a positive and important step forward.

[Image description: Black and white photo of Yasmin standing at a lectern on stage speaking into a microphone.]

Weh Yeoh, CEO and Co-Founder of Umbo

I think the first thing people need to do is acknowledge that it exists. Only then can we do something constructive. For better or worse, human beings are not very good at empathising with people they’ve never met, so trying to imagine discrimination for yourself is difficult, but not impossible.

For people who have never or rarely experienced racism, it’s really important to listen with an open mind. Not to be defensive or judgmental, but to truly listen for listening’s sake.

I also believe that we can all make a more purposeful decision to recruit and put people who are not typically in positions of power into those very positions. One of my proudest personal achievements is to be involved in founding two organisations that are now very capably led by Cambodian women. This is an example of me using my privilege to step aside and create a space for more capable and appropriate leadership.

Finally, we can all do more to speak out against racism, or any form of discrimination when it occurs. I can personally say that I feel regret about not speaking out when I’ve heard inappropriate comments in a sports locker room situation. By not saying anything, we are condoning discrimination.

[Image description: Weh is smiling in front of ferns and plants. He has short, black hair and wears a collared blue shirt.]

Solai Valliappan, Angel Investor

There’s no shortage of resources – books, podcasts, documentaries – but if you’re in the ‘majority’ when it comes to experiencing racism you’ll never really experience it first hand. Alternatively you can put yourself in a situation where you are in the minority (outside of race) – you could be a man who attends a gym class that typically has more female participants or you could be a person who identifies as a hard core mathematician and attend an event in the arts you would normally never go to. When you find yourself in those situations where you are in the minority you can use the opportunity to feel how you would want the majority to behave towards you – to welcome you, treat you with respect, be kind and open. From that point of view, you can then apply it to a racism filter and reflect on what actions you can take in society. 

[Image description: Headshot from the shoulders up of a smiling woman with a brown face, brown eyes and long black hair wearing a blue sleeveless top in front of a white background.]

Shawn William Edge, MBA, Manager, Quality Assurance at Voice

This is an extract from an opinion piece by Shawn, which can be accessed here.

The reality is more African-American people are dying as a result of COVID-19.

They’re dying in larger numbers due to the large proportion of African-Americans who live in poverty every day in densely populated areas. And this is because many of us are focused on division and keep turning a blind eye to underlying racism and prejudice from which so many African-Americans cannot get a hand to help them out of their disadvantage.

Businesses and institutions are part of the problem with their lack of diversity.

A lot of African-Americans (males and females) or even non-African-American women are not present in leadership positions.

Technology companies especially are predominantly white male. For example, they
implement HR practices which mean that the school you went to determines the salary you should make. When you apply tactics like this on top of people coming from areas of poverty, only a very low number can afford to go to prestigious universities.

If you are female it’s even worse when it comes to pay in the technology industry. Can you imagine being an African-American woman in technology? You have many things working against you.

I know the looting and the rioting doesn’t help with what is going on right now. I know a
lot of people are frustrated and angry but I think that there is some truth that not everyone who is peacefully protesting is starting all of this.

Collectively as a nation, as human beings of society we really need to talk about it to
work together and resolve some of these issues and I think we are at the point now where enough is enough and I think the only way to move forward is in unity. At the end of the day, change happens when people constructively work together.

Governments and communities need to work together to create new laws and
get out and talk to the people who are protesting to understand what can be done. Because aggression from either side does nothing.

It takes efforts at the local, State and presidential level otherwise we are going to keep having situations like this and they will only get worse and worse and more businesses will continue to suffer along with the communities that will grow poorer. And then nobody is going to be able to go back to work, businesses are going to pull out of communities and we are back to square one.

We need to heal and look at this moment in time as a monumental piece of history that we can change going forward.

[Image description: Headshot of Shawn smiling in front of two computer screens. He wears a purple collared shirt.]

Shantelle Thompson, Warrior Within

It can be and will be hard for those who have never experienced racism to do this work. And that is what it will take – work, courage, and personal responsibility – and to understand that you have not experienced this because you come from the privileged background and skin colour of previous generations who created these systems and social structures for you to profit from, the systems and culture we have today that was set up to serve you. It is your time to sit down with others to listen, to understand and learn. Don’t try to fix us or rescue us. Be in the fight with us to not create change, but to dismantle the systems and power play that is in place now.

Acknowledge your place in life. Have the courage to take a long hard look at your life and ask yourself, how would you react if this was your truth or lived experience? If it was your son or daughter who was being killed today? Open your heart to the struggle that is real for so many this is not a black or Indigenous issue. This is a human issue. Things you can do right now:

  1. Educate yourself – read, google, YouTube it is all out there.
  2. Watch these documentaries – The Australian Dream, The Final Quarter, First Australians (and the list is greater than these)
  3. Read blogs – books, articles, follow non-mainstream media outlets – The Guardian, Magabala books, blackfeministranter.blogspot.com, National Indigenous Times, NITV, IndigenousX, Blak Business, Tiddas 4 Tiddas
  4. Follow Black, Indigenous and People of Colour on social media – Joe Williams, Celeste Liddle, Marcia Langton, Aunty Judy Atkinson, Stan Grant
  5. Connect – find people, groups and organisations within your community to connect with and create a relationship with. But don’t expect them to be your teachers, be your own teacher. We are tired of always having to be the ones to do the work. Be a part of the work, not the work – local Reconciliation Action group or state body, Culture is Life, Common Ground, Healing Foundation and there are so many groups and things you can that are only a google away.
  6. Volunteer, donate to support movements, buy from black and Indigenous businesses. Because you will find we created social entrepreneurship and for-purpose business. Economic self-determination allows us to create change for ourselves and our communities. We only make up 3% of the population so we cannot do this alone. We are already doing it, but with your help, patronage and support we can increase and deepen the work and impact we do and can have. – Clothing the Gap, Trading Blak, Cathy Freeman Foundation, Culture is Life and so many more than I can list here.

[Image description from Shantelle: My photo incorporates elements that are essential to my sense of self and my journey in this life. However what it does not allow you to see are the ancestors that come before me, my children who are the next generation and will inherit the legacy I leave behind and be influenced by who I am being, not just what I am doing in this life. And all those I fight to serve.]

Rathana Chea, Head of Global Learning and Development at Greenpeace

Racism is an active system inherited from years colonialism enslaved millions and denigrated the dignity of many millions more. We are all complicit in perpetuating this system of power and inequality unless we become active against it. What that looks like can range from the basics of our willingness to see the world through the lens of the other and fundamentals of how we use our words, through to how conscious we are of our behaviour that can perpetuate race based power imbalance. At a community level it starts with talking and ends in doing. Then repeat. Again. And again. And again. This can manifest itself into so many worthy projects and initiatives. But that is what sits as a fundamental, a willingness to accept that passivity is complicity. It starts with a willingness to listen to people of colour and their experiences and know that it is different to yours.

[Image description: Headshot of Rathana in black and white. He has short black hair, and a well-groomed moustache and beard. He wears a collared polo shirt.]

Dr. Muneera Bano, Superstar of STEM

Personal observation has always been the biggest factor in understanding any situation. People who are not aware of the disadvantages or existence of everyday racism targeted at other people may not understand their privileges unless it’s shown to them in black or white. Sharing stories of unjust racial discrimination is a very powerful medium and plays a critical role in increasing the awareness on racism, whether it’s in the form of art, literature, books, movies or the technology that enables social media movements. We have recently seen the example in the form of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The history for black people is filled with stories of racism. But when an incident is captured on video recording and shared with millions to observe the experience that another human being had to endure, the reality hits everyone and the impact is enormous.

[Image description: Headshot of a woman with long, brown and wavy hair hanging to the side. Muneera is sitting at a desk in front of a laptop and coffee cup. She wears a collared white shirt underneath a blue sweater.]

Manita Ray, Principal Advisor at Capital Human

Read, watch, listen, act. Just don’t stay silent. So much is shared about what to read and how we can all educate ourselves. This is key. Many are saying this is a time to pause, reflect, feel sad rather than Act. I disagree completely. We have had hundreds of years to do this. We cannot wait for more atrocities to happen while we pause and reflect. We need to act now and continue to act everyday. How someone can contribute – I feel this is up to what is possible for the individual. A CEO of a firm has the power, resources, intellect and ability to create significant changes to their operations while also advocating. With great power, comes great responsibility. In contrast, a struggling single parent or a high-school student might want to do all of that but simply can’t, should do what they can – be it attend a protest, speak to their family, call out racism when they hear it. As for me, I am committing to doing even better here with my business, teaching my kids and continuing to call it out no matter how uncomfortable it feels. Everyone can do something and we must. We cannot be patient about this anymore.

[Image description: Headshot of Manita in a blue blouse standing in front of a fence. She has shoulder-length black hair and is wearing earrings.]

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, Co-Founder of Activate.Film

I think the first step is to focus on your own learning, and that starts with listening to Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour. When people first learn about racism it can be really tempting to jump straight to action, I think often unintentionally as a way to manage guilt we might feel, but very often that can result in more harm to communities because you don’t have the full information, and because your role as an ally is to amplify and do what is asked by that community.

So I think it’s important for people to sit with that discomfort, and spend a long time listening and learning, and addressing that bias you have internally. Then just do what is asked – we will ask for help, whether that’s just amplifying our voices, taking political action, or donating. Your role is to support not lead.

[Image description: Photo of Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, an Indigenous Māori woman with light olive skin and long brown hair, sitting in her office with green houseplants behind her. She is wearing a black turtleneck jumper and vintage tortoiseshell style glasses, and black pointy eyeliner. She wears Māori pounamu greenstone earrings and a pounamu pendant around her neck, and she is looking directly at the camera with a confident look on her face.]

Jieh-Yung Lo, Director, ANU Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership

With racism seemingly on the rise in Australia, the United States and across the world, individuals can contribute to removing racism by undertaking the following:

  • Understand what privilege means
  • Recognise unconscious bias
  • Read widely, learn and speak to others about the history of racism and the impact it has had on them individually and their communities
  • Become a diversity and inclusion champion within your personal and professional circles

[Image description: Headshot of Jieh-Yung from the shoulders up. He is smiling and looking at the camera. He has short, black hair, and is wearing a white collared shirt, red and white striped tie, and black blazer.]

Jerusha Mather, Neuroscientist

The best way to understand someone is to listen to them. Listen to their concerns. Hear their pain and hurt. Remember this. You hold the power to love. You hold the power to act. The power to include is in you. Not any politician or lawyer can influence direct and significant change. The world is controlled by us – the people. The power is in your hands. Remove stigma. Get rid of labels. Get to know someone for their raw and authentic self. Let them be free with you. Have conversations about inclusion. About unity. About obtaining optimal peace with thy neighbor.

Anarchy and disorder mean that the world is revolving in confusion and hate, misery, and pain. But we have a choice to be the light in the darkness. This chaotic plea is wanting answers. And the answer is always love. Everyone (to the kindest or the least) needs compassion. We must apologize to victims of racism. It is due to our words and actions; the long due and fierce melting pot of anger has been stirred. Genuine kindness is the only thing that can change the world. It will not be the survival of the fittest / whitest anymore. We are cancelling harmful history. If you have pure love in your hearts to give to people (even to strangers), you are the real survivor. 

[Image description: Headshot of Jerusha smiling at the camera with her head slightly tilted, wearing red lipstick and a white sleeveless top.]

Jean Sum, Founder of Sum of Jean

To start, come with an open heart and mind. It will get uncomfortable, because it will challenge your beliefs, perceptions and values. Observe what is happening internally – what are your responses? What feelings are arising? Is there resistance/denial? e.g. “I’m not like that”? Acknowledge them. Everything is welcomed.

Steps that might be helpful:

  1. Talk with people from diverse backgrounds, and listen. Ask questions. Be respectful. Be humble. Listening to their experience will challenge your perception.
  2. Acknowledge the privilege that you hold. How can you use your privilege to support and lift others experiencing racism?
  3. At work, engage and involve people of colour in decision-making processes, strategy development and water cooler conversations. Their contribution will add a different perspective to your workplace culture and operations.
  4. Speak up. This has multiple effects:
    • You are standing with the person experiencing racism. This means a lot, as they may be experiencing shock, fear, vulnerability, anger or paralysis.
    • You are taking a stance that racism is not tolerated by you. By society. To stop racism in its tracks.
    • Modelling to observers that they too have the responsibility and to give them permission and courage to stand up.

[Image description: Jean is standing against a white wall with one hand to her chin, smiling in a blue sleeveless dress. She has short black hair.]

Jaynaya Winmar, Founder of Blakbone Sistahood

There are many ways in which to self-educate especially with a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resource tools being online. But the key is to find what you feel passionate about and then how you can learn through these resources. If you have children it can be through the books you read to them such as Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy. If you love art, places like the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne, Yagan Square in Perth are examples of space that councils have created so that community are able to go to self-educate but also if they would like more interactive learning the resources are there.

I feel that if our communities are going into these spaces with a respectful mindset, open heart and activity seeking knowledge then sharing this knowledge within their social networks, then absorbed learning begins.

When companies work on selecting organisational structures for project teams in submissions for new developments or tenders, the teams are accessed and selected by staff’s strengths and weaknesses based on everyone having different skill sets. So why are we not valuing the diversity within our own communities and looking at the value add that is added as opposed to negatively highlighting the differences?

[Image description: Jaynaya is smiling in front of a red, blue and white painted wall, wearing a black top, black-rimmed glasses, and brown earrings with her hair tied back.]

Diana Nguyen, Actor, Comedian and Writer

It starts from within, and asking questions to yourself. Have I experienced racism? Have I discriminated against someone for their colour or race? Why is that? Ask those questions. Then speak out to your family and friends. Have these uncomfortable conversations because it is better to understand than ignore. Let’s listen, and understand the pain.

[Image description: Headshot of Diana looking at the camera with a determined expression. She has one hand on her hip, wears a colourful, floral camisole, and has shoulder-length wavy hair.]

Dr. Dede Tetsubayashi, Social Scientist and Technologist

They need to be teachable, believe the stories of people experiencing racism instead of victim-blaming and having a dialogue to understand how you can prevent racism; and they need to be an accomplice and willing to lose some of their privilege so others can live – this is what it means to take actions against racism rather than being silent and complicit. Being teachable also means one is willing to learn about the past, about white supremacy, about ways to be anti-racist and then they need to act on that knowledge to eradicate it. Some ways that can be done are defunding the police, investing in minority owned businesses, hiring minorities, and paying them equitably for the same work and more. There are several lists being compiled for how to be an anti-racist and accomplice, but here a few that are a great place to start: 

Cathy Ngo, CEO and Founder of Keynoteworthy

  • Educate yourself. A quick google search will reveal a tonne of resources. 
  • Be a better listener. If you don’t have something to say, listen. It’s not about you.
  • Have black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) in your leadership team and boards. If your leadership team looks the same, you are doing your business a disservice.
  • Sponsor and mentor BIPOC. Have them on your speaker panels and keynotes. Imagine the rich and impactful conversations. 
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Make room for underrepresented voices. 
  • Diversify your friendship and business contacts. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with… and if they all look the same, then you have a problem.

[Image description: Headshot of Cathy with long black hair hanging to the side in front of one shoulder. She is smiling and looking at the camera. She wears a blue blouse.]

Caroline La Rose, Program Director, Hotwire

A couple of days ago, I was talking to my (white Australian) friend about the murder of George Floyd and how confronting it was for me to watch the video that was shared on social media. Like many people, I was shaken to the core and just could not believe such a thing was happening in 2020! My friend was obviously also disturbed, sad and outraged by the conditions surrounding George Floyd’s death but she said that she could not get herself to watch the video till the end. “It’s too much for me”, she said.

Our chat naturally progressed to racism and she made a comment that completely changed the course of our conversation. She nonchalantly said “That’s America for you!”

However, the reality is that racism, discrimination, inequality is not an American issue. It’s a humanity issue! As I challenged her and called her out on her privilege, she immediately back tracked, became very apologetic and visibly uncomfortable with where this conversation was going.

However, now is the time to push ourselves to have those uncomfortable conversations with our peers because that’s how we can start to create change. The power of open, honest and uncomfortable conversations, at all levels, be it at home, with your customers, in the office or at a political level, is often underestimated. Through addressing heavy topics like systemic racism and privilege, comes education, knowledge and understanding.

It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

[Image description: Headshot of Caroline from the shoulders up. She has shoulder-length black hair and wears a long-sleeved floral blouse.]

Carmel Zein, Founder of Amina Rose

You don’t have to understand what it feels like to be discriminated against, you just have to understand that it’s not ok, listen to the cries, validate the feelings of all minorities and respond however you can.

We all go out and enjoy meals from different cultures, travel the world to explore history, idolise celebrities of different backgrounds, listen and dance to music from different parts of the world, enjoy all the positive contributions of multiculturalism, so how can we then stay silent on the injustices?

Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, challenge yourself to step outside of your own comfort zone to learn new things about the world, show empathy not apathy.

Educate yourself on what privilege actually means and how it controls our society then reflect on your own life and the privileges you have been afforded just because you were born into your skin. Now examine your own biases and how they originated and think about how you can show support and solidarity to those who may not have the same privileges.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to call people out on racist jokes or discriminative actions that make you feel uncomfortable. Stick up for people who can’t stick up for themselves and lead by example within your own circles.

[Image description: Headshot of Carmel in front of ferns and plants. She is smiling, with long black hair behind her shoulders. She’s wearing a black blazer and patterned grey and white shirt.]

Annukina Warda, Principal Consultant at Elemental Training

People who have never experienced racism need to start listening more and arguing less. Not just intellectually but with their hearts. Racism hurts people. It is a deeply embedded wound that for many is intergenerational.

You can also start attending anti-racism workshops – or running them yourselves. There are a few resources out there that can help you do that. Some are even available for free.

As a facilitator of learning, my work is visual and practical. I collaborated with young people a few years ago to design a resource that teaches how racism works, and how we can challenge it. I wanted to be a part of the solution.

The resource is called “I’m Not Racist, But..!” and was created with Blacktown Youth Services Association. It is a nine-step process and it goes deep. It is not only about racism. It is about how power and privilege work in general and I think a lot of people may have never experienced racism but understand discrimination – around their gender identity perhaps or level of ability. There are a series of activities people can do alone or in a group. The resource inspires courageous conversations. It is available for download from www.elementaltraining.com.au

[Image description: Close-up headshot of Annukina looking to the side in front of a blue fence. She has long black hair tied in a ponytail and wears large hoop earrings.]

Aarti Bajaj, Artistic Director, Director, Choreographer, Actor and Dancer

“INCLUSIVENESS” is what will help remove racism from society. The world has now become a big-little global village. We no longer can stay within our generation’s old boundaries. More acceptance towards cultural exchange – breaking preconceived ideas and prejudices regarding cultures and races is a mandate if we as a society aim to eradicate this beast.

I don’t believe there is any one who has never faced racism in life. We all have at some stage. Even people of same color can be racist towards each other. When they can’t pick on race, they will pick on accents, or food they eat, or their forefathers or something. We humans can always find multiple reasons to hate each other. But if we have learnt anything from our past and current future then it’s high time we start finding reasons and more ways of loving and accepting each other to bring peace and harmony into our lives and the wider world.

[Image description: Close-up headshot of Aarti. She has shoulder-length, dark hair, is looking at the camera is wears a floral camisole. Photographer: Helen Selmeczy]


About the experts

Wesa Chau, CEO of Cultural Intelligence

Wesa Chau is an experienced manager, board director, speaker, trainer and specialist consultant on cultural diversity.

Wesa is the CEO of Cultural Intelligence, a specialist consulting firm that helps organisations better understand cultural diversity and its impacts on design, decision making, customer service, messaging and policy setting. In her capacity as Director of Cultural Intelligence, Wesa has worked with clients ranging from government departments, educational institutions, corporations and not for profit organisations.

Yasmin Poole, Youth Advocate

Yasmin is best described as a ‘human megaphone for Gen Z’. She has represented millions of young Australians in advocating for youth policy reform, including being the 2018 Chair of the Victorian Government’s Youth Congress. She also led the global business development of 180 Degrees Consulting, a youth led social impact consultancy that spans across 30 countries. She is currently Plan International’s Youth Ambassador, focusing on engaging young Australian women in politics. In 2019, Yasmin was the youngest member of the Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence and Top 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian Australians. Yasmin has been a panellist on shows such as Q&A and the Drum, with a focus on how we can include youth in the conversation to create change.

Weh Yeoh, CEO and Co-Founder of Umbo

Weh Yeoh was born in Sydney and lived, volunteered and worked in Cambodia for over five years. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has also completed a Masters in Development Studies. He has a diverse background, having travelled through remote parts of Asia, volunteered with people with disabilities in Vietnam, interned in India, and studied Mandarin in Beijing.

He founded OIC Cambodia after meeting Ling, a boy who slurs his speech. With basic speech therapy, Ling is now going to school for the first time and not just participating, but excelling. He’s coming second in his class.

Weh would love to see this success for every child in Cambodia, and yet, there is not one local speech therapist in Cambodia. Weh believes that every person deserves a chance and loves fighting for the underdog.

He is now co-founding Umbo, a social enterprise bridging the gap for rural children to access allied health services.

Solai Valliappan, Angel Investor

Solai Valliappan is the proud daughter of South Indian migrants. She is an Angel Investor focused on the areas of CleanTech and Data/Analytics. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia and a Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary. 

Shawn William Edge, MBA, Manager, Quality Assurance at Voice

Shawn has over 10+ years of Technical experience. Talented technologist and motivated Entrepreneur, focused on e-commerce and Web/Mobile technologies. Shawn graduated from college in three years with a four year degree from Curry College. He has studied abroad in Australia where he took up studies in Nanotechnology.

After college, he worked at one of the top 100 Cloud companies in America and worked at a Boston start-up acquired by a Fortune 500 company.

Shantelle Thompson, Warrior Within

Proud Barkindji, Ngiyampaa and European woman of descent Shantelle Thompson is known in her community as the Barkindji Warrior. She believes and lives by the Warrior Within – be, lead and serve from the heart. Live courageously and dare greatly. Shantelle uses her lived, learned and earned experiences to share her story, teach, guide and mentor in her speaking, workshops and business. Shantelle is a mother of three (including twins), survivor of post-natal depression, suicidal ideation, sexual abuse, racism, bullying, lateral violence and adversity. She is a x3 world champion in jiu-jitsu, a speaker, social entrepreneur, mentor and more. More importantly she tries in each day to lead by example, be the change she wishes to see in the world and show up and do the best she can in who she is now.

Rathana Chea, Head of Global Learning and Development at Greenpeace

Rathana Chea has worked in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Africa and the Americas for a number of international agencies including Greenpeace and Amnesty International and undertaken initiatives for various bodies of the United Nations. Born in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Cambodia he grew up in South West Sydney and the Northshore graduating from University of Technology, Sydney. He has given guest lectures at a number of universities all over the world in sociology and law. Much to many people’s horror he very rarely drinks coffee or tea.

Dr. Muneera Bano, Superstar of STEM

A passionate advocate for women in STEM, Muneera Bano was announced as the ‘Most Influential Asian-Australian Under 40’ in 2019. A ‘Superstar of STEM’ and member of ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ committee for Science and Technology Australia, Muneera has a strong commitment to smash society’s gender and cultural assumptions about scientists. She is the Go Girl, Go For IT 2020 Ambassador with the aim to inspire the next generation of girls in STEM careers. She serves as a member of the ‘Gender Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ Task Force at the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment at Deakin University.

Manita Ray, Principal Advisor at Capital Human

Manita Ray (MBA, B.Eng) is the founder of Capital Human, Gender Lens Action Australia and the GESIData project. Capital Human works with business, government, SME’s and NFPs to operationalise gender equity and social impact initiatives into organisational decision-making and applies an intersectional lens when considering gender. Manita is the immediate past CEO of ygap, with over 22 years experience across the private, public, not-for-profit and international development sectors. 

She has worked in multiple sectors including renewable energy, infrastructure construction, hazardous waste, frontier markets, entrepreneurial ecosystems, impact investing, medical research and refugees support. 

Her work has been across SEAsia, Africa and The Pacific Islands and Australia. She led ygap’s work as a lead implementation partner for DFAT’s InnovationXChange’s Frontier Incubators Program across APAC and was the lead designer, developer and advisor for the ‘Gender Lens Incubation and Acceleration Toolkit’ (GLIA). 

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, Co-Founder of Activate.Film

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan (Kāi Tahu, Te Waipounamu) is an Indigenous multidisciplinary storyteller and activist based in Aotearoa New Zealand. She leads social impact agency, Activate [www.activate.film], to co-create community-led stories and projects for social change. Kera’s work and activism centers structurally oppressed communities in social change, and crosses the intersections of Indigenous and disability rights, hauora (health), and climate change. She is also the Founder of Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ [www.fibromyalgia.org.nz], and in her spare time organises for ethical representation in media, and collaborates with many NGOs on issues of climate and disability justice.

Jieh-Yung Lo, Director, ANU Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership

Jieh-Yung Lo is the Founding Director of the newly established Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership (CAAL) at the Australian National University. CAAL aims to address the significant underrepresentation of Asian-Australians in leadership positions within Australian public institutions and major private sector corporations.

For three years, Jieh-Yung worked as the Executive Officer to Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC the former Chancellor of the ANU and Manager of the ANU Melbourne Office. As a representative of the ANU, Jieh-Yung co-initiated and successfully delivered alongside the ANU’s partners PwC Australia and Asialink/University of Melbourne the inaugural Asian-Australian Leadership Summit in Melbourne last year.

Before joining the ANU, Jieh-Yung spent years in various policy and project roles for a number of not for profit and advocacy organisations. He previously served two terms as a Councillor with the City of Monash including two years as Deputy Mayor.

Jerusha Mather, Neuroscientist

Jerusha Mather is a multi-skilled, creative, and motivated professional with a sheer love for the neurosciences. She is proudly “brown” and was born in Sri Lanka where the doctors said she would never walk or talk. Immigrating to Australia with her family changed everything for her as this enabled access to therapy services that improved her condition. She is now able to walk and talk.

Miss Mather is a neuroscientist with a cause. Her research passion is non-invasive brain stimulation and neural plasticity and how these concepts can help treat cerebral palsy. She is currently undertaking PhD studies in this area. She is also a fierce advocate for prospective and current medical students with a disability in Australia where significant barriers exists. She is an outspoken feminist and social activist. When she is not working on the above, she engages in anything musical and loves writing poetry. 

Jean Sum, Founder of Sum of Jean

Jean Sum is a proud Asian-Australian Woman with a keen interest in solving “wicked” societal challenges. She is a mentor to Asian-Australian women, writer, speaker and a cross-sector partnerships broker.

She created Sum of Jean to offer support to young Asian-Australian Women to align their life and career paths with their values, strengths and desires. As a woman who started a career in a traditional, masculine industry (banking), she hid a large part of herself in order to be seen as exceptional, and did not embrace her feminine qualities such as intuition, expression and empathy which are the traits needed as leaders in the 21st century.

Jean’s vision for Asian-Australian Women is to truly see and believe in themselves, to walk boldly in the world and for their voices to be heard. To know that they are worthy. You can read about her at www.SumofJean.com.

Jaynaya Winmar, Founder of Blakbone Sistahood

Proud Noongar/Balladong woman from Quairading in the wheatbelt region of Western Australia.

Jaynaya has a strong background across the Employment and Recruitment sectors through partnerships throughout the Education and Employment across regional and remote areas within Western Australia and Victoria. Having previously worked within the recruitment industry specialising in disadvantaged cohorts across wider Australia under the employment services framework Jaynaya has been able to assist in identifying the gaps in engagement deliveries and having the ability to effectively articulate throughout the partnerships on how to actively develop these.

With this extensive experience Jaynaya has been consulting on Reconciliation Action Plan development and implementation across corporate national and international companies or sporting clubs and peak bodies within the sporting industry through all plan levels for Reflect through to Elevate status. As an extension on this Jaynaya also has consulted with the development of strategic Indigenous Procurement Policies and Indigenous Engagement Plans. This consul Jaynaya has been utilising these skills and natural abilities to strengthen and share this knowledge of the business bonds between Indigenous Businesses and the wider business landscape.

Dr. Dede Tetsubayashi, Social Scientist and Technologist

Dr. Tetsubayashi is a social scientist and technologist who has built an expertise in product strategy, policy, consulting, and cross-cultural design research for the US, APAC, and African markets for more than 16 years. Her extensive experience lies in helping companies (from startups to Fortune 100s) develop and invest in creating processes that answer questions related to cutting edge tech going global and what it means to design for—and to empower—a diverse world, as well as address ethical usage of technology and ways to engage with as well as include users as dynamic participants in product development. She is an expert in designing, launching and scaling responsible, ethical and equitable products that have global impact, cultural and technological relevance within emerging markets.

Diana Nguyen, Actor, Comedian and Writer

Diana Nguyen is an actor, comedian and writer. She is also a video content creator on LinkedIn with 38k followers. Diana has been in the entertainment industry for 15 years, and performed all over Australia and internationally in LA and Edinburgh. Diana has performed on TV, film and theatre including devising over 10 shows, including Dirty Diana and Naked (standup), Dirty Baby and Viet Kieu (theatre), and has appeared on The Project (Ch10), QandA (ABC), How to Stay Married (Ch10), 5 bedrooms (Ch10), Fancy Boy (ABC) and Fat Pizza (Ch7). In 2008, Diana’s popular short story “5 ways to disappoint your Vietnamese mother” was published in Alice Pung’s book “Growing up Asian in Australia.” This started her need to share her story of growing up in Springvale and led to the creation of the theatre show, Phi and Me. She is the co-creator of Phi and Me, the first ever Vietnamese Australian family comedy series which was first performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2011, sharing the story of a refugee mother’s love for her child living in Australia. In 2019  Phi and Me became the first ever Vietnamese Australian family comedy webseries which was funded by Screen Australia and crowdfunders from around the world. www.diananguyen.com.au

Cathy Ngo, CEO and Founder of Keynoteworthy

Frustrated with seeing the ‘usual suspects’ at events and conferences, Cathy Ngo founded Keynoteworthy as a way to amplify the voices of  the ‘everyday speaker’. She believes there is no shortage of talent out there and wanted to make it more accessible for event managers to find amazing and diverse speakers. Cathy believes representation on stage matters because impact does not end on stage – it’s where it begins. 

Before founding Keynoteworthy, Cathy has spent more than a decade in corporate HR and communication roles implementing change programs for top ASX listed companies. Outside of work, Cathy loves to dabble in stand-up comedy, collect indoor plants and frantically balance the grind with her young family. 

Caroline La Rose, Program Director, Hotwire

Caroline La Rose is a PR and Communications consultant at Hotwire. Originally from Mauritius, Caroline moved to Sydney Australia in 2007 and has since built a successful career in Public Relations but her journey navigating such a white industry hasn’t been short of challenges. As an African creole now living in Sydney, Caroline is passionate about cultural diversity in the workplace, and more importantly, cultural diversity in leadership roles.

Carmel Zein, Founder of Amina Rose

Carmel is a content and marketing professional and Founder of a sustainable retail business named Amina Rose. 

She has built a career around fostering meaningful relationships, supporting initiatives around diversity and inclusion, women in tech and mums in business all whilst maintaining a healthy lifestyle and being a mother.

As a woman of colour and daughter of migrants, Carmel is passionate about giving a voice to minorities and educating others on how to show support.

Annukina Warda, Principal Consultant at Elemental Training

Annukina Warda is an educator, community development practitioner and social policy analyst who has worked supporting communities in Australia and abroad.

She started Elemental Training and Consulting to offer a range of supports to the public and not-for-profit sectors in order to thrive.

Elemental Training resources are practical tools for young leaders and professionals to practice cultures of care, increase their connection to the earth and participate in communities in radically creative ways.

Annukina Warda is an Assyrian woman born and raised on Darug country. She holds an Arts degree majoring in Gender and Politics and a Graduate Diploma in Education.

More info at www.elementaltraining.com.au

Aarti Bajaj, Artistic Director, Director, Choreographer, Actor and Dancer

With a bachelor’s degree in Indian classical dance Bharatnatyam and experience of over 25 years in creating, performing and managing the journey of creative works and creativity as a whole: I believe the most important role of an artist is to tell stories. We are storytellers – storytellers that have the ability and power to transcend the emotions of humans and all other living creatures beyond boundaries, breaking geographical and ethnic cultural barriers using our expressions, physical and technical craft. The main ethos and motto for me as an artist remains to be a global citizen that sees art as an entity that speaks the global language and brings all culturally diverse backgrounds, humans and ideas on one platform of humanity.


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