How Does Workplace Diversity Impact Mental Health?

Our first international guest post from Dr. Arturo Osorio. Dr. Arturo Osorio is a licensed physician practicing in Nicaragua. Dr. Osorio went to Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (León), where he got Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery Degree. He has been practicing medicine in public hospital and private clinics since 2018.

Workplace diversity is generally understood to mean having a workforce that has a wide mix of employees of different races, religious faiths, sexual orientations, and genders. But true diversity also has to include perspectives, viewpoints, and cultural backgrounds. Creating and managing a diverse workforce can be challenging, but the pursuit of diversity balanced by merit can pay great dividends to an organization’s productivity and the mental health of its employees.

Benefits of Having a Diverse Workforce

Indeed for Employers lists many benefits of having a diverse workforce. According to one study by social scientist Adam Galinsky, employees who have a close friendship with someone from another country tend to score higher on creativity tests. Because diverse employees bring different experiences and backgrounds to the table, they make better decisions.

Indeed indicates that 55 percent of people looking for work believe that diversity and inclusion at a company are extremely important. Companies that value gender diversity is 15% more productive than those that don’t and 17% percent of people who are looking for a job report these qualities are factors that create feelings of connection during the interviewing process. All in all, we can assure:

  • Diversity in the workplace enhances employee loyalty and retention, cutting down on turnover because of enhanced employee engagement.
  • Diversity and inclusion in the workplace enhance a company’s reputation. 

Diversity in the Workplace and Mental Health

The Harvard Business Review highlights diversity, inclusion, and mental health in the workplace. Workplaces that promote diversity and inclusion have noted a decrease in stress and employee burnout. Overall, though, studies have noted an increase in employee attrition, especially among younger employees. Members of racially unrepresented groups as well as LGBT people are more likely to report mental health issues. Left untreated, mental health disorders can result in substance use disorder or other adverse effects. 

Cultureplus consulting suggests that a diverse, inclusive workplace enhances the well-being of employees, especially those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Employees in a diverse, inclusive workplace are twice as likely to have career development opportunities and ten times as likely to perform effectively than those in workplaces that do not value such qualities.

Creating A Culturally Diverse Workplace

Some people think of workplace diversity as creating several slots and looking for people of appropriate identities to fill them. But a hiring manager has to overcome inherent and often unrecognized biases in making hiring decisions that balance diversity and merit. A recent article in Commonwealth suggests many techniques, including reading resumes that have names and other identifying information blacked out and performing a written interview rather than an in-person verbal one. The article also suggests expanding a candidate search beyond one’s usual networks to places like culturally-based professional groups and traditionally black universities. These tactics all ensure a wider net is cast and candidates who may traditionally not be considered have an equal chance at the job.

Managing a Diverse Workforce

One of the most important parts of managing a diverse workforce is accommodating a variety of needs. A manager will have to consider the norms of other cultures when making decisions. Small Business Chronicle presents some examples of some of those problems.

Muslims may need halal options, and Orthodox Jewish may require kosher alternatives in cafeteria menus. And employees from certain cultures may find it normal to arrive late to work or decline to shake hands at meetings. Being aware of cultural norms makes it easier to accommodate the needs of your employees.

But before you accommodate an employee, you have to learn about them. Don’t stereotype people based on their country of origin or religion. Some may define themselves as Jewish, but not keep kosher. Instead, ask them questions about their needs and go from there.

The next step is to accept feedback from employees after you’ve made a change. If you aren’t open to criticism, you’ll continue to make faux pas that could alienate your diverse team. One of the purposes of having a diverse workforce is to bring in a wide variety of perspectives. But those perspectives won’t benefit you if you don’t listen to them. 

Regard for reducing workplace stress, and in turn, also decreases stereotyping and prejudice among employees. Workplace stress can lead to a loss of self-esteem, which leads to bias as a defense mechanism. Thus, not only does diversity and inclusion decrease workplace stress, but decreasing workplace stress promotes diversity and inclusion, in effect, a virtuous circle.

The key to promoting mental health in the workplace is a culture of inclusiveness and communication. When employees perceive that management cares about their well-being, no matter what their cultural background happens to be, they tend to be more productive and less likely to suffer from stress and burnout. Diversity, inclusion, and attention to employees’ mental health turn out to be a win/win all around.

Sources

Sciencedirect.com – Workforce Diversity: A Key to Improve Productivity

Indeed.com – 5 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Columbia.edu – “Going Out” of the Box: Close Intercultural Friendships and Romantic Relationships Spark Creativity, Workplace Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Hbr.org – It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work

Sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Non-Faith-Based Addiction Rehab

Culturalplusconsulting.com – How Does Employee Well-Being Link to Diversity and Inclusion

Commonwealth.com – Building a True Meritocracy: The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion

Smallbusiness.chron.com – How to Manage Diversity in a Workplace

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PEOPLE: Inspiring the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network in New South Wales

The Multicultural Youth Affairs Network in New South Wales would not be the same without Hannah Lai. Leading from the front, hear from her experiences in leading one of Australia’s most active multicultural youth organisations and the challenges that come with that. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers d what a normal day looks like for Hannah Lai? 

I really feel like I’ve got the best job. I help coordinate the Youth Ambassador Program at MYAN NSW with some fantastic folks. 

So, typical day (working from home)…

I like waking up early-ish so I have time to myself before I give time to other things. Often, I’ll stretch or do a workout. Get the blood flowing, you know!? 

Once I start work it is a mix of admin, event planning, individual support and connecting with other services. Relationship building is a huge part of work, which is awesome!

When I finish work, I like to go for a walk with my partner to transition from work mode to home mode. I also love being outdoors – camping, hiking, surfing.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I’m passionate about people feeling like they belong. It took me a long time to get comfortable with myself, but I’m here now and I want others to feel like they belong here too!

People should feel welcome when they come to Australia. They should feel welcome not because they’re ‘diverse’, ‘deserving’ or ‘resilient’… but because they’re human. 

Working with young people, whether they’ve been through a refugee or a migrant experience, is ultimately about walking with people as they grow their confidence in who they are. Walking with, not walking over. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

When I was younger, I didn’t see my culture and my lived experience as an asset. Now I do. One of the challenges I faced was that I doubted myself. I thought I hadn’t lived in Australia long enough to apply for certain jobs.

Now I know, my lived experience is one of my biggest strengths. If an organisation chooses not to hire me because of what I AM, I don’t want to work there.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Find people you feel home with, people you feel safe with. People you don’t have to ‘explain’ your identity to. 

When you find those people, nurture those relationships. They are your support system.

And don’t forget about your physical health because your body is there for the long run! 

Oh, and that first year of full-time work is going to be HARD. You are not alone. It will get better. And yes, majority of society is working those super long hours. It’s weird, isn’t it?

Want to follow and support HANNAH ?

@myannsw is where I work

My LinkedIn is Hannah Lai https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannahlai/ 


About the diversity champion:

Hannah (she/her) is passionate about belonging, cultural identity and what it means to feel at home. She works with young people of migrant and refugee backgrounds at the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network (MYAN NSW). Prior to this she was a caseworker with unaccompanied minors, people seeking asylum and families exiting detention. When she’s not working, you might find her learning a random hobby, camping or playing a board game. 

Image description: Hannah is looking at the camera while wearing a blue scarf and light blue shirt

PEOPLE: PHD Candidate striving towards elevating inclusion for nonverbal communication and individuals with diverse cognition

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Ilianna Ginnis

For me, no two days are alike. I work and engage with diverse individuals with a range of needs and as a designer, I find that I need to be flexible and attentive in order to respond to diversities. The individuals I support and design with have intellectual disabilities and diverse cognitive capacities, therefore, design takes on a role beyond aesthetics and begins to become an advocate and a communication partner for individuals with communication and cognition diversities.

Communication is a very important part of my day. The people I mostly work with are non-verbal and minimally verbal communicators who utilise assistive communication and alternative augmentative communication (AAC). I communicate with so many different types of people, individuals who use picture exchange communication, gestures, facial expressions, objects which have unique and specific meaning to them and so much more. Growing up with a sibling who was non-verbal, it was evident architecture does not meet the needs of people who are neurodiverse and use alternative forms of communication. I wanted to change this, so I dedicate every day of my life as a designer and an advocate to ensure people who are non-verbal are heard and represented within the design. I am motivated every day by my younger sister Michelle and all the other non-verbal communicators. I want to see a world where communication access is met in the built environment. 

I am currently a PhD candidate at Monash University as well as an interior architectural designer within an architecture firm in Melbourne. 

I also assist my younger sister every day, as she is my ‘why’.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I grew up very close to my younger sister Michelle who has an intellectual disability, and this enabled me to see the world from this unique and diverse lens. Growing up with a sibling like Michelle has been amazing, she has positively impacted my life. Through Michelle, I was able to learn diverse forms of communication and interaction. 

Being that I was one of Michelle’s main caregivers, I would see the challenges Michelle experienced in her environment. Michelle is additionally a non-verbal communicator, which makes her experiences in private and public spaces more challenging, as space does not accommodate diverse communication needs. Space did not accommodate to her needs. For instance, spaces were too bright, or sensory rooms were controlled by adults with no disability, therefore, limiting her engagement with space further. 

I adored looking after Michelle so much I studied to become a disability support worker. This introduced me to even more incredible people like Michelle, who too, was non-verbal and minimally verbal. These experiences further exposed me to the problematic sides of architecture. We experienced a variety of spaces together, including sensory rooms, quiet spaces, shopping centres, supermarkets and even parks. They all had challenges that restricted Michelle and the other non-verbal communicators. 

I didn’t like the way architecture was excluded, so I decided I wanted to make a difference. Spaces designed for non-verbal communication, are designed in their absence excluding them from design, therefore, design outcomes don’t respond to their needs and desires. I studied Interior Architecture at Monash University and completed my honours in developing spaces for no-verbal and minimally verbal communicators. When studying, I saw nothing was developed within architecture practices for the inclusion of non-verbal individuals or even individuals with diverse cognition. 

This has led me here, to begin a PhD within the Design Health Collab at Monash University, creating systems for designers to learn from non-verbal and minimally verbal individuals and consider them in the development of design  

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Not so many challenges with my identity, more so that architecture still does not meet diverse cognition and communication. 

Michelle is my why and the reason I dedicated myself to this work. Growing up close, I was able to see the challenges she still experiences in space. Michelle is my why and the reason I want to make space more accessible to her communication needs. 

I was surprised, as I have grown up around non-verbal communication and my reality consisted of Michelle and children like her. So, for me, Michelle and all the other people were my audiences. However, in architecture systems are designed in a way that excludes diverse forms of communication and priorities spoken language. So, by the time I graduated, there has been no change within architecture in moving towards diverse communication inclusion.

By designing a home for people who are non-verbal, this was my attempt to reveal the potentials and possibilities design has. The home was designed purely by non-verbal individuals, as the designer, I was simply the facilitator, responding to their diverse needs and desires to make the home accommodate their needs. 

Michelle has faced challenges, particularly within spaces. Some of these include spaces being poorly lit, too loud, and over sensory stimulated, claustrophobic, poor circulation, and layout as well as voids to reflect the lower level. In addition to this, public spaces do not cater for diverse communication needs. For example, not all parks have the inclusion of diverse communication and shopping centres do not cater for the needs of communication disabilities. 

These challenges are ongoing for people with intellectual disabilities who are non-verbal and minimally verbal. 

My research aims to create a design process that takes into consideration the unique communication needs of non-verbal individuals. By doing so, designers will include non-verbal individuals and learn from these encounters to include them in the decision making of spaces. The desired result would be for spaces to being to produce outcomes that are empathetic to diverse needs as well as allow communication access for people who are non -verbal. 

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

My message would be to be yourself and embrace your diversity as they make you powerful. By empowering each other in creating inclusion, we can create a place with diversity that is recognised.

Just because someone can’t speak, doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. I am working for a future where people like Michelle will be heard and where design responds to their needs and desires, as well as their human rights.

Want to follow and support ?

Instagram: @Ginnis_Design 

Website: www.ginnisdesign.com


About the diversity champion:

Ilianna Ginnis is an Interior Architectural Designer and a current PhD Candidate at Monash University. Ilianna is also a caregiver for persons with disabilities. Ilianna prides herself on designing with consciousness, creating interventions that extend the ordinary intentions of architecture, multi-disciplinary and sensory design for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Ilianna maintains a focus on communication, especially behavioral and non-verbal/ minimally verbal, to create design processes which are inclusive to neurodiversity and communication access. She aims to achieve empathy by exploring interior architecture with a fundamental focus on intellectual and neurodevelopmental disability. Her PhD speculates how design processes consider persons with severe and profound intellectual disability and non-verbal communication, allowing designers to integrate users into complex processes as narrators of their own experience.

Image description: Ilianna is looking at the camera wearing a white shirt

PEOPLE: Award-Winning Director and Producer driving diverse perspectives onto the big screen

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Hawanatu Bangura? 

For me, a normal day when I’m working on my business, it will be first off when I wake up, I tend to do stretches, so I’ll do yoga or another kind of movement. Call your cheek. So I’ll do that for like maybe 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on how much time I’ve got. And then also just wanted to say that I work from home, so I have the luxury of time. Then after that, I just get ready, have a shower, brush my teeth and, you know, just dress in whatever I want to dress in and feel really refreshed for the day. So once I’ve done that, I will go and make myself a cup of tea or just warm water with lemon. First thing in the morning, I’ll drink. Or sometimes I just include ginger or something else. It’s all just kind of like healthy stuff I’m trying to get into. And and then I’ll have breakfast, which includes muesli and fruit salad. So that’s the healthiest part of my day. And once I’ve done that, I will get on my I’ll create a to do list of all the things I want to do and prioritize the most cogent ones. So but before I start my task, I usually check my emails and just reply to people that I need to. And then once I finish that, I just start with my task.

So, like most of my time is spent like on the computer and you know, whether that’s like creating new content or developing developing a proposal. So a lot of admin things because of my because of my business and I sometimes have meetings as well inside in the morning or in the afternoon with different people who want to collaborate with me. So we’ll have like. It can be on Zoom, usually with the lockdown and everything. It’s been on Zoom. But before that, yeah, I might be able to meet with the person, maybe at a cafe or their office as well. So I’ll do that. And I also tend to go like during my lunch break, I’ll go for a walk. So I live in the inner west and have the luxury of, you know, like going for a walk and going to the park. And then I’ll come back, have lunch and then continue with more work and then buy each other. I don’t really have a set period when I finish work, but let’s say by late afternoon, I’ll wrap up and then, yeah, just relax for the rest of the evening. Sometimes I just play games with my partner and we have dinner or we watch Netflix, so you know, it’s just something to wind down. So that’s a typical day for me.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

For me, as a filmmaker and and a woman of color, I feel like it’s very important to have authentic and diverse representations of people on screen and also off screen as well. What I do notice now, you know, there has been like throughout the years, couple of years now, there has been some sort of diversity. I think that’s like the, you know, the new way that we’re going, which is really good seeing people on screen. But it would also be nice to see that captured with more people off screen as well as crew members. But just going back to when I started in the film industry in 2009, I made my first film like I never saw anyone that really looked like me. You know, venturing into this, you know, it was it was sort of a risky career path to take. So I didn’t have any role models, and I just have to figure out what to do on my own and maybe get the film industry, which is predominantly made up of, you know, which is predominantly white in a way. And and so for me, I find that that was that was quite hard as someone who’s coming up and, you know, we want to see someone who is from like a refugee background or an immigrant person who is making films and, you know, trying to follow their path. But that was not there.

And I find myself exploring and networking and going to different places. But you know, I did find opportunity to connect with some people, but there’s a level of connection that you have with someone who has gone through similar experiences to you and can give you advice as well. I feel like that was missing in my case, but also in terms of diversity and inclusion. And Australia like this is, you know, Australia as Australians, you know, we really praise ourselves about how multicultural we are, but that’s not reflected in the TV shows and in the movies that we even sell out to the international community. So for me, I really realized this when I went overseas to film festivals where people were always surprised that they’re Africans in Australia, even Asians. So other people decide what they see on TV. You know, they’re not about the indigenous people. But beside that and Caucasians, there was no one else in the picture. And this really does a disservice to our to our nation because this is not what is reflected within Australia. So for me, I feel like it’s really essential that the, you know, the media and everything sort of, you know, keep up with with the fact that this is this is, you know, how things should be, you know, diversity and inclusion is really essential for our community, for our society to thrive.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I have to say in terms of like challenges directly based on my identity, not necessarily. Or I might have been oblivious to it, but nothing that really impacted on me in such a way. But just from my own observation of. Like my because I’ve been in the industry for like 12 years now, and just reflecting on that, I have experienced, you know, tokenism. So, you know, whereby like, you know, you just it’s something that’s even though it’s not told, but when things keep consistently happening or people keep approaching you for certain things or put in. Me in a box that I don’t necessarily want to be in. I find that quite contriving and, you know, there has been some quite a few experiences of that tokenism, which I am totally now that I’ve evolved into what I do now, like I can totally identify it. And there’s some things that I will say no to because I can sense that that’s what it is like. There’s nothing essential behind it. There’s no good intentions beside like, Oh, you know, we’ve got diversity, and here is this person, one person that’s part of the, you know, part of this whole thing. But there’s several other people as well people of color who are not being recognised in that way or or it’s just even the language that is used that is, you know, not necessarily empowering. So for me, that’s one thing. And being in the film industry, it is very there is challenges I find am I don’t necessarily be due to my background or identity, but what I find is that when a person is emerging filmmaker, we tend to find there is more opportunities in that level.

From my own experience that, you know, there’s opportunities here, there’s opportunities there to to gain experience to learn about the industry. But the next step from there is where there’s a wall, and that wall is really hard to break because once you’re not emerging anymore, you’re not really like established where you’re in the middle. It’s kind of like a limbo place, and that’s quite challenging, I think for a lot of people in my either make or break. And for me, that’s where I emerge with my with my social enterprise, my creative, because I didn’t necessarily see myself fitting into the film industry. And I consider myself as a storyteller. So I then I’m not necessarily just a filmmaker, but I can tell stories in different mediums and that’s what I wanted to do. And I also wanted to create a initiatives that will help people to transform their personal stories as well. So something empowering. And I also wanted to incorporate my social work skills into it. So none of this really, you know, is something it’s not a position that’s created for me. I had to create it for myself, have to pave my own way in other for like just for the vision that I have for my own career. I think that’s that’s the way I’m going now. So it’s a combination of my social work and filmmaking passion. Combined together is what I have as my social enterprise now, which I really enjoy.

I wake up every day and I’m very enthusiastic about it. So for me, that’s very important and I also like working on other people’s start, like working on other people’s, collaborating with other filmmakers and making their work as well as producer or whatever extent it is. But I feel like the greater impact for me comes from the vision that I have. That’s bigger and I think in in a place like Australia, this is what I find as well. I had the experience of travelling overseas to attend film festivals and met other filmmakers, and I get an understanding of the way they work. You know, a lot of places that don’t have, you know, government initiative. So those sort of things, so they have to work triple had and from there for them to go from nothing or start from scratch to something, you know, make something amazing happen. They have to have a vision for that. And I thought, that’s what I need and having the right people to come on board to work with me and make that vision possible because that’s what is really important in in Australia right now. You know, we may not fit into us. Some of us that come from migrant background might not necessarily fit into that niche or that box of the film industry. We can create our own of what we want to see, you know, with social consciousness, social justice and all the sort of things that are important to us as well.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

The one piece of advice just connecting with what I mentioned before, it’s really I think the greatest thing is don’t be limited by yourself. Don’t be limited by the external barriers, but also your mindsets as well, because their true levels of barriers that you may be facing. You doubting yourself. And also people that are doubting you or not giving you the chance to to do what you you want to do. And I say, once you’re really passionate about filmmaking, it is very hard. It’s one of the most hardest industries to be in and you have to work with people. It’s not just one person, but you have to work with a crew of people or even actors and all these things, sir, you really got to be, you know, you really got to have like a tough game going into it and know that it’s not just, you know, what probably we see with people who have become more established like the Hollywood directors or filmmakers. You know, that is like the, you know, the pivotal point of whatever it is you get to showcase. But in the film industry itself, it’s just like, you know, it’s it’s a hustle. So, you know, really knowing who you are intuitively and making decisions based on your intuition and what seems right for you in terms of the people you get on board to work with you in terms of the stories you want to tell as well. And don’t just see that you know that someone has told a story or whatever it is, think about what angle you can tell the stories because most of the stories are pretty much recycled.

Want to follow and support HAWANATU ?

Website: https://www.mahawacreative.com/
Hawanatu Bangura| filmmaker|writer| director| Australia

Facebook and Instagram handle: Mahawa Creative


About the diversity champion:

Hawanatu Bangura is an Afro-Australian award-winning director, writer and producer. She was part of the prestigious Screen Producers Australia: One to Watch program in 2017. Born in Sierra Leone, she migrated to Australia in 2002 and as a teenager discovered her interest in filmmaking when she was involved in a youth film project. She took the creative lead to make a short film and realised her passion for storytelling, creativity, and expression could be best channeled through the medium of film. Hawanatu relentlessly pursued this passion, attending her first filmmaking workshop and shortly after wrote and directed her first short narrative film about the experience of a person from an African background challenges and triumphs of settling in Australia.

Image description: Hawanatu is looking at the camera with a gleaming smile

VIEWS: CEO of CBM Australia on disability inclusion in the pandemic recovery

One of the wonderful things about my role as CEO at CBM Australia is that every day is different! I focus on raising awareness of the needs and rights of people with disabilities in the poorest communities, who are amongst the most marginalised in our world. Engaging CBM supporters, the wider community, parliamentarians, government, and business in the fight to end the cycle of poverty and disability means sharing the powerful stories of real people and the positive change that is possible when we work together.

I also love providing leadership that unlocks potential and seek to enable our staff and volunteers who are so committed to our mission.

Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our work at CBM Australia. People with disabilities are often invisible and as a result, routinely excluded from health, education, livelihood opportunities and the chance to fully participate in their communities.  Poverty and disability go hand in hand, creating a cycle of inequality, isolation and exclusion that leads to the most extreme forms of poverty.

CBM’s disability advocacy approach amplifies the voices of those we seek to serve. It brings the voices of people with disabilities to strengthen the systems that support them. This means that people with disabilities and their organisations inform our work about their own needs and the best ways to enable access to education, health or jobs.  CBM builds the skills of people with disabilities to bring their perspectives when advocating for change. Inclusion in community organisations and government is strengthened by changing attitudes, advising on inclusive practises and policies and ensuring that disability champions are supported.

My experience as a young, female journalist in the 1980s was one of proving I was able to do the job as well as male colleagues. While there were many times in the initial months in my first job I thought about resigning, I stayed focused on telling the story of others and learning my craft which enabled me to grasp a great opportunity 18 months later. That early experience laid the foundation for the feminist leadership approach I bring.

Across the globe, around 93 million to 150 million children live with a disability. These children are less likely to go to school, and are more likely to face stigma and discrimination, but it does not have to be that way.  Working toward full social inclusion means we are all enriched and benefit  benefit from the immense skills, value and potential that these young people hold. 

My message to any youth with disabilities or facing any form of discrimination is to treasure the enormous capacity you have, and to not ever let anyone underestimate you. I’ve seen young people who have defied the most incredible odds in remote parts of places like Ethiopia and the Philippines to be recognised as role models in their communities.    

Want to follow and support jane edge ?

If you would like to contribute to our efforts to build a more inclusive world or find out more about what we do – please visit https://www.cbm.org.au/ 

Together, we can build a society where all are included.


About the diversity champion:

Image description:

PEOPLE: Liverpool Councillor leading grassroots change in South-West Sydney

Charishma Kaliyanda is a councillor at Liverpool City Council and Community Engagement Officer at Headspace, a non-profit organisation for youth mental health established by the Australian Government. We speak to her about what these roles mean to her and the change she has seen in South-West Sydney. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Charishma Kaliyanda? 

Oh, God. I think I’d start off by saying there’s no such thing as a normal day, so for counsellors, some may be retired and so their counsel work is kind of like their sole focus or they sort of almost can treat it as a bit of a full-time job for other counsellors. They may have a main job or a main occupation, or they may run their own business or something like that. So council’s commitments will definitely then kind of sort of identify what they do for in terms of their usual day. So for me personally, Monday to Thursday, I work in my kind of my main role or my day job, if you can call it that. And so on Fridays is the day that I usually have allocated to kind of work on council projects and other types of things. And on those days, I can have, you know, a number of different meetings, whether it’s with residents or different members of council staff or other partners or stakeholders around different issues. So to give you a snapshot of what that might look like. I might start off the morning with plopping down to a local café or, you know, a local business to have a chat with a resident about with, you know, with the business person about an issue that they’re facing, which could be related to development. It could be related to neighbours, it could be related to their plans for expanding their business and potential sources of council support for that.

I could, you know, from there, I could stop by and speak to a resident about an issue that they’re having in terms of, you know, whether it’s infrastructure that they want to see in their neighbourhood issues with a particular park asking for, you know, a pavement infrastructure, those sorts of things to be implemented in their neighbourhood. One of the most interesting meetings I’ve had in the last few weeks is to pop out and speak to a resident around having sort of informal bike tracks in a neighbourhood so that, you know, the young people in that neighborhood could, you know, actually have something to do during lockdown? Obviously, more regional and broader facilities were closed for the better part of two to three months, and so lots of local kids had to set up infrastructure in their local neighbourhoods. But that created a conflict because council has a duty of care to make sure that any anything that’s set up, whether it’s formal or not, is safe minimises risk to the community and therefore it responds to complaints and things like that. So, you know, just basically where that had a chat to them got a sense of what was going on from their perspective and was then able to come back and facilitate a meeting with council staff in both environment and community and culture to get a process around where to from this set up.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I think it’s very, very much at the heart of what I see a counselor’s role as because, you know, for most councils, you have between nine and 15 representatives of sometimes hundreds of thousands of residents. And whilst as a, you know, as a group, as a council, you may not necessarily be able to meet each and every single constituents specific perspective, or you may not necessarily be able to kind of, you know, have the same lived experience as them. Diversity and inclusion means that as many different types of perspectives and lived experiences and ways of thinking and being are incorporated into the decisions that are made ultimately by that council. So the role that council that you know, a group of councillors has on setting the vision and the direction of a city for up to 10 to 20 years into the future is huge, right? When you look at some of the challenges that some of our residents in Liverpool are facing now. Those decisions were made 10 years ago. They weren’t made in the last couple of years. They were made 10 years ago and they were made by the people who were sitting around that table at that particular time. So in terms of the people who are sitting around that table, if they are a diverse group of people and I mean in terms of cultural experiences, age experiences with ability or disability, I mean, in terms of gender and sexuality, we need to be able to get as close to a cross-section of our broader community as possible so that we can account for those decisions and the impact that those decisions have on our community. Because if you don’t understand the impact that the policy and the decisions that you make have on our community, that’s when you have people falling through the gaps.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I would say for me personally, one of the more challenging things is sort of balancing being one of the people we’ve speaking for people and it’s always going to be a dynamic balance because it no situation is going to be exactly the same. So you can’t use the same formula again and again. So you’re going to have to wait way things up as it comes. And so I personally, my value is very much around sort of equity and equality, and I I don’t see myself as part of a hierarchy with residents or with other people or those sorts of things. And so, you know, when that when you then have situations where people sort of like, oh, you know, counsellor or this or that I personally feel a bit uncomfortable with standing on ceremony a little bit. However, there are times where the elected role that you have calls on you to make decisions and actually kind of represent your community and that sort of thing. And so when it comes to being taken seriously in some of those forums I’ve had to it’s been an evolution in terms of finding my voice, finding how I’m able to relate to the other people that I’m part of that decision making collective with because we do come from different ideological perspectives. We do come from different political backgrounds and that can sometimes cause preconceptions or tension between people. So if I can, if I can do one thing differently about my term, something I would probably have done in sort of the first couple of months is actively seek out my counsellor colleagues and kind of establish a bit of a a bit of a conversation with them around how they work, what motivates them and just get a foundation of a relationship.

I think for a lot of people, that can be a very daunting thing, and that was very much a daunting thing for me. So I felt quite judged in some respects by some of those people, whether it was on the basis of my age or my background or my gender, or, you know, or like my political affiliations. I felt that I felt that they perceived me in a particular way because of those sorts of things. However, in kind of reflecting, I think it was a bit of perception on both of that ends. So to sort of, you know, come at that that relationship with a slightly different approach would be something I would have done differently. That’s it. It’s not just about my council colleagues. Sometimes I can be in conferences, I can be in other meetings and things like that where I where people think that I’m a staff member rather than a rather than a councillor, which is kind of interesting because it’s usually the dude in the suit that gets mistaken for the person who holds authority or the person that kind of is the is the decision-maker in that in that context. And so going back to that initial response I had, it’s very much that tension between, you know, you do you are the response, you are the responsible decision-maker. So you need to own that and you need to kind of put yourself forward in that way. But also like, you know, standing on ceremony and kind of like having that hierarchy, that traditional hierarchy is not something that comes naturally to me.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

I would say, although it seems really challenging to reach out because the worst, the worst thing that someone can say to you is No. I’m sorry, not the way I think they. I’m sorry, I don’t know if I would call it the worst thing, but like the the the only the only bad outcome or the only kind of negative outcome that can come from you asking the question if someone says no right, but for every know you get, you might get five other yeses. So just in the process of reaching out, making some of those connections and just, you know, starting a conversation with someone, you might go down a path that you totally didn’t didn’t imagine. And I feel like this is true, not just of young people who might be interested in politics or representation, but it’s true of young people who are interested in a whole broad range of different fields. I work with a lot of young people in my day job. And so in health, and so something that I commonly speak with them about is Gen Z are amazing at calling out people for poor behavior. And yet, you know, the scariest thing for them is making an appointment with a GP. Right. Like, it’s this it’s this really kind of fascinating, I find it so fascinating, fascinating dichotomy of being so like bad ass and empowered in one sense. And yet on the other sense like something previous generations sort of take for granted and like, Oh, this is super easy is a real challenge for Gen Z. So I feel like although it can, it can feel uncomfortable. Sometimes the most rewarding thing that you can do, actually.

Let me let me go back a step in terms of like summarizing all of this precursor. So in terms of the advice, sometimes the most rewarding thing that you can do is pushing through discomfort. So if maybe it’s better to frame it that way. Okay. Because like and just in terms of like like fleshing that out a little bit is very much around, like acknowledging that yet sometimes all the time reaching out to people can be like, really uncomfortable. It can be something that doesn’t feel natural to you. And that’s fine to acknowledge all of that, but then weigh it up against something that you’re genuinely interested or passionate in. This is why whenever like, whether it’s on LinkedIn or emails or whatnot, I genuinely try and prioritize responding to young people or champion causes that young people championing causes that young people come to me with. Because I love when young people in our community have thoughts, have ideas, and have things that they really want to say different and then act on it. And I want to support that as much as possible. So just like me, there are so many other people who have a very similar mindset and, you know, not everyone. That’s not to say everyone that you reach out to is going to be like that, but the chances of someone actually kind of going, Oh, hey, like what you’re saying is, you know, is really like a valid perspective, and I want to learn more. The chances of reaching out to someone like that is much higher than reaching out to someone who’s going to be like, Hey, look, sorry, I have different priorities.

Want to follow and support Charishma Kaliyanda ?

I’m probably most active on Instagram and Twitter, so I have to like I have my kind of combined Instagram, which is basically like bits and pieces of different parts of my life and things like that. And then I have my council, Instagram, which is very much around like what I do on council and the things related to local community stuff. 

–         Instagram – @ckaliyanda + @cllrkaliyanda

–         Twitter – @ckaliyanda


About the diversity champion:

(she/her) As a registered occupational therapist and elected representative, I am passionate about working with individuals and communities to fulfil their potential and engage in the activities they want. I have over 10 years of experience working with young people, particularly in the university sector. Currently, I work closely with the Youth Reference Group to further the aims of headspace – the youth mental health initiative. I build relationships with various internal and external stakeholders to facilitate access to help for young people experiencing distress in south-west Sydney. As an elected councillor, my focus is on balancing the growth of Liverpool’s population with appropriate social, economic, cultural and physical infrastructure. I want to ensure that residents have an effective advocate to improve their quality of life into the future.

Image description: Charishma is smiling at the camera with a coffee in hand, wearing a pink blazer

PEOPLE: Unique perspectives is a strength in workplaces

Joshua Karras is a leader wearing many hats. As the Executive Manager with the United Nations Association of Australia NSW Division, his work pushes forward the UN’s 17 Global Goals.

We speak to Joshua about what diversity means to him and all the roles he is leading. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Joshua Karras? 

A normal day would usually begin with a morning brief with the President of the UN Association of Australia (NSW), followed by meetings from a variety of industry leaders to discuss new and innovative ways of contributing to Australia’s mandate to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, due in 2030. It’s never the same day twice in this regard which I really enjoy about the job. 

In the afternoon I’ll meet with some of the Executive Committee to plan and develop any upcoming events and initatives, and check in on one of our Keystone programs, our UN Diploma. In the evening, I’ll spend a couple of hours on my PhD, and any outstanding work with the Greater Sydney Commission, the SES, or the Australian Egyptian Youth Forum, all of which I am proud members of. I usually end the day by catching up with my wife, friends and family and tucking into some Netflix.

Apart from that, I’ve made use of a daily to do list of stuff that I know is important to me or requires some discipline. Some of these include writing a gratitude list, taking my Arabic lesson, reading a chapter of anything, writing towards my own book, meditating and, since lockdown, adding a video to my online Insta-series which I’ve affectionately called “Josh’s Lockdown Lowdown”, which includes a COVID Fact and a recommend activity to help viewers get through the pandemic.

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

In short, it’s everything. In my experience, both concepts lead to a complete overhaul of ideas and processes, thanks the innovative potential of diverse representation and conscious inclusion. Of course, it’s an absolute mandate in the work we are doing, considering the UN’s charter and goals. I have personally seen the benefits of setting policy guidelines which support gender and racial parity and inclusion. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Unfortunately, age discrimination is absolutely real. In my line of work, taking a position of management in my mid-twenties has usually meant being the youngest person in the room. I’ve had to get creative in having my opinion or sometimes just my voice heard, and I’ve learnt that patience is key in allowing older people to overcome their ageist prejudices and understand that you deserve to be where you are just as much as they do.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

I think the most practically useful thing young people from diverse backgrounds can do is to demonstrate to their professional world just how useful their unique perspectives can be. It’s difficult to stand out in an increasingly competitive workforce, which is why individuals from minority groups are categorically placed to show they can bring to potential employers.

Want to follow and support JOSHUA?

  • Joshua Karras is on LinkedIn
  • @joshkarras on Instagram


About the diversity champion:

Joshua currently holds the position of Executive Manager with the United Nations Association of Australia NSW Division where he designs programs and initiatives under the guidance of the UN’s 17 Global Goals. He is studying a Ph.D. at the University of New South Wales within the Faculty of Medicine. He completed three separate Masters degrees in Public Health and abides by and promotes the UN mantra “We the Peoples”, which aims to empower the individual to utilise their unique voice and skill set in order to enact change within their community. He was also recently pointed as a board member of the Greater Sydney Commission.

Image description: Joshua is smiling while wearing a brown sweater and white collared undershirt

PEOPLE: leading Think Inc. to champion creative intellectual thought

Suzi founded the company Think Inc. to bring creative intellectual thought to the forefront of the live experience. 

We speak to Suzi about her journey and the importance of diversity in her work and life. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers about Think Inc. and what a normal day looks like for Suzi Jamil? 

It’s hard to say what a typical day looks like because I’m constantly finding new opportunities and challenges. But the foundation of most of my work (and my favourite thing to do), is managing a brilliant, dedicated, and passionate team. Most of my time is spent planning and developing strategies for our live events or online, live courses that we run through Think Inc. Academy. I also make sure to consume a wide variety of media, including updates from the worlds of marketing, science, politics, streetwear (😉), and everything in between. It helps me make better decisions.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

Diversity, especially the diversity of ideas, is incredibly important. If the only voices you seek out and listen to are ostensibly the same, then your view of the world is going to be too narrow – you’re going to miss the bigger picture. That’s why I look to as broad a range of people that I trust to bounce ideas off and to learn from their experiences. It’s one of the things that has helped me see the value and necessity in elevating a broad range of ideas, and that’s exactly what Think Inc. has been doing that for years. More recently we’ve had to take more risks to keep up with the changing cultural discourse, but we’re known for being disruptive; pushing the boundaries to celebrate even-handed debate.

Are there any challenges that you faced that you could share with our audience about being a diverse woman in a business world which systematically favours old white men (*eye roll*), and how were you able to overcome that and be so successful?

There have been many challenges, not the least of which have been trying to navigate the world of live event promoters and venues. I don’t have a business degree, nor do I come from a family of business owners. There have been a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned to get to where I am. I’m proud to be someone who looks different to all the other people who usually walk in these shoes.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

You and I are just alike in more ways than you think. If I can do it so can you. There’s nothing complicated about it, but the truth is that success always lies outside of your comfort zone. As soon as you’re ready to take that trip, you’ll find, more joy and excitement than you could imagine.

Want to follow and support SUZI?

They can visit my website: www.suzijamil.com or even better, visit www.thinkinc.org. Can’t wait to see you at one of our live events or attending one of our online courses.


About the diversity champion:

As the Owner and Director of Think Inc., Australia’s leading intellectual-focused touring company, Suzi has made it her mission to bring the world’s greatest minds to the country she calls home, in an effort to spread knowledge and enlightenment on topics of science, politics, race, religion and social equality. Among her guests are the likes of Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr Jane Goodall, Brian Greene and Richard Dawkins, to name but a few. Suzi is a producer of the film ‘Islam and The Future of Tolerance’, starring Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, released in December 2018. It is the goal of both Suzi and Think Inc. that through these inspirational events, a shift in global consciousness will become possible, allowing rational debate between an informed population on the issues that require the focus of our best and brightest.

Image description: Suzi is looking at the camera wearing a white blazer with a purple background

LIFE: LOCAL INDIGENOUS ENTREPRENEUR in the PITCH OF A LIFETIME

Local indigenous business-woman, Julie Okely, of Dilkara, is set to face 30 of Australia’s top CEOs and business leaders, at the 2021 Global Sister Pitch.

Not-for-profit organisation, Global Sisters, will host the third national Sister Pitch. The online event will see local businesswoman, Julie Okely, a proud Kamilaroi woman, face a panel of high profile CEOs, founders, and senior executives to pitch her Indigenous range of hair products, Dilkara Essence of Australia. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Julie Okley? 

I love my “normal” days because they offer so many opportunities to my businesses along with connections with family and friends. A usual day starts at 8.00am (which to some seems a little late but I am a self-confessed night owl) with a black coffee and time with my two Pomeranian puppies. It then leads into getting ready for the day ahead. I am usually in my office at 9.00 checking emails and compiling the to-do list for the day. By 9.30 I am starting to see my Dilkara Hair clients, as I have a salon built into my house. 

I have had this business for over 20 years now, and many of my clients are long time customers and I have seen many new babies grow to graduate high school, even University. I am lucky enough to have my office in close proximity to the salon, so I am able to work in the office whilst my clients are having colours and we chat and enjoy the quiet time!

It is not unusual for me to work in the salon for at least a 10-12 hour day. I tend to prepare meals during the processing times and I am an amazing multitasker that can also do the odd household chore or prepping the many online orders that need to be shipped out via our courier company for the next day, whilst I am making a cappuccino at the same time!

At the end of the day, I have usually had online meetings with my web design team, graphic designers and our social media guru Dish, who works remotely for Dilkara. It isn’t unusual for me to place several orders with manufacturers to maintain a consistent level of Dilkara hair, skin and hygiene products – that are made here in Australia. My pet hate is when the stock sells out and I need to have a slight delay for new orders coming in.

I often have phone conversations with my business team in Melbourne to see where Dilkara can be seen next, and focus on the growth of the business.

At other times, I can be found in conversations about my new book being made into a TV Series, with my co-author Simone Hamilton or our TV Production company based in Sydney.

An important part of my day is organising all of my paperwork and financials for my bookkeeper. This helps me see the financial health of my business and assists me in understanding where things need to be changed or added.

I usually end the day with a nice relax and a mental breakdown of the day, and where it went well.I love what I do, but I do find it easy to switch off when I need to, and even though I tend to have a lot of energy, I give every day it’s all (unless it’s my day off and I love Netflix time!)

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I have been in the Hairdressing industry for over 30 years of my life and I think when we talk of hairdressing, diversity and inclusion immediately comes to mind.

I find this topic comes with a sense of normality in this industry, as we love anything that its outside the norm, and we want, and need diversity and inclusion in our industry.

Creativity conjures up thoughts of diversity and feelings of expression. We showcase our ability to show our true personalities through fashion, design and colour! Just look at the kaleidoscope of colours available to utilise on any colour chart. Last week I did two amazing expressive colours that brought out the wonderful personalities of my clients using orange, black, purple and pink.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

A challenge that I faced in my professional career because of my identity…? That is a tough question. I think identity hasn’t really been an issue for me because I identify as a proud Aboriginal woman and I own that. It is part of who I am, so to me, it’s not a debateable topic. But on my personality…? Sure, I can sometimes come across as open and driven, sometimes to the point of being too blunt at times. I don’t apologise for that, as I honestly feel where I am coming from is a place of concern and compassion, I just don’t offer it with fluffy fairy floss.

Maybe that is the strength I derive from my heritage. There has been so many challenges for the Indigenous peoples in this country, I believe it’s a story that needs to be told and we need to remind Australians we are all in it together and we all deserve a voice. 

I don’t think it is wrong to believe in yourself and aim to do the best you can, by your own standards.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Feel special. You are unique because where you have been placed in this world. One voice has a powerful impact and I think if your voice is one for positivity, you should stand tall and focus on the positive things you bring to your community. 

Everyone is an individual and no one person is more important than another, but how you share that message can come from a place of good. Create a movement of positive change, don’t sit with conformity and hope you see amazing things comes from a lack of involvement. No one ever won watching the game.

Be kind, be true and be focused. Write up your goals and your dreams for the future and aim for them, no matter how long it takes to get there. Life is a journey and it is never a straight line with instant success. Our knowledge stems from all of the things we learn not to do – just like many entrepreneurs in our history. Find your favourite one and use their story to inspire you to achieve your dream for your own life. As they say, find someone that does it well and follow their footprint, you too will leave yours.

Oh, and never base your success story on the pigment of your skin colour. Remember a cup of tea is still a cup of tea, with or without milk.

Want to follow and support ?

www.dilkara.com.au

Instagram: Dilkara_Australia

Facebook: Dilkara Australia


About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Julie Okely is the award-winning founder and creator of Dilkara products. She has won the 2016 NAIDOC Business Woman of the Year, Supply Nation Indigenous Businesswoman of 2017 and Winner of The best new business 2016 Canberra Women in Business Awards. In 2015, Her Canberra named her as one of the 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Image description:

PEOPLE: At the heart of ‘The Brown Come Up’

Mehak Sheikh is a connector by nature, and a facilitator by nurture. She is a Capacity Building Coordinator with a national non-profit that backs youth-led movements and campaigns and also runs her own business, Unconventional Learning. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Mehak Sheikh? 

Every day is really varied and it’s frankly what I love most about the opportunity to curate my career. Some days of the week you’ll find me working as a Capacity Building Coordinator with a national non-profit that backs youth-led movements and campaigns, other days you’ll find me running my own business, Unconventional Learning and delivering life skills / professional development programs and then in the evenings and weekends I might be facilitating intercultural dialogue amongst the South Asian diaspora in Australia through a collective I co-founded called The Brown Come Up, or sharing my perspectives on identity, culture and social impact on a panel.

This variety also means that I’m constantly being challenged and learning, always meeting new people and have become really good at picking up on generalist skills. 

I’ve also been recently trying to re-adjust my habits, lockdown has really thrown a spanner in the works for this, so a normal day looks like trying to fit in a walk or an online ladies Zumba class or a stretch, prayers, and two-and-a-half meals a day, a Netflix show and maybe some journaling especially on the stressful days.

What role does diversity and inclusion play in the work that you do?

I actually started my journey in advocacy and movements from this exact topic. In 2016, I signed up to a public speaking program and I was also trying to discover my own identity and community which proved to be challenging because I’ve had multiple layers of migration in my own lifetime but also generationally, so I was the embodiment of the “cultural diversity” everyone was speaking about in policy and programs. For context, I identify as a 4th generation Kenyan-Punjabi-Muslim, so you can image how diverse my life is. However, I didn’t feel that the words “diversity” “cultural community” were those that resonated with me. Instead I leaned towards Interculturalism and Third Culture Kid – which I think encompass more of what inclusion tries to do. 

I think “diversity and inclusion” are very buzzwordy at the moment, but I would say that intersectionality, equity and representation are more relevant to what I do in my work. My day job actually can’t take place without an acknowledgment of the diversity of this country, and more so the challenges that communities of colour face in an Individualistic world. All the advocacy and movement work that I support needs to be rooted in First Nations justice, Accessibility, which is what inclusion looks like to me.

We set up The Brown Come Up in 2020 as a literal response to how non-inclusive spaces can be for South Asian folk living in Australia, but also in an attempt to demonstrate the diversity within the same community. It started with a conversation about representation in media and arts spaces with my fiancé who identifies as a Music Producer and led to community dialogues about how nuanced culture is where generalisations have been falling short, where they are useful, and how to challenge any internalised racism that hinders the progress of diversity and inclusion.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I would say the most significant challenge is two-fold; the assumptions that people make about you when they first see you. I felt this most when I was running for local government elections in 2020 for a seat in the City of Wyndham. I ran as an independent, and the youngest in my Ward, so not only was there an attitude about my potential because of my age or gender stereotypes, but it was compounded by the fact that I am visibly Brown. Some of the comments floating around the community were really derogative which isn’t helpful when you’re putting yourself out there, and others come in the form of micro-aggressions to my Muslim identity or migrant journey, which are so much harder to point out. 

In that time, it really helped to be around other folks who were also on a similar journey and having a community of care and joy – a place to go to just decompress for the day, sit in the sunshine or have a cry. 

I believe the assumptions made about you are either from some deep-seeded racist attitudes or fear of the unknown, when they haven’t met another Brown woman doing similar kind of work. Which alludes to the second layer of challenge in that it’s really hard to know where you’re headed, be inspired, or learn from people who aren’t even there to begin with because of systemic and structural barriers. Your own career progression and exploration, or being able to bring collectivist values to your work becomes limited. I’ve felt stuck when working in environments that don’t have representation and I’m still finding ways to deal with this one but for the moment, deliberately finding Women of Colour to surround myself with has been very uplifting – and this is also extends to content from them on my social media or articles I’m reading.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

I understand that it’s so hard to be something you can’t see but someone once told me that I might have to become the person I can’t see and that it will lead to other, greater impacts. So my advice is to give it a shot. If nothing, you will learn about yourself, and the system you’re operating in.

My other and related advice would be to reflect on your identity and ancestral strengths – it’s true that in mainstream we might not see people like us, but we come from lineages of innovation, resistance, courage, and care – so lean into these and learn from communities around the world who’ve taken a step.

Want to follow and support MEHAK?

If people would like to work with me, my values and services can be found on www.mehaksheikh.com

LinkedIn: mehaksheikhgc 

I post opportunities on Facebook: @mehaksheikh_official

I occasionally also share reflections on Instagram: @mehaksheikh_official 


About the diversity champion:

My name is Mehak Sheikh (pronounced Meh-Heck Shake), I am a connector by nature, and a facilitator by nurture. As a 25-year old woman (I use she/her pronouns) from Melbourne’s Western suburbs, I identify as a fourth-generation Kenyan background with Muslim Punjabi heritage, currently residing on unceded lands of the Woiwurrung, Boonrwrung, Wathaurrung, Daungwurrung and Dja Dja Wrung people. All of this guides my existence in the world. I am driven by my passion for systems change, community and youth-led voice and education. I am also influenced to engage in social justice causes by hearing from of my peers and my own lived-experiences of being a young person from a migrant background living in Melbourne (Naarm). Having trained in Psychology (Hons) and published works on acculturation attitudes in education for migrant communities, my expertise lies intercultural and intergenerational dialogue, emotional intelligence, accessible capacity building and advocacy. In all my work, I hope to contribute in the development of a fair, equitable and sustainable society.

Image description: Mehak is looking at the camera wearing a purple sweater and using her laptop

PEOPLE: Finding your ‘WHY’ to achieve your goals

Yemi Penn is a fearless businesswoman and thought leader on creating your own memo, meaning ‘she’ gets to write the script of her life and she encourages others to do the same.

We speak to Yemi about what her day-to-day looks like and how she found her ‘why’ in achieving all her accolades and the many hats she continues to wear.

Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Yemi Penn? 

Ha! This feels like a trick question but pre-covid and covid days vary a lot. In the spirit of manifestation, this is what my day should look like.

My alarm goes off at 4.45am, I make my 5.30am F45 class, there is an 80% chance I beast mode in that class and then I’m set up for the day. I would then head home, meditate, although I get distracted with the gram so this needs further work. I then share the contents of my day with my partner to see if we have any gaps we could fill. I get my daughter (and son) ready for school.

My day is filled with variety, the mornings are about high impact deliverables as this is where my brain is on fire. So I am either building presentations, keynotes, programs or a campaign around my next documentary. By around 1pm, I need a nap….true story, I have a nap or at least get horizontal to trick the mind and body that I’m giving it rest. I have a mini second wind around 3pm which is where I make phone calls or focus on applications and/or emails.

I do eat somewhere in between but I rarely cook. I then go for a walk before dark and figure out what my daughter will eat as she is a fussy eater, and I don’t cook so it’s ‘hit and miss’

I will watch some crap tv if I’m a little wired or I get into house renovation/building programs with my partner as we plan the build of a mini retreat for our family and extended community.

During COVID? Remove all the freedoms and no F45…..ouch

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

So important, I no longer subscribe to lip service or shallow allyship. We can no longer survive, let alone thrive in a ‘sameness’ environment. D&I is a buzz word but it is necessary, the planet is sustained by a biodiverse community. Humanity needs to wake up and understand the importance of a diverse and inclusive world. I appreciate I tick a few diversity boxes and so when I work with clients, it is important I let them know why it matters that they invited me to the table but best believe I also build my own tables because according to research and data it will take decades for equality to be a thing and that is purely on a male/female gender basis, so this doesn’t take into account culture, neuro-ability, physical ability, non-gender. The work needed is deep.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I can’t say anyone has said something specifically to me based on the labels society give but the ‘jokes’ and ‘offensive’ (unconscious bias) comments cuts deep. I didn’t have the vocabulary or confidence back then to correct people, especially in a compassionate yet clear boundaries way. This is a skill we need to work on especially with kids who are still figuring out their identity as a human being, let alone the labels they were given.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Firstly, get clear on your goal. Noting a goal is a dream with a deadline so I invite you to dream big and often. Then put together an action plan and either find a mentor you share this with or an accountability partner, so you stay on track. It is important you think and write down ‘why’ you want to achieve these goals. This ‘why’ ideally will be so strong and rooted in your identity that you won’t ever let that dream go or worse, let your world given identity make you shrink. I personally find that when I am the ‘minority’ in a room, I imagine this superhero cape on my back and make sure I represent all marginalised groups in society even if I represent purely with my presence #blackgirlmagic

Want to follow and support yEMI?

I would love your support by following and engaging with me on my Instagram page, link below

Yemi Penn (@yemi.penn) • Instagram photos and videos

But what would really really help me and my ‘why’ is contributing towards my next documentary. $5 goes a long way as I take that as your energy and vibration to want to make the project succeed. You can learn more about the project and donate via the this link. Do We Choose the Experience Our Trauma Teaches Us? | Documentary Australia Foundation


About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Yemi Penn is a serial entrepreneur with a common thread of transformation, whether it be transforming Sydney’s rail network as an engineer, transforming physical health in her F45 gym or shifting the perspective of our minds as she supports people in creating a life that they not only want and deserve. More recently Yemi has added documentary producer to her repertoire as she shifts her core life’s purpose to raising the vibration of acknowledging and healing our individual and therefore collective trauma.

Image description: Yemi is looking at the camera wearing a yellow top

PEOPLE: Not your ordinary Strategy and Design Consultant

Chun-Yin San is not your average strategy and design consultant. Alongside his role at ThinkPlace, he is the head of TEDxCanberra, where he and his team of volunteers showcase the best ideas from Canberra and around Australia to the world, and act as a platform for up-and-coming changemakers and artists.

We speak to Chun-Yin San about his work and the challenges he has overcome over the years when it comes to identity. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Chun-Yin San? 

As a strategy and design consultant, it’s actually very hard to have a “normal” day. Each day can be incredibly different depending on what projects I am working on, and for which client. I will usually have about 4-6 projects running in parallel at any point, and at different levels of intensity. During the day, I might be running co-design workshops, carrying out user interviews, building solutions, liaising with the client, and more. 

That’s what happens when it comes to my ‘day job’ with the design firm ThinkPlace. At the different times of the year, I will also spend some time with my ‘night job’ as the licensee and director of TEDxCanberra. That involves a lot of fun times, often late at night, working with (and occasionally cat-herding) a beautiful group of nerds to make possible TED conferences for the Canberra community.

Somehow in between, I will manage to find time to go outside for a walk or swim, and to catch-up with friends and family in different places.

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

It’s not just a matter of importance – it’s essential. I do everything that I can to make diversity, equity & inclusion an actual part of my work.

In my day job, this manifests as working on projects that are focused on diversity, equity & inclusion. For example, I have helped large Government agencies design new strategies and frameworks for more inclusive workplaces, as well as working with organisations to build new learning programs that can empower youth from diverse backgrounds. In my night job, I work closely with my TEDxCanberra team to make sure we are an inclusive platform for people from all walks of life to be able to share their bold ideas for better futures. 

Helping people from diverse backgrounds to break down the structural barriers and inequities that are in their way is something that I’m deeply committed to. Of course, I’m driven by lived experience too. And it is a real joy and privilege to be able to make it part of my day-to-day. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Absolutely – and I dare say anyone from a diverse background will have faced those challenges at some point in their careers. 

Speaking as a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse person (I’m Chinese-Australian), I’ve definitely faced some ‘’overt’’ challenges. Often, it’s people making assumptions about what you’re capable of, purely based on your appearance and name. My favourite moments are when people act surprised when they realise I’m fluent in English and can write well. Of course I can – I came to Australia when I was 7 and practically grew up here!

The important thing to do when those moments come up is just to treat them as what they are – a minor nuisance – and not let it get under your skin. 

What’s harder to deal with are those less obvious, “covert” moments – when you feel you might be being treated differently to others in your work environment, but you aren’t 100% sure whether it’s because of your identity or something else. It could be little things, like feeling you are being excluded from a function, to bigger things, like wondering whether you have been passed over for an opportunity or promotion. It can be especially anxiety-inducing, particularly when you are just starting out in the workplace. 

There’s no easy solutions to those sorts of moments – they are intricately tied with the structural and systemic barriers that people from diverse backgrounds face. Personally, I find what helps in the moment is to take a deep breath, keep a positive mindset and invest your energy on creating change more broadly. You need to build up the resilience to push through those challenging moments, and know through the experiences of others that there will be opportunities and pathways going forward. 

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Don’t be! Life is too short to be afraid, especially when you have big dreams and ambitions. Why waste your energy worrying about what you can’t do, when you can instead focus on doing what you can do, and make sure to do it in the best possible way? 

Want to follow and support CHUN-YIN SAN?

If you want to work together on solving a complex and messy problem that interfaces with diversity, equity & inclusion issues, drop me a line on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/chunyinsan). The more complex, the more excited I get!

And if you’re ever looking for inspiration about how you can make the world a better place, come along to one of my upcoming TEDxCanberra events. You can keep in touch on Facebook (facebook.com/TEDxCanberra).


About the diversity champion:

(he/him) Chun-Yin is a strategic designer who works at the nexus of public policy, design, foresight practice and science. His design and policy experience has ranged from government agencies to nonprofits and universities, and on topics as diverse as higher education reform, the innovation agenda and manufacturing in the space industry. Chun-Yin is ThinkPlace’s resident specialist in strategic foresight. He has in-depth knowledge of approaches such as scenario development and trends analysis, and is experienced in helping public sector organisations apply foresight methods to sense-make and create pathways to preferred futures. Chun-Yin’s expertise is grounded in his futurescoping work for Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, where he helped to lay the groundwork for the think-tank’s ‘participatory futures’ framework. In 2020, his work on COVID-19 foresighting for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources was shortlisted as a finalist for the APS Public Sector Innovation Awards. 


Image description: Chun-Yin is looking at the camera wearing a charcoal coloured sweater

PEOPLE: 18-year-old Climate Activist who took on one of Australia’s leading energy companies

Ashjayeen Sharif – remember the name. A quintessential example that no matter your age, if you have a vision and purpose, you are capable enough to stand up for what you believe in.

Ashjayeen is an 18-year-old Gen Z powerhouse from Melbourne who led a campaign for a seat on the AGL Energy board. Backed by Greenpeace, he is making waves in ensuring that young people’s efforts in fighting for climate activism is at the forefront of discussions and where better than leading from the front on the AGL board. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers about your campaign and motivation in running for the AGL Energy board? 

Coal is the predominant cause of climate change, and AGL is Australia’s largest coal burner, and therefore Australia’s largest climate polluter. AGL and its coal-burning power stations will leave a disastrous climate-wrecking legacy that my generation, and those to come, will have to live with. 

Meanwhile, the company’s current leadership refuses to act on climate change, which is telling of their ineptitude for the job. If AGL’s leaders won’t be leaders, someone else has to – and that someone is me. That’s why I’m nominating myself to their Board of Directors.

When did you first start getting involved with climate activism?

I first began to get involved with climate activism when I came across the first school climate strike in November 2018. This seemingly by-chance discovery led me to learn of the emerging youth climate action movement, and the newly formed organisation School Strike 4 Climate.

In the following months, I learned much about climate change and the climate crisis. In early 2019, I joined the school strike organising team in Meanjin. This quickly became one of the things I am most grateful for in life as it allowed me to navigate my way around my identity within an intersectional context and understand what it is to fight for safety and justice.

What are you currently working on in your role at School Strike 4 Climate, and more recently, AYCC?

Nowadays, I take on more of a mentor role in School Strike 4 Climate. The experience that I have garnered over the years has equipped me with a diverse skillset which should be passed on to newer activists as more and more young people join the fight. At the same time, I am a fundraiser for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, which is Australia’s largest youth-led organisation.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

It’s completely okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure as to how to get your foot into the door. There is a lot of pressure on young people to take on individual actions and address individual responsibility, but I would strongly encourage young readers to prioritise corporate and government responsibility. Remember: 100 corporations make up the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

For me, what has been most useful in joining the fight for climate action has been finding a community. There are thousands of young people out there who are just as passionate as you to fight for change. These communities of young people are united by a bond unlike any other, so I strongly encourage young readers today to join a climate organisation. Many exist, but I’d recommend School Strike 4 Climate, if you’re in school, and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, if you’re out of school, as good places to start. They helped me get into this fight and they can help you too.

Want to follow and support Ashjayeen?

The best way to support my campaign and the broader new wave of climate activism as we venture into uncharted, digitalised, pandemic territory, is to do research, engage with climate organisations on social media and to get involved yourself. In addition to SS4C and AYCC which I’ve already mentioned, check out Stop Adani, Seed and of course Greenpeace, whose support has made my campaign possible.


About the diversity champion:

(he/him) Ashjayeen Sharif was born in Bangladesh and raised in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. He’s now studying for a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University. Ashjayeen has been an active leader in the School Strike for Climate movement. Like most young people, he cares deeply about climate action because he cares for people and wants to live on a healthy, thriving planet. He believes AGL, as Australia’s largest electricity company, has a crucial role to play in Australia’s climate solution. 

Image description: Ashjayeen is looking at the camera wearing a green jacket and white shirt in front of a backdrop with trees

PEOPLE: Trailblazer named as a Finalist for the 2021 Women Weekly’s Women of the Future

Mannie Kaur Verma was recently named as one of six finalists for Women Weekly’s Women of the Future for 2021. That achievement speaks volumes in introducing her as our next diversity champion.

As a lawyer, public speaker and advocate, we speak to Mannie about her journey through law and advocacy and what diversity means to her. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Mannie Kaur Verma? 

Well, I would start by saying that no two days are ever the same for me. What does remain consistent is that I am woken up each day by a kiss from my three-old-son. No one in my household needs to turn an alarm on, because without fail, every day my toddler is awake by 6am and his first job of the day is to wake everyone with a kiss on the cheek. The tantrums and the fight for the TV remote, with his six-year-old sister, start soon thereafter, by which time we are all truly awake. 

My husband and I are both lawyers at Vision & Regal Group and we generally begin our workday at around 8.30am. We have the luxury and privilege of grandparents looking after our kids while we are busy with work (whether in the office or from home). A typical day at work generally entails lots of zoom meetings, lots of back-and-forth email correspondences, drafting and implementing workplace policies and constant legal research. There are regular court hearings and mediations, all via web conferencing in the current COVID-19 landscape. 

After work, on most days, I have at least one volunteer commitment that runs for about an hour, whether that’s an EMILY’s List meeting or Amnesty Australia or One Girl Org. I currently volunteer for 9 different non-profit organisations. Once that is taken care of (or sometimes during the meeting) I would feed the kids dinner (my mother-in-law usually cooks) and spend some time checking my daughter’s homework. Sometimes we cheat on weeknights and have a movie night watching an Avengers movie or something from the Harry Potter instalment. I usually dedicate time on weekends to catch up on my studies and research with Deakin University. 

How important is diversity and inclusion to you and in the work that you do?

I would call myself an intersectional feminist and therefore I do highly value diversity and inclusion. In a multicultural rich country like Australia, I think we ought to do more to promote awareness and implementation of diversity and inclusive practices. 

One way we can do this, is by placing Intersectionality at the core of our work.  We certainly apply an intersectional lens to all the work we do at Vision & Regal Group and the advocacy work that I absolutely love engaging in. 

I truly believe that there is real value in embracing our uniqueness and there is genuine strength in unity. We can achieve great success by providing an environment where individuals can bring their authentic, true selves.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

As a young, woman of colour, who practices in commercial litigation, I often encounter hostility, and this can take many forms. Sometimes it is as subtle as a judge asking at the time of announcing appearances, that Mrs Verma, do you have a counsel representing the client.  Initially in my career, this question would often intimidate me and if even I thought I was confident to appear at a Directions hearing or a mediation, I would engage a barrister just so that my client would appear stronger. There is this entrenched notion in the legal industry that the more senior lawyer you have retained, the stronger your case probably is. Race also plays a significant role.

However, now I refuse to be apologetic for my identity. I often appear at Directions hearings and mediations myself without a barrister and if faced with this question, I bravely and politely answer that no, your Honour, I am quite capable of competently representing my client. 

ADVICE FOR the youth

Don’t ever be apologetic for your identities. You are unique and that is what makes you special. Use your uniqueness to your advantage. Dig deep and find your unique value proposition. What is it about you that makes you stand out from the crowd? And once you have found it, embrace it, work on it, and use it to push for real, meaningful change in our communities. 

Until we stop trying to fit the moulds created by the biases entrenched in our societies and institutions, we will not emerge from the tyranny of the oppressors. 

Want to follow and support mannie?

Feel free to reach out to me via my website www.manniekaurverma.com.au or I have very recently joined twitter (I know it’s a bit late) and my handle is @MannieVerma


About the diversity champion:

(she/her) Hi there, my name is Mannie and I am an Indian-born-Australian. A Lawyer. An Advocate. A Wife. And the most rewarding title – A Mother to two beautiful children. As a Lawyer, I feel tremendous gratification in empowering my clientele, particularly young women of diverse backgrounds, to fight for their rights. This may include demanding a respectful relationship, employee entitlements or justice in a dispute. I appreciate that I am in a fortunate and privileged position where I can advocate for people who do not understand our complex legal system or who are not in a position to fight for their basic rights. As a young woman of colour, I am passionate about advocating and empowering local communities to address the issues affecting young girls, girls from diverse cultural backgrounds and bringing these issues to the attention of key decision-makers.

Image description: Mannie is smiling at the camera wearing a bright garment with a grey background

PEOPLE: Doctor, Lawyer, Disability Advocate and Researcher. Role model.

Dr. Dinesh Palipana is a leader.

We were simultaneously honoured and blown away by the inspirational story that Dr. Dinesh shared with our team at ECE. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for you? 

My days are highly variable. I work between the emergency department of the Gold Coast University Hospital, our research lab at Griffith University, the Disability Royal Commission and a number of other extremely rewarding things. Our emergency department is the busiest in the country. If I am working in the emergency department, I will generally get up about 3.5 hours before work. This is because it takes awhile to get ready due to the spinal cord injury. Well eating breakfast for example, I will attend to things like email and life admin. I’ll organise my calendar then as well. After that, on my way to work, I like to use it as a bit of chill out time to listen to music. However, I might take some phone calls then as well. At work, we will crack on with the business of an emergency department! The drive home from work is generally chill out time. After I get home, I’ll have dinner, shower, then crash.

What role does diversity and inclusion play in the work that you do?

It’s critically important. If the institutions that I worked in didn’t have a focus on inclusion, I wouldn’t be able to work. It’s that simple. But, none of it has come from laws, policies, or guidelines. All of it has come from inclusive attitudes. In my experience, attitudes are the biggest barriers. Attitudes are also the biggest enables. I’ve experienced both in my journey. I’m lucky to have some pretty amazing people in my life that are enablers.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Definitely. The interesting thing is, until this year, I completely forgot that I was a migrant. I did a large part of growing up in Byron Bay. We went there as soon as we arrived in Australia. Byron Bay was an inclusive place. No one asked me where I was from. No one cared. We all lived together in happiness regardless of a huge socioeconomic spectrum. Therefore, being a migrant has rarely been front of mind. I’ve just felt human and Australian. I truly feel like we live in the lucky country.

The spinal cord injury is a different story. I experienced many barriers from attitudes due to it. I was nearly denied employment because of it. Senior doctors within our hospital, ironically from arguably one of the least physical specialties, said that they “don’t want someone with a spinal cord injury in the department”. A supervisor of the junior doctors said that I should leave clinical medicine to able-bodied people and not take their jobs.

I ignored them. At the end of the day, they can say what they want, but they are not going to the be the ones at the end of the road holding account of my life. It’ll be me. So, I kept going. Again, I was lucky enough to have a lot of supportive people. I celebrate them every day.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

Surround yourself with people that celebrate you. Embrace everyone yourself. Don’t take an exclusionary approach. Don’t take up labels like black or white. We are all human. Be the change that you want to see.

Trade anger for compassion. Use challenges to grow. Energise yourself from frustrations. Most of all, remember, this is your life. These are your dreams. Don’t let anyone stop you.

Want to follow and support Dr. Dinesh?

Instagram: http://instagram.com/dinesh.palipana/

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/dineshpalipana

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dineshpalipana/


About the diversity champion:

(he/him) Dinesh was the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland and the second person to graduate medical school with quadriplegia in Australia. Dinesh is a doctor, lawyer, disability advocate, and researcher. Halfway through medical school, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that caused a cervical spinal cord injury. Dinesh has completed an Advanced Clerkship in Radiology at the Harvard University. As a result of his injury and experiences, Dinesh has been an advocate for inclusivity. He is a founding member of Doctors with Disabilities Australia. Dinesh works in the emergency department at the Gold Coast University Hospital. He is a senior lecturer at the Griffith University and adjunct research fellow at the Menzies Health Institute of Queensland. Dinesh is a researcher in spinal cord injury. He is a doctor for the Gold Coast Titans physical disability rugby team. Dinesh is a senior advisor to the Disability Royal Commission. Dinesh was the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service’s Junior Doctor of the Year in 2018. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019. He was the third Australian to be awarded a Henry Viscardi Achievement Award. Dinesh was the Queensland Australian of the Year for 2021.

Image description: Dinesh is smiling at the camera with a blue scrub top with a stethoscope around his shoulders