People: How hairdressing paved the way towards a diverse and inclusive mentoring platform

The below is a guest post from Joan Dellavalle, owner of Ebony and Ivory.

As an international student who arrived in Perth from Zambia in 2001, I had never felt so excluded as when I sat in a local hairdresser chair trying to get my hair washed and blow dried. The experience though gave me the courage to use whatever savings I had to study, become a hairdresser and open my own inclusive salon space – Ebony and Ivory.

What does an inclusive salon space look like?

For me, it is a space where people of all backgrounds – race, colour, culture – can come in and not feel like what I felt two decades ago: that having a different type and style of hair is not something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to learn more about other people’s diversity – their uniqueness.

Achieving an inclusive social space such as Ebony and Ivory does not have its roots in large amounts of funding or being able to recreate the current “it” style.

Instead, it comes down to acceptance and a genuine interest to listen, discover and empathise with other people’s stories – funnily something that I feel are the characteristics you need when you are a hairdresser!

After all, how many of us have talked non-stop, divulging often personal stories or funny incidents with our hairdressers?

To that end, creating an inclusive salon space at Ebony and Ivory involved:

  • Creating a warm brand that says “we’re open to anyone.” It’s amazing how things such as the design of your logo and what language and image you post on social media can say about you and your business!
  • Hiring and training hairdressers from diverse backgrounds and importantly with an interest in not just hair but the people under the comb, hairdryer, colour brush.
  • Taking that inclusive space to outside of the four walls of a salon! More on this…

From the salon to the streets of Perth

Hair salons are a grapevine of stories and I realised, a place to understand more what’s happening “out there.”

Two styles of stories generally come out – one of inspiration and the other of challenges – the latter often of how young people are lacking positive role models and the opportunity to learn about diversity, difference and a different perspective.

After years of listening to such countless, remarkable stories, I was reminded of how in Zambia, we would spend time with our Elders, just listening and talking as they shared their knowledge and wisdom. Here we learnt about the power of listening, of possibilities, of accepting, of being open to difference.

The stories and my experience of sharing them gave me the idea to create a diverse and inclusive space to the streets of Perth. That’s how the Ebony & Ivory Masterclasses and Mentoring Program began!

Since 2017, I have myself run more than 21 lifeskills Masterclasses, sharing my own story of changing exclusion towards inclusion and collaborating with role models (such as Dr Rishelle Huma, CEO of Indigenous Women in Mining, Florence Drummond and international educator and Oprah’s favourite guest of all time, Dr Tererai Trent) who didn’t let difference get in their way of achieving their dreams and also advocating for diversity and inclusion.

We start the Masterclasses with setting a promise to each other how we can all contribute to creating a safe, inclusive and diverse space to gather.

These Masterclasses are mostly aimed at adolescents – to date we’ve had over 80 – go through one-day through to seven week programs, designed around learning and accepting difference via immersive storytelling such as:

  • Watching the movie and talking about A Wrinkle in Time to talk about differences in spirituality;
  • Collaborating with relevant organisations such as Edmund Rice Centre to connect and listen to stories of refugees;
  • Open discussions about bullying and overcoming stigma, run by youth leaders or positive role models who have themselves experienced these challenges.

You know that it is possible for anyone, everyone, including a small business such as mine, to make a difference when you have the same young people return to your programs – confident and comfortable in themselves – to teach others about acceptance.

About the expert

Joan Dellavalle is the creative mind behind Ebony & Ivory hair and beauty. The Perth celebrity stylist and fashion designer has forged her Zambian routes into building the powerhouse salon that is Ebony & Ivory. The refreshing and colourful energy of Joan allows each client to feel as they are family when they walk through the Perth CBD store.

To find out more about Ebony and Ivory and our work towards a more diverse and inclusive community:

Image description: Joan is standing with her hands together, presenting in front of an audience, with three black, leather armchairs behind her. She is wearing a dark green velvet blazer over a matching green blouse, has blue, curly hair, and is smiling.


ADVICE: Learn at the right time – Don’t upskill for the sake of it

Kaylene Ledgar’s experience with education has shaped her entire career. Despite not getting her ideal grades when finishing high school, she excelled in her public service career of 26 years, built her own business from scratch, and is now a world renowned public speaker, mentor, coach and more. In this interview, Kaylene shares her approach to learning and how she has used non-traditional educational experiences to live a life with no regrets.

  • How did you get your career off the ground? What role did education play?

After failing my HSC, my dream of becoming an accountant, fizzled away. I found myself unemployed until I found work in a factory production line. I was not happy and struggled with depression.

My dad suggested I sit the Australian Public Service (APS) test, as it would provide security for my future. Within a few months of completing the test, I was offered a traineeship in the APS. The traineeship included classroom and on-the-job learning. At the end of the traineeship I became an APS level 1 officer, doing administration work and mail. This was the start of my 26-year career in the APS.

  • How have your personal experiences with the education system shaped the way you approach leadership and business today?

Over the years the most valuable learning experiences have been the ones where I have learnt on-the-job. There is no better training than doing. The key is to have clarity as to what you are being asked to do and knowing where to find answers if you are unsure.

As a leader I have found it necessary for the growth of my team members to allow them the space and support to learn on-the-job. This doesn’t mean giving them a task and walking away. You don’t want to throw them in the deep end without something to hold on to. You provide clear leadership, scope for their task and deadlines. They developed their skills quicker when given this opportunity and it allowed me as a leader to focus on other tasks.

There have been many times over working life where I have attended short and long training courses and while extremely valuable at the time, I haven’t had the opportunity to put it in to practice in the work place. In my leadership and my business, providing learning at the right time is key to ensuring return on investment. I’m a learner at heart and an advocate for professional and self-development, however from a business perspective you don’t want to waste your money or time upskilling then not having the opportunity to apply it.

  • How did you go from having a fear of public speaking to becoming a professional public speaker? 

There came a point in my career where I had enough of watching others move ahead of me and win promotions that I was simply to scared to apply for. My problem was not the skills for the job but my fear of speaking to two or more people at a time. I had a deep fear of speaking in front of the two-person interview panel.

Deciding it was time, I decided to enrol in a Toastmasters International Speechcraft course, an eight-week public speaking course, in hope that it would give me what I needed to face an interview panel.

Over the eight-weeks there were times where I nearly gave up, however I didn’t and with the support of the Toastmasters I learnt how to manage my nerves, gather my thoughts and speak with confidence. After just eight-weeks, I felt ready, still extremely nervous but ready to do the job interviews. I had applied for three jobs and was successful at securing interviews for all. To my amazement, I won all three jobs, one of which was a double promotion which took me from an APS 4 to an APS 6 in one move.

With only a taste of what I could achieve from facing my fear of speaking, I joined the local Toastmasters Club and continued to build my skills and confidence as a speaker. In Toastmasters I had the opportunity to learn by doing, joining the Club Executive and then moving beyond into District Leadership roles. The self-paced learning suited me, as did the opportunity to learn on-the-job.

The more I immersed myself in Toastmasters the more opportunities I received at work. I quickly moved into leadership roles and this is where I thrived. What I loved most about leadership roles in APS and Toastmasters, was the opportunity to mentor, coach and support others to develop their skills. This led me to find my passion as a speaker, trainer and a coach.

Now I am comfortable and confident speaking to large and small groups. I am a certified World Class Speaking Coach and help others build confidence speaking. I now run workshops as well as provide one on one coaching, this would never be possible if I had not faced my fear of speaking.

  • What advice do you have for others facing a similar ‘fear’ in a task they’re facing at work?

My fear of speaking was not my actual fear. My fear was the fear of failure and while I overcame my fear of speaking, the true fear, fear of failure stayed with me and showed up in other parts of my life. It wasn’t until I started to dig deep and look within that I found my true fear – then I was able to work on my limiting beliefs and made true breakthroughs.

When I work with clients, I share with them the six keys to overcoming fear of speaking:

  1. Purpose, you must have a deep seeded need to want to overcome the fear. For me it was winning the job interview.
  2. Mindset, you have to look within and uncover your limiting beliefs. Once you have you can work on reframing your thoughts.
  3. Skills, you do need to develop skills. For me it was learning how to put a speech together, how to think on my feet and how to manage my nerves.
  4. Content, you need to gather your knowledge and experience. This allowed me to have something to say.
  5. Practice, practice and practice some more. You can’t breakthrough your fear of speaking if you don’t speak.
  6. Feedback, you need feedback on your strengths and areas where you can improve.

With these six keys you can overcome your fear and realise your true potential.

  • What made you decide to start your own coaching business?

As a leader I soon realised that my passion lay with coaching and mentoring. While I enjoyed my career in the APS, I wanted to follow my passion. On my 46th birthday, with my dad’s help, we hatched a plan for me to leave the APS and start my coaching business before my 50th birthday.

This changed the following week when my dad was diagnosed with Liver cancer. During dad’s short illness he told me that he had ‘no regrets’. He was grateful for the life he had lived and while he would have liked more time he had ‘no regrets’.

Two months after dad passed and lots of soul searching and talking to mum, I handed in my notice, retired from the APS to follow my dream of having my own coaching business. I want to be like my dad and when my time comes, I want to be able to say I had ‘no regrets’.

I am now in my second year of my coaching business. I have published two books and am working on my third. I am running workshops and coaching one on one. I am loving my new career and I have ‘no regrets’.

  • What were the biggest challenges in starting your own coaching business and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge was getting over my own limiting beliefs and yes, the fear of failure.

This is where I had the true breakthrough with my fear, finally shifting the limiting belief from failure to learning. Everything I do in business comes from a learning mindset. I create, I test and I learn.

Whether it is creating a new program or implementing a new marketing strategy, I do it with a learning mindset. Each day, each new idea I am learning. If I don’t nail it the first time, that is ok, it was a test. What did I learn from it? What can I do differently? What will I try next time?

Another challenge I had as a new business owner was working out what works for me. When I first started, I listened to all the advice offered and I tried to do everything. I was struggling and did start to doubt my abilities and dream.

Once I woke up and realised I had the choice of what to do and what not to do in my business, everything started to fall into place. I looked at all the ideas and suggestions provided from others. I took time to identify what resonated with me. I created a vision of my business and lifestyle. Then I started focussing on what mattered to me. While I can confidently speak in front of large groups, I much prefer smaller intimate groups where I can create greater personal connections. I love my one on one coaching and the idea of online courses. My business is growing in a direction that connects and works with me.

About the expert

Kaylene Ledgar is a Holistic Life and Communication Coach and author. Kaylene works with entrepreneurs and leaders from around the world to overcome their limiting beliefs, reconnect with themselves and find their direction in life.

Kaylene is particularly passionate about helping others face their fear of speaking and accelerate their career. Kaylene says “You don’t need to fear speaking; speaking is a learned skill and you can master it.”

In 2003, Kaylene made the life-changing decision to face her fear of speaking. Fear of speaking used to consume her, but now with hundreds of speaking opportunities under her belt, she is a motivational speaker who inspires others through her stories. Kaylene shares tips and tools to speak with confidence in her book “Speaking, It’s NOT Worse Than Death”.

Kaylene believes that when our actions match our values, we find our true path. In 2019, she decided to close the door on her 26 years career in the Australian Public Service to be a full-time coach, author and live her true path.

Kaylene sees a world where fear does not hold us back. A world where we share our stories and lessons to support others. A world where communication brings us together.

Image description: A women sitting with her hands rested in front of her on a small circular stool. She has brown hair with white streaks, is smiling, and wears a black and white jacket over a black top, with black pants. She has a pearl necklace and her nails are painted red, with her fourth finger in black and white on each hand.

PEOPLE: I can be what I can’t see – Jean Sum

Jean Sum, Founder of Sum of Jean, made a shift from the banking industry to international development and is also now a mentor to Asian-Australian women. She believes strongly in empowering women, overcoming imposter syndrome and breaking through the bamboo ceiling so everyone has the opportunity to become what they cannot see.

  • For those who resonate with imposter syndrome, what’s a step by step process they can go through to manage and overcome the roadblocks imposter syndrome can create?

Imposter syndrome is an interesting term used to describe the feeling that one doesn’t deserve their success. At the root of this, I see this as someone not feeling they are worthy. Not seeing themselves as good enough and worrying that they would be ‘found out’.

I have a few tricks to help me through this:

  • Stop. Acknowledge. Feel.

I stop and listen to the voice that is telling me that I’m not good enough. When I was invited to MC the Australian National University’s Alumni Gala to farewell Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC as my first MC gig, my response was “Who, me?” I gave it some airspace by acknowledging this voice and recognised it was my perfectionist persona stepping out.

  • Gather the evidence

What experiences have I had that tell me I am good enough? That I am worthy? I have over the years saved congratulatory and thank you notes. Occasionally I pull these out to remind myself that I am on the right path and making a positive impact.

  • Have a support crew

When I feel shaky and need a bit of support, I call my support crew. This group includes individuals who understand my journey, my coaches, mentors and champion. I trust them and they understand my dreams. I called my Champion about this MC gig – he said “Great idea! You are perfect for this role. You encompass exactly what this gala needs”. This was all I needed to say yes.

  • List the qualities and skills

Every year, I write a list of qualities and skills that I am proud of. The qualities that make Jean Sum unique. One of my qualities is creativity which I have used to turn this list into a colourful word collage. Everyday I walk past and a word or two subconsciously fills my mind and my body.

  • Dance, Journal, Meditate

Yes! I do all these to help me believe I am worthy! Why? Because I can live so much in my mind and I need to come back into my body and heart, which hold so much intelligence. I dance to express my emotions and shift my energy. I journal to process thoughts. I meditate to centre myself. These practices help to clear and sift through the mind clutter that can contribute to the imposter syndrome, and return to my central intelligence – my inner voice that gives me strength to achieve great things.

  • The stats clearly show that both the glass ceiling (for women) and bamboo ceiling (for Asian-Australians) exist in Australia. For those experiencing that in their workplace or industry, how do they overcome these barriers and become what they cannot see? How do they break through to pioneer a ‘first’ in their sector and be a breakthrough role model for others?

The bamboo ceiling represents the barriers that exclude ethnic Asians from executive positions on the basis of subjective factors such as ‘lack of leadership potential’ and ‘lack of communication skills’. You can hear what’s on the other side of the bamboo ceiling, but it’s hard to reach. Approximately 13% of Australians are of the Asian diaspora, but only 1.6% are in senior leadership positions.

Firstly, recognise what the external and internal barriers are. Ask yourself: What can I and can’t I change? Are there skills I need to improve on? Are there any self-limiting beliefs that I am placing on myself? Doing some internal work helps to shift our thinking.

Secondly, what are the external barriers? Are there opportunities available? To whom are they available? Who can I talk to about this? Is there someone who believes in me and can be a champion for me?

There is a saying ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and to some extent this is true. But think of the ground-breakers throughout history – Rosa Parks – Activist, Lakshmi Bai – Warrior / Queen, Wang Zhenyi – Astronomer – these women became leaders in spite of everything stacked up against them. They couldn’t physically see what they could become, but they had a vision. And this is what they saw.

I draw on my personal experiences to remind myself that I can be what I can’t see. I have successfully changed careers and built a cross-sector career. I am often the first corporate partnerships manager in organisations I work in and have developed ground-breaking and sustainable partnerships over the years.

I achieve this by allowing myself to think and feel what is possible. I find others to back my work. I have developed effective communication skills. I work across the organisation – executives, managers and teams. I find courage from within to try new things. I haven’t met many Asian-Australian partnership managers in the community sector and it is not stopping me from being a great one.

My goal is to breakthrough into senior leadership within the community/social impact sector as there are very few Asian-Australians who are Directors or Heads of Departments in this space, let alone Asian-Australian Women. My drive is to model what is possible for future generations, in a field that is not traditionally encouraged for Asian-Australians to enter into. To show what is possible.

  • Have you ever experienced the glass or bamboo ceilings in your career? If so, what happened, and what did you learn from those experiences?

Yes I have. I was in my 20s working in banking and I noticed that most managers were Caucasian men. I have university qualifications in Commerce and Actuarial Studies and had intentions to climb the corporate ladder. I tried talking with managers about my aspirations, but I found it difficult to. I tried networking and demonstrating my capabilities, but I didn’t fit into the mould of what a successful banker looked like. I wore pant suits, watched football and went to the pub with colleagues. I was trying to be ‘one of the boys’ which failed miserably!

I was hiding a big part of me.

Life threw me a curve ball when my brother died of suicide. His death made me realise that life is too short to be doing something where I couldn’t be all of me. I decided to pursue my university dream of working in international development. It was there that I started being seen – as a woman and an Asian-Australian. It was the very essence of my being – as an Asian-Australian Woman, I understood the impact of gender inequality and communities in Asia that supported my transition into the community sector.

My lessons:

  • Learning why I am doing something. Why am I spending my energy in particular areas of my life?
  • Learning how I can respond to the situation. I left banking because it wasn’t what I wanted. But the skills and experience are incredibly useful now as a cross-sector partnerships manager and I am working with banks and corporates to address our society’s challenge of family violence.
  • Learning that ceilings can be dissolved in other ways. As a corporate partnerships manager I am demonstrating what is possible through embracing diversity of culture, gender and different ways of thinking. I am having conversations with executives in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. I have advised CEOs, Vice-Chancellors and Executives of international companies from a culturally diverse and inclusive lens. This is an impact far greater than that I’d envisaged in my 20’s.
  • Why is it important to find your ‘support crew’ in your career? 

My support crew help keep my ship steady in the rough seas. They remind me of who I am, my strengths and the impact that I have made through my work. They encourage me to grow and challenge me to think in ways I might not have before. My career support crew includes my colleagues, mentor/champion, coaches and sometimes clients.

When I created Sum of Jean, I was nervous about adding it to LinkedIn. I knew it was important for reaching my target audience, but the thought of connecting my professional and deeply personal stories was nerve wrecking! I called upon my support crew to make this jump. They reminded me of my purpose and held my hand as I leaped.

  • For those wanting to build a ‘support crew’ because they’re just starting out in their career, where do they start?

I invite you to close your eyes. Imagine you are surrounded by an incredibly supportive group of individuals who believe in you. They have your best interests at heart and know that you can be what you can see. Because they see you. How does it feel? What words come up? What colours do you see? Now imagine where they come from. What skills and experiences do they have?

Open your eyes and write these words down. Write what pops first in your mind.

Go through your network of family, friends, colleagues, teachers and managers. Who encompasses these qualities? Are there qualities that you have identified that are not found in your network? Place these into categories such as job types, industries and skills development.

Talk with those on your list and tell them your story, ambitions and dreams. Ask if they would be your support crew. Ask them for their advice. Tell them you are looking for other supporters. Can they recommend anyone? People are often more than happy to help – find the courage to ask.

Remember – you don’t need many – quality over quantity. As you grow your network and experiences, this support crew will change over time. Enjoy building your relationships with them.

About the expert

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

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

Jean’s vision for Asian-Australian Women is to truly see and believe in themselves, to walk boldly in the world and for their voices to be heard.

To know that they are worthy. You can read about her learnings and stories through

ADVICE: Seek out a mentor, be a mentor, and be visible

Chahida Bakkour has had an extensive career in technology, engineering and aviation. Today, as well as being an A/g Service Design and Alignment Manager for Airservices Australia, she believes strongly in the importance of encouraging women to join and empowering women to thrive in male-dominated industries.

In this interview, she shares her advice and experiences regarding imposter syndrome, confidence and leadership.

  • In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing female leaders in male-dominated industries? 

Self confidence, fear of failure and the lack of role models and mentors.

  • How have you overcome these challenges throughout your career, and what’s your advice to others experiencing or foreseeing these challenges?

I tackle things head on, overcoming lack of self-confidence and fear of failure are no exceptions.  I set goals and mantras like in 2019 “getting out of my comfort zone”. I take ownership of my development and accomplishments instead of waiting to be asked. It’s a journey, I am happy to now realise getting out of my comfort zone has become the norm me. For me, showing up and being visible was out of my comfort zone but was something I needed to overcome for the purpose of being a visible role model.

I surround myself with like-minded inspiring women who support my goals and we work closely to uplift each other. Last year, I attended a truly inspiring week-long leadership summit which included leadership coaching sessions, networking events and a great line up of inspiring speakers who all were great role models. I walked away from the summit feeling motivated, inspired and connected to a greater network of other like-minded leaders and role models. 

My advice is to seek out mentors, be a mentor and be visible so that others can see you as a role model, then inspire others to do the same. Take ownership of your leadership, attend leadership forums and build your network.

  • In your view, what is the biggest thing driving the local and global shortage of women working in tech? What is the low-hanging fruit for each of governments, corporates, and individuals to improve the ratio?

Some of the key factors that contribute to the local and global shortage of women in tech roles include the belief that these types of roles are not suitable for females (gender stereotypes), male dominated culture and a lack of role models. We are dealing with a mindset and culture that dates back a long time.

We need to be educating the younger generations about the broad range of roles and pathways that are available and suitable for women seeking a career in tech. The aim should be to embed a culture where women in tech roles are seen as the norm across various layers of society.

Governments play a key role in ensuring school curriculums starting from prep to year 12 target these key areas. We need to start planting seeds from a very early age. The result would be an increase to the number of females that are attracted to and complete further studies in this field.

Corporations that haven’t already done so, need to review recruitment processes, position descriptions and job advertisements. In many instances position descriptions and job advertisements are written in a way that deters women from applying. Diversity strategies are needed to support the organisation in retaining staff and creating an inclusive culture, including educating on how we manage unconscious bias.  

We, as individuals, all play a role in challenging the status quo, promoting, supporting and encouraging more women in gaining and retaining roles within tech.

  • A lot of people feel pressured to behave a certain way to be seen as a ‘leader’, which can often involve acting against their gut instincts. In your view, when is this type of change necessary, and how should people experiencing this feeling address it in the moment?

Start by reflecting on your leadership style, purpose and values. It takes self awareness, confidence and courage to stay true to your values when being pressured by others to behave in a certain way that goes against your gut instinct. Believe in yourself and trust your gut instinct.

  • Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, could you share some examples?

Yes, I have definitely experienced imposter syndrome and to my surprise so have many others. I will never forget the day I discovered the imposter syndrome. I was flipping through an RACV magazine (of all places) and stumbled across an article about the imposter syndrome. I was so relieved to know that my negative thoughts, thinking I wasn’t good enough, always working towards perfection, fear of failure and continuously focusing on things that I lacked was a result of the imposter syndrome.

  • These days, do you ever experience imposter syndrome or self doubt? If so, how do you overcome that and what’s your advice to others going through this?

Yes, I occasionally still experience it but I shut down the negative thoughts pretty quickly. As mentioned earlier, 2019 was my year of “getting out of my comfort zone”. I no longer hold myself back from trying new things or seeking new opportunities due to a fear of failure. I shifted my mindset to one that sees failure as an opportunity to learn and develop from the experience. I also now keep a list of my achievements and accomplishments, no matter how big or small they are. I use the list when I need to shift my mindset from one that is focusing on things that I lack instead of the great things I do well but do unconsciously.  

My advice would be to start by educating yourself on imposter syndrome, there are some great resources available online. The first book I read was “The secret thoughts of successful women: Why capable people suffer from the imposter syndrome and how they thrive in spite of it.” By Valerie Young ED.D

If you don’t have a mentor, seek one out to support you in working through self doubt and imposter syndrome.

  • ‘Anyone can be a mentor.’ – Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Agree, anyone can be mentor. All it takes is someone who has a good attitude, and is a positive role model who is willing to share relevant knowledge, experiences and advice to assist others in developing. Many people already have an informal mentoring relationship and may not realise that they are already mentoring. Whether you have a formal or informal mentoring relationship the ability to actively listen and focus on the needs of the mentee is key.

The ability to support and guide a mentee in setting career and development goals is extremely rewarding.

About the expert

Chahida dedicated part of her adulthood to raising her two boys. Once they were in primary school, there was passion to do more and be a positive role model for her family, especial her sons. Through process of discovery, Chahida found passion and fascination with technology. With the support of her family, Chahida invested in returning to studies with focus on Information Technology completing Bachelor of Business in Computer Systems Management. 

Chahida currently works for Airservices Australia, Australia’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), who safely manage 11% of the world airspace. With over 10 years of experience working in the Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems domain in both technical and leadership roles, she has led an extremely diverse team of software and systems engineers that provide frontline engineering support to real time, large-scale ATM systems. Like most leadership roles, she was responsible for management of a works program, resource management, project delivery support and planning, recruitment, mentoring/coaching and performance management.

Seeking to challenge herself and live to her 2019 mantra of pushing herself out of her comfort zone, Chahida accepted secondment into a senior leadership role; Service Design and Alignment Manager, an extremely challenging role that she thoroughly enjoys. People who know Chahida would describe her as a great role model, breaking down several stereotypes by being a female Muslim leader, from a non-English speaking background, in what is traditionally a male dominated field. Chahida practices what she preaches, mentoring in The Future Through Collaboration (TFTC) program, a formal cross defence industry mentoring program for female engineers and project managers. She is also a Women in Aviation International and Australian charter.

Outside Air Traffic Management, Chahida is on the board at Migrant Resource Centre North West Region (MRC NWR), a non-for-profit, community based organisation, in the role of Assistant Treasurer. Her contributions and leading example were acknowledged in 2019’s Women Acknowledging Women’s Award – STEM Contribution Achievement

ADVICE: How to make a mentorship count when it matters most

Having the right mentors and role models at a young age, can significantly impact one’s resilience and access to support services, and even improve their chances of getting a tertiary education or a job.

Social policy and community engagement specialist, Annukina Warda, has worked with enough public sector and youth organisations to have seen first-hand the positive impact that strong role models and community leaders can have on an individual.

In this interview, she shares her views on the state of role models for young people today, how we can improve, and tangible advice for those wanting to support and empower young people.

  • Are there enough role models for young people who need guidance and support?

No. When you’re young and trying to establish yourself in life, you need that, and there aren’t enough.

There are not enough intersectional feminists publicly speaking, let alone holding the hands of young professionals. Young women of colour need to see themselves culturally represented in their mentors.

  • How has your own upbringing impacted your view of role models?

I had a loving family. But the reality is, growing up in the area and community that I did, I was only a breath away from a very different life. For other kids around me, I saw violence, poverty, and high levels of incarceration.

I found a way to break away from that without a mentor. But this is where I think mentoring and having the right role models is so important and can play a meaningful role in positively shaping our communities.

Corporate mentors need to truly understand their mentees in this holistic way. For young professionals in this situation, having a mentor isn’t just for professional growth – it’s so much more than that because their lives and upbringings are deeply interwoven in their communities.

  • What is your advice to companies or business leaders who offer mentorship to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds?

I see some large companies are giving their staff community engagement opportunities whereby, for example, they get one day per year to participate in their community, such as contributing to a community garden or a community clean-up.

What I would love to see, is corporates encouraging their mentors to physically visit the communities of their mentees. When you’re meeting your mentee in the city in a formal setting, they’re most likely a corporately dressed, more rehearsed, and less genuine version of themselves – you’re not getting the full picture.

If I’d had a mentor growing up and they had to visit me in my community, it would have taken them an hour from the CBD to get to the closest station, then they’d probably have felt uncomfortable because my train station often had drug addicts closeby, and we’d need to have met at a takeaway shop because there weren’t any nice cafes in my area.

This may have been challenging for the mentor, but they would have got to know me on my turf. This is what professional mentors need to be investing in if they want to actually get to know their mentees and make a difference.

  • What’s your advice to organisations, governments and business leaders wanting to contribute to bridging the socioeconomic divides in our communities?

The number one rule is to ask, “Are Aboriginal people centred in this?” And by centred, I don’t mean factored in. I mean centred and central to the overall purpose and delivery. Yes, that’s going to be uncomfortable for some and it may involve investing in external consultants or re-thinking the overall approach. But if we’re not centring Aboriginal stories, you’re wasting your time and you’re contributing to further violence against Aboriginal people.

Secondly, ask, “Have I considered what this approach looks and feels like for as wide a range of intersectional attributes as possible?” This could involve people with disabilities, autistic women, or an elderly refugee who doesn’t speak English. This is basically about the user experience and user design, which are terms broadly discussed in social policy, but not at an intersectional level.

Thirdly, follow the three principles that I initiated when I started Elemental Training. That’s asking, “Have I considered care for self, care for earth, and care for each other.” Care for self is not embedded in our workplaces practices these days – it can’t be just about getting a facial at the end of the week, it needs to be embedded in our day-to-day or we’re failing ourselves. Similarly, care for earth and each other cannot be treated with one-off actions. 

About the expert

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

Her passion project, Elemental Training and Consulting, offers a range of supports to the public and not-for-profit sectors in order to thrive.

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

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

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