PEOPLE: “I wanted everyone to see that people with disabilities were beautiful too.” – Madeline Stuart

Madeline Stuart is a game changer.

After deciding she wanted a career on the catwalk, her first photo shoot went viral, and she has never looked back. With the support of her mother, Rosanne Stuart, Madeline has embarked on an incredible career in the spotlight, and has used her very public platform to advocate for diversity and empower the disability community.

In this interview, Madeline shares her career journey so far, and how she sees the representation of people with disabilities evolving.

  • When you told your mum at the age of 17 that you wanted to be a model, what was going through your mind at that time? 

I was at a fashion show. I had just seen the models on the catwalk for the first time. I was in awe of their beauty and confidence, they looked like they were having so much fun and everyone was watching them walk. I wanted to be up there, I wanted everyone to be looking at me like that. No one had ever looked at me like that, I don’t think anyone had ever seen me like that, except my mum of course. I wanted everyone to see that people with disabilities were beautiful too.   

  • What stood out to you about a career in modelling? 

I think it was just the catwalk, it has always been about the catwalk for me, I wanted to represent my community, I wanted to change the world and I thought to be up there walking was the first step. 

  • Has your modelling career turned out as you had anticipated? 

Oh my god, no way, I never dreamt I would ever have the opportunities I have had, I feel so blessed to have been able to travel the world, to be able to educate people on disabilities, to meet the most amazing people. I really will be eternally grateful to everyone who has supported me on my journey.  

  • Have there been any surprises along the way? 

Yes so many surprises, so many things to learn, so many things to be changed. I think the biggest surprise to me was the way different countries relate to disabilities and how people with disabilities are treated.

I always talk about my time in Uganda. We went there after a Pastor reached out to us for help. He had a young girl with Down Syndrome living in his village who was in danger. In Uganda there is not a word for disability – people do not understand what down syndrome is, they think people with disabilities are a curse, that they will bring bad luck to the villages so they kill them.

We went to Uganda to educate people that down syndrome was perfectly natural and nothing to be scared about. We travelled the country and 50 families brought their children out of hiding, children that had never seen the sunshine before. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Uganda is just one country that we had the privilege to visit and every country is different.  

  • With more people with disabilities appearing on catwalks, do you believe the modelling industry has truly become an open and inviting space for anyone and everyone? 

I think the industry is heading in the right direction, I think we have come a very long way, you now see a lot of campaigns with people with disabilities, you also see a lot more models on the catwalk or in magazines with disabilities but I still believe it has a long way to go. 

  • In your view, are people with disabilities ‘visible’ enough in society? Why or why not?

If you look at statistics, 1 in 5 people have a disability so 1 in 5 people we see on the catwalk, on tv or in magazines should also have a disability of some kind. We live in the real world at a time where people want to feel accepted and want to accept. I do honestly believe we are only at the start of our journey, of the journey to an inclusive world and with time the world will change and people will feel included.

  • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your modelling career? How have you overcome it? 

The biggest challenge that I have had to face in being recognised as a professional and financially compensated as one. Unfortunately a lot of people feel if they include people with a disability on the catwalk or in a campaign that is payment enough and also a lot of parents and carers do not expect the young person they are caring for or advocating for needs to be paid – they are so use to them being excluded, being invisible to society.

I was lucky. My manager never let me work for free, she educated people that like everyone else I needed to be paid, that I was valuable to their company and with time things have slowly changed and now people always expect to pay me.  

  • What’s your advice to other aspiring models who may feel they don’t fit the stereotypical ‘look’ of a model? 

Don’t give up, believe in yourself but also be realistic. It will be a lot of hard work and there will be a lot of rejection, also just because someone says no does not mean you are not good enough, it just means you are not what they are looking for this time.

Also remember that just because you have a disability does not mean you can do all sorts of work. One of the reasons I have been successful is because I am sample size so I can go to any catwalk and fit into the clothes, if you are a plus size model than go to casting calls for show that are for plus size models, if you are under 16 go to casting calls for kids or tweens and most importantly if you are over 18 only do shows for adults. I have so many designers that do childrenswear ask me to model as I look very young for my age but I never walk in a show for Children or tweens as I am an adult.


About the expert

Madeline’s modelling career began just over four years ago when she attended her first photo shoot and then posted the photos to a public figure Facebook page with the help of her mother Rosanne Stuart and they clearly spoke for themselves. Overnight the post went viral. Madeline’s social media numbers grew, the photo was viewed over 7.2 million times which resulted in her hitting global headlines with publications in Iceland, Germany, the US, Australia, Mexico, Cuba and the UK picking up her story. Within weeks Madeline was receiving offers to model and walk at the world’s most prestigious fashion events.

Since then, Madeline has walked in over 100 fashion shows across the globe, frequently walking on the official Fashion Circuit including; New York Fashion Week for the past 8 seasons, London Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week China, Astrakhan Fashion week Russia Runway Dubai and many more. She has built herself a credible platform to promote the brands she is working with. With over a million followers across her social media platforms, and a readership of over 50 billion. Madeline’s core audience is young women between 18-44, a demographic that she believes will benefit greatly from the achievements and inspiration she provides. 

Website: http://www.madelinestuartmodel.com


Image description: Professional photo of a Caucasian woman sitting on a chair, looking at the camera. She has long, red, wavy hair and wears a red and white floral dress. The photo’s background is black.

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PEOPLE: How The Rainbow Babes are supporting, mentoring and being visible for the rainbow community

Kellie and Nicolette are The Rainbow Babes – a powerful same-sex couple due to be married in 2020 and currently undergoing IVF. While Kellie has a high-profile career in aviation marketing and Nicolette is a well known voice for diversity in healthcare, these profiles haven’t been built without challenges. Not least of which occured in the last few months, as their highly revered and influential Instagram account was hacked by an anti-LGBT hacker.

But The Rainbow Babes believe strongly in the power of representation, speaking up, and supporting your community. So these challenges haven’t deterred them. In fact, they quickly started a new Instagram account, have continued to speak out on issues important to them, and are determined to be visible role models for others.

  • Also known as The Rainbow Babes, as a couple, you’re outspoken about being a professional same-sex couple. Why is it important to you to proactively promote the ‘rainbow’ side of your relationship?

Kellie:

Well firstly, who doesn’t love a bit of rainbow in their life! I think whatever we do we like to bring a bit of colour and personality to it, so the rainbow label was something that always came quite naturally to us both.

But most importantly, with any minority group, visibility and representation is so important. It’s that old adage, you can’t be what you can’t see! We honestly wouldn’t be where we are without the strong and inspiring LGBTQI+ role models, trail blazers and boss ladies who came before us, normalising same-sex love, paving the way for women, diversity,  gender equality and showing us just what we could achieve in our lives and careers.

But there’s still a long way to go! And if we can pay it forward and provide that visibility or mentorship or support to other young professionals, then that would be pretty amazing. Long live the rainbow!

Nicolette:

From the perspective of @TheRainbowPharmacist I think it’s important to see diversity (and someone visibly queer) in healthcare. Pharmacy is inherently conservative and leadership roles are driven mostly by men, despite 70% of pharmacists being female. Having a platform to be visible, and open, with an opinion and a personality is important! It’s an opportunity to echo what is interesting and topical for our community and support other people with common goals and interests.

2. Nicolette, you’re also known as The Rainbow Pramacist and are passionate about diversity and tackling discrimination in the healthcare industry.

i) How have your personal experiences impacted how you address and discuss these issues today?

Nicolette: I think my experience as not only a healthcare consumer, but a member of the rainbow community, has uncovered some insecurities in the healthcare profession in regard to skills, knowledge and education to adequately speak to and fulfil the needs of the LGBTQI+ community. For me as a pharmacist I found the LGBTQI+ education, and particularly around transgender members of our community, that treatment and management was really lacking.

Hearing awful stories from friends of mine, such as activist Johnny Valkyrie, on the treatment of transgender patients really opened my eyes to the ignorance and discrimination that can happen in healthcare. But there are so many colours in the healthcare rainbow, and that’s why I started the The Rainbow Pharmacist. Not just to bring a new perspective to my peers, but to give a voice to those that sometimes don’t have one.

On a personal level, the other thing that both Kel and I have discovered lately is how discrimination isn’t just found in the healthcare profession, but ingrained in legislation too. We recently started our IVF journey, and Kel has always been quite vocal about her long history with endometriosis. But despite her individual medical history, same sex couples undergoing IVF treatment are by default diagnosed as “socially infertile” rather than “medically infertile”. What this means is that under a diagnosis of social infertility you are not able to access medicare rebates and unable to access private health coverage for reproductive services. And let me tell you, IVF is not cheap!

ii) What sparked your passion for LGBTQI+ health? How has that passion evolved over time?

Nicolette: The inequality in health outcomes for those in the LGBTQI+ community has always deeply concerned me. Look at national statistics on mental health or pretty much any chronic condition, and LGBTQI+ seem to be an at risk population. And when I started to scratch beneath the surface I started to see why, and it didn’t sit well with me. So I had to something about it!

Unfortunately we still have discrimination that occurs from individual healthcare professionals denying healthcare services. Access to care can be challenging particularly in rural and regional areas. We also have things like the way Medicare funding works that sometimes isn’t geared towards the health and wellbeing of the rainbow community, e.g. the Government removing a type of testosterone injection off of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for gender affirming treatment for transgender men.

It’s a complex environment for our rainbow family, and I might not have the answers, but l think education, awareness and representation is a good start! And also rainbow is so much more interesting!

  • Kellie, as a marketer in the aviation industry – an industry currently under enormous pressure due to COVID-19 – how are you planning ahead and how have your personal experiences impacted the way you’re approaching these tough times?

Kellie: How the world has changed in a mere few months! It’s crazy to think up until 8 weeks ago I was travelling interstate several times a week. With the whole aviation industry in pause I think the shift in focus has definitely been to human interaction. People are hurting right now and in these uncertain times they want honest, authentic, real and human communication right now.

As consumers, Nic and I have both been personally impacted by the pandemic too, and understand this more than ever. Our May 2020 wedding and European honeymoon plans may have been forced into postponement, but we also had a very real brush with COVID-19 when my brother (and our IVF sperm donor) became one of the first Queenslanders to test positive, after returning from a work trip to Aspen, Colorado in early March. Thank goodness he was one of the lucky ones who had a mild case! It’s still unknown what this will mean for our IVF journey, but in times like these you’ve just got to take stock of what you’ve got and go with the flow.

  • Kellie, how do you see the marketing industry evolving in 2020, considering the dramatic changes to how everyone is interacting with brands before, during and presumably after quarantine?

Kellie: I think priorities will shift as more people move to the “new normal” of remote working and some form of ongoing social distancing. The fundamental needs of consumers, both physical and psychological, are changing in this new environment, and as marketers we need to adapt to that change.

Cyber security for instance is a huge issue as more people find themselves online for longer and subsequently vulnerable, so consumers will need brands and corporations to come to the party, make them feel safe, and assure them that their data and privacy are secure. Cyber crime is actually rife right now and we speak from experience! Even @TheRainbowBabes experienced a security breach recently, with our page hijacked and deleted by an anti-LGBT hacker.

We’ve had to start fresh with @TheRainbowBabe until we can claim our original handle again. So be sure to send us a “follow” and make sure you switch on two-factor authentication people, you won’t regret it.


About the experts

The Rainbow Babes chronical the adventures of Nicolette & Kellie – a professional same-sex couple and their two adorable pups Finnley & Rodrigo.

Nicolette (also known as The Rainbow Pharmacist) is a clinical pharmacist, key opinion leader and media personality within the healthcare industry. Kellie is a marketing professional that travels extensively in her high flying role in the aviation industry. With a love of the ocean, surfing and the active Burleigh beach lifestyle, both are passionate about outdoor adventure, travel, fine food and beverages, and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Their pooches Finnley (an adorable pomeranian with a personality that makes up for his small stature) and Rodrigo (a chilled out cavoodle) complete their small rainbow family – which they hope to expand on later in the year when they start their IVF journey.

Having recently announced their engagement on a surf trip to Rainbow Beach, The Rainbow Babes are currently planning their dream wedding which will take place in May 2021.

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 http://www.SumofJean.com.

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.

More info at www.elementaltraining.com.au


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