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Tips for engaging indigenous women as leaders

By CCIWA Editor 

Indigenous women have leadership qualities embedded in their culture that may not thrive under mainstream conditions.

Western Australian Aboriginal Leadership Institute CEO Anjie Brook said the approach to recognising Aboriginal leaders and how to draw out their skills and qualities needed to change.

“The challenge of developing and delivering any leadership program for Aboriginal women is ensuring it connects and reflects Aboriginal culture,” she told a recent CEDA business lunch.

She offered the following tips to businesses hoping to developing their indigenous leaders:

Recognise the challenges

Brook said if offering leadership development to indigenous women, they need support to recognise the challenges they may face integrating their learnings into life.

“Aboriginal leadership is very complex, something I’m still trying to grapple with myself, and a very different construct to Western mainstream leadership definitions,” she said.

“Strong relationships with family and close kin, the values of demand sharing and mutual responsibility are at the very heart and strength of Aboriginal leadership practices.

“Complicated gender and age dimensions also govern interactions and representation.”

Don’t neglect emerging leaders

Recognising how age varies between the general population and Aboriginal people was important when selecting aspiring leaders and often not recognised, Brook said.

“In the Aboriginal context, this is important as WA has a population of Aboriginal people with a median age of 23 years, compared to 36 years for non-Aboriginal Western Australians,” she said.

The Western Australian Aboriginal Leadership Institute (WAALI) has programs for people aged 25 to 60, recognising that they are leaders of “themselves, their families, community and career”.

“Many Aboriginal women fulfil a leadership role in their families and communities in an informal capacity.

Walk in two worlds, as they do

Brook said business leaders can become champions for Aboriginal women to become stronger leaders by learning more about their culture.

Seeking out Aboriginal leaders and getting to know them can help you walk in two worlds like they do.

“They could be real change makers of what happens in this country,” she said.

Never underestimate skills

Brook said the leadership skills developed by Aboriginal women from being leaders of their families and community should not be underestimated.

“The complexity and sophistication of their leadership skills is comparative to many senior staff and executives,” she said.

Yorga Djenna Bidi program

Run by WAALI, the Yorga Djenna Bidi program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women helps prepare participants for further mainstream leadership development and the creation of a strong network for Aboriginal women.

“Yorga Djenna Bidi is unique from other leadership programs as it has been designed by Aboriginal women, for Aboriginal women and based in Aboriginal culture, and reflects sophisticated leadership development frameworks,” Brook said.

“I’ve seen women change physically throughout the program. They stand taller, they see the world differently, they see themselves differently, they start using their voice and their confidence in themselves. And they’re cultural understanding and connection shifts significantly.

“I’m seeing Aboriginal women taking charge of themselves and their families using this voice and speaking the truth, I’m in awe of what they can achieve, and how every woman takes every opportunity afforded to them.”

Indigenous women have leadership qualities embedded in their culture that may not thrive under mainstream conditions.

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