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International Women’s Day 2022

International Women’s Day 2022
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Every year on March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. It’s a day to recognise the achievements of women and a global call to action to advance equality and amplify female voices and visibility. But the most crucial and meaningful work is done every single day, often behind the scenes, by those who dedicate their lives to bettering our world and the lives of others. To mark IWD 2022, we asked three remarkable women to shine a light on the causes close to their hearts and to share their ambitions for the future.

 

Olivia Nguy, CEO Detour House Inc

Olivia ‘Ollie’ Nguy knew from an early age that empowering others would be her life’s work, and she has never looked back. Now as the CEO of Detour House Inc, which delivers services across, Olivia is responsible for steering a not-for-profit organisation that works tirelessly to reduce homelessness among women and girls in New South Wales. At The Girls Refuge, teenage girls in need are provided with care and accommodation, while Detour House offers residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to women who are homeless or at risk. But more than a safe place to turn to at times of crisis, this organisation equips and uplifts its residents with the tools they need to overcome adversity. 

A.L. The theme of International Women’s Day this year is ‘Break the Bias’. Could you give an example of how you challenge bias?

O: Bias often stems from assumptions and boxing people in categories. So I try to identify and avoid assumptions as best as I can, and focus on understanding the uniqueness, individuality, strengths, perspectives and preferences of each person I come across. This applies across a range of contexts internal and external to the workplace, including recruitment, staff and organisational development, and individual and systemic advocacy.

A.L. Before you stepped into your current role, you worked with refugees and people seeking asylum. What motivated you to follow a career that ultimately aims to improve people’s lives?

O: Funnily enough I think the movie About Schmidt, which centred on the main character’s midlife crisis, was a huge catalyst. I was 15 and it hit home just how short and precious life is. From that point I was determined to not waste my working life, and by the age of 17 I’d developed a strong conviction this would involve being focused on work that improves people’s lives. That passion and focus has never wavered from that point, and has only grown clearer and stronger across time. I’ve always focused on situations where I have felt there’s greatest societal disadvantage, and matters that I would give a consistent 110% to because I care about them so deeply. 

My parents arrived in Australia as refugees, and I think they inadvertently spurred me in this direction too. They have always emphasised just how fortunate we are in life, simply to be living in peace and to be in a position to help others. They always did what they could to help others with the greatest generosity you could imagine - even when fleeing war with four young kids in tow and few possessions. So they’ve set an incredible legacy, and I feel it would be a waste of their sacrifices and hardship to not make the most of my short time on Earth by giving what I can for the betterment of others.  

A.L. How do you build and maintain the resilience required to do your job?

O: I think there’s some inherent chutzpah in me, perhaps in my blood and perhaps drawn from the resilience of my parents. They experienced enormous loss, adversity and trauma at the time of escaping the Vietnam War, yet rebuilt a joyful, peaceful, stable life for themselves and our family. From having just the clothes on their backs (in fact, not quite enough to clothe my whole family in full!), they found a way to settle into a new country and provide for us all, with incredible mental and emotional resilience to boot. In a similar way, on a daily basis I get to observe the great resilience of those who access our services. Their resilience brings great perspective, and a constant reminder to not sweat the small stuff in life.   

The other aspect of resilience has been developed and learnt, centred on establishing helpful and healthy habits. For me, this has included learning to accept what can realistically be done within a day and understanding there’s a limit to that without it weighing on my shoulders. It has included knowing when I need to be refuelled by the things that give energy back to me - things as simple as going for a walk to reset after a hard day, or seeking support from others when I need it. I think making sure the daily joys of life – like pats with my dog, a hearty meal, or a hot shower – are carved out and mindfully appreciated go a huge way to sustaining resilience.

I also find that focusing on the created and potential positive change in the lives of people we support, and being clear on the vision for what and how we want to deliver what we do, is great fuel for resilience.  

A.L. You and your team support women and girls everyday. Who supports you?

O: On a personal level, shout out number one has to go to my husband Erwin, who is such a loving, supportive, encouraging and wise friend and partner day in and day out. At work, shout out number one goes to the team itself. The team is so kind, thoughtful, understanding, supportive, and talented, towards myself and each other. I am deeply grateful for them and feel we are incredibly fortunate to have each other. 

A.L. What are the greatest challenges facing Detour House and The Girls Refuge right now?

O: I would say our biggest challenge is resourcing - especially funding - to keep us sustained ongoing and delivering what we aspire to deliver in future. We see gaps and insufficient housing options for young people, people experiencing domestic and family violence, and people in recovery from substance dependence. And so we have aspirations to deliver new and diverse accommodation supports for women and girls (cis and trans) and gender non-binary people assigned female at birth. Our number one problem to solve is how we get the right resources in place to be able to deliver and sustain our existing services without the team being spread thin. Then we need to determine how we can create new housing that fulfils the need and demand that we see. 

“I find enduring inspiration in the brilliant everyday women around me: women who energise and inspire people around them, who create change in their world in big and small ways, who speak truth, and build others up.”

A.L. When was the last time you reflected on a significant achievement, and what was it?

O: One of the greatest joys of Detour House Inc’s work, and my role, is getting to see and hear about the wins and achievements of the people that we journey alongside through our service. The best moments are when I get to hear about or connect over these experiences directly. Recently, I loved celebrating with a young person accessing The Girls Refuge who had just been accepted into studying a Diploma of Community Services. It was a real joy and privilege to share in her excitement and this very proud moment in her life.

I also recently spoke to a woman accessing our aftercare support a few months after she had completed the three month residential program at Detour House. She shared how much her self-esteem, sense of self, and aspirations for the future had grown, stemming from the time she had spent at Detour House. Similarly, she was wanting to give back to her community in future as an alcohol and other drug support worker for Aboriginal women. It was such a joy to hear about the change she had felt in herself, and of her aspirations for the future. She was brimming with positive energy, and it was so uplifting to see how well she looked and how wonderfully she was sustaining her recovery journey.

Can we take a moment to marvel on these incredible women? Both have been through far more challenge and trauma than most people could fathom, yet here they are resilient as ever and starting their journey to help others who have had similar experiences.

A.L. And what achievements do you celebrate or acknowledge on a daily basis?

O: Each day I see, celebrate (perhaps a little too inwardly) and am so thankful for the contributions of each person connected to our organisation. This includes the remarkable talent amongst our team that transforms the service delivery, space and lives of people across Detour House Inc; the beautiful contributions of our service users, as peers supporting and building each other up, as contributors of ideas to future service delivery, and as transformers of the physical space; and our very, very generous community of supporters who as a collective are huge contributors to change-making. Through their generosity, our donors and supporters enable us to be more responsive, expansive and creative in how we support people experiencing homelessness towards safer, more stable, and fulfilling lives.

A.L. What is your most ambitious goal for Detour House and The Girls Refuge?

O: To see us grow the number of roofs over heads we can provide to women and girls (cis and trans) and non-binary people experiencing homelessness. I mentioned the gaps we see in accommodation options for the people we support. Significantly, there are so few longer-term supported accommodation options for young people experiencing homelessness, especially those who aren’t ready for independent living at the ages of 16 and 17. We would love to bring new supported housing for these young people to life. 

Across Detour House and The Girls Refuge, we see the potential for increasing our impact by creating new supported accommodation that centres on continued care, building on the work and change that is already created through our existing services. We’re working on bringing this vision to life. 

A.L. Are there any women you consider to be enduring inspirations?

O: I find enduring inspiration in the brilliant everyday women around me: women who energise and inspire people around them, who create change in their world in big and small ways, who speak truth, and build others up. Beautiful, loving, giving people. People living their purpose and putting their talents towards good. They inspire me to do more and better in different ways, for those around me.  

A.L. What makes women such strong leaders?

O: I’m not one to stereotype, but would say there are a lot of strong leaders out there who are women. I think they are strong leaders because they are thoughtful, smart, speak truth, bring empathy and compassion to the table in their leadership, and are wise in their priorities and decisions. I think these qualities make strong leaders of men, too, and an absence of these qualities makes poorer leaders of any person.

A.L. You’re going to have a baby soon, congratulations! How has motherhood shaped your leadership and your goals so far?

O: Yes, we are welcoming into the world our first little one – furry and feathered kids aside. I’m not so sure it has shifted my leadership in any way, however, for many years I’ve held a strong belief that employers have a huge role to play in contributing to gender equality. In developed countries like Australia, I believe doing what we can as employers to support all primary caregivers to contribute actively as parents irrespective of gender is a cornerstone of improving social and economic gender-based inequalities. A key part of this includes thoughtful parental leave policies and supporting flexible work arrangements for all parents – not just mums. 

A.L. Do you have any creative outlets outside of your career, that you simply do for love?

O: Yes! The kitchen is my creative, happy space. I love to cook for others (and myself!) and connecting over shared meals. Music is a great outlet too – I play the piano and find joy through singing.

A.L. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, and from whom?

O: I’ve benefited from the wisdom of many people across time, but I can’t pinpoint one piece of advice as the best. But I think there is a lot to be said about the significance of authenticity to others and oneself, alongside the preciousness of time and spending it with people who matter the most. And the power of kindness.

A.L. Women have the power to… 

O: Grow and develop bubs in utero, give birth to children, and breastfeed! Other than that I can’t really think of too many differences in the power and potential of men and women and gender diverse people. I hope we get closer and closer to a world where there’s less bias and differentiation, and simply a greater appreciation of each person as a unique individual. That said I think we’ve a long way to go before we can drop conversations centred on gender: there are such significant global gender-based inequalities that need to be addressed first, especially access to education, and other basic rights in some countries. Here’s also hoping for the day where gender based violence across the world is no longer an issue.

Amanda McKenzie, CEO Climate Council

When Amanda McKenzie has something to say about climate change, Australia listens. A leading voice on climate change policy, Amanda was at the forefront of the conversation years before it was widely discussed. In 2013, she co-founded the Climate Council, Australia’s preeminent climate change communications organisation that provides science-led information, advice and solutions, and before that, she founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Despite her numerous accolades and awards, Amanda possesses great humility, and despite the immense challenges facing our environment, she remains hopeful.

A.L. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Break the Bias’. Could you share an example of how you challenge bias?

Amanda: One great thing about being CEO is that you can play a big role in setting organisational culture. As a leader it's my job to be conscious of unhelpful gender norms that can either consciously, or unconsciously, be applied and to speak up and challenge it when I see it happening, and encourage others to do the same. I break the bias every day by setting a culture that empowers women to be effective advocates for climate action. 

A.L. Where does your determination and drive come from?

A: I see climate change around me all the time. I see it in worsening extreme weather where I live and in the news from around the world. It is so obvious now how climate change is causing substantial harm to people and communities everywhere. Given I live at such a consequential time in human history, I feel this strong weight of obligation to do what I can to make a difference. But on the flip side, I feel so inspired by the amazing people I have met on this journey: people who are bringing together their communities to fight for a better future, people who are experimenting with new ideas and technologies, people who want to leave the world better for future generations. 

A.L. As a leader who is in the public eye, how do you build and maintain a sense of confidence and resilience?

A: My partner Sam really gets what I do and believes in me. I find him really helpful when I go through periods of self-doubt or feel like climate change is too big and hard to tackle. I also work with amazing people in the Climate Council - really smart, hard working, caring people that are 110% committed to our purpose. Knowing that they and so many Climate Council supporters are behind me helps me to build my own confidence. 

A.L. What is one of the greatest challenges facing the Climate Council right now?

A: Most people now get that climate change is important and we must act, but many don’t realise that it’s action taken or not taken this decade that will make all the difference. Our task is to educate politicians, business leaders, journalists and the public on the fact that we must ensure our greenhouse gas emissions (from the burning of coal, oil and gas) plummets this decade and we get to net zero as fast as possible. The 2020s are the time to massively invest in renewable energy, transition our car fleet to electric vehicles, build better public transport, make our buildings more energy efficient, and create a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future.  

A.L. When was the last time you reflected on a significant achievement, and what was it?

A: I feel really proud of having founded the Climate Council eight years ago. We have now grown to about 50 staff and we are doing so much important work that has made a big difference. We have helped to fundamentally change the public conversation on climate change in Australia, which is critical to enabling politicians and business leaders to take action. In the last year I spent six months on maternity leave and the organisation performed brilliantly without me. The ultimate achievement for a founder is that the organisation can thrive without you. I feel like we are there now and I can focus on adding unique value, rather than having to get involved in every aspect of the organisation. 

“I feel so inspired by the amazing people I have met on this journey: people who are bringing together their communities to fight for a better future, people who are experimenting with new ideas and technologies, people who want to leave the world better for future generations.”

A.L. And what achievements do you acknowledge on a daily basis?

A: Getting my kids out the door in the morning on time! 

A.L. What is your most ambitious goal for the Climate Council?

A: Help Australia become an international leader on climate change!

A.L. Who are the women you consider to be enduring inspirations?

A: So many! I am inspired by people that are willing to step outside their comfort zone, boldly say what they believe, and who are focused on having an impact rather than simply building their profile. Some women that I regularly think about who inspire me are: Grace Tame, Sam Mostyn, Christiana Figueres, Wangari Maathai, Greta Thunberg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Amelia Telford, Anna Rose, Lesley Hughes, and so many others.

A.L. What makes women such strong leaders?

A: I think most women have faced obstacles in gaining positions of leadership and that can foster a sense of empathy and understanding for others.

A.L. Has motherhood shaped you as a leader, and if yes, in what ways?

A: I have two children, Matilda, 4, and Theodore, 10 months, and they have changed me deeply. I have always been very focused on my work and they make me more balanced and more empathetic as a leader. They make me more fun and creative; they make me laugh all the time. They allow me to see the world anew through their eyes and I want to share all that is wonderful and majestic about our amazing planet. They fill me with fierce, boundless love and an aching desire to protect them, which in turn fuels my desire to tackle climate change, to ultimately protect their future.

A.L. Do you have any creative outlets outside of your career, that you simply do for love?

A: I love exploring nature with my children. We go rock-hopping at a creek near us, we study rocks, seeds and leaves, we climb trees, play make believe and build cubbies.  

A.L. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

A: I think the best advice is to have a growth mindset. To always be open to changing and adapting.

A.L. Women have the power to…

A: Define our time as one of great compassion and respect for our fellow human beings and the Earth.

Amy Rose Pbanadjel Atkinson, Clinical Nurse Specialist

Amy Rose Pbanadjel is a clinical nurse specialist in the dialysis unit at St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, and a member of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives in Australia. Her research to date has been instrumental in empowering Indigenous people to take ownership of their health and aims to address and solve the health discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. While the pandemic has greatly affected Amy’s nursing colleagues and community, her gratitude and passion for her work is extraordinarily inspiring.

A.L. The theme of International Women’s Day this year is ‘Break the Bias’. Could you give an example of how you challenge bias? 

A: I am a strong, proud Koori woman who is passionate about providing care to everyone. Indigenous people are underrepresented in the healthcare workforce and I am passionate about guiding the next generation of Indigenous nurses. I believe we can help overcome the barriers for our people trying to access healthcare. I challenge the bias by being present, by being in the job that I am in and by encouraging and mentoring other Indigenous women to be involved in shaping our future in the the healthcare workforce. 

A.L. How do you build and maintain the sense of confidence and resilience required to do your job? 

A: Knowing of the hardships that both my parents have had to endure, I believe my strength and resilience have been passed down to me and helped me to understand that I am a very capable woman. This foundation I continue to build upon through further education, a keen sense of self and learning through the strong women I work with every day.   

“I believe my strength and resilience have been passed down to me and helped me to understand that I am a very capable woman. This foundation I continue to build upon through further education, a keen sense of self and learning through the strong women I work with every day.”

A.L. What is one of the greatest challenges facing your profession right now? 

A: The pandemic has provided its many challenges with increasing patient loads, staffing shortages and nursing colleagues who are continuing to bring their best despite the toll Covid has placed on all of us. Trying to positively manage our mental health despite burnout is the greatest challenge impacting nurses and has unfortunately led to many nurses changing professions. 

A.L. When was the last time you reflected on a significant achievement, and what was it? 

A: I am passionate about kidney health and about addressing the health discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I was fortunate enough to participate in research at St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne where we investigated the barriers to gaining access to the renal transplant waiting list for our Indigenous patients. To raise awareness surrounding the transplant waiting list, we launched a social media campaign with two of our transplant patients and their journey to receiving a kidney. The campaign prompts others in our community to ask the question "Am I on the list?", aiming to empower other Indigenous people to take ownership of their health. I have had time to reflect on this great achievement and was grateful for it being highlighted on the ABC. I am very proud to be a part of research that positively impacts the future of my community.

A.L. And what achievements do you celebrate or acknowledge on a daily basis? 

A: Being a nurse is something I acknowledge every day and is something I am grateful for. To have family who have guided me over the years with my education and to gain the knowledge to do the job that I do, it makes me feel very privileged. My family have motivated me to work hard and for that, I am lucky to be where I am today. 

A.L. What is your most ambitious goal for CATSINaM, and for your role? 

A: I hope to see that the number of CATSINaM members continue to grow as it is so important to have Aboriginal nurses and midwives out there in the community, working to support our people. At the last CATSINaM conference I attended, I was amazed at how many talented and strong Indigenous nurses and midwives we have throughout Australia and it inspired and empowered me to do more. I hope that CATSINaM continues to do the great work it does and provide a support network for those in the healthcare sector. I personally would like to pursue further education whether it is in renal or research so I can continue to gain knowledge and experience that will continue to benefit our people. 

A.L. Are there any women you consider to be enduring inspirations? 

A: The moment I met Aunty Doseena Fergie through my research, I felt inspired through her strength. With every interaction, I felt she always helped to build me up and gave me a strong sense of purpose. Aunty Doseena has worked hard to be where she is and her willingness to guide me by sharing her wisdom and knowledge I will always appreciate. Being a strong Indigenous woman who focuses on looking after our community and making it better, Aunty Doseena motivates me to continue to make changes and strive for more. CATSINaM is lucky to have Aunty Doseena as a member of their CATSINaM Elders' Circle. 

A.L. What makes women such strong leaders?

A: Women are continually undervalued and underestimated. This is our greatest challenge and our strongest motivator. We are empathetic and willing to show our emotions. We look at the long-term picture, not just the here and now. Traditionally as women, we have been underrepresented in leadership roles. We strive to be more inclusive and involve all members of our diverse Australian community.

A.L. As nurses and midwives, you support others every day. Who, or what, supports you? 

A: My family and friends are everything to me. Not only are they there to cheer on my achievements, they are there during times of hardship. It is so important to be surrounded by great people and I am so fortunate for their continual support. Being a nurse in dialysis, I see my patients three times a week and some I have known for many years. My patients and my colleagues have influenced and supported me to maintain my passion. Life is about meaningful connections and because of my job, I have been fortunate to have met many special people along the way.

A.L. Do you have any creative outlets outside of your career, that you simply do for love? 

A: I recently started Pilates, which has given me an opportunity to move my body and clear my mind. Good Times Pilates is run by a strong woman who has created a comfortable, safe and body positive space. This beautiful studio empowers and accepts every member as they are and although Pilates may not be creative, it is something I simply love to do and helps me to prioritise self care. 

A.L. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, and from whom?

A: My mum has always been someone I can turn to. She is always telling me how strong, smart and capable I am but I strongly believe those qualities I have gained from her. She is someone I look up to as a determined and resilient black woman. Through her actions and her words, Mum has shown me and others around her that "women have the power to do anything they desire".  

A.L. Women have the power to…  

A: Do anything they desire!