Interview with Investment Magazine on Unconscious Bias

  Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

I was honoured to present the Mavis Robertson address at the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds in Brisbane this year.  As part of the engagement, I answered a few questions for Investment Magazine on #BeatingBias. Here is some of what I said:


In your 2014 TED Talk, you make the point that acknowledging unconscious bias is “not an accusation”. Do you find many people still resist discussions about beating unconscious bias and get defensive?

In 2014, unconscious bias was a relatively new concept in the corporate world. Today, I think many people are aware of its existence, but rather than be outwardly defensive, sometimes they think it is an excuse for biased behaviour – as in, ‘Oh well, I am biased, there is nothing I can do about it.’ The other thing I often hear is people saying that they aren’t biased, and then immediately follow it up with a statement or question that demonstrates the exact bias they were trying to deny. Sometimes those who think they are the least biased are the ones with the most deeply entrenched ways of seeing the world.

How do you suggest people start the process of identifying their own unconscious biases?

It starts with being open to the idea that we are all biased, and that all of us need to go through processes of identifying and acknowledging the biases that we hold. It’s about asking ourselves about every single assumption we make and then questioning why we have made that assumption – where has the information come from, and is there space for that assumption to change? If we have a gut feeling someone is going to be a good leader, for example, is it because they have actually demonstrated anything, or is it because they are tall, they seem sure of themselves, they remind us of ourselves, etc? We need to be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – challenging our own biases is never a comfortable experience, but it is worthwhile.

In that TED Talk, you challenged people to seek out and mentor someone different to them. Have you seen any good examples of organisations doing that systematically? How has it worked?

There are a couple of organisations I see do this well, and it tends to be places where the idea of inclusion is a value that is built into the very DNA of the organisation. Organisations that understand how power dynamics work, that demand that you are on board with the culture of the organisation, that see supporting and empowering those with structural disadvantage as a must have, not a nice to have. It works best when everyone in the organisation understands that this is a company-wide ethos, and when individuals are willing to do everything they can in their power to make a difference for others. That sometimes involves sacrifice and discomfort, but when people believe in a goal that is bigger than themselves, it works out well.

What is your advice for someone who knows there is a problem with unconscious bias within their organisation but feels they are not senior enough to lead change?

Leading conversations at a peer-to-peer level is incredibly important and powerful, so that should not be underestimated. Cultural changes need to be both top down and bottom up, so finding ways to stimulate the grassroots conversation can be a stepping stone to broader understanding within the organisation. Also, looping in a champion, or someone else at a higher level who believes in the need for change, is also a good option.

What would you say to any senior executives or directors who are confident they are not afflicted by unconscious bias?

The science says that we all are – even me! The more we think we are not affected by it, the bigger the cognitive blind spot is. The first step in addressing any problem is to admit there is a problem, so I always encourage people to be open to admitting there might be bias, even as a thought experiment. Acknowledging unconscious bias isn’t saying someone is bad per se, but it is an opportunity for improvement – and what senior executive doesn’t like finding ways to improve?


The End of the Road: Leaving Youth Without Borders.

…the end came without fanfare.

Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.

I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?

 The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.

‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?

Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.

‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.

 First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.

I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.

In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.

But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.

 Fanfare.

Fanfare.

Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.

This was originally posted on Medium.

Why We Must Listen to Hanson, Trump and Leave supporters.

So a couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have caused my Facebook feed to lose its collective mind.

The first was Brexit.  The media post the vote (which apparently, no-one took seriously) bordered on openly derisive towards Leave voters.  

I love Trevor Noah as much as the next third-culture-kid, but he was just one of the many whose commentary post-vote was essentially, 'how could they do this, don't they know what is good for them?'

Now hold onto that thought, and how the tone might play out.

The second thing that happened was Pauline Hanson's election to the Senate. If you haven't heard of Pauline before, here is a taste of her world view.

Again, her supporters have been labelled as xenophobic, ignorant, racist, etc etc. 

She's tapping into the populism that has fed the Brexit, and the same that is supporting Trump! On this, the general commentariat is agreed.  

Now check out this video... and I want you to listen to what Pauline has to say about 'grass roots Australia'.

Hold on a minute... Start listening to grass roots Australians! ...I know what the people are thinking and how they’re feeling... Let’s get the kids jobs and pull it together as one!
— Pauline Hanson

Now I don't share the world views or policy platforms of Pauline Hanson, Drumpf or Leave voters in any way, shape or form.  However, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ignore and deride those we disagree with. When has derision ever worked to persuade someone to your perspective? 

The question then becomes - well, if we are not to deride and ignore, what to do? How do we deal with these vast feelings of frustration, hurt and exasperation? 

Honestly, I think what we *must* do is start by truly listening. 

Pauline is right on one thing. Leaders haven't been listening to what sections of the population have been trying to say, and so the 'unheard' have taken to yelling in the only way that seems to get the attention of progressives and intellectual elite (a social segment for the purposes of this argument) - by voting in ways that will hurt them - despite what said elite say is 'logical' and 'rational' and 'good'.   

Listening doesn't mean agreeing. But what it might help us to do is *understand* why populism is taking on the hold is has, and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.  

Who is this group? Well on that I don't have a definitive answer, and smarter people than me are working on nailing down the exact demographics. There are some interesting leads though... Check this graph out. 

Note the blue line; inequality within country groups.  It is relatively flat (although increasing slightly) during the industrial revolution, but takes a definite dive during the early 20th century. it gets pretty flat again during the period following the second world war... and then it starts rising in recent decades. The world starts seeing an increase in inequality within countries from about the 1970's. Globalisation has been around for a while by this point, but an interesting reflection is the change in the cost of flying.

According to the Atlantic, 'in 1965, no more than 20 percent of Americans had ever flown in an airplane. By 2000, 50 percent of the country...the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011.'

So the crudest way of looking at this is that in the last 40 or 50 years, people have started to increasingly look different in countries (because it was just easier to access different places on planes and thus the link to the anti-immigration sentiment), and coincidentally inequality within countries increased, yet everyone was being told that what was happening in the world was good for them.

What was happening in the world was good for the world, yes. The graphs above demonstrate that on the whole, the world is less unequal (there are less people at the super poor end of the spectrum). 

What hasn't changed though, is the fortune of the poorer people in the richest nations.  The people who globalisation (in the modern, airplane driven sense) hasn't really helped. The ones who have lost positions of privilege and power due to the improving status of the world but who have not been swept up with the tide. The ones who in some sense, feel like the world is forgetting them and leaving them behind. The ones who were once proud of their identity and place in the world, and are searching for that feeling once again. 

Their vote is equal to everyone else's, and they are some of the people that aren't being heard.

Being unheard - silenced even - is not a fun place for anyone to be.  


Inequality is frightening. I truly believe it is one of the most toxic ailments that can afflict a society and so much of what is at the root of the current wave of populism is due to the increasing levels of inequality within nations. Watch the video below (click through) to hear some of the reasons why I think we must keep talking about this deep disease. 

 Why inequality is not okay.

Why inequality is not okay.

So what does this have to do with not laughing at Pauline Hanson's voters?  

It's about reminding us to think about the long game. To think about why people are at the stage they are at, and realising that rather than derision, they deserve - like anyone else - to be listened to and heard. That is the minimum we owe. We may disagree, but what is more important is then to tap into that and dig deeper - why are you feeling the pain you are feeling? What in our systems is causing this entrenched and divisive societal ailment? What can we change?

Our societies are meant to be built to protect the lower income ends of society.  It is not supposed to exploit them until they have no way of speaking out and thus turn to being societally destructive.

The world is being served some timely reminders. It is also worth noting that the relative peace and harmony we have been working on and have enjoyed for the past few decades has only occurred because people worked at it.  Harmony doesn't just happen; social cohesion is a constant project and we all need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into it, on the daily. A socially cohesive society starts with understanding and respect, and a vision that is about the greater good and systems that reinforce that belief. 

We've got some work to do. Khair inshallah... 

 

Guest Blog: A Matter of Being Heard

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrar, the young Muslim lady who is the 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her poignant contribution to the blog. 

I was fortunate enough to be elected by the youth delegates as Youth Premier of Queensland in 2008 and it fantastic to see Iman in a similar position this year in NSW.  Chyeah! 

  IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

There comes a point in the hub-bub of everyday politics when the discussion on real issues which face our vast communities seems to give way to disjointed partisanship and strong-arm showmanship. Thus, this shows a neglect of the voices which often need to be heard most. Certainly, the lack of balanced and nuanced debate surrounding such issues by our nation’s leaders has heightened deep visions, sensationalized trivialities and disenfranchised many, particularly the young, from mechanisms of political institutions.

Now, it is with great humility and respect that I was provided with the opportunity to lead this year’s NSW YMCA Youth Parliament as the NSW Youth Premier for 2015. The Youth MPs I had the pleasure of working with are some of the most intelligent, outspoken, talented and politically active people I know; I could not be more honoured, and I thank them sincerely for entrusting me to lead them.

Throughout my life, I have lived across four continents and five different countries; I have traveled and I have been immersed in several different cultures, however, due to this, I was never able to fully settle and develop any deep attachment to call anywhere home. I will not deny that this gave me a realisation beyond what I was exposed to in my home and local area – it showed me the different governing systems, the different values and the inherently different lifestyles that came with that. It developed the value that I now have for the many cultures of the world, but I have never felt more at home then I do here in Sydney, Australia. I may have a British accent, I may not have been born here, but my Australian identity is as strong as anyone else’s. I am a migrant, in fact, besides the indigenous, we are all migrants to Australia, and we have all adopted this place as our home. When you see me, you wouldn’t guess that I am half English, and half Malaysian, that I speak 3 languages and can read and write in another two which I do not understand, and that I am a very, very passionate young woman who will not stand to be discriminated against, especially based on my identity as a Muslim or a woman. I may not look or fit any stereotype of anything that you may have in your mind – but against all the odds; of both a society often fearful of Islam and of a society that does not value the opinions of the youth nearly as much as they should, I am still proud to call Australia my home.

 Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

I preach for diversity. For it to be fully accepted in society, in managerial positions, in educational standards, and in State and Federal Parliament, and for it to not be a point of discrimination. I believe that it is about time that our Parliament reflects the diverse and multicultural nature of our population. I preach for diversity to be realised, for our true multicultural society to reflect on this notion of diversity, and for our youth and broader society to have their say on matters that affect them, on issues that they have the ability to put forward resolutions for.  As a woman, it fills me with great joy to see that 60% of the participants in this year’s NSW Youth Parliament are women. It is even more impressive that out of the Government Executive in the Legislative Assembly, 4 out of 5 of the executive positions are filled by some of the most inspirational young women I have met in my life who have such drive and passion for positive change in our society. Not only are we challenging the statusquo represented in current state and federal parliament through closing the gap of women in powerful positions, but we also encompass the multicultural nature of New South Wales that we have all come to embrace.

Through grassroots’ apolitical forums such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, the voices of this State’s young leaders are allowed to cut through much of the clutter and put into creating legislation and open debate regarding the issues facing their own communities as well as broader society. I believe that it is pivotal to acknowledge that this is not a matter of small significance. Rather, the Youth Parliament program kindles that political awareness and superb quality integral to the next generation of our states’ leaders – ensuring the future burns even brighter than the past.

And who said we, the youth, don’t have a voice?

It is simply a matter of being heard.

-- 

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrarthe young Muslim lady who is the current 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her contribution to the blog and stoked to see more and more young Muslim women doing awesome things and leading with compassion, integrity and vision.

  Iman Salim Ali Farrar

Iman Salim Ali Farrar


On Sabrina & Blasts from the Past

When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life (so dramatic!)

"It was a book about Sabrina the Teenage Witch..." the tale always begins.  

Sabrina, in her infinite wisdom, had erased herself from existence, but could see what life was like without her. Her aunts didn't talk to each other because she wasn't there to broker peace, her boyfriend was in jail because he had gone off the tracks without her guidance and her best friend was dating an abusive guy because Sabrina wasn't around to help show her she was worth more.

In short, Sabrina understood that even though she might recognise the impact she had on the people around her, every interaction she had - her very existence - changed the world around her, for the better.  

I decided, at 13, to make that my mantra. Life was to become about making every interaction one that would have a positive impact on the world around me.

Easier said than done, of course.

Sure, it is the ideal framework to have in mind, but it can often fall to the wayside while going through #life, or simply struggling through life's challenges.  When things are busy or challenging, it become much more difficult to consciously be thinking about the impact we are having on those around us.  Instead, we are focused on how to take the next step, how to get through every moment.


After graduating from University, I spent near-half a year with my family in Sudan, attending the International University of Africa to learn formal Arabic.  It was a crazy experience and was actually the inspiration to start this blog - many of my early blog pieces were about trying to understand what was going on around me.  

The classes I attended were made up of young women from various parts of Africa, often mothers who brought their kids to class and who lived incredibly different lives to mine. It was eye opening, enriching, enlightening - but also, incredibly tough. I tried to be myself in a world that had a very strong view on what I 'should be' - and I wasn't playing by the rules.  I had to learn how to navigate a new system I didn't quite fit in, and so often disconnected.

I made friends, some of whom I still occasionally talk to today, but unfortunately, I lost contact with most of my new friends and colleagues. That is why a recent email in my inbox caused me an unreasonable amount of joy:

Salam alaikum dear Yassmin...welll I really don’t know where to start from coz I’m excited. I thought I should share my excitement with you coz you are someone I have always been convinced is of great intellect and life touching potentials, even though I only met you for a short time and we got to talk a few times.

Oh! Interesting, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. 

Yes! we’ve met before and that’s the more reason why I’m excited...sometimes in early to mid 2012 we were at the same institute of Arabic language (ma’ad lugha al arabiyyah) at International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan.

We weren’t actually classmates but we’ve had the opportunity to study together at one of those instances where the teachers have to merge students together for some classes. It was on one of those occasions we met and we talked not so extensively, but heartily. You might not remember who I am, but I do vividly remember you, such that when I randomly watched your TED talk on YouTube while just surfing the internet, I knew it was you even without remembering your name, I just knew it was you...that’s how people with infectious personality, high intellect and extremely inspiring leave me feeling even if we’ve only known each other for a few seconds.

You might be wondering why I’m excited. I’m excited because since I stopped seeing you around at ma’ad lugha, it would cross my mind once in a while what you are up to where ever you are. Seeing you on TED and reading a few other things about you, and realizing that you’re doing great for yourself, and not just that, you’re also inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves is just amazing.

I’m really proud and greatly inspired by you. Keep up the good work and Allah is your strength.

We might not have so many things in common, but like you said in one of your talks, “you want to do so many things, that at the end of the day, you just want to be useful”.

I think we share that in common, and you are one of my inspirations to work even better at achieving that goal. I also have a few things going on in my life, if you do not mind, I could share them with you.

Take care.

That is what makes it all worth it. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spice of life. To know that our actions are having an impact on others in ways we cannot even imagine, is incredibly humbling. To know that a conversation that you have - a single conversation - can be remembered, is powerful, because it reminds us of the potential of every.single.interaction.

We must never forget that.

I recently met a guy who left his high paying job as a lawyer to start his dream company. When I asked him why he studied law, his response was further proof of the impact of small moments.

Well, at my speech night someone - an important someone - asked me what I was planning to do with my life. I told him, and he said “No son, you’re going to study law and commerce and do this, this and this...” and that’s what I did!

Now that 'important guy' may not even remember the conversation he had with a young graduating student, but his comments shaped this man's life.  


What keeps me going? Knowing that any of the conversations I have, the smiles I share and the paths I cross has the potential to be life changing - for me, or for those around me.  

The same applies to you! Without realising it, you could be giving confidence to the next Mohammed Ali, helping out the next Malala or giving the nudge needed for the next Elon Musk.

How exciting is that?!

That Speech: Obama in the House!

“How much time did you get with him?”

The message was insistent.

“Oh I duno, maybe 10 seconds? Five?"

“Take me through every single second…"

I grinned, cast my mind back to the brief moment of the handshake and let my thumbs fly...

#obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

 

The News

 ...the coolest kid/leader in town - President Barack Obama - was coming to visit my alma mater was everywhere.  Fan girls and boys extolled their excitement with exclamation marks and witty status updates, an exuberance tempered only by the ire of the UQ (University of Queensland) students who realised that ‘day kids’ (students who didn’t stay at college) wouldn’t get a chance to attend. Understandably, it was an unpopular decision, to say the least.  The news that only 40 or so students from every residential college was able to secure one of the sought after tickets rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.

I have it on good authority that it was the University’s decision, and may have been due to the fact that they had to get RSVPs and confirmations with only a few days notice. The US Consulate/White House (as far as I have been led to believe) was keen to get as wide a demographic as possible but left it in the hands of the Universities and schools.  Make of that what you will...

I was fortunate to snare a spot in the crowd, thank you US Consulate!  Awkwardly though, I didn’t realise the tickets had to be picked up a couple of days before the event (at UQ!) until I was called up by the staff on the collection day!  Sitting in my office in Perth, I scrambled to get a family member to pick up the invite for me. Predictably, no-one in my family picked up the phone! A friend came to my rescue and operation “Ticket Collection” was a success. (Shout out to my saviour Romy!)

I arrived in Brisbane on the morning of the event, rushing home from the airport with my little brother at the wheel and hurriedly deciding what to wear. It had to be comfortable, I thought, in order to be able to handle the incredibly sticky Brisbane heat.  Not too crazy I told myself, but also with just enough ‘Yassmin-ness’ (read: flamboyance) to be appropriate.  Smart Casual, the invite said, but since when did anyone pay attention to what the invite says? I went high waisted pants (*cough* cue *cough) and killer high heels (modest, of course!), so that I wasn’t just tall but towering. Ha, nothing like height to demand presence right?

Securing the Seat

Doors opened at 10.45am: I strolled in and secured a spot three rows from the front.  I hadn't realised the President wasn't arriving for hours, so couldn't understand why the place wasn't immediately full.  As I looked quizzically around the center, the guy next to me explained:

"Well, this is what happens when you rock up two hours early..."

Ah, indeed.  Fortunately though, there was plenty of entertainment. 

Politics of the young people in the crowd aside, the invite list was fascinating.  Once the room began to fill up, there were a few hundred students in the risers complemented by hundreds of the men and women who help shape Australia.  In the far right hand corner of the room sat the ‘heavy hitters’, and boy were there a few! Ex-Governor Generals, Premiers, former Premiers, business men and women and stalwarts of the Australian political scene.  Wayne Swan, Qunnie Bryce, John Story, Sam Walsh, Bronwyn Bishop, Colin Barnett, Campbell Newman and Tanya Plibersek to name a few. It was daunting, but honestly? An awesome opportunity to make some new friends, I thought.  The worst part was not recognising someone I really should have, particularly when they clearly think you know how important they are (sorry Colin Barnett).  Something I am working on…

 Funnily enough, one such 'High Net Worth Individual' commented on the number of heavy hitters in the room.

“The thing is,” he said. “I am not sure they are used to being made to wait!" …and yes, waiting is what they were doing.

Doors opened at 10.45am, but the President didn’t make his entrance until after 1pm. That is a lot of time for someone who deems their time critically important, but alas, if not for Obama, then who for?

The Entrance

The Vice Chancellor of UQ stood up to make a speech.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity... but I'm going to get off this stage because I know no-one is interested in what I have to say! I'm like the warm up act for the Rolling Stones!"

People chuckled, but it was true. There was a buzz in the air. Everyone was excited to be there, and even the loftiest figures a little bit groupie-like.  The background music would occasionally fade out between songs, and every time there was a moment of silence, the room would instantly hush in anticipation.  This is the moment, we were all be thinking, and then a note of the next song would ring out and the building erupt in (slightly nervous) laughter.  The tension was palpable...

Then, the moment we had all been waiting for.

A booming voice over the loud speaker: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States of America..." The rest of the statement was drowned out as everyone leapt to their feet, cameras in hand, half cheering, half taking selfies.  It was a little bit hilarious...
(Obviously, I was not immune. Here is my video of the entrance...)

The announcement of #Obama # universityofqueensland   A video posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

The Big O

I am not a massive fan of Obama's policies, and anyone who has had a discussion with me knows my opinions on his legacy.  That being said, there is no denying his power as an orator.  He came out and instantly the masses swooned, laughing uproariously at his aussie jokes and comments about "Fawr X".

His charisma is undeniable, and he used it to good effect: starting out bolstering the Aussie pride and subtly reinforcing our status as allies.

"As the world's only super power..." he would say, a silent barb towards China.

"These are our choices, oppression or liberty."

The real clincher however, came after he mentioned Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.   The real surprise was what dominated the headlines; Obama's commitment to an International Climate Fund, aiding developing countries tackle the effects of climate change.

This is a fascinating development, particularly as I am personally interested in the effects of energy poverty and the dilemma around setting up countries to gain equal access to clean, cheap and sustainable energy.  More on this at a later date...

The Handshake

It happened like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nopWOC4SRm4

(All jokes aside...)

Speech was made, and he moved to the side of the stage. We had no idea if he was going to meet anyone, but the moment he started descending via the stairs, the crowds surged towards the barricade. There must have been ten secret service / body guard guys on each side, warning people not to shove cameras in his face as he walked along the black fence and greeted individuals.

I was aided by my enormous heels and wide hips.  As I swung my way to the front, a former colleague from the Queensland Museum smiled at me.

"Get in there Yas!"

I grinned back. Oh yes indeed!

As the President turned towards me, my mind raced. What do I say? This wasn't the time for a foreign policy barb I supposed...

The handshake was firm, and his eyes fixed on my face, seemingly like an uncle I hadn't seen in a while.

"Thank you sir" was all I managed.

"How are you," he said (I think. It is a bit of a blur).  He looked right at me (slightly up, I was really tall), perhaps slightly surprised to see someone who looked like me in the Australian crowd.

"Good, thanks..."

The lack of inspiration in my answers is slightly embarrassing in hindsight, as was the fact that I didn't go for the fist bump instead.

The aftermath

Lots of squealing. From everyone involved...

Solid handshake with the President of the United States. #auspol #thishappened #obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

Defence Australia wants to know what we think. Help me tell them.

Ladies and Gents, occasionally we have to use the tools the system has given us to agitate some change. That time may be now...

Defence Australia is calling for submissions from the community to inform the Defence White Paper, which will guide Australia's Defence spending for the next 20 years. 

They want the community to send in thoughts - and if you have ever wished you could change the way Defence spends their money or thinks about things, this is the opportunity you have been looking for.

It is so important for marginalised and minority voices to be heard in this sort of forum.  I'd like to make sure, in whatever way I can, that these voices are heard.

Therefore, if you want to write a submission (or a short paragraph showing your feelings!), check out the links below:

WHITE PAPER (What on earth a 'white paper' is...)

COMMUNITY CONSULTATION (Some info about the consultation process)

PUBLIC SUBMISSIONS (Where you make a submission)

2014 PAPER (What the 2014 paper said).

If you don't want to write your own submission but want your voice heard, email me: yassmin@youthwithoutborders.com.au and tell me what you think, or we can have a chat in some other way.

Make sure your voice gets heard. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE BLACK: Thank you!

A great big thanks to Catherine Fox and "In the Black" for including me as part of the 2014 Young Business Leader's list. Screenshot 2014-06-21 22.09.49

 

It's an absolute honour, and an interesting branch into a world I had never really considered myself a part of before: Business.

Check out the write up here.  While you're there, read up on the other leaders! Everyone is doing something absolutely amazing and inspiring...

[While I'm here, shout out to my folks and the mentors who have helped me along the way!  Honestly if it wasn't for their encouragement and support, I wouldn't be at full, I'd be at no throttle at all].

An excerpt:

Still in her early 20s, Abdel-Magied says the best advice she’s been given is to be adaptable, and to use the leverage you have. A young Muslim girl interested in working in the community and with an engineering background is an unusual combination, she admits, but it means people listen.

“I’ve always looked at the opportunities that have come my way and had a goal – but don’t let that blind you to other avenues. The job that I’m in now, it was almost a whim that led me to apply to work on a rig and led me onto a new path. And you need to ask all the silly questions when you are in the early part of your career before you are seen as ‘the expert’.’’

 

"My Agenda"

Hey hey hey! How are we all this Easter long weekend? I am cooped up in bed with a throat tickle and cold, thinking this is my body's way of forcing me to have some time off.  Fair enough, but that isn't going to stop me from furiously following the F1 and my lads Liverpool this weekend!  An awesome week of emails, study and sport. #Goodtimes...

Onto more formal matters...

I've been fortunate to be invited to be a part of a new initiative named 'My Agenda' that has been launched recently.  I have a couple of months to play around with it and it looks interesting so far...

Screenshot 2014-04-19 14.03.34

'My Agenda' is like a LinkedIn for women with a bit more support.  It "enables you to connect with Australia’s best professional coaches through discussions and regular events."

I've been encouraged to jump in, ask questions and register for events.

Seems like an awesome way to meet strong women and make some new friends. Check it out here and let me know what you think?

Repping the Uni of Queensland!

UQR 2

A little while ago I was fortunate / blessed / someone was crazy enough to let me in front of their camera - to be a part of a University of Queensland Campaign.  Enjoy the video that came out of it! Special mentions to the Spark Engineering Camp crew and the University of Queensland Racing team, who are like my family, truly.

SBS Online: If quotas are not the answer, what was the question?

The piece was originally posted on SBS News Online!

SBS Online

Since the announcement of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's one-woman cabinet, the discussion around quotas and representation of women in levels of influence has been rekindled with passion.  Both sides of the debate have defended their position with vehement enthusiasm.

"Oh, I am all for equal and fair representation of women - but quotas? No, I want women based on merit", is the most common argument.

Women themselves - even those who would be in a position to benefit - seem particularly sensitised to this argument. They'll shy away from being given an 'unfair advantage' or reject it outright, presumably in the belief that to do otherwise would be to affect their perceived legitimacy.

Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop is a strong opponent of quotas. ''I never want to see affirmative action - that is, you got the job because you were a woman - because that makes you a permanent second-class citizen,'' she says. Her fellow Member of Parliament, Julie Bishop, shares this sentiment.

The discussion around targets, quotas or affirmative action is extremely polarising, yet the underlying question seems to be unclear. What exactly is it that we are trying to achieve - and why? If quotas are not the answer, what is?

If "more women in leadership positions" is the overall aim, then the data from around the world proves that the concept of affirmative action appears to be working.

Norway is touted as the classic global example, having introduced a mandatory quota for women on boards in 2002 and passed by the Norwegian parliament in 2003. In this Scandinavian nation, the percentage of women on boards did in fact increase from 9% in 2003 to 39% in 2009. The first study on the effects of the quota was undertaken by the Norwegian Institute for Social Research and the results reinforced the benefit of affirmative action on the 'bigger picture'.  It was reported that the majority of directors surveyed indicated that more women on the board led to new perspectives and more issues being added to the board agenda.  A seeming win-win situation, right?

But if the aim is about promoting those with this intangible and extremely subjective criteria of 'merit' - well, perhaps our society's entire process of promotion needs an overhaul!

In pure numbers, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that women have the edge on their male counterparts in Bachelor degrees and higher qualifications.  27 per cent of women compared to 24 per cent of men hold these type of tertiary degrees.  If we are looking at entry requirements for merit, wouldn't these numbers reflect an even - or even female oriented - outcome?  Understandably, leadership positions aren't just based on degrees. Industry and management experience and networks play a significant role, as well as the fact that often women take time off work to raise families.  But if we are talking about 'merit', qualifications are surely an indicator.

If society functions by promoting, hiring and being led by the best, why do all our 'best' look so similar at the top - but things work so differently at the bottom? The difference between entry points is striking.

The Australian Financial Review's 100 Women of Influence, for example, is a list of some of the most inspiring ladies around the country. Yet the significant contribution and capacity of women doesn't seem to leave the  impression that it should. Whether this is because we, as females are predisposed to more nurturing roles, or whether this is because people hire and promote those who are like them is up for debate - but it remains a thorn in our sides.

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Jane Caro asks some of these questions in a timely piece, where she also highlights that the idea of quotas and targets are not new and they continue to be utilised for a variety of representations.  It would be inconceivable for a regional representative or a youth representative for example, to refuse a position solely because they were selected on the basis of location or age.

Why is gender different? What makes us all so uncomfortable with forced structural change around gender?  I struggle to understand the deep seated resentment against the idea.  Is there a sense of illegitimacy if a woman feels like she is only there to 'fill in a quota' and if so, where does that sense of illegitimacy come from?

I am not a social engineer and don't have the answer.  I am simply a 22-year-old who wonders: is inducing change to have women around the cabinet table and in the boardroom the best way to achieve our collective desired outcome?  Quite possibly yes - if the aim is for our leadership and the pipelines to these positions to be fair, equitable and representative.

By equity and fairness, I mean that the characteristic of gender is not an obstacle to being considered, and that a woman's capacity is readily identifable. Of course, removing unconscious bias is easier said than done.  By representative, I mean that our leadership reflects the makeup of those being led.  Given a majority of our population is women, a largely male dominated leadership is not really representative at all.

One thing is for sure : affirmative action makes the talents of women more visible.  It is a mechanism to force people to look outside the usual traps for talent, and that is what gives the concept potential.

Philosophically, we might not feel comfortable with it - but if the aim is to have our leadership as diverse as our population, perhaps the end justifies the means.

The piece was originally posted on SBS News Online!

Women in the LNP Cabinet: What's Next?

 panelbishop

In April this year, we had a female Prime Minister, a record number of women in our cabinet and a rich and interesting public debate around the role of women in our society, evidenced through books like the Griffith Review's Women and Power, and the capitvating campaign, Destroy the Joint.

Fast forward a few months and where are we?  In a nation where the discourse around women in leadership seems stifled and the cabinet has fewer women than that of Afghanistan.  That comparison is apt.  It illustrates that even in a country struggling with a war torn history and one that is generally portrayed in Western media as an oppressive environment for women has the systems in place to enable more females to play a leading role in the governance of the state.  Part of me thinks this is more about the fact that there is a lack of understanding about the role the women play in Eastern countries, but that is another discussion in itself.

Should this lack of women in our cabinet be something we discuss, analyse or just accept?  Should we be worried? It is definitely had the fingertips on keyboards, and for good reason.  

On Meritocracy

For what it is worth, I will throw my hat in the ring here by saying that I am sick of people saying that 'women shouldn't be promoted for the sake of a quota or a target'.  It is a common sentiment when quotas or targets are mentioned, and quite often by other women.  There seems to be a sense that a quota will take away from the sense of legitimacy of a woman's position, and there will be a perception that gender was the only reason that position was awarded.

"It's got to be a meritocracy." said Brownyn Bishop to Radio National.  On that basis, has the current 'meritocracy' has deemed that women aren't able to govern our countries or run our boards? I highly doubt it.  Also, does this mean that every man is promoted on the basis of merit?  James Diaz rings a bell for someone who might not fit that depiction.  

Yes, a meritocracy is important.  What seems to be forgotten however, is that a meritocracy is only as good as the access and equity of the pathways available.  If there are 'women knocking on the doors' of the cabinet as Abbott has stated, what is stopping them from jumping that threshold? Is that door locked?

Yes, he is focusing on 'stability and consistency', and it is understandable he doesn't want to cause too much change.  He said he is disappointed, but clearly not disappointed enough to make any changes.   Is there a systemic issue, or is it one of circumstance?  

The alarming lack of diversity among those who lead our nation is something we should care about.  As Nareen Young so eloquently put it, leadership should reflect the community that it serves.   No one can better represent a group that someone from that actual group - a woman for women, an indigenous for the First People, a culturally and linguistically diverse for the many migrants, and so on and so forth.  The current lineup insinuates that the group - all from a similar socio-economic demographic an gender - are able to speak for and represent all of Australia.  It does seem a little...disingenuous.  

Our Future

The best way to encourage the young and bright to any discipline is by having role models who are walking the walk.

Right now, who do we have? Our last role model in the area, Julia Gillard, was treated by the media and public perception with insults and vitriol that were lower than low.  The fact that the this was said by people who are on our airwaves boggles the mind!  Political correctness gone wrong they say - gah! There was no correctness at all.

So with the events of the last few months, what on earth would encourage a young woman to enter politics? Society inculcates enough self esteem issues related to appearance growing up as a teenager, you would hope people had moved on by the time they 'grew up'. Not so, it seemed.

Now, with even fewer women gracing our tv screens in a governing role, who will we look up to?

On one hand, it is amazing and awesome that we had a female PM, a female Speaker and now a female Foreign Affairs Minister.  It would seem though that these are more exceptions that prove the rule.  The way they were treated and their circumstances indicate that really, there is still a way to go.

What Next?

The thing is, the country has chosen. Decisively, it chose the Coalition of the Liberal and National Party to represent us for the next three years. So no matter how we feel about their policies, we must accept the decision of the people and work with what we have.  

What we shouldn't accept though, is a return to being represented by those who don't reflect the make up of the nation.  We should keep talking about the role of women in society - in governing roles such as on the Cabinet and in the Boardroom.  We should talk about the equality of opportunity and fairness.  We should talk about allowing women the freedom to stay at home if they so choose, and respect that role equally - but understand that isn't the only role that they can play in our societies.

We should also, remember to bring men into this conversation.  At the end of the day, they are our fathers, our husbands, brothers, uncles, friends.  They are also dealing with finding their role in society, and getting them on board, to understand why this needs to happen and why it is important is imperative.  Hey, no one said it would be easy, after all, no group likes sharing power.

At the end of the day though, if we really want to see any change, we have to shake the system up enough, get enough of a critical mass behind us, and demand change ourselves.

Isn't that democracy?

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Bonus: The Principle of Gender Equality...cannot be articulated better than by this video.

It may seem old fashioned and ridiculous, but one wonders at times, how many of these views are actually still held today but simply suppressed due to the current climate of political correctness...