What being a public outrage taught me about fighting inequality

What does being a woman on an oil rig have in common with being a Muslim in Australia? Watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied give an impassioned speech about what it means to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and culture. What is it like when you show up and don't look like anyone else?


So I was quite nervous about this talk. Everything about it: writing it, memorising it, delivering it. And this is from someone who talks, well, for a living now.  

When Andrew Hyde from TEDx Boulder asked me to be a part of the program this year, I jumped at the chance. I loved the idea of the Boulder community, and the opportunity to flesh out a new idea. My initial draft for a talk was on a wildly different topic - one that I was looking forward to sharing because I thought it was new and innovative.

And yet...

Writing the speech felt like pulling teeth. It simply didn't want to happen. Although I was intellectually committed to the concept, my heart wasn't in it. 

So a few days before the event, I threw in the towel and wrote a new speech. This is it.  Some of you may be familiar with some of the stories; I wrote about it in my TeenVogue piece a few weeks ago.  This, however, was the first time I spoke publicly about in a formal setting - and to a completely unfamiliar audience.

They were kind, rewarding me with a standing ovation. This certainly helped the nerves. But ultimately, this talk is not about what happened to me in Australia. This is about sharing the lesson that so many of us have learnt the hard way - the need for structural and systemic change.

Alas, a 12 minute talk isn't enough to do the topic justice. But here's to being a part of the conversation.

To those who have been trying to tell me this for some time... sorry it took me so long to get it. I guess I always learn things the hard way! *bemused face*

Speech on Gender @ the Inter-American Development Bank

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is holding its Transport Knowledge Week and I was extremely honoured to be asked to speak on the topic of gender and bias as it applies to such a technical field.  The program is a two day forum bringing together 50 transport specialists from the Latin America and the Caribbean region and this year they are discussing how to improve project´s impacts by including gender equality objectives. 

In this excerpt (filmed with the amazing Emma and Lucy from Broken Yellow!) it is explained why it is important to take gender into account when designing infrastructure and the value in creating an inclusive environment for colleagues of all genders. 

What do you think? Enjoy!

The research quoted is from:

Hatmaker, D. M. (2013). Engineering Identity: Gender and Professional Identity Negotiation among Women Engineers. Gender, Work & Organization, 20(4), 382-396.

More interesting research on this topic can be found in this report:

Powell, A., Bagilhole, B., & Dainty, A. (2009). How Women Engineers Do and Undo Gender: Consequences for Gender Equality. Gender, Work & Organization, 16(4), 411-428.

Get into it! Fascinating Stuff! 

 Transport knowledge week @ the iadb

Transport knowledge week @ the iadb


Speech: IQ^2 Debate (BBC World)

intelligence squared  

On the 7th of November, I had the honour of debating with the likes of Julian Burnside, Uthman Badar and Thomas Keneally on a pretty interesting topic: whether God and His Prophets should be protected against insult.

I was pretty nervous and excited about the affair, as can be seen in blog posts here prior to the event.

The debated was screened on BBC World to an audience of about 70 million on the last weekend of November, and you can check out the video here.

 

This is the transcript of the speech...

***

God / The All-Compassionate / The All-Merciful / The Source of Peace / The Creator / The Maker of Order / The Shaper of Beauty The Forgiving / The Knowing of All…

And then we have us.  Flawed, fallible, full of passion and fire, and so very…human.

How can we deign to think that we – the creatures that we are – should protect God from insult?

 

Good evening ladies and gentlemen

The topic we have before us today is ‘that God and His Prophets should be protected against insult’.

Tom Keneally and I effectively are arguing against this hypothesis.  From a definitional point of view, the topic is understood as follows:

God’, in monotheistic religions, is taken to mean ‘the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being’.

The word is also sometimes used for emphasis to express a particular emotion, such as “God, what happened here?!” although that is not always approved by everybody.

‘Prophet’ is ‘a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God’.

Should’ is used to indicate obligation or duty.

Protect’ is to keep safe from harm or injury.

Insult’, in its noun form, is a disrespectful or scornful remark.

***

There are a couple of interesting questions that this topic raises.

What (or who) deserves our protection, as individuals and as society?  Should we be protected only from things that will harm or things that have the potential to cause harm?

On the other hand when it comes to insult it must be asked: Is freedom, or freedom of speech absolute?  It clearly isn’t, as the existence of laws, rules and regulations mean that there are levels of restrictions on what we can and cannot express.

What is the difference between freedom of speech and expression, and the allowance for insult or incitement of hatred? What is the difference between the two? If freedoms are not actually absolute but do come with restrictions, what limits do we have? Who upholds these limits?  How does freedom fit around the concepts of responsibility and society?

***

Tom and I will be tackling this topic from different perspectives.

I will address three arguments.

Firstly, I will posit that God, as a supreme being, does not require the protection of mere humans to protect Him from any harm or injury.  Where the damage is being inflicted is on the followers, and so protection, if any, is more about the practitioners of the religion.  Furthermore, if God is known to be above insult, then what is the anger really about? It is there something else going on?

Secondly, I will argue that freedom of expression is important to sustain a functioning, thriving, growing society and that said freedom is protected within religions.  This does however, come with important caveats if we are to live in a functioning civilisation.

Thirdly, I will wrap up by addressing violence as a response to insult.  This is unequivocally unacceptable, although perhaps unfortunately, understandable.  I will humbly suggest that the end does not justify the means, and that in any response to insult, the best examples should be followed.

Tom will then continue by talking about how the concepts of blasphemy and sacrilege, and punishments for them, are not viable in a ‘free speech’ society and how mutual respect is the only ultimate guarantee of respect for God and the Prophets.

***

The concept of ‘protection’ brings to mind a dynamic whereby the strong protect the weak and those with power protect the powerless.  Do we honestly think that we can protect God and His Prophets? For the insult to be incitement to hatred and beyond, the recipient would be harmed by it.  God and His Prophets are surely above our mere words…

So what is going on here then, beneath the anger at an insult?

When people stand against insult, mockery and derision of God and His Prophets it is unlikely due to the fact that they think the words will cause harm or injury directly.  It is more likely a reflection of the pain they have felt due to what they love and revere being treated with contempt and ridicule.

Mockery and derision are manifestations of a disrespect and a lack of sensitivity.  God and His Prophets shouldn’t necessarily be ‘protected’ themselves, rather, we should focus as a society on respecting people, as we are the ones who feel the pain and hurt.  If we are to live in a civilised society, a level of respect towards what others deem sacred is critical.

There is also the added factor of where the insult is coming from and its intent.  Reactions in the Muslim community, for example, that may seem disproportionate may be exacerbated by what some regard as worsening attitude towards Muslims by, dare I say it, the West.  That frustration may manifest itself in a grievance towards free speech.

What is it we are trying to achieve? If it is a civilised society where we all respect one another’s sacred beliefs, is the any protection truly going to be the key or will it be a band aid forcing attitudes underground?

***

My second point touches on the universal concept of freedoms, and more specifically, freedom of speech and expression.

It’s a freedom that cannot be understated, and it is enshrined in the Universal declaration of Human rights, in article 19.  It is why we are able to be here and I am able to have this debate.

There is danger is presenting religion and free speech as mutually exclusive, as incompatible.  Without freedom of expression, which is a bedrock of democracy, open discussion of ideas becomes difficult.

However, if an insult comes with an intent to incite hatred then it moves out of the realm of simple freedom of speech.   I would argue that incitement to hatred is a different beast altogether.  That’s not an insult, it is a vindictive act driven by altogether sinister motivations.

Freedom of expression comes with a level of personal responsibility.  We are all individually responsible for our intentions, choices, sayings and actions in the community that we live in.

There shouldn’t be a need for protection because individuals who practice free speech should bear the responsibilities of their expression.

 

***

With that, I come to my third point.

I believe we should follow the examples of those who lived their lives with virtue.  It may not be surprising to find that such figures, such as the Prophet Mohammed, did not demand protection from insult.

On the contrary, he was insulted and abused often in his life.

He never responded to these events with violence.  In fact, he often did the opposite.

There is one particular example that I enjoy.

God sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet after what we shall call a particularly bad day.

'Muhammad! Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) has heard what your people have said to you. I am the Angel of the Mountains and my Lord has sent me to you to carry out your orders. What do you want now to be done? If you like I may crush them between the two mountains encircling the city of Makka.

The Prophet (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) replied with this:

(I do not want their destruction) I am still hopeful …

So those who have used violence in order to ‘protect’ the Prophet cannot say they were following the example of the very man they model their life on.

***

Ultimately, ladies and gentlemen, God and the Prophets are surely above our insults.  They, if you will, transcend the limitations of humanity and the mere concept of us being able to protect them is irrational.

Furthermore, the concepts of free speech and freedom of expression are extremely important to a functioning democracy, so that ideas can be exchanged and built upon. It should always be remembered though that with the right to freedoms does come some level of personal responsibility.

Moreover, violence is an unacceptable form of protection in any situation, particularly when it comes to religion and spirituality. So even in the face of insult, which may be hurtful and derogatory, we would do well to respond in the best way possible, not only in the interests of civilisation but in the interests of showing the best sides of what faith can provide.

***

16:125 Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best…

 

Reflection

Check out my reflections on the event here!

What are your thoughts?

 

Cheers,

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Podcast: Talking Doctor Who!

Splendid-Chaps-banner-2011-theme-cartoons

At the Brisbane Writer's Festival a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Ben McKenzie, and we established early on that we were both Doctor Who fans and self confessed nerds!

To celebrate the occasion we had a lovely chat about it, and it was made into this podcast for the "Splendid Chaps" program Ben runs, celebrating 50 years of the Tardis...

Listen here! (My section starts at 12:38 seconds in)

 

 

 

#BWF13 Comedy: Australia needs Politicians, Not Leaders

Inspire

 Literary festivals are wonderful feasts for the mind; the Brisbane Writers' Festival was no exception.

Held over the 5th - 8th of September at the beautiful State Library of Queensland, it brought together some amazing - truly amazing - writers and authors and I was humbled to be speaking alongside some of them for a few events.

The photo above is with the authors Tim Cope (on my left) and Chris Sarra on my right.  Both of their stories are amazing and worth checking out; Tim rode along the steps of Genghis Khan, and Chris is the former Principal of Cherbourg School, who was able to change the culture of low expectations and attendance at this Indigenous education facility.

The second event I had the honour of being a part of was The Great Debate.  Held on election night, it meant that I didn't have to watch the telly or really think about politics... except our topic was 'Australia needs leaders, not politicians', and we were on the negative.

My fellow debaters were William McInnes and Julia Zemiro from Eurovision (and Rockwiz). We were pitted against Tim FischerAnita Heiss and the delightful Ben McKenzie.

Unlike the debates I have previously been involved in, I soon found that this was to be a 'hilarious' debate (as the crowd below can attest to). Here is a little excerpt of what I had to say...(or what was on the script anyway!).

***

#SATIRE ALERT#

***

I'm just want to start by saying that I'm an engineer by trade, so I am very serious, my points are bullet pointed, and there will be numbers.
I have been chosen to rule over you, though I am not the best among you.  Help me if I am right; correct me if I am wrong.
These are the words of Abu Bakr Al-Siddique.  Abu Bakr was the first ruler – and politician – in Islam.  He was referred to as the ‘Khalifa’, and Khalifa in Arabic means ‘custodian’ – of the people, the principles of the religion and of the land.
He was chosen.  Politicians are representatives, leaders are not.
#Rebuttal

I will argue two points tonight, both which will prove to you undeniably that Australia needs politicians, not leaders, regardless of what the election says.

Firstly, I will argue that we as don’t want to be lead, we want to be represented.  Politician are those who represent us.

It is no secret that Australians aren’t a fan of tall poppies, people who think they know what’s good for us, or authority figures in general.  Debate2

We don't we want people who will tell us where they think we should go,we want to tell them where we want to go and have them take us there. Or that's how Its supposed to work - ours don't quite have that down yet.

Secondly one of the main differences between leaders and politicians is that leaders are assume power, while politicians are entrusted with power to make decisions by the us, the people – the citizens they represent.

After all, who will a leader be answerable and accountable to?

Putting this aside, one of the most important contribution politicians make to our society is that they entertain us. They keep our journalists employed and without them, who would Annabelle Crabb talk to in Kitchen Cabinet? Phillip, what would you write about if there were no pollies? The pages of the Australian would be laid bare...

While googling the answer to this topic, I came across the following quote by Gourcho Marx.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

SO in essence, politics is the art of trouble.

This is definitely what Australia needs.

Leaders inspire us, yes this is true.

However, our National Anthem says 'Australian all let us rejoice, for we are young and free...'

We clearly don't want to be inspired. We want to be entertained.  Politicians do just that.

 

***

#END OF SATIRE#

***

What do you think? Did you go to the Brisbane Writers' Festival? Any favourite sessions?

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Speech: Hawken Scholars Dinner, 2009

Me Speaking A lovely friend suggested I share some of my speeches that I have shared over the years.  I don't often write down a script, but here are some that I have dug up from my archives. I hope you enjoy...

***

University of Queensland Scholarship Dinner for the Hawken Engineering Scholars, 2009

***

Travelling alone to a new country, with a different language, different people, and a culture I have never experienced before: might sound daunting, but trust me – it may be one of the best experiences you will ever have in your life.

Good Evening ...

Earlier this year, during the mid year break, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a wonderful three week experience known as the IIWE annual conference; held by the International Institute for Women Engineers.  Held in Paris, France, a total of 44 women (and 1 man) from around the world came together to share what is now known as the IIWE experience.

Participants came from all over the world including the States, Mexico, Norway, Nigeria, China, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Israel and ranged in qualification from a mere second year undergraduate like myself to a professional engineer who was working with the UN in Rwanda.

It was one of the defining experiences of my life.  And to be honest, I didn’t ever think it would actually happen.

A few months earlier, I was browsing through the Engineers Australia email newsletter and came across an advertisement for the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ - a three week conference in Paris.  Although excited, I doubted I would take the plunge; “Its not my opportunity I thought”, but the thought remained in the back of my mind.  It wasn’t until I bumped into Professor Caroline Crostwaithe (the Associate Dean of the Faculty) that my fortune changed dramatically.

I mentioned the conference in passing, and instead of the dismissal I expected, the Professor encouraged me to apply and investigate sponsorship opportunities the University could supply.  Suddenly, the trip was no longer only a pipe dream.

What you must realise is that this conversation happened a mere month before the conference was scheduled to start – and just before the end of semester exams.  The next few weeks were a blur of applications, reverse engineering assignments, searching for flights, engineering drawings, approaching the University for funding, studying structures, organising my passport, conic section problems…and before I knew it, the time came for me to pack and head out.  What did I expect? I don’t think I had any idea for what was in store.

I won’t bore you with details of my flight, getting lost in strange airport or losing my luggage for 4 weeks, although those aspects of the trip certainly made it interesting.  I won’t even give you a blow by blow account of the trip, as enthralling as it was.  All I will do is tell you what I learnt and why you should seriously consider similar experiences.

As a group, we had the opportunity to visit world class companies including L’Oreal, Coca Cola, Societe Generale, Thales, Areva, IBM and the UNESCO headquarters.  We had lectures from world class professors about topics including Ethics in Engineering, the History of Engineering, Women in Engineering and Sustainability.  As part of the program we also had to keep a reflective journal, mirroring the record a professional Engineer is required to keep, and in groups we participated in a group project, redesigning a development so that it operates sustainably.   Both the structured and informal parts of the three weeks taught me a lot - how to deal with people without a common language for example: something we take for granted here in Australia, but you really do begin to appreciate knowing what people are talking about!

I don’t think I can accurately describe the effect that this trip had on me.  When I returned to Australia, I was surprised that everything looked the same…but yet, it felt different somehow.  A friend said to me, “Things haven’t changed here…you are the one who has changed.’  And it was true.  I had met people from around the world and it had changed the way I view the world.

The biggest realisation was that…there is so much out there! In Australia we are fortunate in that we are so isolated, but that also means we are almost cut off from the rest of the world.  No longer to do I think the only option for me when I graduate is to move up to the mines, no longer do I think that the way they teach Engineering at the University of Queensland is the be all and end all, no longer do I think the opportunities are there, but they are for someone else.

The opportunities are all there for us to take.  UQ is amazingly supportive in this aspect and there are so many opportunities that can provide you with a strong foundation for what you want to achieve in the future.  Don’t be afraid to try something new, no matter how daunting it may seem. Don’t think you are too old, too young, too busy, too shy, too lazy…I guarantee that it will be worth it.  In the words of a multinational corporation, Just Do It.

Speech: Brizmun, 2011

yassmin

***

Opening of BrizMUN, 2011

***

10 decades ago, Britain still reigned supreme and the concept of the “Great War” was meaningless.

10 years ago, the phrase ‘War on Terror’ probably referred to a computer game.

10 months ago, you would probably have been confused if I said there was a ‘Youth Quake’ in the middle east/north Africa.

10 weeks ago, you would have probably scoffed if I had said events in Japan will change the way we look at and treat nuclear power forever.

10 days ago...well, everyone was still talking about that wedding between a certain Will and Kate...

The truth ladies and gentlemen, is that our world is changing more rapidly and in ways that we cannot even comprehend.  Who knows what the world will be like when our generating in not “MUN-ing” but UN-ing for real?  We truly do live in exciting times.

Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.

Cesar Chavez once said:

You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore...

My father thinks this is not correct.  He explained...

"when Hosni Mubarak the deposed Egyptian President, Gaddafi the current Libyan President who is killing his people because he is too intoxicated with power ... when they came in, they were heroes! People cheered, went out on the streets, carried them on their shoulders.  To us they were saviours."

But look at them now!  How can men who once, cared so much about their people be the very cause of the oppression they once freed them from? Power and corruption probably, greed, most definitely. They became the exploiters.

I come from the Middle East. I was born in Sudan in North East Africa and so what happens in that part of the world affects me directly and indirectly. Right now I feel proud to belong to a generation that is not only content to read about history but actually MAKES history ... rising up and demanding, positive change, not only for themselves but for their people.

How did this happen?  In the face of these dictatorial regimes?

Well, people had access to information and knowledge about alternative ways of doing things. They became aware of a different reality and when they came together they felt that that reality is within their grasp. They also knew from the lessons of history that change requires hard work and they were willing to put in the hard work.

Their slogans were “the people want change, they want to change the regime”

They felt empowered because they were working together, collaborating, doing things and striving for results that are larger than themselves, that has impact, that has legacy. 

I can imagine that some of you are thinking yea, right. Who is she kidding? How many people have ‘changed the world’? What hope do we have against the system?

Let me challenge that thought by leaving you with this:

Firstly, have hope.  That doesn’t mean be naive, completely 100% idealist or oblivious to the reality of the world. But have hope.  Hope in humanity, hope that people can change and hope that by through empowerment, things can change for the better.

See the thing is, at least if we have hope and strive towards it, things have the possibility of changing.  If we all become armchair cynics and scepticals, what chance is there of anything happening? It’s gone from small, to nil.

Secondly, and lastly, I want you to understand this: Never underestimate the impact that you can have on a single person’s life.  You might think that you are just one person, but if one person, a single person’s life is better, if a single person if empowered for having known you, then you know that your life has made a difference.

And although this doesn’t fully fit into the theme of my speech, I thought I would close with it anyway, because its powerful:

Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. it’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

 

Speech: Responsible Leadership (2013)

507V-259

I was asked to present a short speech to the United Nations Alliance of Civilisation's Global Forum in Vienna this year, as the Youth Representative. The theme this year was "Responsible Leadership".

Tightness of the schedule meant that I was unable to share this entire speech, but here it is in its entirety nonetheless.

***

When I was at the wise old age of 16, I attended a youth forum in my home town of Brisbane - not dissimilar to yesterday's session - and my eyes were opened up to what existed in my region.  That particular session, had brought together 100 young people from around the Asia Pacific to talk about their projects and initiatives and essentially share experiences.  Very cool and inspiring... but for my idealistic 16 year old self, something was missing.

At home after the third night, I was lamenting to my supportive mother about the fact that there were all these amazing young people working on fantastic projects, but there seemed to be this disconnect between the organisations - a constant dog fight for funding, excessive replication of work that was already being done well, inefficient use of resources... The work that was being done was amazing and inspiring yes, I said to my mother.  But why can't they all collaborate and work together as a pose to seeing it as a constant competition?

My mother, being used to my tirades, said something to me that day, and that simple line has really changed the course of my life.

'Well, instead of just talking... why don't you do something about it?'

Sitting there, I just thought. Hmm, touche.

So the next day, I returned to the conference to convince three other young people that we should start an organisation called Youth Without Borders.  An organisation focused on empowering young people to implement positive change in their communities yes, but also an organisation that is focused on encouraging young people to work together on projects and learn from one another... and alhamdulilah, here is where it led.

The true learning from that experience however, isn't that we should always listen to our mothers - even though that is also very true - but it is that the impetuousness of youth, the willingness to just go out there and do something, to take risks those with different responsibilities might not take... that is one of our true strengths as a demographic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an absolute honour to be standing in front of you here today, and I thank UNAOC for the opportunity to address you.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the United Nations AOC Global Forum with fellow Delegates

Firstly, it should be said that the young people present yesterday at the forum and sitting amongst you at the moment, are a group of some of the most inspiring, intelligent and creative young people from around the world.  It is a privilege to have worked alongside them, and I urge and encourage you as participants of this Global Forum to meet and have a chat to one - I should warn you however, you may find yourself in awe.

The forum yesterday was a key example of how the collective hive mind of young people can produce true gold.  Recommendations such including ethical religious education from the primary school level up, highlighting the importance of social media as a medium of communication and essential for media plurality, the proposal of an online, open source language resource for migrants and a long term perspective to ensure minorities are engaged in the political process... these are all recommendations that could concretely and realistically impact countless lives in a positive manner. I truly hope that you as a forum consider them with due consideration and see what can be made a reality.

On the topic of responsible leadership however...Oh, how it can be found in the strangest of places.  I could tell you the story of how my high school principal demonstrated Responsible leadership in diversity by admitting the first Hijabed female to a strongly Christian school, disregarding vitriol from other parents.  Or the story of countless individuals in community - or even my father - who sacrificed their particular personal goals in order to provide better futures for their family; a micro version of responsible leadership. Or even perhaps the example of Abraham Lincoln, who, despite all odds and expectations, abolished slavery at a time that it was unthinkable.

I asked my friends this exact question on facebook, and within 15 mins I had responses such as "to lead for the greater good of the group", "to guide people to their own directions and goals without personal benefit", "to be transparent and accountable", and "to expect more of yourself than the people you lead".

Responsible leadership is about transparency, yes. It is about accountability, yes.  It is about ensuring that your duty as a leader to your people is respected and carried out to the utmost best of your capacity, yes.

At the end of the day, Ladies and Gentlemen, Responsible Leadership is about doing what is right, driven by the Universal Values - of Human Rights, of Respect, of Dignity and of selflessness.  Respecting your duty as a leader and in the case of diversity and dialogue, that means that all are equally represented and given equal consideration, that dialogue is open and free.

Doing what is right.

A simple sentiment perhaps...

But sometimes, those simple sentiments are the most difficult to adhere to.

Adhering to them, in the face of that difficulty, is then truly, responsible leadership. 

However, I do not doubt that these are all aspects of leadership that you are well aware of.

From our perspective as young people however, responsible leadership is also about truly respecting the agency of young people and the capacity they bring to the table.

Time and time again, I have been awed and inspired by the work done by young people throughout the globe. Young people that not only smash the stereotype, but render it almost unthinkable.

Responsible leadership for us perhaps, is about making sure that we have a seat at the table - and not the kiddies table - but the table on which our perspectives are heard with equal resonance.  It is about being responsible enough to accept the fact that by young people, for young people is the most effective way of working with, or improving the lives of and empowering young people.

I leave you then, with this challenge.  There are over 1000 of you, and around 150 young people.  I challenge to you, over the course of this forum, to truly engage with at least one participant from the youth forum.  Find out what they are passionate about and working on, and see if that does not inspire you to think about leadership in a little bit of a different way.

 

WOW Bites: Survival Guide for Chicks on Rigs.

Earlier this month I had the honour of presenting at the World of Women (WOW) part of the Sydney Writers Festival. It was quite an inspiring session, with speakers who included the likes of novelist Melissa Luckashenko to a young Iraqi lady who had traveled to Australia seeking asylum.

Find out more about WOW at Sydney here.

The majority of the 'Bites' - strictly ten minutes bites of inspiration and the like - were quite deep and moving. Lucashenko's and Kristi Mansfield's were both quite brutal to be honest, forcing the audience to confront issues of rape and violence occuring on a daily basis to young women in our own cities.

I took a different tack and went for a slightly more light hearted and humourous angle. My piece was a 'Survival Guide for Chicks on Rigs...' (because you know, there are just so many of us!). I started off with a bit of a poem...and I would like to share a little bit of the presentation with you!

 

Aren't you frightened, they will ask,

Of the men, the remoteness, the difficulty of the task?

Why on earth do you want to do that, they will question

Where as if you were a guy, that wouldn't rate a mention.

The fact of the day is, ladies and gentlemen,

That this guide is not about survival.

We will survive - Gloria Gaynor said so.

It is about thriving and owning our power from the get go.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

Working on the oil and gas rigs, particularly as a woman, is an adventure and a half indeed.

As I am an engineer and love lists and numbers, I've put together a numbered list of suggestions, and I hope you enjoy!

 

Number 1.

Determine where YOUR line is, how thick YOUR skin is, how much you are willing to let slide. Factor in the 'drilling rig bonus'.

Often when a woman begins working on a rig, the men won't talk to her for some time at all. Don't take it personally, but they are slightly scared themselves (though they will never admit it!). They won't know how to react to you, what they can say around you, how thick YOUR skin is...they know something will be different now that you are here but they don't know HOW that difference will play out.

Let them take the cues from you. You have power here - a power we as women never used to have, and that is the opportunity to set the tone of the conversation.

What is the drilling rig bonus? An amorphous measure that accepts that normal society is quite different to the microcosm that is the drilling rig and so your line might be different in this situation, or might need to be slightly different. Adjust accordingly.


Number 2.

Make the most of being underestimated.

Some of the rig workers may hold the unspoken belief that a woman is less competent or deserving of a role. We all know that is not the case, but use that underestimation to your benefit! Surprise them at being AWESOME at your job and letting your actions speak for themselves. Being really good at your job is a language they understand and WILL respect, particularly out there.

 

Number 3.

Have a sense of humour

Nothing breaks down barriers like a bit of laughter. Being witty, sharp, or deploying quick, timely ripsotes are always appreciated (but careful not to descend into bullying).

If you aren't a regular standup comedian, try to see the humour in the everyday interactions - because there is plenty. Personally, I am terrible at being witty but I find most everything hilarious. Nothing warms a hardened man's heart more than having a laugh at a joke he cracked

Number 4.

Learn the language.

There is nothing more effective than good communication. For the sake of mirth though, here are some of the phrases I have picked up (the ones used in polite company anyway!).

I'm drier than a dead dingo's donga.

You wana run with the big dogs you gotta pee in the long grass.

They thought I did what?! That's lower than the basic wage.

I'm like a mushroom. I get fed rubbish, everything just slides off me and I only come out in the dark.

 

Number 5.

Be Flexible, within limits. Don't forget your rights.

The guys working in the field will appreciate flexibility, humour and cues taken from you, as illustrated previously. A level of flexibility is required, as fighting every single battle is not only ineffective, it is exhausting.

However, you must also be cognizant of your rights as a woman and individual and if things DO go too far and they DO overstep the line, stop them. Use the tools necessary if required.

You might think it is a career limiter but rest assured, it is a career killer for the other individual. The law is on your side. If you are in a situation like this - talk to someone you trust, and then make a decision and don't ever feel guilty for the actions of others.


Number 6.

Always pack more sanitary items than you might think you need. You won't be able to buy any if you're stuck out in the middle of the desert or the ocean.

There's always one really practical survival tip in every guide. This is one of those. Trust me. Oh and a word of warning, the guys LOVE blaming any mood swings on our hormones. It's great.


Number 7.

Be your version of strong.

When I started out, I thought strong only meant masculine. I think that my time on the rigs has redefinined the relationships between masculinity, strength and what it means to be a strong, feminine woman. It means something different to everyone.

Now, for me, strength is in the fact that I can not only phsyically hold my own, but that I am not afraid of the men and the environment. Strength comes from knowing who I am and that I accept the fact that I am a woman in the industry and embrace it. Strength comes from knowing that I can choose to wear, dress, behave and speak how I please - whether that's rough or refined, the strength comes from knowing I have the power and gumption to make that choice.

Strength for you can mean any number of things, and I believe figuring that out is indeed strengthening in itself.


Number 8.

Enjoy the adventure!

Working as a female in a male dominated industry will always raise eyebrows and provoke questions.

Be ready for that. Decide whether this is something you want to *embrace* and talk about or whether it is something you would like to *ignore*.

Remember that no matter how much you ignore it, you still will be the odd one out. But that's not a terrible thing. If there are enough women that want to be the odd one out, soon the day will come when that is no longer the case.

Either way, I think it says a lot that we now have the CHOICE to to participate in this previously closed environment.

Be proud of who you are, and never apologise for it.

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So what do you think?

Speech Notes from IPAA YPN/CEO Breakfast

  This week, I was honoured and humbled to be asked to speak at the Institute of Public Administration Australia’s ACT Breakfast for Young Professionals and CEO’s on International Women’s Day.  Although not focused on IWD as such, it is an opportunity for IPAA to bring young female speakers to share a little about their experiences, and I chose to share thoughts on how to truly and effectively engage young people.

I should note the event itself was fabulous; held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra in a fabulous hall, it was also playing host to a great concept, bringing the graduates and the heads of department together on the same table.  More of this needs to be done!

The crux of the presentation was around the two following slides:

From an organisation’s point of view (best practices):

image

From an individual’s point of view (best practices):

image

I won’t give away all the explanations, but one of the key points from above is the biggest learning I have taken away from my recent experiences:

Looking for uncommon opportunities.

Stretching your mind, erasing the boundaries of the box and redrawing them, finding stimuli and inspiration in unlikely places – this is all related to taking advantage and looking for uncommon opportunities.  Opportunities and experiences that may not have obvious or direct relevance to your current role still have the capacity to broaden your mind and perhaps send you on paths that you may have not considered, but paths that are equally worthwhile.

Personal Example: accepting a role on the Board of the Queensland Museum as a young engineering student.

Unlikely benefit: gaining an understanding and appreciation for the cultural precinct and the important of the museum, but also effectively enabling and encouraging the inclusion of young people (and minority groups) in the Museum’s target audience.

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Offering the skills you have rather than the skills you think they need is also a big learning, and one that really reshaped the way I looked at being involved at the consultative level as a young person.

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So this is just a brief snapshot of some of the things talked about at the presentation, and practical ways young people can be involved and at the same table as the movers and shakers.

Hope this is useful! Would love to hear your thought on true youth engagement!