Reflecting on my first 6 years as an independent business woman and Aboriginal to boot. Those who know my story know that it began in December ’09 when I was made redundant at 51 years of age.
Breaking the yoke of being a salaried worker for 98% of my 35 years in the workforce was no small feat. A book recommended by a colleague entitled ‘Flying Solo’ was a wonderful segue into my new independent world which required a complete ‘’about face” from my modus operandi and associated head space over my career. No one in my family, to my knowledge had ever supported themselves working independently, though my mum supplemented her day job with dressmaking in a small country town. My parents came from an era of strong work ethic and longevity with one employer. In modern day terms what would be described as ‘struggletown’.
Blowing away a few myths
When I emerged from the fog of being made redundant I had an innate belief in my ability to have something of value and significance to offer society.
I’ve morphed from being an I-pro (independent professional) to taking a deliberate, strategic decision to be a non-employing business. What? Shock, horror! But, but….. … what about the public policy to support Aboriginal businesses to employ Aboriginal people? Well, yes – if that’s what the business owners want to do – well and good. However, why shouldn’t our business world have the same principles as that of dominant culture. Surely, a level playing field constitutes business owners having the freedom to run our business on whatever business models we belief best suit us, our interests and to be free of judgement and any associated shame.
The journey to the decision to be a non-employing business, I think, is of interest…. It started with an epiphany when undertaking an interim CEO position with a National peak body representing 150 Aboriginal Controlled Health Organisations across the nation (NACCHO). I’ve always had a strong sense of social justice and rose to the level of Regional Manager at the age of 32 in the early 90’s. However, daily head-butting the disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (3% of the Australian population) and the rest of Australia’s health brought about a realisation that this situation was not only not ok but that I wanted to devote whatever was left of my working life to help bring about change. influence and change For me – it’s about influencing and changing not just the status quo, but systemic and organisational racism. Strong statement?? Perhaps, but without that level of change we will not see transformation or if we do, it will likely be short lived or sporadic and almost certainly, not be on terms that are consistent with values that sustained our peoples for thousands of years.
Having been asked early this year to share my journey at a Small Business Conference and now to participate on a panel at a Symposium on Aboriginal Leadership and Entrepreneurship I find myself reflecting on what is ‘success’ and ‘growth’ in an Aboriginal business. Most certainly the outworking of that will be to build a business that employs Aboriginal people, directly providing financial independence, leaving a legacy for future generations. I don’t think I’ve come across any of our mob who don’t have a sense of responsibility to give back to community. Whether that’s our original communities where we have ongoing connection; or in the communities where we live or by way of relationship connection in other communities.
However, my answer to this personal reflective question in both cases of ‘success’ and ‘growth’ is: effective and expanding, authentic, influence.
Let me expand…..my mantra is to ‘dance’ to my own tune, to what is authentically me. My Aboriginal roots and yes, for me, my Christian beliefs. The responsibilities and consequences that flow from that duality; from the duality of having been raised independent (and at that time unknown) from my Aboriginal descendancy to understanding this aspect of my identity and re-defining my place in dominant culture; to influence dominant culture systems and processes in a manner that will provide a better landscape of opportunity for upcoming generations to find a place of harmony with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait heritage however they choose to interface with dominant culture.
I am determined not to be drawn in to dominant cultures definition of success which is essentially based on money and materialism. Beware the systems and processes that would seek to lure us into the limelight of the dominant culture. Beware the policies that would lure us into working, living and playing in a world that is contrary to our heritage. Does that mean I can’t be affluent or live in an urban area? I say “No”. Owning my Aboriginal heritage does not mean that I must live a stereotypical existence. That’s certainly one of the stereotypical beliefs that I’ve needed to lay to rest.
“How could I be an Aboriginal when I’m fair skinned, brought up in dominant culture and successful in life and career? “ Does not that statement really, say it all? My – how we have been indoctrinated. The last Tasmanian Aboriginal to die was Truganini or so I, and the majority of others, were taught. And yet, today there are upwards of 6,000 Palawa Aboriginal descendants.
Why is this so important to ‘success’ in business? Just as I discovered in being an effective Manager, to also be effective in business you need to ‘know thyself’. Understand your own values, beliefs, identity. Understanding your why will flow into the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of your business.
My ‘what’ is to do what I can within my own sphere of influence to give recognition and value to our cultural ways and values; for our peoples to be free to be who we were always meant to be. To utilise and move amongst, but not be consumed by, modern societal structures, processes and ways.
To remain true to ourselves