What’s next for the Australian business landscape? Indigenous women in business

With Jaynaya Winmar, a proud Noongar Balladong woman and entrepreneur

Grow/Work /
Indigenous women in business

The support Indigenous women in business really need right now and how to make a change.

As a Noongar Balladong woman who has always been connected to country, or Boodjar. I have always been taught to respect my country and everything that is attached to it – animals, plants, and waterways. Being Indigenous, we have a stronger connection to country as we have been taught to honour it and all its many resources that it offers us.

I personally have had a strong connection to the land on which I stand on and use it as a calming tool when I am feeling a bit lost or when I am travelling. I take my shoes off and connect with the earth. I feel it beneath my feet, I listen to my environment, and I feel the sun on my skin. for me this is me connecting with country this is using the natural energies that it created from our environment that I used to heal myself women I am a long way from home.

Reflecting on NAIDOC Week

Thinking back to NAIDOC Week, this year’s theme of Heal Country reflects on last year and the year before on how our world is communicating to us that we need to stop and take time to appreciate our country and everything that it represents to us. We have been educated to see that when we look after the country, the country in turn looks after us.

In 2019 Thara Brown, Jirra Harvey and I got together to organise supplies to those indigenous communities affected by the bushfires. We did this, not only support our community who we saw being turned away from local community resources, but to show our support for those dealing with the stress of losing their possessions and loved ones. Before collection day we had a team meeting and discussed creating a shirt that represented the volunteers. We enlisted the assistance of a graphic designer that created an image of Australia affected by flames with the words ‘Hill Country’ over the top. When we saw these shirts, we realised the impact of what we were doing and the support that we would be offering whilst feeling useless and removed from the environment.

What’s next for the business landscape

As an indigenous woman in business, both the MD of Essential Services Australia and Founder of Blakbone Sistahood, I carry a lot of pride for all I can achieve daily. I have been able to travel and present on both a national and international scale. I understand that I am also paving the way for our future leaders to be able to reach for those goals that they have only dreamt of doing.

Indigenous women in business
Jaynaya Winmar (supplied)

For me, everything I have done has been passion driven. Passion to excel in business, to be able to connect with community in Australia and globally, to be able to have conversations and lead discussions with indigenous women on topics that indigenous women need to be present for.

When it’s said, “you cannot be what you cannot see”, this is reflected in the business landscape. When I first started in this industry there were very few women that looked like me. I was sitting in a boardroom of people who did not look like me and the conversation was thrown to me – “what is the next steps for the business landscape in Australia?” I smiled, looked at them and told them, “Indigenous women in business, that is the next step”.

Now, I can see so many other indigenous women in business finding their voices and being supported by other indigenous women. Sharing those women’s stories, their profiles, and positively supporting each other to thrive.

This is what drives me, because I can see that together we are making a change. Some days it may feel small, sometimes you will not be able to see the end game, but it is the passion and drive that keeps me going – to keep having those conversations in boardrooms filled with people that do not look like me, conversations that we would normally not be a part of.

I am a cycle breaker. I pave the way for cycle breakers, I support cycle breakers. This is how the changes are made.

I am a cycle breaker. I pave the way for cycle breakers, I support cycle breakers. This is how the changes are made. – Jaynaya Winmar

The key to change – Education

I have a career based on what I was missing.

I saw a need for someone to be a champion for women and step into that space. Someone to support the indigenous women in business that I meet every day who have the same conversations, who struggle with work life balance, who have unrealistic targets and pressure that they put on themselves, by running family households and excelling in the business industry.

Women are created to be nurtures.  When we work in an office environment, we automatically look for who we can support and who is supporting us.

Then our work environments teach us how to work in silos. These environments teaches us to work against each other – that two women cannot be managers, that we have met our quota of women on this project and cannot possibly have another.

It is these mindsets that I am hoping to change or re-educate, because education is the key. Sometimes if we do things a little bit differently, it works better so when we look at our work environments doing things a little bit different my benefit the greater good.

Indigenous women in business
Jaynaya Winmar (supplied)

I work in a company that is female led. I own a company that works to support Indigenous voices, predominately women’s voices, in spaces that they are not normally invited to. But there is also an element of learning to navigate these spaces. It is about learning to have those conversations with those managers that do not want to break the silo environment, that do not see the benefit of having two women work on a project. But it is also embracing those that do really want to make that difference, but do not know how.

This is what most of my work Blakbone Sistahood has been. It has been about educating through reconciliation action plans, through Indigenous employment strategies, and through Indigenous procurement policies.

So, what’s keeping me up at night?

It is these conversations that I have every day that keep me up at night. I question, how do I deliver this in the right way, how is my presence affecting this conversation for the better, what am I leaving this person with so that they will be able to make an educated decision in the future? But then of course, there is always the gender pay gap, paid maternity leave, indigenous workload expectancy for NAIDOC and reconciliation weeks, just to name a few things.

The support Indigenous women in business really need right now 

Opportunities, real opportunities. This is what all women need right now. But these opportunities need to be paid correctly, they need to be valued for their time and their effort. If it is going to be a tokenistic role or a tokenistic offering then you are not doing it in the right reasons.

Sometimes this is about looking outside the bubble of our work environments and when we are recruiting thinking about those qualities that are not listed on your resume. When you’re next hiring, it’s about identifying those transferable skills that someone may not write on their resume. Looking for those lived experiences that will transfer over as amazing skills to list on a resume, or even be able to communicate.

Such as mothers returning to work. Imagine a mother of five that is coming back to a workplace but has a huge gap in your employment history. She doesn’t have up-to-date skills listed on her resume or that she could confidently tell you, but when you have a conversation with her you find that she’s been working on a tight budget, which I would list is being able to work within a set budget. Working with five kids – getting dressed for school, fed, making sporting commitments, bathed and supported and nurtured. You could list time management, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, working well within a team environment, having the ability to work individually, leadership skills.

The First Nations businesswomen leading the charge

Leanne Miller, Jarin Baigent, Sofii Marr, Charleene Mundine, Laura Thompson (Clothing the Gaps and The Koorie Circle), Thara Brown, Shelley Ware, Sarah Sheridan, Amanda Healy (Kirrikin and Warrikal), Florence Drummond, Raquel Todd, Kerry Arabena, Karen Milward, Liandra Gaykamangu, Jirra Harvey, Natasha Short, Elena Wangurra, Dorina Cox (Inspire Change Consulting and The Greens WA), Sharon Brindley, Peta Hudson, Kylie Briggs, Tomika Johnson, Christina Ross, Angela Kickett, Rosetta Sahanna, Geri Hayden, Shelley Cable, Nicole Brown.

I can go on for ever with the amazing women that are within our business community.

COVID made for an emotional NAIDOC

This year’s NAIDOC was extra emotional personally due to a few factors. We have all been in isolation so long we forget that we have a community out there. We should get the strength of the allyship that helps support and promote NAIDOC Week.

But more importantly, it was the first time some of us have seen each other for over two years. For Aboriginal people, this is an especially important aspect of our community – physical and emotional connection. Having that sense of identity and being able to share it with you community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

During COVID, a lot of us took time to reconnect with ourselves in our culture. We spent time painting, weaving, relearning language. Then we get to this year’s NAIDOC where we were visible on our TV screens and our language was shared in a public forum. We saw trams that community members had painted, weather presenters reading the traditional names for countries around Australia. We saw mainstream Australia be vocal in their support for First Nations people.

The silent leaders of NAIDOC Week

But that is not the thing that makes me proud.  What makes me proud are the conversations that have been held prior to these things, the silent leaders educating on how to best effectively communicate this to community. We sometimes forget those people and see only the effects that they have had.

That is what I am most proud of NAIDOC.

About the author

A proud Noongar/Balladong woman from Quairading in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, Jaynaya Winmar has a strong background in the Employment and Recruitment sectors. She is the Founder and Managing Director of Essential Services Australia Group, supporting Indigenous businesses and championing women at work, and Founder of The Blakbone Sistahood, bringing together deadly sistas and their businesses through events and learning and development opportunities.

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