The Business of Inclusive Leadership (episode 2)
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This episode of AGSM’s The Business Of podcast examines inclusive leadership and how access to a diverse range of perspectives is critical for leaders to thrive in an accelerated world
Inclusive leadership is a critical capability in helping organisations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent. Inclusive leaders create the space for others to contribute, and recognise blind spots within themselves and the organisation.
In this episode, we explore three key elements of inclusive leadership: equity, diversity and - of course - inclusion. Although sometimes conflated, each is distinct and it’s important for leaders to understand the differences.
Host Emma Lo Russo is joined by Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW. Eileen defines each element of inclusive leadership and suggests frameworks leaders can use to embed inclusive leadership throughout organisational processes and culture.
Also joining Emma is Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services. Kristal shares her insights into the organisational and societal impact of programs designed to help Indigenous businesses and individuals grow their leadership skills.
Finally, we hear from Mark Tonga, a disability advocate and active Chairman of the Disability Council of NSW, Chairman of the City of Sydney Inclusion Advisory Panel and Inaugural Chairman of the State Library of NSW Accessibility Advisory Committee. Mark speaks to the value those with disabilities can bring to every aspect of business, at every level.
- Emma Lo Russo, (AGSM MBA Executive 2013), CEO and Co-founder of Digivizer
- Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW
- Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services
- Mark Tonga, (current AGSM MBA Executive student), a disability advocate and active Chairman of the Disability Council of NSW, Chairman of the City of Sydney Inclusion Advisory Panel and Inaugural Chairman of the State Library of NSW Accessibility Advisory Committee
Emma Lo Russo: Inclusive leadership is a critical capability in helping organisations adapt to diverse customers, markets, ideas and talent. In this episode, we explore three elements of inclusive leadership: equity, diversity and – of course – inclusion.
Although sometimes conflated, each is distinct and it’s important for leaders to understand the differences. To lead an inclusive organisation, leaders must make these elements a personal priority, create the space for others to contribute, and to recognise blind spots within themselves and the organisation.
To discuss these topics I’m joined by Professor Eileen Baldry, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Professor of Criminology at UNSW. Eileen breaks down each element of inclusive leadership and suggests frameworks that leaders can use to embed inclusivity throughout organisational processes and culture.
We’ll also hear from Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services, a management consulting company.
Finally, I’ll speak with Mark Tonga, a disability advocate whose goal is to improve the narrative around the way people with disabilities are perceived in the community, and how this narrative informs policy.
First, let’s go to my conversation with Professor Eileen Baldry.
Let’s unpack where people sometimes conflate, right? Equity, inclusivity, diversity, where do these converge and what are the differences?
Eileen Baldry: So equity, diversity and inclusion often are talked about together, but they’re different concepts, but they feed into each other. So equity is different to equality. Equity is about getting to equality. So if someone is born into a poor family in an area where there aren’t good services or where there’s poor schooling, for them to get to the same ability to participate in society, as let’s say someone who goes to a middle class school in a well-served suburb, there is a gap between that person who comes from a poorer background and the person who goes to a better off area.
Equity is about trying to ensure that we support people to get to the same opportunities. Equity’s about, it’s more than opportunities, but that’s one way to think about it. So you have to have equity before you can get to equality.
Then if we think about diversity. Diversity is the fact that we are all different. And we know from all aspects of the globe and our lives and society, that the more monochrome, the more singular things are, the less interesting they are, the less innovative they are. And eventually, it leads to no change. Diversity is about all of the ways in which humanity is expressed. It’s also of course, in the flora and fauna of the world, and the more diversity we have, the more vibrant is life. So diversity is about one, recognising that. Two, recognising that everybody, everybody has a right to be who they are, within the law of course. But everybody has a right to be themselves. Whatever colour, whatever belief, whatever intellectual capacity or physical, wherever they live.
Then thirdly, inclusion. Inclusion is about ensuring that we include the whole diversity of humanity, of our community, of people. So in a sense they all fit together, but they are different concepts. And you need all of them to have a vibrant, innovative, fair, and just world.
Emma Lo Russo: I love how you’ve actually pieced together the relationship between them as opposed to converging them or conflating them together. What happens with bias in organisations, where they might not recognise that they’re thinking in this way, operating with those goals in mind? Do you have some examples of where this comes to play, where it’s danger ground for organisations?
Eileen Baldry: Yes, very sadly. There are many examples of bias. Bias can be both conscious and unconscious. Bias is about people playing to something they feel comfortable with. A way of being, or living or behaving that they have taken into themselves as being the right way.
Now that might come from all sorts of things. It might come from our childhood, from school, from media, television, from all sorts of places. On the whole, bias can be positive and negative, so they can be positive bias. So I’ll talk about that in a minute. But the main thing that we see and experience in organisations and at universities like mine, is a bias against people who don’t fit our stereotype of what a woman is, what a man is, what a scholar is, what sorts of ways in which you behave in the world are. And these biases, as I say, they can be on the surface. They can be conscious. And one can sometimes hear people say oh, we don’t want that sort of person in our organisation.
Now, sometimes there’s a reason for that. And that can be around positive bias saying, well, we want someone who is inclusive and open, not somebody who is closed. But where it becomes extraordinarily negative and highly counter productive is where there are people being interviewed for a job, for example, and the panel might see a list of six or seven people, and then do a short list. If this is in an area in which, for example, women are unusual, engineering comes to mind or some areas of engineering, or where LGBTIQ+ people are unusual to have in those positions, then when the panel looks at that potential shortlist, bias is very likely to come into play unless we make sure that we’re aware that it might be there. Because people will often go for someone who looks like them, or sounds like them, or behaves like them. And therefore excludes people who might actually be far better for the job.
And there are such clear examples of this in all sort of forms. I was just listening to a programme this morning about the way in which artificial intelligence is being now used to do things like face recognition, and to sort people when people are applying for a job. Now, one of the things that has become quite clear is that many of those computer programmes, and the artificial intelligence, have been programmed with old ways of thinking. And this means that the data that is being put in is only about what used to be, or what people saw was the case. So they end up choosing more men, they end up choosing more white men, they end up choosing white women, or whatever it is. So we can see that even in areas where you would think oh, it’s objective. So this is a computer programme, which is sorting through this, the programme was programmed by people. And if people have biases, they add those biases to the programme, or they can add those biases to the programme.
Emma Lo Russo: So Eileen, you’ve created the framework for the Uni of New South Wales. What advice can you offer leaders who are thinking about creating these policies or frameworks to remove that bias?
Eileen Baldry: So we have an equity, diversity and inclusion website. We call it EDI. So the EDI website has a whole range of things on it, including the EDI framework. The framework that we’ve created is more than about inclusive leadership, but it includes inclusive leadership. One of the reasons for creating this framework was to give leaders, and particularly at this time in COVID, as people are making decisions about how to change things. It’s about being conscious, thoughtful, recognising what we are doing. So if, for example, I’m a leader in a faculty or in a school, and we are needing to restructure, I have to be conscious and think carefully about, is this going to impact more negatively, let’s say, on young women? Or on early career researchers? Or on those who are the least paid?
And so we sort of have this framework to help leaders to think through how they are leading, particularly in a time of change. So, flexibility is a really important aspect of being an inclusive leader. Some people need different kinds of flexible work arrangements than others. If somebody has a disability, they might need to start earlier, have a bigger break in the middle, finish later, or the opposite. They might need at various times to go on to part time work. Now, all of these are things that a leader needs to consider in terms of that person, but also of the whole team, because the diversity in a team, is so important for that team to be innovative and creative and to function well. And so ensuring that we don’t exit all the same sort of people, but then there are other aspects of being inclusive. And that is listening.
If we think that we know, and we don’t listen to what the staff in our unit are saying to us, then we are not being an inclusive leader. Now it might be that I’m listening and I hear what someone is saying, and I come to the conclusion, “well, look much as I understand what you’re saying, we can’t do that, or we can’t agree to that for these reasons”. But that is being inclusive. Because what that is saying is “I respect you. I consult you. I listened to you. And what we want out of this is to come to the best arrangement for our division or our faculty or our school or our group”. So those are just some of the things about helping people to think outside of their biases and to be conscious of what they’re thinking about and deciding.
Emma Lo Russo: And then if we just connect this to the impact or the links between inclusive leadership, diversity of thought, to mental health, what’s the relationship there? And again, as leaders, what should we be aware of?
Eileen Baldry: So we’ve become far more aware over the last couple of decades of the importance of people’s mental wellbeing and their mental health. One of the things that is really important and continuously gets one of the highest ratings by people, staff members anywhere, not just at a university is my wellbeing in this group. My wellbeing in this place. And your mental wellbeing is a huge part of that.
When people are excluded, discriminated against, when they are bullied or harassed, these mean that their wellbeing is in jeopardy, and it can often lead to mental unwellness. And so ensuring that as we lead, we are acutely aware of the impact that the way in which we lead, but also the way in which other people behave to each other, affects people’s mental wellbeing. And if we are not alert to that and support our teams, a number of things happen. One, there will be turnover, because staff will not want to stay in a place where their mental wellbeing is not being taken care of.
Two, they might stay because they fear that there’s nowhere else for them to go, although there might be, but they might fear what am I going to do? And their capacity to work will reduce. And that will affect everyone in that group.
Then the third thing is if we don’t address all those sorts of things that I just mentioned, like discrimination, bullying, harassment, disrespectful behaviour, all of these things, if they are allowed to continue, one, create a really bad culture in workplace, and create the circumstance in which many people will have lower mental wellness than they should or could have. And so we need as leaders to recognise that being an inclusive leader also means that we do not tolerate any of those things and that we encourage everybody in our group or our unit or our university, to call it out when they see it. And sometimes a person who is an inclusive leader might not actually know that this is happening somewhere in the organisation. And so to have a what we tend to call ‘bystander’ being included in these things and calling things out, that is very important. And that is a way of supporting other people in our university, our group, our corporation, whatever it happens to be.
Emma Lo Russo: Eileen, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and it’s great to hear it be so alive and checked. And I think that’s the point, right? Ask and make sure you are listening.
Thank you, Eileen, for joining us today on The Business Of...
A fantastic overview from Professor Eileen Baldry, and so helpful to have each element of inclusive leadership so clearly articulated and defined. As Eileen says, inclusive leadership is about inviting others into the debate, and a diverse range of perspectives is so important to creating an inclusive culture in organisations. This has huge benefits to decision-making.
Next up, I speak to Kristal Kinsela-Christie, owner and Managing Director of Indigenous Professional Services. Kristal talks us through her company’s role in providing guidance around organisational development and much needed supplier diversity across government, corporate and not-for-profit sectors.
Emma Lo Russo: Hi, Kristal, welcome to the Business Of.
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Well, thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be talking to you today.
Emma Lo Russo: I’m really excited to hear the story of the Indigenous Professional Services. What makes you unique? What do you do?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Well, I think what’s made us really unique is that, although we’re a certified majority owned indigenous consulting firm, we provide a number of mainstream services, which is a real point of difference to us in the market space. It’s actually flooded with a lot of indigenous consultants. But they don’t do some of the things that we do. Having mainstream service offerings, I think is a really big point of difference. I’ve had a long trajectory career through government and not for profit sectors. When you’re an indigenous person in the workforce, you tend to get pigeonholed to work in indigenous identified roles or indigenous focus work. We knew straight away that we had skillsets and capabilities that were different, and we wanted to, I guess, build a brand and build a reputation off the back of those particular skills and capabilities that sits separately to us as indigenous people.
Emma Lo Russo: What are those advantages and the things that you’re bringing awareness to?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: If I think about some of the services that we provide. We have a service line on organisational development and leadership. We have many big clients that are national and we provide all of their management development training. That’s a mainstream service because it’s management and it’s leadership, but what our little point of difference is, we’re able to also embed some cultural competence in that journey, which makes it a very unique service offering and provide coaching that supports that as well.
Emma Lo Russo: Can you give me a sense of who are the organisations that you’re helping, because this is relevant to everyone, right? How far up, down, wide, industries?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: I work with some of the most iconic big brands in Australia. I work with a number of major banks and a number of other international major corporations that have national and international presence. But I also work across Commonwealth government and state and territory governments as well. I also have quite a number of tier one suppliers that are in the Defence sector as well. It’s a very broad portfolio.
Emma Lo Russo: It would be good for our listeners to understand the reconciliation action plans that you’ve been working with. What are organisations looking to do and how are you helping them? What should they be thinking about? What should be the core of those plans?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: A reconciliation action plan is a really great way for an organisation to demonstrate their commitment to a journey to go on in regards to reconciliation. It’s not a destination, it’s something that’s an ongoing journey. There are four tiers to a reconciliation action plan. I work with organisations that are at varying levels. Some at the very early level, which is a reflect wrap and some at the higher level at an elevate wrap.
There are some particular focuses within those RAPs. The areas I spend a lot of time working with my clients is in procurement. I supply diversity and also around employment. Getting them to really think about, from an employment perspective, how they attract indigenous people to come and work in their workspace. What does that look like? The environment? How would they support mentor, retain, develop indigenous staff? From the procurement perspective, it’s really thinking about their internal procurement processes. Is it really conducive for indigenous businesses? What might they need to change or modify? Then really opening up their eyes to the breadth and the diversity of indigenous businesses that are out there.
Unconscious bias is a big, big challenge still that exists across, not just indigenous business landscape, but for indigenous people in general, and that is something that I’m always constantly taking my clients on that journey around understanding what it is, that it actually does exist in workplaces, and how can we navigate through that.
Emma Lo Russo: Does this period of, I guess, crisis or, with COVID help organisations rethink those things? Is it actually causing a moment to pause, even if the programmes themselves, when they’re being implemented, need to maybe change the way they were going to be implemented? Not the purpose of changing, but is it giving you new opportunities to have those conversations?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: It most definitely is. We saw the Black Lives Matter protests and that really bringing to home that there are issues around the globe that are in relation to people of colour, and it’s really real here on the ground. I think that that helps spark a conversation for a number of clients and organisations that I do work with and really get them to really think about how genuine are we in our commitment? Have we done everything we can do? What else do we need to do?
I think, this time also has opened up the opportunity. An organisation that I do work with, a big major corporate, their suppliers ran out of stock of hand sanitizer. Where did they have to go? They went to four indigenous businesses. Now, what this opportunity has proven is that an indigenous business can supply, well, four indigenous businesses can supply, just as well as these other mainstream suppliers.
That started a real conversation for people internally in this organisation to go, “Hey, wow, there are some indigenous businesses that can provide the volume, the scale and the capacity of what we need, and maybe we do need to rethink how we go to market and how we might engage with indigenous businesses.” I’ve done many talks over the last few months and I’ve done quite a lot of advocacy and blog posts around the Black Lives Matter and unconscious bias because I think once everything goes away in the media, things start to die down and people just move on and we need to keep these conversations progressing and keep it front of mind for people.
Emma Lo Russo: I think that’s a really good point. It can’t just be a moment, it needs to be sustainable. There’s a responsibility for us as leaders and businesses to really think about the unconscious bias and the opportunities, and what does equality mean? How can you keep this top of mind?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: I just keep it as part of the dialogue and the discourse when I’m talking to my clients and make sure that it’s front of mind all the time. They know that I have lived experience and I still experience racism, discrimination and bias in my daily life. That, I’ve got young kids as well that go through that. I’m really open with my clients in sharing, that’s just not something that’s going on in the media, that’s something that’s happening, it’s real life, it’s part of my daily thinking, living, breathing all the time.
That’s why I do a lot of facilitation in my work, because it’s an education and awareness piece and you’ve got to start at the top and cascade your way down. I feel like my clients work with me for that very reason because they want to go on that journey. They know that true reconciliation is not a destination, it’s a journey. It’s something that’s ongoing. It’s not going to happen overnight. They’ve just got to continue to invest and bring their staff on that journey.
Emma Lo Russo: You talked about starting at the top, but then making it live through the organisation, what are some of the most successful outcomes you’ve been able to deliver? When does it start to become sustainable and what was the programme and ongoing approach or thinking the things that actually took it from maybe being ignorant to actually being empowering?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Where I’ve seen the greatest successes is where you’ve got the most senior person in your organisation that owns it and says, I’m making a commitment, it’s going to be part of my personal charge and I’m going to champion it. It’s the top down and the bottom up, if that makes sense. Getting those people on the grassroots and meeting in the middle, I sometimes call that sometimes the frozen middle. If we can infiltrate that frozen middle from pressure from the top and pressure from below, from the bottom up, we can have some really great success.
Lots of good internal communication, lots of opportunities for professional development and training, strategy and a plan that supports the way forward so people know this is what we’ve committed to, this is how we’re going to get there. KPIs are really important, but when you put KPIs in people’s performance development plans, you know that they are going to buy in because that’s coming back on their own performance, and they’re going to have some skin in the game around that as well.
I think, just constantly having champions and advocates drive it. You’re getting those people to start to then become the people that push more and more people through it. I’ve seen some great success. I’ve worked with a major government department, Commonwealth government department. I saw them go from, around a $6 million spend with indigenous businesses to a $32 million spend with indigenous businesses, and that was through a dedicated team, but also ongoing multi-pronged approach around communication and training and just keep pushing it and having a senior indigenous champion. Not someone that was indigenous, but somebody that was very senior, that was the indigenous champion championing it and pushing forward.
Emma Lo Russo: How do we grow this awareness? How do they actually unlock this in their organisation? Think about what might be possible, where do they go? How can they be part of this conversation?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Look, you’ve got to start to, I guess, do a bit of your research first. You’ve actually got to define your why. Why are you interested? Because if you want to try and do this for the sake of doing it, it will have no meaning, it’ll get no traction. You actually truly have to believe in the power of reconciliation, the power of indigenous business, and the benefits and the role in social value that can be created.
If you don’t believe it, you’ll bring no one on the journey. That’s the first thing is really unpacking your why, getting to that place where I know that this is my business case for doing this. Then, start to really build relationships and start to understand the sector, understand the key players and stakeholders, and then start to think about what might be the opportunities back in your organisation where you want to start?
A reconciliation action plan is a great framework or tool for people who are not quite sure because you can get support from Reconciliation Australia.
I think just you’ve got to celebrate success. You’ve got to start with maybe some quick wins. I would say to people, start with some low hanging fruit. What’s something that you can do that’s simple, easy, and quick, gets you a win, and then you can celebrate it. When you celebrate that success, then you’ve got some momentum. People go, “Actually, you can do that. That’s possible.”
From an indigenous business perspective, Who do you buy stationary from? Can you use an indigenous business? Stationary is low risk. It’s a very low risk. Why can’t you do that? Can you buy some indigenous catering to start off with? Can you buy corporate gifts? They might be seen as quite transactional, but they’re a good starting place.
Then you need to start to think about, okay, well, what does my business model look like? What does my supply chain look like? Where are there indigenous businesses who may be able to meet my needs? Then start to progress conversations that actually really are looking at the indigenous marketplace and what businesses might be able to support your supply chain and then start to build some relationships with them. Start to introduce them back into your business around that.
Emma Lo Russo: What are all the benefits? We’re talking about the benefits to the organisation, but there would be these benefits of this much bigger ecosystem and the stories and the... There’s so much richness that is being unlocked here. What are your favourite stories of where these partnership on both sides come together?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: By going on a journey of reconciliation or engaging with indigenous business or having indigenous employees, the things that you would put into place to support that and to leverage that and make it really successful would be things that would have a flow on effect. It’s going to make your staff more culturally competent. It’s going to make you a really good corporate citizen. Having something that’s really unique, that essence, that voice of 60,000 years of culture and history within your organisation. Now that can only add value, it can only add value from niche and interesting and innovative perspectives, energy, connection to country, all of that sort of thing. From a benefits point of view for an organisation.
But if we flip that over for an indigenous person or an indigenous business, we always talk about self-determination. When you buy from us, you’re empowering us to be self-determined, you’re empowering us to be able to employ our own. Indigenous businesses are 100 times more likely to employ other indigenous people. Creating a sustainable employment opportunity, pathways training and a generation of wealth.
I’m a first generation business owner. I’ve been on welfare. My mum was on welfare. Do you think my kids will ever be on welfare? Not in your life, because I’ve broken that chain. If their business is successful, you are breaking the chain, you’re breaking that cycle of disadvantage, and it will have that rolling on effect to future generations.
It’s those really powerful role models and that really powerful legacy that’s being created. Just those aspirations of what is actually possible and being able to demystify the stereotypes and myths that exist around what an indigenous person is, what they can do, their future, all of those sorts of things.
Emma Lo Russo: How do leaders bring a focus? If they wanted to introduce that thinking or a different approach, this cultural advantage because here’s a methodology that’s been proven that could actually benefit. What’s your advice to those leaders? How can they think about what they could be doing differently?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: take the lead from first nations people around them or other diverse minority groups around them and learn by leading and walking together. I think that’s probably the first thing you need to really listen and understand. I think just have a really open mind and an open heart to doing things a little bit different. I guess to trust in that sometimes when you feel a bit uncomfortable, then that’s where you actually have your greatest moments of growth.
These new ways or these innovative ways, or these diverse ways might feel a little bit different, but just trust in the experience and trusting the potential outcomes and what it could bring. Don’t be too prescriptive, listen and learn to those around you, and be guided by those that are around you. Let them take the lead. You don’t necessarily need to lead at the front all the time. Sometimes, you can lead from the back.
Emma Lo Russo: The goal should be the thing that guides you, but the journey is one of learning. How can we bring greater awareness to start that journey? Is it to engage someone like yourself or your business? Is it to hear more stories? What else could we do to really bring about this change?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: There’s no silver bullet and what a lot of organisations do if they’ve got the resources to do it, and they want to make an investment, they will engage consultants. But that doesn’t need to be the starting point. The starting point can be just really pausing and looking at the community that you live and work in and looking around and going, “Okay, do I know who the first nations traditional owners are here? Do I know who the local organisations are?”
Like I always say to everybody, it starts with your own learning, but it starts with relationships. Because what I see, it’s like the cart before the horse, they’ve been many organisations that I’ve come to start to work with and they’ve gone on the reconciliation action plan journey, and they’re doing, and they just want to do.
For them, it’s about if we do this and we’re successful... They’re not actually really... That’s great, but to me, that’s a bit tick a box because you’re not actually thinking about it being a journey of cultural competence and reconciliation, and the actual impact back for the indigenous people and the indigenous community. It’s not about your output, it’s about what impact are you going to have in the longer term?
It’s got to start with relationships. I always say to people, you might have the greatest, brightest idea, but you can’t put that onto a black fella, I’m sorry, no one wants a white saviour. You have to walk with us, and get to know us and get to understand what we might need your help with, what you can do to help our plight.
Emma Lo Russo: I love that you’re encouraging this, make it personal. You can’t understand if you don’t actually really invest yourself and try and understand. But I guess there has been a role for government in policy buying. What’s the role in government in also helping create the environment, not withstanding the fact that we want change to come from individuals, right? Those little changes that you said.
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Government has been incredible. I have to say that the Commonwealth introduced an indigenous procurement policy in July, 2015. For me, personally, as an Aboriginal woman and an Aboriginal business owner, for me, I think it was the single handed or most best piece of indigenous policy that had ever been implemented. Because for the first time there was a mandatory target to buy from indigenous businesses which puts so much focus on and put demand and really shone a light on, hey, there are actually indigenous people in business. Which I think has been really incredible.
It’s been through that indigenous procurement policy that I’ve been able to build my own business and be really successful through that. The Commonwealth has one of the largest purchasing powers. They spend $50 billion a year. Committing to 3 per cent of that, it’s a small proportion of what they’re already buying. They’re going to buy a quality product or service, but why not buy it from an indigenous business where you can have that flow on social value and impact back to indigenous people’s lives and their communities?
Emma Lo Russo: Has that... You said it’s created these amazing opportunities for you. Has that fostered more innovation? Is there more businesses and opportunities that have created from that as an outcome that might actually be something that we haven’t seen before as well?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: There are more than 2,500 indigenous businesses on Supply Nation’s directory now, which is incredible. That’s grown. Supply Nation tells me that they are verifying 13 new businesses a month. There’s a greater breadth and depth of businesses now, and there are businesses like mine that have been around for five years that have moved from the small to the medium end of the stick and have got the proven track record now, and growing in size and growing in the number of employment numbers.
We’re pathing that way for these other businesses that are coming new into the marketplace. Then, there’s this transfer of knowledge and mentoring and support to help bring and guide those business and uplift those along the way.
I think it’s been really, really positive and it’s just the way forward. I think now that there’s been people like myself and there’s a whole number of other indigenous business owners that have done more incredible things than me, but that’s given aspiration and it’s given a sense of inspiration to these other indigenous people to say, “Hey, guess what? There’s a market for us. People want to buy from us and you can do it. It is absolutely possible.” Which is really, really incredible to see.
I always say to people, I’ve got a 15 year old daughter and when she’s saying to me, “Mom, am I going to take over your business one day?” That gives me a fire in my belly that I’m creating something, and then she actually sees herself that she could be a business owner, that she has got this legacy in this business that I’ve built for her. That’s just powerful. That is really powerful.
Emma Lo Russo: Yeah. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? The more that you pave the way, the greater the possibilities are. I think the greater the organisations you get to help too, right? To get this benefit of inclusivity and diversity and cultural pride that I think you talked about. That’s a real advantage. It’ll be really interesting to see what this looks like into the future. If you do look into the future, what’s your hope? What would you love if you could say, “If I could fast forward and know I could make this amount of change happen.” What would that look like?
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Look, I would love to see the growth of our sector continue to grow. There’d be 10,000 businesses on Supply Nation’s directory, and many of them being tier one suppliers to government, to Defence, to big major industries. That we’re big business, we’re big business. We’re no longer seen as the small... Because we’re quite often typecast with a demographic of we’re small, we’re micro, we’re incapable. We’re not scalable, and we don’t have access to capital or investment, but that we flip that over, we flip that on its head, and we’re going, “Oh my gosh, look at how big and capable and, brassy and strong these indigenous businesses are.” We’ve got more market share in particular industries and we just continue to grow.
That would be my vision. Then the other thing, if I just think it from a personal point of view is that, any little Aboriginal kid that’s at school can say, “I’m going to be a business owner one day.” That... As you said, you can’t be what you can’t see.
I grew up in the streets of Mount Jordan, Blacktown in Western Sydney. I was that little Aboriginal girl living in housing commission. My mum was a single mother. Did I ever think that I would be running a successful indigenous business? Not on your life, not on your life. I never saw images of that and the expectations that were really placed upon me were, I was going to get the next housing commission house, and I’d end up on a pension with a few kids.
I’ve broken that, obviously, that thinking and that trajectory and I want that to be the same for any other young Aboriginal kid that’s growing up now. We have one of the youngest demographics that a majority of our population is under 24. There’s all these young, budding, bright Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids that I just want to see be successful to realise that they can be successful.
Emma Lo Russo: It’s exactly what needs to happen as you say. I’m impressed by already, if it’s 30 businesses a month, it’s like one a day. Like you said, at least four times that in the near future is your goal. I think that’s something that I want to encourage our listeners to think about, how do they make these steps? This personal investment, the start of the journey, like you said, there’s resources and things available, but just to think differently and maybe use this moment of time and change to think about how you can actually use this as your moment for change.
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Most definitely. Yeah, just Dr. Google is always great fun to have a look at, but have a look at our ecosystem. There is a number of key players that I would encourage the listeners to have a look at. Reconciliation Australia, Supply Nation, the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the Indigenous Chambers of Commerce that exists in each of the States and territories, and Indigenous Business Australia. To have a look at what all of these partners are doing to help our sector just becoming more aware.
Even in your own little transactional things, if you could consider an indigenous business can go a really long way. Ever since COVID hit, every week, I buy something from another indigenous business. I’ve got all different kinds of things. You imagine if all people listening, that all consumers did that same thing, it would go a long way in building the indigenous business economy as well.
Emma Lo Russo: Kristal, you are such an inspiration. Thank you for joining us on the Business Of, today.
Kristal Kinsela-Christie: Thanks so much for having me and remember it is, it’s all about hearts and minds. It has to be personal.
Emma Lo Russo: I left my conversation with Kristal feeling very optimistic about the future of indigenous businesses here in Australia. She brought focus to the responsibility we have as leaders, to move beyond the way we’ve always done things, embrace change and create new opportunities in our processes, procurement and supply chains and help these businesses thrive.
My final guest for today is an active Chairman of the Disability Council of NSW, Chairman of the City of Sydney Inclusion Advisory Panel and Inaugural Chairman of the State Library of NSW Accessibility Advisory Committee. Let’s hear my conversation with Mark Tonga.
Can you tell me Mark, about your story.
Mark Tonga: Oh yes. Look, 10 years ago, I finished uni and I was starting to... a commerce degree in accounting, and I was looking to start my professional year, my CA. And while I was doing that, playing rugby. And in 2008 in May, just carrying out a normal routine, playing sport, something I love and still love, rugby, unfortunately, I sustained an injury, which left me with a medical diagnosis of tetraplegia, which is I cannot move my arms. I’ve got no feeling from my neck down.
The first two years, just trying to reset my thinking was complicated. We talk about depression, we talk about finding yourself and the first 18 months was a very testing time for me. You’ve been operating a certain way for so many years, 30 plus years, and then your life just changes over in a millisecond and then you’ve got to redo, it’s as they say, born again. You just got to reset the whole, how you operate and liaise with people. But now, 12 years post, I’m starting to get a nice stride now, humming along well. And found my groove. A bit disappointed it took me more than two years, I would have been the first six months if I had to rewind back. Life’s too short. We need to crack on.
Emma Lo Russo: So your experience in terms of the insights of going through that, how have you turned that now into your vision and where you are spending your time?
Mark Tonga: Yeah, look, falling into the world, going through that reset period, you have a lot of doubts. You feel you don’t have any value to society. Your dignity, everything just collapses. So for me, I had to find something that’s worthy that I can be contributing to our society. So initially it was just volunteering work. I did a lot of local volunteering for a, not-for-profit organisation council. And somehow I got good at it, really good at it. And I’d just been appointed on a federal government council, doing the same thing, which is providing advice.
Emma Lo Russo: And then first, congratulations on your appointment because you are now able to bring your experience and positively influenced many, much broader in terms of the people that you’re helping. So do you want to just share where and how you’re helping those that are living with disability?
Mark Tonga: I was transitioning out of rehab into a nursing home, waiting for my house to be fully accessible so I can return to it. And while I was in a nursing home, I was one of 40 people, and I was the only one who could speak. And I looked around and all 39 of those people were either dumped there by their families or the system has put them in there and they were hidden away and they were just left there. So I couldn’t have a conversation with anyone. And I thought, okay, my arms don’t work, my legs don’t work, but at least I’ve got something. And through that two month period, I was stuck with these people and they really taught me a lot. They really taught me the value of finding something in yourself that you have, that you can... and that moment was a life changing... I didn’t see myself as having arms, I saw myself with something I can give to the community.
And so my work has been trying to fill that void, trying to fill that gap between policies in our community.
Emma Lo Russo: So you would have seen the benefits of creating a more inclusive community through building awareness and engagement. Can you talk me through what are those benefits and how do we be more mindful to create a more inclusive community?
Mark Tonga: We’re not just targeting those whingy people on wheelchairs. It makes economic sense to just look at it in a wider lens and say, look how can we make things for our community that benefits all of our society?
So that’s something I’ve seen, and I frame it like that when I talk to governments. This is not about just disability. This is about just community, making it accessible for all.
I’ll give you a classic example. Now, I lobby for access into buildings. Now, people will think, okay. We’ll get an access to a building to let a wheelchair person in, so I can drive into the building. But you got to look at it. This is a community thing. I’ve seen mothers with prams struggling with bags, trying to get up stairs, and putting all the kids down. I’ve seen elderly people with walkers, trying to navigate four or five stairs. And I’ve seen delivery people trying to pull up a trolley with boxes upstairs. I was like, this is not just about inclusive for one cohort. This just makes sense, this is a community. Inclusive benefits the whole society of all.
Emma Lo Russo: So let’s now take that lesson into business., what do we need to do there and why is it important to think about inclusivity?
Mark Tonga: Look, business has got to change their mindset that we are an island. Business is a community. You rely on your customers who are the community.
Emma Lo Russo: How can leaders ensure diverse voices are being heard? What do you think they need to do to build that empathy and understanding?
Mark Tonga: Maybe we can just do away with the model of experts and just go down and talk to the ordinary people and get their thoughts, and how their actions and their service and their products affect the ordinary people. I think they’re the experts, they’re users. I’m a conduit to those in the community. I’m a conduit for 40 people in the nursing homes.
Emma Lo Russo: Do you think more needs to be done at the education level to build that muscle, to actually have the conversation with the people that you’re serving and to think about diversity, inclusivity, those living with a disability?
Mark Tonga: Education is one component of it, but it’s not the only component. I think it’s our community, I think. Our attitudes and being not united as a society. You can’t blame everything on education, but it does feed into the whole machinery of trying to shape our leaders for our community to go out and change the narrative, influence a narrative of what we have in our community.
It’s time for us to move. It’s time for us to evolve. If no one asks us these questions and has these conversations, we’re not going to grow as a community, as a society.
Emma Lo Russo: Because you’ve had so much exposure, I guess, through community groups and creating that conduit and being that voice, and to your appointments where you are actually advising government, can you give or think or share of any examples where you think this has been done really well?
Mark Tonga: I think, Australia has come a long way and I stand on the shoulders of others who have forged the way for inclusivity in all areas, not just disability, but gender and indigenous. I think I’m really, really grateful to be in a country for a government and a community that are open to this conversation and open to change and open to try to have a better life for our people in our community.
So I know there are some other countries that don’t even have these conversations. But while this conversation is, in the air, I feel it’s time for me to contribute and to step in and fill that gap. For me, from my personal opinion, I think disability is probably one of the last frontiers we’re trying to address. We’ve looked at gender, we looked at indigenous, race and all those. It hasn’t been solved, but it’s brought up into the open. So we have had that hard conversation to find ways to look at ourselves and find solutions for it. And now there’s disability in my mind. So to bring it to the table and air it out. Because there were times that people like me were just stuck away in nursing homes and out of sight, out of mind. But now with NDIS and amongst other programmes, we’re able to highlight that.
Emma Lo Russo: Do you think technology has helped bring a voice so that we’re having conversations we might have found easy to ignore in the past?
Mark Tonga: Technology is a game changer for people with disability,. I read an article the other day where access to... One of the things I do is find access to our culture centres like museums and library. And then with COVID shutting down, people in these museums are starting to film and put all their stuff online. You’ve got people in disability to who can’t fly. But with technology, they’re able to visit the British Museum and see all the great stuff in there.
And that’s a great example how technology is able to improve people’s... Like this big gadget I’m sitting on is a wheelchair. And I drive it with my chin. 10 years ago, they didn’t have that construction. They had to be pushed around by another human being. But now I can blow that closer to me and then just get out and go for a walk by myself and not have one follow me around, and I can be more independent. I love technology and I have a big interest in technology, not only for myself, but I see how it opens worlds up for people in my situation.
Emma Lo Russo: If we come back to business and seeing the benefits or having that conversation,, how can leaders create a culture of advocacy around issues like disability rights or inclusivity in their organisations?
Mark Tonga: Well, I don’t have the answer to that, but for me personally, we just got to wake up and see the unfairness in our community, in all areas. So I’d just encourage leaders to be leaders, not only in your chosen expert area, but also in our community. There’s plenty of work to be done. And it’s not like we’re going to go live in a gated community and we’re separated from the whole world. No. When the lights go off and you walk down the road, you are part of the community. That could be your mom, your dad, someone in your family, someone in your cousins. We’re not islands in this world. So those who have expertise and talents, whatnot, just look around and find something. There’s plenty of things to do.
Emma Lo Russo: There’s a real kind of human thinking element to this too, that you’re encouraging that thought, that discussion, have the conversation to work out how to make it more inclusive.
From where you were when you suffered your injury, it’s a long way forward. You went back to uni, what did you study? What are you studying?
Mark Tonga: Well, I’m truly blessed to be able to be able to join an organisation that’s considered the best in the country. And I’m able to undertake my executive MBA at the AGSM.. And I met some terrific people in the programme and also people supporting the programme. So growing that leaders for the future,. And putting some of the things we’re talking about now into it, I can see it in the modules, I can see it coming through. And it’s pleasing to see that it’s putting that option out to candidates to consider. Like I’ve heard candidates have cycled out and it’s been like a side step in their thinking. So you come in with some ideas and you leave changed. So that is good.
Emma Lo Russo: It’s that lovely saying, the mind once stretched, can’t go back to its original size. And I think that’s probably true of anyone thinking about those with disability or thinking about creating more inclusive workplaces. Thank you so much for sharing that part of your journey, and I think the opportunity for everyone.
You’ve got a great voice for people who need to be listening, let alone those that you’re advocating for. So thank you very much.
Mark Tonga: Thank you Emma, I really appreciate your time.
Emma Lo Russo: Mark shone a powerful light on the way perceptions of those with disabilities can affect and influence policy. We learnt just how much we can benefit from incorporating their skills and insights into our businesses.
I’m sure you’ll agree that there were some fresh, and powerful new perspectives shared in my conversations with today’s guests. As leaders, becoming more aware of these unique perspectives is critical to self-development.
But our commitment to inclusivity can’t end here. By exercising humility and empathy, and listening to those with alternate points of views, we can identify the nature of our blind spots – and grow ourselves and our businesses. Importantly, doing this will make those we work with and those we lead feel more included themselves. And that is, of course, the objective.
I’m Emma Lo Russo, thank you for listening.