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Case study: Meet a young and emerging Aboriginal woman leader

As an employment and workplace relations lawyer, Penny Scott’s pushing for equality at work for women, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal people.

Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Leader 2018, Penny Scott

Penny Scott knows a thing or two about diversity in the workplace.

As an employment and workplace relations lawyer, she’s pushing for equality at work for women, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people.

Confronting inequality in the workplace is one of the greatest integrity challenges of our time. We’re not talking enough about intersectionality at work. People can be double or even triple disadvantaged because of their identity.

She’s also a Wiradjuri woman who has encountered racism and discrimination on the job.

'A 2012 Australian study showed that on average, an Aboriginal person had to submit 35 per cent more job applications than an Anglo applicant to get the same number of call-backs for a job interview.'

A 2014 beyondblue survey found that 31% of Australians had witnessed employment discrimination against Aboriginal people. More than half believe being Aboriginal makes it harder to succeed.

So does Penny think being an Aboriginal woman makes it more difficult for her to succeed at work?

'I don’t look at it that way – the reality is more nuanced. My Aboriginal identity influences my leadership style. I’m very gifted at creating networks and building networks and consensus.  To me, leadership is about being able to overcome this kind of adversity and stay true to my values and integrity.'

Penny thinks big when it comes to how we challenge discrimination faced by diverse women in the workplace.

'We need these women to be on boards, to be heads of corporations, to be public sector executives. I genuinely believe this will happen one day if we’re proactive in tackling entrenched bias and discrimination.'

Penny points out that unconscious bias is just one form of bias that impacts how we make decisions about merit at work.

'There’s also social identification, similarity-attraction, stereotyping – all of these mean we’re incapable of making neutral decisions about merit.'

She cites targets as the key to overcoming these biases and ensuring we recognise the capabilities of talented people, including women.

Penny is one of the first Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Women Leaders , a tailored leadership development program. The program recognises the legacy of the late Joan Kirner AC, Victoria’s first female Premier.

The program encourages Aboriginal women to apply, reflecting Joan’s commitment to Aboriginal rights. Participants get the skills, networks and experiences they need to achieve their goals.

Penny’s goals aren’t small either – she aspires to leadership at the highest levels of government in Australia. She has similar advice for other Aboriginal women who might be considering applying for the program.

Don’t be afraid to set big goals for yourself. There are people out there who will help you achieve your dreams – make sure you reach out to other strong Aboriginal women. Together we will create a society that values us and our contributions.

Reviewed 03 April 2019