Committing to intersectional inclusion

My name is Tenielle and I am a proud Mununjali woman from Yugambeh and Bundjalung Country.

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My journey through a decade in the finance industry has included roles in personal finance, sales, compliance and most recently an Inclusion Program Manager leading the First Nations traineeship programs

"At times, I considered not disclosing I was Aboriginal. I noticed I always seemed to hold my breath for their response after revealing my identity.”

During my diverse experience, the concept of intersectionality has emerged as a central theme, highlighting the complexities between different aspects of identity and lived experiences. These themes continuously shape and evolve my perspective.

A quote that has always stuck with me is: “You can’t be what you can’t see”. 

In the workplace, where we spend one third of our lives, recognising intersectionality is crucial for understanding the diverse needs and challenges faced by employees, particularly those who belong to multiple marginalised or underrepresented groups.

In previous workplaces, I often found myself as the sole representative of the Aboriginal community, particularly as an Aboriginal woman. This experience left me feeling isolated, especially during significant events like NAIDOC week and National Reconciliation week.

Combating stereotypes

The pressure of being perceived as the 'token Aboriginal' weighed heavily on me, particularly when faced with insensitive comments or questions. It's disheartening to remind colleagues that inquiries about the extent of my Aboriginal heritage are inappropriate. Or to hear statements suggesting colonisation should be seen as a blessing.

In addition, being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated workforce has sometimes left me feeling marginalised. I’ve been told I sound ‘too bubbly’ and ‘people won’t take me seriously or see my intelligence, as they will think I’m just a ditz.’

These experiences early on in my career journey were challenging. Shouldn’t everyone know not to ask racist questions or make racist statements? Shouldn’t we understand everyone communicates differently and to never make assumptions based on appearance?

These challenges were compounded as I experienced stereotypes and misconceptions about my First Nations heritage. At times, I considered not disclosing I was Aboriginal.

I noticed I always seemed to hold my breath for their response after revealing my identity. I would observe the confusion on their faces as they analysed that my skin is olive and not dark.

I was diagnosed with anxiety, developed impostor syndrome. I wholeheartedly believed my career progression was due to luck rather than the hard work, late nights, continuous improvement and sheer resilience.

I wanted to prove I was not just a bubbly Aboriginal woman – I am so much more. Each aspect of me is a strength, not something to hide.

However, my experience at ANZ marked a turning point. I was embraced for who I am, I found a supportive environment that celebrated diversity and encouraged authenticity.

Within two months of joining I reached out to the Reconciliation Network and asked if I could join. I had never worked at a company with a network of First Nations people and allies.

The questions I now asked myself were, “how high do I want to go at ANZ?” and “what more can I do to create opportunities for mob?”. From there, I joined the Reconciliation Action Plan working group and Ngarga Wangaddja (ANZ’s internal network for the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees).

Indigenous voices

This led to more opportunities to support the First Nations employees, promote Reconciliation and NAIDOC Week and collaborate with allies and advocates who recognise the value First Nations women bring to ANZ.

We are not just a quota. Underrepresented groups provide access to untapped talent pools, foster innovation, enhance reputation, improve employee engagement and retention and build stronger communities.

ANZ's commitment to intersectional inclusion is evident from its many initiatives, such as cultural awareness training, mentorship programs and Indigenous employment strategies.

These programs are tailored to address the diverse needs and challenges faced by employees with intersecting identities, including First Nations individuals like myself.

The Indigenous employment strategies create opportunities for Indigenous employees and ensure their voices are heard and valued.

As the first bank to appoint a Head of First Nations Strategy reporting directly to Chief Executive Officer Shayne Elliott, ANZ set a precedent for diversity and fostering an inclusive culture.

As I look around, I see how far ANZ has come and where it is heading. Do I now believe I could perhaps one day be the Head of First Nations Strategy following in the footsteps of Shelley Cable? Maybe, but I certainly know the opportunity is there.

Perhaps I'll forge my own path. I can now be what I can see and I am excited for the opportunities ahead.

Tenielle Rolfe is Inclusion Program Manager at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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