Creating an equal world for women of colour
13 September 2021 at 4:30 pm
As the CEO of Women of Colour Australia, Brenda Gaddi is creating a world where all women, no matter their background, feel safe and supported. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
When Brenda Gaddi’s mother, Electa, suddenly passed away at the start of 2020, she fell into a deep depression.
Asking herself what she could do to honour Electa’s memory, she decided to channel her grief into a positive cause that her mother would be proud of.
Electa migrated from the Philippines to Australia in the early 1980’s, at a time when many believed the country was being “swamped by Asians”
Electa faced discrimination and racism throughout her lifetime, something people of colour are still experiencing on a daily basis in 2021.
So Gaddi decided to build on her work with anti-racism NFP, All Together Now, to create an organisation run by women of colour for women of colour.
Since its launch in August 2020, the Sydney-based Women of Colour Australia (WoCA) has championed, supported and advocated for women of colour across the country through education, community support and mentoring initiatives, in the hope of creating a world where all women, no matter their background, feel safe and supported.
In this week’s Changemaker, Gaddi discusses her journey to launching WoCA, major learnings in her career, and where she draws inspiration from as a leader.
What led you to starting WoCA?
I just want to start this interview by acknowledging the Country where I’m coming to you from, the Wallumattagal clan of the Darug nation, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present and acknowledge that this land is and always will be Aboriginal land, and sovereignty was never ceded.
I’ve been championing women’s voices and building communities for over a decade. As I was doing my early research into setting up WoCA, I came across an article that our current ambassador Tasneem Chopra had written for SBS Voices. In the title it said women of colour don’t lack agency, we don’t lack capability, what we lack is the opportunity, and that really crystallised the purpose of WoCA for me.
The organisation is about promoting racial justice, but we want to advance access and equity, and champion economic justice for women of colour. We conducted a survey earlier in the year to hone in on women of colour in the workplace, and what we found is that the majority are still experiencing discrimination. Their career progression is not as speedy as their Anglo peers, and that’s a huge problem for us. We need to look at why this is happening. I believe it’s because of embedded racism, and whether we like to admit it or not, we are not there yet when it comes to anti-racism. It goes back to the very foundation of this country. Australia was founded on genocide and the vicious dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I think as soon as we come to terms with the truth of how Australia was founded we can move forward as a nation.
Setting up a charity is no easy feat. What have some of your major learnings been over the past 12 months?
I am an entrepreneur and I came from the start up space, where you can move things, break things and start again. You can’t really do that with an NFP because there’s so much at stake. It’s not just me, it’s the community we’re trying to build as an organisation. So I really had to shift my mode of thinking business wise. But that said, WoCA is still a business. We still have to pay bills, we still have insurance and the office space to worry about.
I think the steepest learning curve is really finding the human capital to support what I wanted to do. I cannot do it by myself, because the vision of the organisation is so much bigger than me. I was able to find a really great board of directors who are highly skilled women from diverse backgrounds and have different lived experiences. We know diversity in thinking is a birthplace of innovation, so it’s very important for us to ensure that we’re always thinking beyond the Euro-centric, default views.
Where do you draw inspiration from as a leader?
The foundation of this organisation is deeply personal for me. It’s a love letter to my late mother. When she passed last year, I went through a deep depression. My strength is community organising and championing the voices of women, so when I was in my darkest moment I asked myself what I could do to channel all my grief and sadness to honour my mum. I realised that if I started an organisation where women, who look like me, who sound like me, who are minorities, demand the opportunity, we could transform Australia into a more equal place.
So I draw inspiration from my personal narrative as well as from the women in our community. The love and support of the community is heartening. I’m just so grateful and privileged that I get to be a part of this space we are crafting.
What kind of advice do you have for young women of colour wanting to make a difference in the world?
I would probably say to them what my mum always told me. You have the right to exist in this world and you have the right to chase after your dreams and to trust your heart, emotions and your intuition. Women are often criticised for being emotional, but that’s a good thing because we are so attuned to what drives us and what gives us joy. So follow that and trust it.
It’s important to surround yourself with people who are open to giving you advice, who won’t judge you and who will just listen to you when you need them to. And it’s okay to be scared or fearful of challenges, but don’t let that fear stop you from doing what you want to do.
A lot of us are in lockdown at the moment across the country. Have you been reading any good books or listening to any good podcasts to get you through?
I do love Netflix, but I’m doing my masters at the moment which is taking up a lot of my spare time. I just discovered this app called Speechify and it converts text into audio so you can listen to textbooks, PDF documents or whatever as an audiobook. It has honestly made my life so much easier because I can listen to my readings while I go for a walk or go for a run.