Acknowledging the different lived realities of women across class, race, ability and sexuality is the first step to eliminating racism.
That’s according to Hayley McQuire, a proud Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman, who sees being an Indigenous woman in any line of work as ten-fold more difficult.
“I think being an Indigenous woman in any line of work is difficult, just by the fact that in many spaces we are devalued because of our womanhood, our Indigeneity and our blackness,” McQuire told Women’s Agenda recently.
This year, McQuire is a finalist in the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards in the category of Changemaker of the Year. She’s been recognised for her work as Coordinator and Co-Founder of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition. The coalition is focused on asserting Indigenous rights and representation in education.
“Just 1 in 100 teachers are Indigenous, and that’s for all genders, and this has real impacts on the culture of the schools, how the curriculum is taught and how kids see themselves represented within their educational journey,” she said.
Our finalists are sharing some awesome career wisdom in these Q&As, as well as more on their back story and leadership journey. See our growing hub for this content here.
What put you on this path today?
I have been passionate about education since I was in high school, my career goal was to become a teacher and work and life in my hometown and teach at the primary school I went to. This passion really came out of seeing just how different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were treated in schools, and I really wanted to be part of changing that.
Becoming the Australian representative on the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group (YAG) was a huge turning point for me. Out of 600 applications worldwide, they selected 12 of us to sit on the YAG in our first year in 2012, I was 21 years old at the time. We were tasked with working with young people around the world to advocate for our fundamental human rights to education.
Our commitment to the YAG lasted for four years, and we were really fortunate to work with young people from across the globe, to discuss the barriers to education and co-design solutions for change, and to advocate youth voices in high-level forums like international conferences, including the UN General Assembly.
Towards the end of my role on the group, my leadership challenge was really around what value was all this if there was nothing to harness the collective action of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in transforming our education system. Through the YAG, and the support of ASPBAE, I held the first National Indigenous Education Advocacy workshop with the intention of building the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition.
What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?
Right now, the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition is rolling out our nation-wide series of youth-led co-design workshops for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people which is focused on creating a culturally safe space for our young people to come together, to learn about the history of our education system, to discuss our shared experiences in the education system, and to co-design strategies to transform our education system from a position of equity, self-determination and power.
The outcomes of this series of workshops is to generate an Indigenous Education of Our Own Design Youth Report in the lead up to the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education that will be hosted in Adelaide next year.
What’s a key issue facing women in your profession or line of work right now?
I think being an Indigenous woman in any line of work is difficult, just by the fact that in many spaces we are devalued because of our womanhood, our Indigeneity and our blackness. Eliminating racism means that we have to acknowledge the different lived realities of women across classes, races, abilities, sexuality.
Specifically to education though, I think we need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait women represented at all levels of our education system – including within our educator workforce. Just 1 in 100 teachers are Indigenous, and that’s for all genders, and this has real impacts on the culture of the schools, how the curriculum is taught and how kids see themselves represented within their educational journey.
The best tip you’ve been given in your career?
The best tip I’ve been given is, that as someone in a leadership position within an organisation is that it’s important to prepare those you work with to fill your seat one day so that you can both continue to grow.
Have mentors, sponsors or some other kind of support system aided your career?
I don’t think I would be where I am without the support of my mentors and my family.
I fell pregnant within the first year of starting the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition, so a lot the additional time I spend working on Coalition at home or travelling does require a lot of support from my partner just in terms of family life and logistics.
My mentors have really been central, I currently have four mentors; Donna Murray, Leila Smith, Gregory Phillips and Marg Cranney who share so much time, energy and knowledge into supporting me both professionally and personally. All of my mentors have expertise in areas that I want to improve within myself, and I feel like their guidance keeps me focused on knowing who I am, what I value, what I want to achieve and supports for how to achieve it.
In terms of the Coalition, there are so many experienced people within the education system, non-profit sector and corporate sector who have been so supportive and generous with sharing their time and advice on so many different areas of the Coalition – which as the National Coordinator has really been invaluable.
As well as your career, what other priorities do you juggle?
The National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition is completely volunteer-driven, along with myself we have a committed team of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who volunteer so much of their time and energy on top of study and work commitments to grown and build the organisation.
Apart from the Coalition, I work full time in Indigenous health policy, I’m currently studying a Graduate Certificate in Social Change and Development at the University of Newcastle, and I have a busy three-year-old daughter.
How do you manage your wellbeing and stay at the top of your game?
This is probably an area that I need to really improve on, but I find spending time playing with my daughter and hanging out my with a partner helps me to de-stress. I also find debriefing with my mentors and close friends and family helps with managing my stress.
Where do you currently get news and info regarding your industry and career?
A lot of my information comes from reading the news articles, and of course, have chats with people in my sector over the phone or for coffee.
Got a business or career book or podcast you’d recommend?
My favourite podcasts would have to be Curtain (co-hosted by my sister Amy McQuire), Wild Black Women, the AshPodcast and The Read.