Dale Wakefield is the Executive Officer of Alice Springs Women’s Shelter (ASWS) and a Finalist in the 2015 Telstra Northern Territory Women’s Business Award.
Dale Wakefield, Executive Officer of ASWS since 2007, has more than 25 years’ experience in the health, women’s and disability sector. One of her proudest achievements was seeing an ASWS community outreach program win a National Crime and Prevention Award in 2013.
“We are already working with the third generation of some families and if we want to not see the fourth and fifth generation we must focus on supporting the children,” Dale Wakefield.
Growing up, what kind of career did you want to pursue?
As a school girl I used to go to work with my father who worked in a disability service. He still is a passionate advocate about the rights of people with disability. I was completely awestruck by the social worker there named Fran Van Brumlen who was in a wheelchair from childhood polio. She was extraordinary and completely mesmerising. I wanted to be a social worker from the moment I met her.
Who inspires you?
I had the pleasure of meeting Rosie Batty when she visited the NT recently. People clearly left the event she spoke at deeply impressed and inspired by an extraordinary human being, as did I. On reflection I realised that in my day to day work I have the privilege of meeting and working with women like Rosie every day. The women who walk through the door of the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter are extraordinarily resilient, courageous and full of the grace that people admire so much in Rosie. It makes going to work, despite all the challenges, a privilege.
Who is most surprised by your achievements?
My year 9 accounting teacher
How have women helped shape your success to date?
In every job I have ever had there has been a woman who has spent time investing in my development. They have been generous enough to share their knowledge as well as encouraging me. From Mavis Ralston, my first boss in the local milk bar when I was 14 years who taught me more about people management skills than any social work degree, to the elderly Aboriginal woman who dropped into my office every week at the hospital and would quietly tell me the stories I need to hear. These women and many other women taught me by telling me the stories of their lives. The trick is to hear the lesson in the story.
What qualities do you most admire in a female colleague?
Running an all-woman workplace in a female-dominated industry, I love the extraordinary diversity of women I work with. But best of all I love that moment when you are with a group of like-minded women and you all cry or laugh until you cry. Then you all wipe the tears away, grab a Tim Tam and get on with it.
What’s the key to successfully balancing work and life?
Not beating yourself up when you do not achieve this mystical work-life balance of which the magazines speak. It is like trying to catch unicorns.
If you had an afternoon to yourself, how would you spend it?
I wish I could be more earnest here but honestly, bed, Netflix, snacks and sleep would take priority.
Who do you regard as your mentor?
Jane Lloyd set up with the Women of Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjarra Yankunytjatjarra Women’s Council, the first domestic violence service of its type 20 years ago. I was fortunate to work with her when I first moved from Melbourne to Central Australia. She taught me about focus, tenacity and vigilance. She is endlessly generous with her knowledge, extraordinary intellect and support.
What personal attributes have you used to overcome adversity in your life?
Stubbornness is under-rated.
If you could make one change to women’s lives, what would it be and why?
Gender equity in all aspects of our lives, but particularly in our relationships. Relationships should make us bigger, better version of ourselves. Domestic violence occurs when one partner thinks they have the right to be in control, that they are entitled to dominate the relationship. I would want women to walk away the first time their partner makes a comment that puts them down, tells them not to do something, or makes them feel smaller. A true partnership is based on equality. If a relationship is over, it is over. We should then be able to leave that relationship in a way that is safe, allows positive co-parenting and for each party to move on with their life.
What is the hardest part of your job?
There is a feeling when you hear that a woman has died in our community that is hard to describe. I also have found when women I employ have been put in harm’s way because of their work a major challenge. The responsibility of what we do is heavier on those days.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to success in your field?
Working in community services is complex because people’s lives are messy. We are often working with people at the worst time of their lives. However you must remember the people who use the service are the experts in their own lives. Listen to them. Believe what they tell you. Then act on it.
It sounds so ridiculously simple but it is so easy to get pulled away from your core purpose by what the funding body want, by what other services want, or by what is the popular theory of the moment. If you’re vigilant about keeping your goals focused on the person who needs the service to be the best service it can be, your job becomes clearer.
About Alice Springs Women’s Shelter (ASWS)
ASWS is the only specialist domestic violence support service and women’s shelter in Central Australia. ASWS provides services to women from WA, SA and NT, as well the Western Queensland border region, a 500,000+ square kilometre catchment.
ASWS provides a 24-hour crisis response, emergency accommodation, transitional accommodation, counselling, outreach support, remote community services and support for women at the Alice Springs Court.
Under Dale’s leadership the number of women and children supported by ASWS grew from almost 400 to more than 1500 in the past year. Dale attributes this increase not to escalating rates of violence but rather community knowledge about the support available.