Local leaders empower the next generation

Leading ladies: Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice-president Meredith Schilling, Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation and skilled artist Jennell Reynolds, Horizon Power chief executive officer Stephanie Unwin and Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair and Horizon Power board member Gail Reynolds-Adamson. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Leading ladies: Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice-president Meredith Schilling, Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation and skilled artist Jennell Reynolds, Horizon Power chief executive officer Stephanie Unwin and Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair and Horizon Power board member Gail Reynolds-Adamson. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

The Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry has held its monthly Women's Leadership Network forum, this time with a focus on empowering the next generation and recognising NAIDOC week.

The event was held on Friday, July 12, at the Esperance Bay Yacht Club and attended by more than 40 men and women.

The Women's Leadership Network initiative was announced in January, after securing funding from the Department of Communities, and aims to develop and nurture the leadership skills of local women and bridge the gap between male and female participation and success in employment.

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Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair and Horizon Power board member Gail Reynolds-Adamson opened the event, speaking at length about her move from the mining sector to politics when she returned to the Esperance region 15 years ago.

"I was working in the corporate world and, initially, I resisted entering into [Aboriginal] politics," she said.

"There came a time when I knew I needed to stand up and be counted because I knew that if I didn't do it, who would?"

Mrs Reynolds-Adamson said she was drawn to Aboriginal politics by a desire to initiate change and move forward, having never learned about the history of her people at school.

"You see, we were never taught about this segregation at school, we didn't have access to any of this information," she said.

"As an Aboriginal person, I thought 'where do I come from?'. I couldn't understand the disempowerment and the disfunction.

"We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.

"It's about understanding our history so that we can move forward together.

"I've alluded to it already, but many of our people don't know about our history, the history of Australia and the dissemination of our culture.

"However, positive things are happening within our community and the work being undertaken at Tjaltjraak aims to provide our people with the best opportunities."

Horizon Power chief executive officer Stephanie Unwin took to the podium to discuss her personal journey to leadership, having given up law to pursue a commercial role and become passionate about building Horizon Power's solar and wind farm assets.

"The thing I most admire about female leaders is that we have ambition for something bigger than ourselves," she said.

"Women leaders speak up, often to their own detriment, and they're inclusive, caring and joyful.

"I had to leave behind my independence, because I realised that you cannot lead alone.

"Many of my achievements are because of those that have supported me."

Ms Unwin also discussed the organisation's reconciliation plan, something she said she was truly proud of.

"I would encourage you all to read The Uluru Statement of the Heart 2017.

"If it were up to me, we would be signing up to it. I am really proud of our reconciliation action plan.

"It's about giving a voice back to first nations peoples and it's a wrong we need to right."

Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation and skilled artist Jennell Reynolds told attendees about her experience as a ranger and Aboriginal Arts coordinator and the passion she had for her culture.

"I didn't see myself taking on many of these challenges, but I really just want to learn more about my culture," she said.

"I had a difficult time at high school, I didn't feel seen or valued at that time as an indigenous woman.

"I started the Little Yorgas for Aboriginal girls at Nulsen Primary School because I felt that there needed to be more of our culture in schools, more going out on country and a greater understanding of our traditions.

"I've also been part of the ranger program, and I believe it's a fantastic thing for our young people.

"Aboriginal people are here, they are part of this community and want to be heard like everyone else."

Chamber of Commerce vice-president Meredith Schilling thanked the guest speakers, sharing her own experiences in the workforce while taking over her current business, Compass Conveyancing, more than two decades ago.

The Chamber of Commerce are preparing a number of upcoming workshops and events, focusing on small business, women in agriculture and dealing with challenging situations.

For more information, visit www.esperancecci.com.au