“They teach you how to own the stage. They teach you how to do non-verbal cues, engage with the person at the back as well as the front. And I think I have to say that that training must have helped me a lot” she told a group of young professionals from diverse cultural backgrounds, “I would never have fathomed that me teaching aerobics as a part-time job at university would have actually given me the skills that I need in public life”
Such is the outside-the-box nature of the advice shared at the Professional Development Forum (PDF), an organisation aimed at helping these professionals find fulfilment in the modern Australian workplace.
Focus on purpose, don’t play the victim
As the first Asian-Australian leader of a major party, Elizabeth Lee has experienced her fair share of racial discrimination. But she chooses to focus on her purpose instead of playing the victim.
She says, “Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you truly believe in what you’re doing. When you can see that there is a bigger purpose for what you’re doing. It’s less likely that you’ll be distracted by other things, including people who may be trying to pull you down.”
“The racist, sexist stuff that I’ve had in my life” say Elizabeth, “most of the time it’s because they’ve had things going on in their personal lives or they’ve been feeling threatened themselves about certain things and they’ve lashed out. And a lot of the times there’s not even anything to do with you.”
Diversity beyond ticking a box
Elizabeth went on to challenge Australia to go beyond tokenism on diversity and inclusion. “Whilst I welcome the inclusion of the different diverse voices and faces around the table. I want to go beyond that. I think in Australia, we can do better than that.” Elizabeth explains “And that is, I don’t include you because you are the token Asian that we want at this table. I include you because your voice matters just as much as everybody else full stop.”
Inspiring and leading through example
Elizabeth also recalled her humble beginnings as “a seven-year-old Asian girl growing up in Blacktown, it just was completely out of the realm of possibility that I would ever, ever see myself in that role”
“But It’s like climbing a mountain. It’s so much steeper when you’re on the climbing end, but when you get there, it’s like, oh, actually, that wasn’t so bad.” Elizabeth left the attendees inspired with her story when she finally succeeded in entering parliament after repeated failed attempts.
Founded in 2007, PDF holds regular forums featuring expert speakers to address issues such as the lack of culturally sensitive career advice, access to mentors and professional networks.
“We believe that everyone, not just the elite few, should have access to the knowledge, mindset and network to develop themselves. We run events that inform, connect, and inspire, and we share what we learnt with our community.” Says Jeffery Wang. “We encourage aspiring young professionals from diverse cultural backgrounds to join our community.”