Autopia is proud to announce it’s upcoming series of whitepapers -“Re-thinking Cultural Diversity”- produced in conjunction with gender and cultural diversity advocate, Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
Yassmin, who has made a name for herself not by conforming to the ‘status quo’ but by standing out, has been actively involved in the community since age 16 when she founded “Youth Without Borders”, an organisation that empowers young people to realise their full potential through collaborative, community-based programs.
Her list of achievements is long and includes being the 2015 National Finalist Young Australian of the Year, 2012 Westpac 100 Women of Influence and 2011 Australian Financial Review Youth Leader of the Year.
Yassmin is a sought-after advisor for federal governments and international bodies, having sat on the Australian Multicultural Council, the Board of the Queensland Museum and the Design Council. She was Head of Media on the organising committee of the 2014 Youth G20 Summit and currently sits on the Boards of ChildFund, The Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) and the domestic violence prevention organisation, OurWatch. She is the Gender Ambassador for the Inter-American Development Bank and has represented Australia through multiple diplomatic programs across the globe.
We recently caught up with Yassmin and asked her a few questions to get to know the woman behind the name….
A. How and when did you become interested in mechanical engineering and car racing?
Y.A-M: It all started with watching a film called ‘Catch that Kid’ as a 13-year-old and deciding I wanted to become the first female, Muslim, black Formula 1 driver. When that didn’t look like it was going to happen, I decided I would design the cars instead. I took Design and Tech in grade 10 instead of Legal Studies…and the rest is history!
A. What was your first car?
Y.A-M: I really wanted a Honda Civic to be honest, but I ended up being convinced by my mother of all people to take a chance on an Alfa Romeo – 156 Selespeed. It was gorgeous – leather seats and all this Italian detailing and personality that made me the envy of all my engineering mates… until it broke down, which, like every Alfa Romeo, it eventually would. It sapped me of all my meagre university-year savings, but you know what? Totally worth it.
It’s what they say – you’re not a real car fanatic until you’ve owned an Alfa!
A. The car racing industry is very male-dominated, what was your experience like from a gender perspective?
Y.A-M: There are definitely more men than women, and as such the environment is pretty traditionally masculine – which means to survive and thrive, you have to find your own way as a woman through that. Some choose to ‘become one of the boys’, and I did that for a while, but it didn’t always work well for me. Now, I choose to exert my feminine side in a way that’s not threatening but complementary – that’s what diversity is about!
A. What was your favourite experience in racing?
Y.A-M: I got to take a Formula Ford for a spin around Eastern Creek last year while recording a podcast for the ABC – Motormouth. It was awesome, quick and a hell of a lot of fun!
A. You are a co-founder of Youth Without Borders, can you introduce to our readers the great initiatives of the organisation?
Y.A-M: We empower young people to realise their full potential by getting them to work on community-based projects that positively change their communities. Everyone is between the age of 15-25, and we run any project that our members are passionate about. We’ve gotten organisations to collaborate and set up mobile libraries in Indonesia, huge engineering camps for kids here in Australia who are from non-traditional engineering backgrounds, fundraising concerts, refugee-empowerment forums and so on. It’s awesome! www.youthwithoutborders.com.au gives you more.
A lot of the challenges faced by women and people of colour are challenges I’ve faced personally – and I also have a sense of what works and what doesn’t – the difference between theory and practice.
A. Your first full-time job was a mechanical engineer on oil and gas rigs. What attracted you to that particular area of mechanical engineering?
Y.A-M: Honestly, I just wanted an adventure! And what’s more of an adventure than going to work in the middle of the desert or ocean with a group of people (mostly men!) I’ve never met? Different culture, very hands on, HUGE machinery and every single day is different. No two holes you drill are the same, so it always keeps you on your toes.
I was also interested in the whole energy industry… I think energy is one of the biggest engineering challenges of our generation.
A. What was your experience like working on the rigs?
Y.A-M: Super fascinating, and varied. I learnt more than I had in any other period of my life – about drilling, but also about the world!
I wrote “On the rigs“, an essay about it about a year into my role, and it gives some insight into the daily life of a rig hand.
A. You are very passionate about promoting gender and cultural diversity in the workplace. How has your time on the rigs and in car racing contributed to your message?
Y.A-M: I think it brings a sense of pragmatism and real-world experience to what I talk about. A lot of the challenges faced by women and people of colour are challenges I’ve faced personally – and I also have a sense of what works and what doesn’t – the difference between theory and practice. Having personal, first-hand experience of the challenges of gender and cultural diversity and workplace culture change allows me to tailor my message to different audiences and say it with authenticity – hey, I’ve been there and tried it out, trust me on this. It’s worth it, and there are ways we can make it work.