A push to deliver meaningful opportunities for First Nations women to develop their leadership capacity and connections is needed in Australia, says Women's Business founding director Kat Henaway, who is a descendant of the Mer and Mua peoples of the Torres Strait Islands.
Ms Henaway, who has designed and delivered some of the country's most innovative leadership development programs and events for First Nations people, said First Nations people in NSW are less likely to be small business owners compared to non-Indigenous people, with First Nations women more likely to experience barriers in accessing capital to start and grow businesses, than non-Indigenous people.
As Australia prepares for the Voice to Parliament Referendum, bringing together passionate and inspirational First Nations women leaders is timely, Ms Henaway said.
"Investing in education, business and leadership development for First Nations women and girls is one of the most impactful ways to change the world," she said.
Ms Henaway wants organisations and businesses to be more culturally aware, and look for ways to make their workplaces safer for First Nations women.
"It's not that First Nations women don't aspire to work, it's just that Australian workplaces are culturally and psychologically harmful environments for them," she said.
"Reports show that Indigenous women often felt unsafe in the workplace, and were less likely than Indigenous men to receive support, particularly if they spoke up about experiences of discrimination."
Women & Leadership Australia has partnered with Women's Business for the 2023 First Nations Women's Leadership Symposium, which has celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women leaders across Australian business and communities. It encouraged culturally safe leaderhip development through panel discussions and keynote speeches from a range of high level First Nations leaders.
Sharing the stories of First Nations women in senior leadership roles helps others navigate the corporate world to also succeed, Ms Henaway said.
"I have long believe that this country has a problem seeing Indigenous women as leaders, but I believe that in 10 years or so, greater awareness will lead to more Indigenous women in leadership roles."
She added that more investment in career leadership development for First Nations women enables them to climb the corporate ladder and confidently take up more senior management and board roles.
According to Supply Nation, of the 4,000 verified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses listed in their database, 29 per cent are owned by First Nations women. Meanwhile, Indigenous businesses are more than 100 times more likley to hire Indigenous workers than non-Indigenous businesses, meaning that supporting more women in business equates to gainful employment for First Nations people.