Welcome to Growing Pains.
We have been having conversations from the moment we could speak as human beings. When you think about how quickly we pick up words as infants, and how quickly we turn those words into sentences, and interact with our parents, or our guardians, or elders or our siblings, having conversations is just a part of being a human being.
What I have found in my 38 years of life is that conversations can be really tricky, and having good conversations is such an important part of life, as we navigate from those early days of being a child, being at school, being in sporting groups or activity groups and in families and navigating what that looks like to have a conversation and a good conversation then, and taking all of those learnings and influences and what we have seen models and starting to form our own opinions, starting to have our own beliefs, starting to navigate the world as a young adult [phonetic 01:26], and in turn, navigate the challenges of having Better Conversations.
It’s one thing to be able to just have a conversation with someone and to state your opinions or state your facts or state what your emotions are or what is happening for you. But listening forms such a big part of that as well, and that to and fro– that dance, that is a good conversation is really, really important and is 100% of skill that I think that we are all constantly adjusting and trying to be better at. So it ties in so well with today’s episode, where I have the pleasure of speaking to not one, not two, but three incredible women, and they are working together as a collective and making some real change in the world becoming better together.
So, in today’s episode, we are speaking with Shantelle Thompson, Gemma Saunders and Lilian Kikuvi. They are the powerhouse women behind the buck becoming better together collective. They believe that once we know ourselves, our contacts in each other better, we can do better together in a culture first decade. That is why the collective vision is becoming better together. The becoming better together program is a bespoke program aimed at addressing this question, how might we create a culture of belonging and respect by having vital, authentic and brave conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion in order to become better together?
So who are these three women?
Shantelle is a proud Barkindji/Ngyampaa European woman and a mother of three children including twins. Shantelle has grown gone on to win three world titles in jujitsu, all in her 30s made bid for the 2016 Olympics in a freestyle wrestling was selected as an ambassador for the GC 2018 Commonwealth Games, and made it onto the Australian Wrestling Shadow team for the GC 2018 games, all whilst managing a family of three.
Now, I’m mindful that I’m reading this right now. But Shantelle has actually clarified that she is a mother of five so my apologies. She is a mother of five. Now she managed all of this, while managing her family working and earning a double degree in teaching and arts postgraduate certificate in indigenous trauma and recovery and starting her own business. Shantelle is a strong advocate for equality, human rights and fighting for what is right Gemma is a proud queer woman and a mother of two. Gemma has almost two decades of experience in human resource spanning talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion, employee experience, organizational development, leadership development and organizational change.
Gemma is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Director on the board of Minus 18. Australia’s Leading Youth, LGBTQIA plus charity fighting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and inter phobia. Listed in Human Resources Directors hotlist and nominated in the Diversity Champion, and inspirational role models categories at the Australian LGBTI Awards. Gemma is known as a bold, authentic and progressive leader.
Lilian Kikuvi is a Diversity and Inclusion Evangelist obsessed with helping individuals and organizations harness the extraordinary power of diversity and inclusion. Lillian is a Kenyan Australian, who uses her African tribal framework to deliver solutions to clients that include Fidelity International Australian Nuclear Science and Technology. Organization, follow McDonald House Charities, Midi bank [phonetic 05:51], Open Universities, Western Bulldogs, AFL Club, Melton City Council and Parkville juvenile Corrections Center [phonetic 05:58]. Lillian has over 15 years’ corporate experience and has worked with clients in the public, private and not for profit sectors, an advisory board member of culturally diverse women, she has helped leadership roles in companies like Medibank Work Safe, Australia and Employers Mutual Limited.
So let’s dive in. As we explore with these incredible women, ‘How to have better conversations?’
Well, I am incredibly privileged to be sitting with not one, not two, but three incredible women today. So I would love to welcome Shantelle Lillian and Gemma to the Podcast of Growing Pains.
Thank you so much ladies for being with me today and being with our listeners. Now I shouldn’t tell before we get stuck in– I am going to throw to you and ask you to do an acknowledgement of country for us.
Shantelle Thompson 07:06
Thank you Caroline, and thank you for having us all on the podcast today. I would like to begin by not only acknowledging but welcoming you all to this time and space as a Barkindji/Ngyampaa European Woman of descent. I’m currently residing on Lachilachi [phonetic 07:23], and bordering on Backroad Gee [phonetic 07:27] country. So as a Barking woman, I can welcome you to this time and space and pay my respects to our elders, both past and present, and I also acknowledge and pay my respects to all First Nations people, ancestors, and elders across Australia, and I think this is even more important today, because it’s the 27th of May, yesterday was National Sorry Day, and today is the beginning of Reconciliation Week, and for a lot of First Nations people, it’s a really heavy time, sitting and acknowledging our shared history, the complexities of that.
So in that vein, I acknowledge my ancestors, and I say ‘sorry’, to my ancestors for everything they experienced, and I acknowledge the work that we are doing through these platforms, and together to create change across Australia, and I hope that everyone listening today really takes the time to listen deeply with an open heart to everything we’re going to share today, because it’s going to be amazing.
Thank you, for not only doing that acknowledgement for us, but also sharing some of your personal insights and even your personal thoughts on this point in time, where though the overarching discussion of this podcast is Growing Pains, and the challenges of being an adult and a young adult, which is what we’re hoping our listeners will gain from the conversations we have over these episodes. I am really conscious that we can all do so much better every day, and I think that in itself is going to lend itself really well to what we’ll be talking today about, so today we are talking about having better conversations, and just to loosen us up a little bit I am going to start with some rapid fire questions. Now, these are the only questions that you have not seen. There’s not too many of them. I was conscious that I’m doing rapid fire with three people today. So that in itself could be a whole another podcast episode. But I will start with the Shantelle Do you consider yourself to be a grown up adult?
Shantelle Thompson 09:52
Yes, or no [crosstalk] Your first point about being a podcaster Growing Pains, I think we have Growing Pains as a country, and Australia as a current concept is only 230 years old whereas Aboriginal culture First Nations people have been here since the beginning of time and have a documented history of 80,000 years plus. So when you compare the two, it’s like having your 1000 generation grandparent come back to, to sit with you with a preteen in in that concept. So I think it’s a perfect platform. As a parent, as a woman who’s in business, as a woman trying to navigate so many different roles and places, I think there’s certain aspects where I feel like an adult, and then there’s certain other things where I feel like I’m still open to learning and making mistakes and still figuring out. Sometimes I go, ‘I am 38– I’m almost 40’. Like, what the heck, why am I still thinking like that and may be like that need to seek permission?
It’s so true. I’m 38, as well, and I very much understand, and a mother as well. Lilian, what about you? Do you consider yourself to be a grown up adult?
Lilian Kikuvi 11:08
No. I’m just thinking, you know, what is a grown up adult? Who makes those rules? Who defined this? For me in the season, I feel that I have everything that I have to make responsible choices; as a business woman, as a sister, as a friend, as a colleague. So with regards to– from a societal point of view, being able to manage responsibilities, Yes, I would say I’m a grown adult. But what is a grown adult? It is what is it.
So I consider myself as somebody that is constantly evolving, and because of that, that means I’m growing all the time. I’m growing up all the time, showing them every season, every situation, every context, so I can’t say I’m grown, I am growing. That’s like I say, no, because I’m not a grown adult.
[crosstalk] All right, Gemma, where do you sit in? Are you just in the middle? Where are you?
Gemma Saunders 12:19
I think I’m a fully grown adult in what society wants me to be. But I’m trying not to be an adult actually. I think I grew up so quickly and so fast, I was the oldest sibling and had a lot of responsibility and had to do a lot of growing fast, and I think that what I’m trying to learn to do now is to let go of that and to just be playful, and to be in the moment and to experience joy and curiosity and some of the things that I think I would have fast tracked when I was younger, in an attempt to grow up quickly, and I’m realizing there’s so much joy in just being and playing and experiencing things from a curious angle, and you know, this adulting of knowing stuff. Yes, it’s better to be a learner than a Noah [phonetic 13:19] so I’m trying to shake off [crosstalk 13:24] and stuff and be more playful actually. But I think in terms of societal boxes, I probably tick most things in a sensible way but sensible isn’t really serving me anymore. So I’m starting to take off the politeness and the grown up.
Ah! So you’ve all touched on so many factors that we believe to being an adult but I will continue with my rapid fire questions. It’s really hard to do ramify with three answers by the way, but we’ll get there. Shantelle what can you tell us and choose to share with us as your most embarrassing adult fail— The other two are like looking at me like I’ve got time to think about this. That’s why it’s not rapid fire because I’ll have to switch it around because it’s not fair. Like you get put on the spot. Everyone else is like I can see the thinking faces. Go, tell us the adult fail?
Shantelle Thompson 14:19
I don’t know, I can’t think of anything that’s like embarrassing as such, but I think trying to have an online presence and I guess some sort of level of influence and a brand and then having a very big family. So I’m the third eldest of 18, and I’m like Gemma, I had to grow up really quickly, and I really love what Gemma said about. Both Lilian and Gemma are about being more playful and letting things go and following the seasons. But whenever I think about if I go onto a really big platform, what that would mean around my family and my siblings, because some of my siblings can be really embarrassing, and they sit there actually like things, they’ll bring up things like oh, my sisters are three-time world champion. But one time we’re at our Auntie’s house, and we were wrestling and she got taken down by her younger brother and knocked a hole in the wall, didn’t choose to admit that it was her and then her younger siblings got in trouble for it for about five years until it was found out later that it was actually the wrestler in the family and the older brother that were actually the ones putting holes in walls. So it would be those sort of things not taking responsibility when you…
So we’ve been things from your childhood, or younger life that would come to haunt you, and embarrass you as an adult.
Shantelle Thompson 15:46
Pretty much, and having the siblings do the pleasure for you because [crosstalk 15:49] they were going to bring you down a peg or two.
Love that. Ok, Lilian can you think of an adult fail moment?
Lilian Kikuvi 16:03
I’ve got a number of adult fails. I guess what comes to mind being in the digital age is— You know, being part of so many groups. So if you think about WhatsApp, we’ve got a WhatsApp group for everything, WhatsApp, group, pain WhatsApp group for the family WhatsApp group for life, and sometimes you get the WhatsApp groups or the groups [unintelligible 16:29] confused, and you send the wrong message to the wrong platform, and I’ve [phonetic 16:38] happened to do that. So I’ve happened to develop it a few times, and that would be the most embarrassing, so what I’ve come to learn is just be a little bit more careful. Be aware of the group’s name, don’t send messages at particular time. Just be conscious about the content. So I would say that it will be the most embarrassing thing that comes to mind as an adult.
Everyone has had that moment, be even in a text to one person, let alone to a whole WhatsApp group. So yes, that’s a good one. What about you, Gemma?
Gemma Saunders 17:12
So what I’ve realized as an adult is that embarrassment is actually healthy, because it’s fleeting, it comes in it goes, and I think when you start to take on the idea of shame, that becomes a whole different story. So I think you can actually appreciate embarrassment in a different way, because [crosstalk 17:31] comes and goes. Whereas, when I was younger, I definitely would have let that embarrassment turn into shame quite quickly but just as one example, when I was in the corporate world, they did this team event for the corporate, like games, like this sporting event, I am the least sporting person. I really enjoy a dance to like lizzo and Baker boy like in my kitchen with my kids, but I am not really like an athlete, and they encouraged me to get involved, and I said, why not, I’ll give anything ago. So I did the corporate triathlon, which was a swim through Sydney Harbor, and I couldn’t really swim.
So I did it as backstroke, and the dinner [phonetic 18:13] category. I tried to do it by backstroke because it was the only thing I was comfortable with, and then the group after me had to start while I was still in the water, because I was so and then they even overtook me, and then I went to do this cycle, and my friend was just laughing at me, and I was thinking that’s really rude. Why are you laughing at me? And she said; Gemma, you’ve got your bike helmet on back to front.’ So just like a series of embarrassments. I crossed the line after the run I wanted to throw up. But the most memorable moment was I had just such a beautiful brunch after overlooking the harbor. So everything is fleeting, and everything’s about perspective.
So true. But in those moments, you’re like, ‘Oh, everyone’s looking at me.’
Gemma Saunders 18:59
[crosstalk 19:01]Going to get me.
Yes, that’s a whole another conversation. That’s a different podcast. So Shantelle, who is a more grown up adult or more an [phonetic 19:14] adult that you rely on?
Shantelle Thompson 19:18
I think it depends on the season and the situation. But for me, my 14-year-old daughter is one of those people because when you’re raising a child and you’re trying to break intergenerational lines of trauma, you’re trying to handle your own all sheets so that your children don’t become victims of your trauma in your circumstances. That to me is where the hard work is, and sometimes she’ll come out with real levels of maturity and she’ll challenge me and she’ll call me out on my hypocrisy or she challenged me and I’ve always said to my kids, as I particularly the oldest one– As I parent her at 14. I’m celebrating 14 years of being a parent. So for her and to give her the space to acknowledge when she’s right, as well as really important for me, because she’s actually really wise and she’s been through her own stuff, and she brings her own experiences to the table like, particularly when I’m doing podcasts or publish, she’ll come and help me at events and she’s like, ‘Mom, you were going off on a tangent here’ and people loved it, like people give me the great feedback. Mom, it’s important for me to give you the real feedback, because then you’re to keep growing. So that’s one thing.
And I think learning from our children is a really important aspect of acknowledging where I’m at in the seasons and where they’re at. But also, my grandmother and my ancestors, I look a lot to my spirituality and connecting to my ancestors and trusting the wisdom that comes to me, but my grandmother was always one as well, because she married my grandfather straight out of a convalescent home, he was a prisoner of war, and she was at a time where she was not only raising a family, she was helping manage your family business. But she also went off and got another side job as well as a cleaner at a school and worked in those hours, just so she would have her own money separate to that of her husband, and not being reliant on her husband and my oldest uncle, because at that time, all the money obviously was going towards wherever the husband wanted it to go. So it’s very much about holding those different spaces but it’s nice to always have someone who’s more responsible or knowledge building himself in situations.
I love that. I love that you can pull it from both directions, as such. Amazing, Lilian, who’s the more adult in your life, you need her too.
Lilian Kikuvi 21:46
Definitely my mother, she is a massive inspiration to me, I have seen a human being become better every time, every season, she has just shown up from day one. She was born in a slum in Kenya, and that’s where I’m from originally, she didn’t have a lot of education. She found a way to get qualifications in. It was a secretarial course that they used to do in Kenya at that time, she got her papers, secured a job in the government department and made her way– The minister’s office just built a career for herself, went into the corporate world, build a HR career for herself and was very successful, and go outside of that space of corporate world and own business and was able to get a Master’s, I think she was the only person in her family to get a Master’s at the age of 50, and above all psych practice, and she has been practicing for over 15 years, and yes, and a couple of years ago, she’s like, you know what, Lilian, I feel like life has just begun for me, I PhD, and I’m like, ‘Wow, Mom, of course, you can do a PhD [unintelligible 23:08] in your bag’, and she decided not to take that route. She’s not doing theology studies. The last couple of years– actually, last year, she became a pastor. So she has been pastoring this church virtually, thanks to COVID and amazing. So she’s the adult in my life that I look up to because she’s challenged gender norms in a patriarchal society I have seen a woman who is very influential, I have seen a woman that is inspirational, have seen a woman who is very authentic, and just shows up, and is ready to tackle life and give her the best. I’ve seen a woman who is a role model without even trying, and she’s been very impactful, not only to us, you know, children. So I’ve got three younger, younger siblings. She’s been very impactful to other people in the community. So she’s an adult that I consider in my life.
It’s like a realgrown up adult. She’s really sounds like she knows what she’s doing. [crosstalk 24:17] learning is amazing.
Lilian Kikuvi 24:19
Gemma! who is the adult you turn to?
Gemma Saunders 24:24
Definitely my wife, because I am the kind of creative
I love that so much.
Gemma Saunders 24:33
I have to turn to my wife because I am kind a free bird and just, you know, very happy to go with the flow, and that means that I never know when bills need to be paid and forget some of those really fundamental life things. So I’m really happy that I’ve got someone who has strengths and wants to do that kind of house admin and then the stuff that I get to do is, planning the– We’ve got a caravan and we go off on different caravan trips. So I get to do all the planning around our adventures, and then my wife is very sensible, pragmatic one. So I think we can get to play your strengths. But I think to Shantelles point about, your daughter— Like Shantelle I’ve got a almost seven year old, and I think there’s also so much to learn from younger people as well. Because they just have this ability to hold a mirror up to us about what’s important, and help us reflect on whether we’re in our values or not, and just get us to sort of– I guess, reflect and check in with ourselves when life’s going so quickly around us. So I would say it’s also checking in with him, and then that adult pragmatic life stuff with my wife.
So, yes, I think it’s good to have people that can hold you and you can play to strength around you, whether that’s your family, your community, whatever that looks like, you don’t have to be at all, you know, you can have your own strengths and come together with others and get it done together.
Yes, so true. I’m a parent myself. So I very much understand where you’re coming from. It’s the mirroring, they mirror the things they can see in us and they tell how it is. There’s not much of a filter there. So my last question for what is not very rapid, but fire. It’s a bit of a quirky one. Shantelle, if someone was to play you in a movie of you and your life, who would you choose as an actor, actor, actress to play you today, the age you are today and then to play you at like in your 60s. See, they’re both looking at me now going, Oh, I can think about this Porsche until I’ve put her on the spot. Again, you are the only one technically doing rapid-fire I’m not really good with remembering people’s names. You can just tell me that woman, or that person or the guy.
Shantelle Thompson 27:03
Angelina Jolie comes to mind now I think because of– Or Sandra Bullock those two other ones that come to mind now. I think it’s an older female. Or she’s the older lady, she sometimes does the action movies — [crosstalk 27:20] I think how America would be the one that I would pick to play me as an older female. Because as I’m getting older, and I feel like I’m shedding a lot of stuff that just doesn’t need to be there. Because I tend to seek out older women. One because of attachment disorder in terms of not having had my mum around when I was younger, and stuff like that, but also wanting to learn from others and looking for women who are 10 to 15 years in front of me going, what were you doing at my age, so that I get a realistic perspective of people going on? I’m trying to be them now. At the same age they were having similar struggles, what would they do differently and what was their greatest success sort of thing, so that I can try and learn from their mistakes now and make different ones– Yes, and I think I’m learning to just not care as much about things but also at the same time learning to be more subtle and strategic, which is not a key strength of mine. As a younger age, I feel like I’m becoming more refined and elegant. But I’ve still got that ability to just drive the point straight down when I need to.
Helen Mirren would be able to do that. She’s very good. Lilian [unintelligible 28:47]
Lilian Kikuvi 28:50
Seriously, I’ve just had a [crosstalk] Yes, think about that. Gemma, are you ready to answer…
Gemma is ready. All right.
Gemma Saunders 29:09
Thanks, Lilian. I’ve gone to very typical queer icon here. So I think I would have Sarah Paulson [phonetic 29:20] wretched and American Horror Story. Play Me Now. I think that she just captures quirkiness and intensity and whiteness in a way that I’m just not very one note, so I would choose her, and I reckon as I’m older, like maybe Lily Tomlin again, just like quirky or even kind of Jane Fonda. Maybe. But yes, Lily Tomlin. I think, if you haven’t seen Frankie and grace on Netflix, definitely watch that.
OK, now I know he’s talking about.
Gemma Saunders 29:55
Yes, I totally get me as I’m in my 60s for sure. I would choose Lupita Nyong’o [phonetic 30:09]. I align with obviously her being Kenyan. There’s no bias there. But the fact that she really embraces her cultural heritage and has stepped on the international stage and showcase that without compromising who she is, where she comes from. I love her grace; I love her family values. I love her humility. So the things that I connect with, [unintelligible 30:49] In the future, probably somebody like Angela Bassett, she’s just gracious, and she has been able to have a very successful and long career, and she seems to understand the concept of being a woman of color and showing up and doing that consistently and offering value and role modeling. So for me, I look at her as, as someone that could play me in the future, somebody that I hire to be.
I love that. Thank you all for sharing all of your answers to me. Well, some obvious questions, because we’re talking about growing pains and becoming adults, but had to throw in a bit of a quirky one at the end just to kind of see if I could scratch past the surface of what I can see across this tiny screen as I’m sharing your a little bit about you with our audience and our listeners. So Growing Pains, we we all have them, we’re still having them. I’m not done yet. I think I’ll still have them till my last breath. But one of the things that we’re going to dive into today is this thing called conversations, we’re having one now, I always say to my guest of any other podcasts I do before we start recording that I don’t censor anyone. So that, to me is a big part of conversations, it’s having a flow, having a safe space to share whatever comes to mind, being respectful of what you share in that space.
Now, any of you are welcome to jump in and answer this, maybe not all at once, because that could be a water ball [phonetic 32:49] nightmare for our producer who’s going to have to put all this together. But you know, you’ve all come from different backgrounds, and you’re now forming this alliance with the focus of making change for the better for all of us to be better together.
So when you think of your experiences as a young adult, what do you believe, was the moment that really shaped you into who you are today? They may not actually just be one, but there may be one that comes to mind.
Gemma Saunders 33:28
It’s such an interesting question, and it’s one that we often use in our program, actually, Caroline, because part of the work we do is to try and help people understand their own stories, because we really pause to understand who we are before we can be in community with others, and so one of the questions we often ask is, what are some of the moments that really shaped you? I don’t think I have really one big moment that for me, it was a series of moments, I think, that idea of having quite a lot of responsibility, quite young, being the oldest child, my mum was 17 when she had me, and so I felt like even in our household, you know, there was just more that sense of pulling together, and jobs that had to be done as a family and my mom was a single parent for most of our lives growing up with three kids, and so I think the sense of responsibility that comes quite young was a moment that shaped me.
You know, I used to babysit before it was like you were really even allowed to babysit, probably without any other adult supervisors there. Yeah, I know how to change a nappy and feed a child when I was eight years old. Like it’s just part of what happened. So I think that there’s some of the moments that shaped me and sent in this sense of responsibility and the care and generosity that I offer to others, and I know that I’ve talked about in our program when I share my story, the two others are really my relationship with my granddad, who didn’t really have a lot of money came from a very, very poor background, but had a huge amount of love and humor, and was always telling jokes, creating fun environments.
He had a drawer in his house with fake noises and balloons used to blow up, and you know, these weird ventriloquist dolls that he’s to bring out and do little shows with, and so that aspect of fun, I always reflect on that. It creates humor and fun, and I think the final one is really just navigating my sexuality, to be honest, and send me a lot of time trying to conform to society’s norms of exploring relationships with men, and then realize that actually, when I was most alive and free when I was in a relationship with a woman and navigating that, for me was something that really shaped who I am today.
Yes, amazing. Shantelle!
Shantelle Thompson 35:58
You know, I think it’s the same as Gemma. It’s different seasons. But I think very early on realizing that there were other people who needed my protection. So from a really young age, being able to step up, and I’m known as the backcountry warrior in my community, and always having the ability to stand up and fight for others. But also this courage to speak what was in my heart and being able to follow that calling in my heart, so I’ve never really had a roadmap to get me to where I am today. But I’ve always had this ability to follow that calling, and I it’s more like a compass, as opposed to having a roadmap because I’m on too many bloody firsts in my family, and it’s not something that I’m proud of– it’s something I’m proud of to break those cycles, but it’s something I wish wasn’t the case to be the first to finish school, the first to get a university degree and stuff like that.
So I think for me, that ability to step up, and I had to realize from really young age that I had to help myself before I can help others, and be a guide or a light for others, I first had to there was so many people who would say something and then contradict themselves, like adults who would say, Oh, you’ve got to learn to work hard, and then you would actually sit back and watch them and go– Well, you’re not role modeling that. So from a really young age, for me, it was about being what I spoke about, it was making sure that there was that credibility there, and the truth that I was living the processes of the messages that I was sharing or wanting to give to others, and that I had to help myself before I can help others because as an Aboriginal woman, as a woman, as a mother, we’re all about the collective. We’re all about looking after others first, but we’re a part of the collective and I lost my mom at 42. In our communities, we’re losing our elders at 50 and 60, before they even have a chance to become elders, or to pass that knowledge on to the next generation, and that’s because they’re serving everyone else, and there’s so much going on, and there’s so much dysfunction that we’re burning out earlier and earlier.
So for me, it’s having the courage to go, I matter in that cycle as well, and I can serve from a cup empty, I know what it is, I can do it all the time, but it’s not sustainable, and how much more powerful am I to my family, to my community, when my cup is half full, or it’s sustained, and the roots that support me are strong, but also as Gemma said, knowing your story and being able to handle and hold your own bullshit as well as your own potential, I think is so important in being able to show up and do the work to create change in the world, because we’re bringing more and more humanity, there’s a calling to bring humanity back to the workforce, back to the world because what we’re doing is not sustainable.
So true, and it sounds as though the moments in time and the lessons and what you’ve seen happen. They are the tipping points, but they’re also the ongoing lessons, because they’re the constant reminders along the way throughout the journey that continue to shape you– All of us because even you know what Gemma has shared as well as is of that similar nature that it’s an ongoing shaping, and then this happened and then I was the thing and then I said that thing forever. Lilian! I’ve actually heard you speak on stage, and so there are a few things I know about your story. But if there’s something specific that comes to mind for you?
Lilian Kikuvi 39:55
What shaped me. I mean, the many things that have shaped me like what Gemma and Shantelle have mentioned. But as a young adult, one of the things that played a big part is just the upbringing within the tribal context, my upbringing in Kenya, and within that tribal context, and also having philosophies that I followed, and that, for me has had the biggest impact. As a young adult, for me, being part of a tribe is incredibly special right now, and even as a young adult is just incredibly special to be part of this group of people that you share customs… You have a shared ancestral lineage and traditions. So what that means for me now, and what that meant for me as a young adult, then was that I just knew where I belonged. Strong sense of identity, it was just very clear, I belong to this tribe, and this is what it means to be part of this tribe. As a young adult, I had a really deep sense of connectedness with my fellow tribe members, because we had a lot of shared experiences.
I also knew that the tribe would be there for me, we have something called Heron Bay, which is basically a word from my native language Swahili, that means ‘Joining together to achieve a common goal’. Gemma and Shantelle talks about that collectivist approach that first nations have, and we are quite similar, and how that plays out in our lives now and how it played out in my life, then as a young adult, is basically people just show up with what they have in contributes to the collective. It’s about common good, and that sense of confidence as a young adult, knowing that people will be there, and they will show up with what they have, whether it’s about raising money, raising kids, whatever it is, people would show up, and there was nothing too small or too big. It was about putting up with your privilege and showing up in your lack, whatever you had in your hands. That is what you contribute, and as a young adult, that gave me confidence, and it gave me confidence to know that my contribution was important, and it gave me confidence that if I needed help, there would be people that will rally around me, and it really set me up for my transition to Australia in 19 [phonetic 42:43]. Coming here as a student, studying psychology, knowing how the tribe operates having that Harambee philosophy is one of the many things that influenced me, allowed me to come in and navigate this new landscape as a culturally diverse woman. It also has given me the foundation to show up as I show up right now, as a human being as an adult, to do the work that I do as a diversity inclusion practitioner to deliver this amazing program with Gemma and Shantelle on showing people how to become better together by really helping them with a conversation or capability. That’s been the most powerful thing, and I’m so grateful to my ancestors for that gift of the tribe, and the philosophy that they have imparted in my life.
Wow. There’s so many moments already that I’m like, ‘Oh, we could just stop there that is amazing’. Lilian you said a word just then that; I feel like I hear every day right now. though it’s complex and complicated in the world that we’re in. I feel like I’m constantly hearing this topic on diversity, and I feel like we’re not quite there, and there’s still some significant challenges around having respectful and open communications with a diverse lens. So Gemma, I’m going to throw to you with this one– with this world that we’re in. We’ve got children around the same age by the sounds of it. What do you think, to be, you know, the common discussion points and what do you think we need to be doing more of so we can be having better conversations around diversity and in these challenging environments? [crosstalk]
Gemma Saunders 45:02
I think, No, I can’t. But I think we can start. So I think that you’re right in the word that you used around. Yep. It’s complex. But I think there were some things that certainly Lilian, Shantelle and I talk about through the work that we do, which are that– and I guess, part of the reason that we came together with this idea of how do we become better together? How do we stop having such an individualistic focus on some of these things, and start to come together? You know, in terms of sharing the common understanding, sharing humanity and being in community with one another? How do we do that? How do we become better humans to other humans? That’s kind of what we all I think, you know, I assume positive intent with people, I think most people are good people actually do want to be good to one another, and so I think the first thing that we talk about is, we need to stop shying away from conversations, just because we don’t know the right answer, because quite often, there is no right answer, and there are multiple ways to understand someone’s experience, and so shying away from the conversations altogether isn’t the answer.
So we really need to help people understand, give them some mechanisms and some tools to lean into these conversations with empathy, and I think part of that is helping people to seek to understand not to reply or respond, because that’s what we see in the age of social media is and don’t get me wrong, I’ve been caught up in this, I’ve been sat there for hours on end, especially through lockdown being like this keyboard, warrior, like responding to people. That’s not right, that’s not true. You know, going at people and attacking and attacking and attacking, and I know that some of that is through my own pain, and wanting to be a great ally, or just wanting to support my community, and some of its projecting my own experience around shutting down homophobia online. But you know what, I can’t change those people’s opinions by attacking them quite often. So, this idea of how do we seek to understand one another, and remain in conversation for as long as possible.
There’s a concept we talked about in our program around the difference between being unsafe and uncomfortable, and those two concepts are really important things to know, especially as a young person is to know when you’re unsafe, and to know when you’re uncomfortable. Shantelle does a great analogy around her jujitsu or being in an arm bar, which I’ll let her talk to. But, you know, there’s a difference between being unsafe and uncomfortable, and I think they have a couple of things is really around this idea that Lilian talked about and Shantelle around, like, how can we be here to improve community versus prove ourselves, like improve humanity and community? Should Trump [phonetic 48:18] the idea of proving myself and proving my point every single time? So we can go into conversations saying, I’m here to try and improve community to improve connection, and to improve my own understanding, rather than prove my point and prove myself, then I think we can get further along.
And I think the final point, around this concept of what’s needed for diversity and inclusion, there’s actually there’s as much learning required as there is learning. You know, part of what we help people understand throughout the work we do is what shaped you, and what are some of the assumptions and norms that you believe are universal, that actually are not, they’ve just shaped you, and they’re your view of the world, and we’re not here to criticize tha but we will try to help you understand is, just because it’s true for you doesn’t mean it’s a universal truth, and that there are a number of ways that people experience this world, and so I’m learning some of the unhelpful norms and assumptions that we’ve developed over time is also part of the process, and I think there’s a lot of work out there being done on how do we do new things in DNI, and how do we add and how do we learn but actually, there’s not much talk or enough talk and learning some of the things that are getting in the way of inclusion?
I think it’s really interesting that you say that last point because– So our community who are our listeners are all different ages and stages and seasons of their life– There’s definitely a purpose to this particular podcast to support our younger adults. But I think we underestimate how much even young adults need to unlearn because they have mirrored and mimicked and you know, shadowed their parents, their guardians, their elders, their teachers, their coaches, their whoever is giving them be it subtle or very direct influence in their life, and even I naively probably looked at the concept of what we wanted to create for this particular podcast series and thought, yes, let’s teach them some of the things. But I hadn’t even thought about the fact that we probably need to be open enough. So they can unlearn some of the things and we can share even some of those embarrassing stories that we’ve shared so far, or whatever else and go, Hey, this is an opportunity to unlearn the fact that being embarrassed doesn’t need to come with 20 years of carrying shame, or whatever the scenario is. So yes, that’s a really brilliant way of looking at it.
Lilian Kikuvi 50:58
I love that point about unlearning, and I just wanted to add on to that, and the importance of young adults to invest in the unlearning now, before they get to the oldest stages when it becomes really difficult. So this is the best time to do that, and what else I wanted to call out is the importance of personal responsibility, known to the unlearning, it’s on me who that person is to want it and be committed to the unlearning process, and this is incredibly important in helping us create a better community. It’s incredibly important in helping us to be better together, because change will only happen if every person plays their part. So that’s the call out to young adults do it now invest in the unlearning now. That is part of being better together.
Definitely. Shantelle I know you have your hands busy with a Baba which segues very well into my next question. So I’m hoping you can still unmute yourself. You are the mother of three children. You are currently caring, I can actually see you caring for your very, very small, tiny, fresh new baby. But as a mother of three, what skills do you believe young people need when it comes to having good conversations, let alone better conversations. Some of them may be just harnessing some of these skills in their teens and early 20s.
Shantelle Thompson 52:51
I’ve got five children, Caroline, I’ve got a 14-year-old. [crosstalk]
Sorry, my apologies. But I say that earlier in our discussion, [crosstalk]
Shantelle Thompson 53:02
It’s OK. I’ve got 11-year-old twins; I’ve got a 6-year-old kinship daughter. So in our community, we sometimes adopt our siblings’ children, as our own– That may not always live with us, but she’s my kinship daughter, and I have a three-week old newborn son. So it’s a really good question as to what skill sets to young people that first and foremost they need adults in their lives who have the courage to role model that. Because first and foremost, the biggest thing of being a parent is that it’s not what you say it’s what you do. That is the most important thing when it comes to your children, and my son, my youngest child is a boy, he is going to get a completely different parent both culturally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and I am a lived experience growing up to what my three older children did, because I was 22 and 25, when I had my other children, and I was unlearning. But also there’s this concept of decolonization. That’s getting stronger within not just Aboriginal cultures, but around the world as well. This process of going– Hold on Western culture isn’t the only culture out there, but it’s the most dominant one in the world at the moment, especially in the industrialized world, and the fact that–
Hold on, you want to talk about sustainability, you want to talk about mental health and mindfulness and all this. Why aren’t we looking to the oldest living cultures in the world, not just First Nations culture but cultures that have done community, that have done family that have done living with the natural world since their inceptions while we aren’t letting go of the ego, because we’ve got white males that are still the dominant ones empowering it— I’m expected as Aboriginal women to go and do cultural safety training for 20 CEOs, white males and hold on; you are psychologically unsafe. So I need to create a safe space for you. But then when I finish that training, I can walk out of the room and pick up my phone and see that another young Aboriginal First Nations young boy has been put in jail, my son is more
likely to go to jail than he is to finish school. My girls are more likely they’re not victims of domestic violence than they are to finish school.
So it’s the courage to be able to handle the truth, the courage to know yourself, but also to know your limitations. What are your boundaries, what’s your capacity, and capability to be able to hold conversations and I think when we know ourselves, and the things that we learn from our program, so being able to hold your own story, you’re then able to hold space for others, and you spoke about it yourself seeking to understand as opposed to judge or even the ability to explain, and that’s something with in our program? I mean, in our program, you’ve got a woman of African descent who’s had all sorts of lived experiences, you’ve got Gemma who is a queer woman, who’s come from England and a teenage Mom.
I’m a First Nations woman who is fair skinned, and you bring those stories and those capabilities, and it was through our conversations that we came up with this idea of the better together collective. But being able to sit in a space, especially at a corporate level, where it’s more about productivity than it is about humanity. Young people particularly going into these corporate careers most and that corporate trajectories, really, they can learn to hold their own story, and hold their own truth will better equip them to be able to hold a space to understand others and difference.
Yes, that’s so true, and not only will it equip them with their peers, and the people that are closest to them– but the fact that you’ve used corporate as an example is brilliant to me, because that’s often the pathway we’re telling kids to take, we’re telling them finish school, go to uni, get a job, we’re still telling them that ridiculous story, even though I’m sure that the four of us have taken very different paths in very different directions, and then back again and doubled ourselves and whatever we’ve done. But we’re still telling kids that we’re still telling young people that and we’re telling them to fit in a box, we’re telling them to squeeze themselves into the square shaped pig, and they can’t know themselves, and they can’t even be comfortable with their own stories. So how can we continue to adjust that, and it’s conversations like this, and it’s opportunities like this, to hear that from a different mindset, and to hear that framed in a different way to say, you can actually be yourself and be really comfortable with your own story and all of the complexities that come with it, be it even if you’re only 17, because you’ve already done 17 years. So, I acknowledge that.
Shantelle Thompson 58:23
I think the important thing is to bring the point out is that; sometimes we don’t know ourselves, and then that’s why we’re deflecting, or when we’re triggered by other people in it, and as Lillian pointed out earlier, the younger you can start this process the better because as we get older life gets busier, it’s so easy to go on, it’s too hard to do that I’ve got a job, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a business, all that sort of stuff. But if we don’t take personal responsibility for that process, how do we do that? When we can’t sit with others, especially with the diversity of the world, like Australia is a very, very multicultural country that has been forever. So how are we different? How [unintelligible 59:09] and being able to hold our own, basically, as I say that hold our own bullshit, being able to sit and look into the mirror, then we can only sit with others in that same space and not be triggered and seek to deflect or run away from challenges, and that’s a part of decolonization. It’s a part of going Hold on. This is what I’ve been told to do. Those are the steps but where do I as businesswoman? How do I make sure that I’m serving my responsibilities by giving back to others, making sure that I’m not just taking what am I contributing, as well, these are things you need to be able to hold space for, and as you can hear my little goose in the background here.
[irrelevant 59:50] There’s a baby in the background, if anyone’s listening going, what’s that extra sound I can hear?
Shantelle Thompson 59:52
[crosstalk] As a mom and being able to get to hold that space as a businesswoman going at the end of the year or maybe coming to Melbourne to deliver some workshops. With Gemma and Lilian and bringing my baby into that space and going, I may have to stand up the front facilitate while I’m breastfeeding. Now, who’s going to be uncomfortable with that? Me? Room? [phonetic 01:00:10] And if not being able to have those skills and modeling them to young people to go Actually, this is the new norm that we want.
Yes, and it’s all about that modeling, and I guess that ties in with my next question for you, Lilian, as an immigrant myself, I emigrated to Australia when I was quite young. But you talked briefly just a moment ago about what your tribe had equipped you with the skills and the support, be it verbally telling you that you had their support, but also whatever else came from the years that you have spent in your tribe? How have you found the challenges in integrate into Australia and when it comes to young people who maybe have recently immigrated to Australia, or have immigrated into a English speaking, Western, colonized, closed minded, often unsafe environment?
Is there something that you’ve found to be helpful when it comes to sharing those conversations?
Lilian Kikuvi 1:01:30
So, as a Kenyan Australian, I have had to learn a lot of lessons in the last 22 years. Navigating life as a culturally diverse woman has been exciting and also very challenging. I came to Australia at the age of I think, 19, or 20, and prior to that, I had about 20 years of, as I mentioned, before, growing up in a tribe, growing up with a large extended family, and I was part of the black majority group, and I moved to Australia to pursue my university studies and my life changed suddenly. All of a sudden, I was in the racial minority, and was not equipped to deal with that change. I had understood colonization, given my country have been colonized by the British for many, many years, and many other cultural groups came through like the Arabs and the Portuguese colonization, I understood that I heard stories from my family, who were impacted directly by colonization, had to deal with inequity oppression, the Human Rights being abused. I also understood racism from an intellectual perspective, as well, because studying racism in school looking at what was happening in South Africa that time with apartheid, understanding the history of slavery, and then I came to this new world on my own, and I had my whole family, you know, they’re all back in Kenya and I had to create a life on my own, and I didn’t really have any blueprints per se to show me how to navigate through life.
I struggled for many, many years because I felt rejected by people through discrimination, whether it was racism, where they want them or micro aggression because I felt rejected by others on a regular basis. I started rejecting myself, and this is what I talk about my keynotes, I started masking my cultural heritage all of a sudden was an issue for me, and I tried to ask whatever I could, so that I could belong. [unintelligible 01:03:57] my tribe. I talked about that sense of belonging, I did not have that here. Many years of masking and carrying this burden of not showing up authentically and not embracing– my health and wellbeing was impacted and how to make a change, and in I thought, I think that was about 12 to 15 years ago. That was a turning point for me.
When [unintelligible 01:04:22] are compromised by health and well-being was basically handed down the toilet and he decided to go back to my origins, go back to my roots, go back to the philosophies that have influenced me all my life, and literally about finding creating a tribe here that made sense for me at [crosstalk 01:04:49] Absolutely, and also applying things like her on day behind a philosophy that I talked to you about; looking at what I had in my power, what I had in my hands to contribute to make a difference. So the society can be better together, and yes, since making that change, I have intentionally shown up and contributed with my knowledge, my expertise, my qualifications, my networks, and exercise at Harambee spirit over and over again, and that’s what we do with this program becoming better together. It’s really about our showing up and exercising the Harambee spirit because it creates a culture of belonging and respect, not only in the organizations, but also in the community.
So my encouragement to young people is look at where you come from, your superpower can be the thing that you’re also rejecting, for me, I rejected my cultural heritage, and now it’s serving me. So look at that, and find ways to contribute, because your contribution is important to actually creating a humanity that we can be proud of in this century.
Gemma, if you could give some advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be?
Gemma Saunders 1:06:06
I think for me, it would be don’t fight your sexuality, and instead, explore it would be the first one. I think this idea of get to know yourself, before being so fixed on trying to fit in with others that you actually abandon– Through the process, you actually abandon the parts of you that you love the most in service of trying to fit into one of those boxes, or one of those lanes that sort of society tells you to strive towards, and yes, it would be not abandon yourself in the process and actually get to know yourself, and one thing that Shantelle said in one of our early interactions that has always stuck with me is this idea of belonging to yourself, before you can belong to others, I recommended spent so long trying to attach myself to others, like even in primary school, finding a group of friends, it’s okay to just be on your own and enjoy your own company and have a few friends not having the most friends and being popular. I never even realized this concept of belonging to myself and holding my own self-respect and boundaries. So yes, I think it would be to try and figure that out quite early, as well.
What about you shouldn’t tell if you could give advice to your 18-year-old self? What would it be?
Shantelle Thompson 1:07:35
Sorry, we don’t have enough time.
Shantelle Thompson 1:07:43
Like Gemma said, belong to yourself first. Because as a woman, as an Aboriginal woman as a mother, like I belong to so many different groups and so many different roles that I can be pulled in so many different directions. So first and foremost, understanding yourself and all parts of yourself because my darkness and my shadows are not my enemy. But if I don’t learn to embrace them, they can be my distraction on my downfall. Sometimes it’s about surrendering to the journey as it is rather than how you want it to be, which is something that I’m learning now and processing that, particularly, I had a very difficult birth with my son, which is a completely different conversation. But something a psychologist said to me a few years ago, he said that; I kept coming to him with the same problem, and it was about my family, I love them, and I every time I go home, I’m showing up for them, but no one’s showing up for me and he goes, ‘Maybe it’s your unrealistic expectations of your family and situations that is causing you pain as opposed to the situations. Maybe it’s about learning to love people for who they are rather than who you want them to be, and then putting in place boundaries about your interactions with them.
When I really took that away and apply that to my whole life experience and outputting it’s about accepting reality for what it is and people for who they are, and then working towards a reality that and the experience that I want to have whether with that person or that situation or finding the sweet spot in the middle and a lot of that comes from self-love and being able to show up for myself because while I was grieving the people who didn’t show up I wasn’t celebrating or acknowledging the people who did choose to show up —
In this listening to Lilian and Gemma and they’re there they’re a part of the tribe that I wish that I had a lot earlier and that I wish that I had in person here but every time we see each other when we gather it’s– they seen me, I can show up in all parts of myself in what I don’t know in business. I’ve never had a corporate courier. I never feel less than in this group and when that that imposter syndrome comes up, well, that voice comes up, I can speak that truth in this space, and have them both go, I’m not here, it doesn’t need to be seen, loved and valued and respected for who I am and what I bring to the table, and I think that’s the other advice is; ‘Find your inner circle of people that you can be seen and heard and loved, but also held accountable as well, like people who can go hold you accountable to your own responsibility, but also not hold you in judgment of that.’ I know that’s a big tangent, but that question [crosstalk 01:10:35] myself a lot, right now, while I’m in this space– just in between so many different spaces.
Definitely. How about you, Lillian, you’ve talked a little bit about that time of your life. But any particular advice you give to your 18-year-old self.
Lilian Kikuvi 1:10:53
It’s basically what Shantelle said, “If you can create the tribe early, create it now”. This is the best time to do that. I lost a lot, because it took me a while to create a tribe, the tribe that I have now. I was not original, like Gemma, that sense of belonging and, you know, wanting to fit in. So I compromise a lot of values, my personal values, and so if I had the tribe that I have now, then I’ll be in a very different space. So my encouragement would be intentional about the tribe that you create, curate, like, literally, you know how an employer would go through that vetting process, and before they hire you, or even just before you allow anyone to come into your house, you need to be safe, you need to know them. Just exercise intention, and vet the people that are part of the tribe, and if it’s not working, uproot deal with that quickly, because that can be also very toxic. I think that’s really important.
So intention about building the tribe, and also seeing the tribe as a place that is sacred. It is a sacred space because in that tribe, it’s like a well, I talked about that sense of identity, sense of belonging, all of the benefits that we enjoy in Africa being part of a tribe, you can enjoy the same benefits with a tribe that you’ve curated yourself, and that is also your safe space where you can practice to have those conversations, those awkward conversations. It’s your safe space to fail safely, and it’s your safe space to practice until you have the confidence.
So what we talk about in our program is, we have a conversation of framework that we show leaders of organizations and individuals on how they can apply that conversational framework to have better conversations. So use your tribe to practice and then you can go out to the community and be better, and show others on how that can be done. So, that’s my advice, create your tribe, and role model for others so we can be better together.
Well, on that note, I think that our listeners will not only know regardless of what stage they are in their lives, there is a lot to take away from what we’ve discussed today. A lot of easy things to implement, and a lot of things that take a lot of personal work, a lot of that deep self-work, that is what we’re all supposed to be doing on the journey that is becoming an adult, becoming a better human, being better together, and just doing life as we continue to do that without growing pains.
I thank you, all three of you, for your time today, and to our listeners, we look forward to sharing more with you on the next episode of Growing Pains.
So they have some really brilliant, insightful words from three powerhouse women who are well and truly working together to be better together, and in addition to that have taken the insights of their journey, of their learnings throughout their lives in such different ways, like talk about three really different stories, all collectively have a similar thread in sense of community in the sense of identifying what works really well, and sharing those last insights of what they would say to their 18 year old selves and I really hope that you have enjoyed today’s episode, and have taken some insights that you can implement potentially straightaway, but also some underlying thoughts that can guide you as you continue to go through what are what are the Growing Pains of life and the Growing Pains of every day and getting older and the constant evolution of us as humans.
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