Diversity has always been a part of Rabia Siddique’s consciousness. Born in 1970s Perth to an Indian Muslim father and a white Australian mother, Rabia saw the discrimination faced by her father, and at times felt her own difference keenly. However, a wonderfully supportive high school experience taught her how the right environment could bring out the very best in people.
With her strong sense of justice and desire to give a voice to the voiceless – and no inclination towards chemistry – Rabia became a lawyer. She even did a stint working in Singapore on clemency pleas for people on death row. In 1998, Rabia left Australia for the UK, following a long held dream to pursue a career as an international human rights lawyer.
As we covered in our previous blog post, it was after the hostage situation in Basra, when the British government took over, that Rabia was sidelined and silenced.
. . . they decided, it would be politically damaging for the media and the public to learn that a foreign, female, dark-skinned Muslim woman without combat training had been sent in to negotiate. And so they erased me from the story.’
‘Yet what if that upper-middle-class group of middle-aged white men had contained one woman, or one non-white person, or someone foreign-born? They might have realized my background and approach could have offered them a public relations coup.’
How can you make diversity successful for your team?
Diversity offers greater innovation and better solutions, so why doesn’t every organisation embrace it? Well, it can be scary. More ideas and approaches in a meeting room can lead to dissent, so leaders need to foster an environment where ideas and dissent are seen as okay, reiterating that dissent creates opportunities for better outcomes. ‘As leaders, you create a culture that welcomes ideas and different perspectives and enables contribution. Or not. Be brave!’
Getting diversity to work for your council
‘Make all your employees feel valued and respected. Differences between groups or individuals need to be validated rather than suppressed. You will get more out of people by embracing them and their differences. That includes your workplace culture as well as policies.’ For instance, is everyone encourages to share their ideas? When someone new joins your council, are they trained properly, given enough information to do their job and introduced to all the key contacts, or does everyone talk in acronyms and leave them to work out the lay of the land for themselves? What about your bereavement policies? Do they acknowledge and cover people in defacto or same sex relationships? What about maternity leave, flexible hours, job sharing, cover for sickness, injury and mental health issues?
What next for Rabia
Rabia returned to Australia in 2011, bringing her English husband and triplet sons, to work for the Corruption Commission in WA, and then the Police Commissioner of WA. However interest in her story continued, as did invitations to speak about it.
‘The Police Commissioner was an amazing boss. He was the one who suggested I take a year of leave without pay. That was exactly the support I needed. I couldn’t have made the leap to going out on my own without that safety net. Now I work internationally as a motivational speaker, facilitator, mentor and advocate, focusing my work in values-based leadership, resilience and diversity. I'm also involved in several not-for-profit human rights, health services and education-based organisations; I'm the Patron of the Borderless Gandhi Project and was recently appointed as a Director of the International Foundation of Non-Violence’.
I suspect the strong will and steely defiance that Rabia discovered in herself at gunpoint was always hers. But what is great is that life has presented her with so many opportunities to share her determination to make the workplace, and the world, a better place.