Fresh from her highly publicised debate with Jacqui Lambie on ABC’s Q&A, inspirational community activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, made her way south to share her thoughts with Canberra’s community.
Yassmin, 26 is an Australian Muslim engineer of Sudanese-Egyptian background and an author, TV and radio presenter and a community activist on multiculturalism promoting diversity and inclusion in society.
As part of the YWCA She Leads In-Conversation series, Ms Abdel-Magied was the focus of the question/answer/discussion event held at the University of Canberra’s Ann Harding Centre on 22 February.
Facilitated by Dr Alice Williamson, co-host of the ABC podcast, Dear Science, the discussion covered a range of subjects, which included questions from the audience.
Asked about her view about how to address bias, Yassmin drew parallels in her own industry with how work, health and safety has over time been culturally ingrained in the workforce and the same cultural change needs to occur from the top down with regards to discrimination and bias.
Yassmin also made the point about intersectional bias, that is when more than one aspect of your life affected by discrimination, for, as an example, a black woman, and how it isn’t enough to address one type of bias at a time but all bias in parallel.
On paying respect to the Ngunawal people, she said, “We always pay respect to the custodians of the land but . . . think of every great civilisation you have ever heard of – the Aztecs, the Greeks . . . the First Nation of this land are all older than them . . . and that’s something we should really be proud of and appreciate.”
On why she chose to be an engineer, she answered, “Making things and designing solutions to problems and having a tangible thing at the end of the day is so satisfying.”
She constantly referred to her own parents for inspiring her and also supporting her through some of the recent tough times.
On working on an offshore rig as a woman, she said, “I thought it was something I would do for just a little while . . . initially I saw it as an adventure . . . different rules operate on rig life. Half the time its figuring it out as literally there is no other woman around.”
On her ability to communicate across different groups, she explained, “The one things that is universal . . . is the power of the story. By making it individual . . . to broaden your ingroup is through empathy. Empathy is through human connections, friendship, getting to know each other beyond the surface as human beings.”
During the event in Canberra Yassmin gave away signed copies of her book Yassmin’s Story, Who Do You Think I Am, her account of different perspectives about growing up in Australia.
Born in Sudan, Yassmin and her parents moved to Brisbane when she was two. At the age of 16 she found the Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on helping young people to work for positive change in their communities.
Schooled at Islamic College of Brisbane and John Paul College in Brisbane, Yassmin graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, first class honours from the University of Queensland and then worked as an engineer on an offshore oil rig.
In 2012 she was named Young Leader of the Year in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s inaugural 100 Women of Influence Awards as well as an InStyle cultural leader and a Marie Claire woman of the future.
Yassmin was awarded Young Australian of the Year for Queensland in 2015 and during the same year, she was named in the top 100 most influential engineers in Australia by Engineers Australia.