Career

Here’s How 9 Inspirational Women Are Breaking The Bias, Part 1

By Alice Rich
8th Mar 2022

Hayley Tekahika poses between architecture, wearing striking red gloves and an ornate black top.

Today is International Women’s Day, an important day for all those who identify as women and allies. To celebrate, we reached out to nine inspirational women to see what they had to say on this year’s theme of #breakthebias and they had so many gems to share we're delighted to bring you a two-part inspirational interview series. From youth workers and designers to creatives, businesswomen and entrepreneurs, we asked about current inspirations, experiences of discrimination, advice on breaking the bias, and what they’re excited about for the future. 

Here’s part one of our International Women's Day interview series all about breaking the bias. 

Hayley Tekahika

Hayley Tekahika is a professional dancer, artist and creator creator, as well as the owner of a boutique vegan treatory called Vegan Treats NZ. 

Who is inspiring you at the moment?

All the artists who are committed to creating through these unpredictable times. For me, it's never been more of a complicated time to be an artist. Creating in a time like this, where you feel physically restricted can translate into being creatively restricted. To deliver on projects that have been consistently pushed back and altered feels like you’re continuously pouring from an empty cup. At the same time it feels superficial and a privilege to be able to create now, with what is going on in the world. 

Have you ever been discriminated against for being a woman?

Absolutely! So much so that I feel numb to it, not surprised at all when it happens. As a Māori woman who grew up in South Auckland, I feel like I have experienced multiple prejudices throughout my life. The intersectional discrimination that many women face in various aspects of life is important to highlight and it needs to be talked about more. 

What advice would you give others about breaking the bias against women?

To the women doing this work—it is exhausting and repetitive but it is important. Have a good foundation of who you are and don't let anything question that. To the men helping to do the work—take the time to listen, acknowledge the bias you benefit from, be empathetic and encourage the people around you to do better. 

What are you really excited about for the future? 

As a woman, I'm excited about the acceptance that comes with getting older. As an artist, I'm excited for all the opportunities that I haven't encountered yet.

Follow Hayley: @hayleywalterstk

Laura Kerrison stands to the right of a desk. She wears a denim jacket and a floral shirt. Laura Kerrison

Laura Kerrison (Ngāti Rangitaihi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is a UX designer and the creator of Kupu Rau, a collection of watercolour prints and resources promoting Te Reo Māori. She’s also the co-founder of MUV Talks, a trustee at I Got Your Back Pack and the current host of CreativeMornings/Auckland. 

Who is inspiring you at the moment and why? 

So many wāhine that it's hard to choose! Some that spring to mind as I have been consuming their content and wisdom a lot lately are Elina Ashimbayeva, co-creator of Storyo and her incredible storytelling, Kat Eghdamian and her honest and eye-opening work in refugee advocacy, and Maimoa Creative and the way she’s using her platform to empower others and have really important conversations about reo and reclamation. I think what inspires me so much about these three women is how authentically they are in the content that they share, and how much work they put into their kaupapa in order to lift others up. 

Have you ever been discriminated against for being a woman?

My privilege means that the times when I have experienced major discrimination are significantly less than my friends and peers who are women of colour, disabled, LGBTQI+ etc. but I do experience it in many little ways and micro-aggressions all the time. One example that springs to mind as it was a learning experience for me, was at a previous job when we were hiring a new team member. My boss and I were interviewing a man, and not once did he make eye contact with, or directly address me. Even when I asked a question he would direct his answer right back to my boss, despite the fact that, had we hired him, I would have been his manager. (We obviously didn't hire him.) Another example I've been discussing with friends recently is the "admin" role that gets pushed onto women in group settings—the expectation we'll handle the fees for teams, or do the logistics and planning, for example.  

What advice would you give others about breaking the bias against women? 

Be comfortable getting a little bit uncomfortable. Really look at yourself and your behaviour and do some internal reflection. When you leave a meeting or conversation, stop and take two minutes to ask "Have I made an assumption about that person and did it affect how I behaved?" Maybe even write this down and really think about it the next time you're in a similar situation. 

What are you really excited about for the future? 

On a personal level, 2022 is a big year for me with new projects, study and setting aside more time for Kupu Rau and creating Te Reo Māori resources for people on similar journeys to mine. I’m really excited to see how it unfolds, meet some incredible people and learn new things along the way. More broadly, I'm excited about the discourse and energy that is happening around Te Reo Māori, and especially by and for Māori wāhine. I feel like there is so much creativity and passion in the air, and some incredible things are going to come from it (and already have).

Follow Laura: @kupu.rau

Chelsey Harnell stands in a garden. Chelsey Harnell

Chelsey Harnell is doing inspiring mahi in the youth empowerment space. The 25-year-old is the Youth Development Supervisor for Raise Up, a development programme for youth run in collaboration with YMCA which is set to be rolled out nationwide this year. 

Who is inspiring you at the moment and why? 

I’m very blessed to have several inspirations in my life. Firstly, my boss and mentor. He’s honest, caring and has always had my back. He’ll challenge me when necessary and will always consider my feedback or advice. His opinion is one I value and as a male I think is a great example of someone who supports women moving up the ranks and challenging what might be the status quo. Then there’s my mum and my little sister. They’re kind, empathetic and stand up for what they believe in no matter what life throws at them. They are my #goals. They’re the type of women who wouldn’t hesitate to help someone in need. They empower me to be the best version of myself and to use challenges to propel me forward. My Mum always tells us “you have to dare to dream, but choose to shine.” Going into adulthood I knew if I wanted to succeed I needed to be my biggest advocate.

Have you ever been discriminated against for being a woman? 

I have definitely encountered my fair share of people underestimating me and seeing my emotions as a weakness. You’re seen as pushy or overly ambitious and then when you try to share your feeling on a situation or passion for something you are seen as emotional. It’s frustrating; sometimes it’s hard to keep up with expectations and sometimes it makes me question myself. I get told to stand up for myself but when I do I’m told I’m aggressive or bossy just for disagreeing. I’ve been told I’m cute for trying, or hysterical for getting upset with situations. (What male has ever been called hysterical? That word feels like it’s reserved for women.)

What advice would you give others about breaking the bias against women? 

Your emotions are not a weakness—they are your greatest strength. They help you see people and understand, they provide you with passion and a set of skills that make you powerful. As women, we are often the ones looking after others but this should include ourselves. Standing up for you is okay. Recognise the bias but don’t let it stop you. You’ve got this—know there are other women out there that back you. 

What are you really excited about for the future? 

I feel like everything is really uncertain at the moment and it’s hard to plan but I’m excited to see what the future holds. I like a little uncertainty around what adventures are waiting. This year at Raise Up we’re going national, so I’m excited to see that growth and the positive impact we have on the young people around the country. I want to have a career and be great at what I do, but I also want the kids, the husband, the dog, the whole package. As women, we are often expected to choose but I won’t be—I’ve seen it done and am excited to see it all become a reality. 

Follow: @raiseupnz

Cat Ruka stares directly into the camera with a serious expression on her face. Cat Ruka

Cat Ruka (Ngāpuhi, Waitaha) is the first Māori woman to be the executive director of cult-favourite Basement Theatre. She has also worked as a choreographer, educator, artist mentor and artistic director, and is a co-founder of online clothing store, Heart Party, which supports artists in Aotearoa. 

Who is inspiring you at the moment?

My daughter. She’s eight years old and due to the pandemic is having to grapple with decisions and circumstances that are way beyond her years. And yet somehow she manages to do it all with grace, optimism and wisdom. I actually go to her for advice! Sometimes she can see the bigger picture in ways that I can’t.

Have you ever been discriminated against for being a woman?

I think what’s really interesting in terms of my own personal experience of discrimination, is that it’s always come from women far more than it has from men or other genders. Due to me being read as a person of colour way before I am read as a woman, there are spaces and places that I haven’t been able to enter that other women have. And I think therein lies the work that’s ahead of us—we need to address the inequities amongst ourselves if we want feminism to grow and be more effective for way more kinds of women. 

What advice would you give others about breaking the bias against women? 

Breaking the bias against women starts in the home, I reckon. When we become parents, we are given an amazing opportunity to guide our children toward having equitable love and respect for all people, regardless of gender. That’s how we break the cycle. And if we aren’t parents, we can still be influential in regards to gender equity in our workplaces, our social settings, and our wider communities. I am starting to teach my daughter about power, and that it’s something she should always share with every single person in the room.  

What are you really excited about for the future? 

It’s hard to get excited about the future now that we live with so much uncertainty. I’m enjoying just taking each day as it comes, and doing what I can to sow little seeds of pleasure that I can look forward to tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next. As women, I feel we have come to put way too much on our plate as though our self worth depends on it. So I'm scaling everything down, and trying to be gentle with expectations. 

Follow Cat: @catruka

Simone Speet beams at the camera, standing in front of a concrete wall. Simone Speet

Simone Speet specialises in both digital and static wayfinding at Maynard Design. She helps people feel part of Tāmaki Makaurau by designing the city in a way that embraces those who call it home. Simone has led projects with the Auckland International Airport, City Rail and Kāinga Ora. 

Who is inspiring you at the moment? 

My friends, colleagues, and all of us who are pushing for a better future. It’s exciting to see this through various lenses whether it’s self-discovery, women’s rights, better environments for minorities, or fighting for the future of our planet. These people have a vision and their passion inspires me to find the energy to push through the barriers that could hinder the best outcome for the people I’m designing for. 

Have you ever been discriminated against for being a woman?

Only a few years ago, I remember some key moments in my career where I noticed my age, cultural background, and expertise threatened people in higher positions within the infrastructure industry. One project manager, a woman even, in a construction company told me to sit in the corner to make notes, regardless of the design work about to be discussed. I’ve also experienced men in positions of power not suitably exercising their power in relation to exposing unconscious gender bias towards women. It’s a disappointing experience when those people have not considered how their actions, or inaction, impact women.

What advice would you give others about breaking the bias against women? 

Know you have a voice. If we don’t speak up, how are we ever going to make people aware of the bias against women, or even other minorities? I think we need to support those who need it, whether it’s a pep-talk, an ear to listen, or by discovering what people really need instead of making assumptions.

What are you really excited about for the future? 

I’m seeing a positive shift here in Aotearoa. It may be small but nevertheless, it opens up opportunities to be seen, heard, and to actively make a better future for ourselves and others. We need to keep pushing the boundaries of a world designed by men of a specific ethnic background, to create a better future—not just for women, but for all.

Connect with Simone on LinkedIn.

Check out part two of our inspirational women interview series here

Image credit: supplied.

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