A new conference run by and for Australian women of colour in leadership and entrepreneurship is coming to the Melbourne events circuit next year, including an awards night that shines a light on role models in this community.
ColourFULL 2020 was founded by entrepreneur and business mentor Winitha Bonney, who has previously worked in startup communities in the US and Canada, including in LA.
The event, scheduled for March next year, is intended to provide networking opportunities, coaching, inspiration and advice for women of colour, in a bid to “equip and empower them for a life in leadership and entrepreneurship”.
At the conference launch event in Melbourne on Tuesday, Bonney recalled being in a room of African Americans in Silicon Valley, and thinking “holy crap, everyone here looks like me”.
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It was when she moved back to Australia and in a job in the corporate sector that she realised quite how stark the divide is here.
“I started to see the inequality in how myself and my colleagues were being treated, as opposed to non-women of colour,” she said.
“Even though in the states they still have a long way to go, I saw women of colour leaders,” she noted.
“I started hearing from them about the barriers and challenges they faced, and it opened up my eyes to the barriers that I, as a woman of colour, experience.”
In the startup scene in the US, there were programs and initiatives specifically targeted at supporting and promoting women of colour in the ecosystem, Bonney said.
“Why don’t we have that here?”
At startup events in Australia, “I could always count on one hand the amount of people of colour there were in the room, let alone the number of women of colour”, she added.
The new normal
With the theme of ‘the new normal’, the ColourFULL conference will be “like no other event”, Bonney promised.
“Women of colour are used to events that put us as a secondary focus, where we’re made to feel pitied and felt sorry for,” she said.
“Imagine a world where seeing women of colour in the business media, at awards, as speakers at conferences … is the new normal.”
The one-day event will culminate in an awards night, dedicated to recognising and celebrating the contributions of women of colour in leadership and entrepreneurship.
At the event, Bonney will also launch Amina of Zaria, a digital platform and membership community for women of colour in Australia.
“Normally people would start a digital platform, create a community and then have a conference,” she said.
“I’m starting a little bit backwards.”
Bonney also works with corporate organisations and the government to help leaders in those spaces to advance the women of colour within them.
“Culturally diverse programs just don’t cut it,” she said.
“Women of colour require tailored leadership programs and organisational strategic work that is led and created by women of colour.”
“Dare to be yourself”
At the launch event, Bonney acknowledged the term ‘women of colour’ in itself can be triggering for people.
“But, the fact the word triggers a response is the exact reason why we must use the term,” she argued.
“As women of colour, many of us have had a negative relationship with the colour of our skin, our accent, the shape of our eyes, and the texture of our hair,” she told attendees.
“Calling ourselves women of colour takes that power back.
“That said, being a woman of colour is not about the colour of our skin. It’s about our relationship to systemic racism, bias, oppression, in relationship to very western and European cultures.”
And so, when employers use the term in their workplace, they are “acknowledging that women of colour experience different barriers and challenges to advancing than women in general, or culturally diverse people”, she said.
Finally, Bonney quoted Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the US Congress, and the first to make a bid for the presidency, who famously said she wanted to be remembered as “a black woman who lived in the 20th century, and dared to be herself”.
Bonney echoed this sentiment.
“Women of colour, dare to be yourself,” she said.
“Now is the time.”