At just 22 years old, Bek Lasky is already a driving force. In recognition of National Reconciliation Week, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bek, a proud Wakaya woman.
We spoke to Bek about her journey to becoming the CEO of a First Nations led not-for-profit, the incredibly low number of First Nations corporate leaders in Australia and her advice for young First Nations people in the corporate world and their colleagues.
Q: Tell us about your background and where you grew up?
A: I’m a proud Wakaya woman who was born and raised in Geelong on Wadawurrung Country but I’m currently living on beautiful Larrakia Country in Darwin.
Q: Tell us about Ngarrimili. How did it begin and how has it grown?
A: Ngarrmili is a not-for-profit organisation which turned 5 last week. We were founded by Cormach Evans, a Yorta-Yorta man who started Ngarrimili not long after starting another organisation called Strong Brother Strong Sister which is an Aboriginal youth mentoring organisation in Geelong. He started Ngarrmili after finding out how difficult it was to start a business as a First Nations person and all of the barriers, red tape and challenges he faced in starting his first business, more specifically with government and stakeholders.
Cormach started Ngarrimili to provide that holistic one-on-one business support and knowledge to aspiring or established First Nations business owners, creators, not-for-profits and entrepreneurs. We provide one-on-one support through working with individuals or the original founder to identify which stage they are at in their business journey and ultimately work to come up with a tailored plan to ensure that they can reach their goals.
We operate a lean model. It’s shown that over 83% of our annual turnover goes back into the First Nations economy which is something we’re really proud of. When businesses join us, we use ourselves but also First Nations mentors which injects money back into the Blak economy in 2 ways; investing in the business and then investing in the other businesses that we’re paying to provide expertise to these individuals.
Q: What was the journey to becoming the CEO of Ngarrimili like?
A: I was appointed to the CEO role in February, and I started in 2020 just after the first lockdowns ended. I was working in the corporate world prior to that and lost my job due to COVID and was feeling quite lost. Then, thankfully, this opportunity arose, and it was obviously very fitting. I guess I didn’t know at the time that this was always the journey I was meant to be on which was working in a First Nations led organisation to support First Nations people.
I started in a casual position, then moved into full-time work doing business and enterprise and one-on-one support. This then led, as I learned and developed more, to me stepping into the Deputy CEO role which I was in for a while. Eventually the timing was right for Cormach to step away and for me to step up which was so exciting. It’s been interesting and fun and scary and full of learning. I am only 22 years old, so I am dealing with a bit of imposter syndrome but I’m just focusing on continuing to learn.
Q: Are you able to talk about the Ripple Effect Project and how it came about?
A: The Ripple Effect Project was set up by Ngarrmili because we wanted to use this evaluation project to map out the ripple effects of Ngarrmili and our work for First Nations people. We wanted to see what this support and how having a business enterprise assisted First Nations people and their families and communities.
An example of this is helping a business set up a website which in turn provides them with a customer base which then leads to more profit resulting in the individuals potentially buying themselves a laptop, helping family members buy a house or even employing First Nations People. At the end of this project, we will have developed a theory of change and outcomes which will then enable us to tailor programs to ensure we can meet that outcome.
Q: First Nations people are the most under-represented cultural category in corporate leadership. In 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported on cultural diversity in Australian leadership across corporate, federal parliament, public service, and university sectors. Of the 2,490 people in leadership roles across all four sectors, 75.9 per cent were Anglo-Celtic, 19 per cent European, 4.7 per cent non-European and 0.4 per cent Indigenous.
What do you think is the reason behind this and what are the steps we can take to change it?
A: The corporate space is such a difficult one because there are a lot of barriers for First Nations people to access the corporate space and there are a lot of organisations that are still very far behind and don’t have culturally safe spaces for First Nations people.
The first step is for First Nations people to want to be part of the corporate world through seeing other First Nations leaders, so the first step is visibility, but visibility can’t come unless all these other steps are taken before. Since COVID, the shift in more business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders has been phenomenal, especially in the First Nations space, so I can only anticipate that it will continue to grow and we will continue to see more people doing amazing things.
Q: What advice do you have for young First Nations people who potentially see themselves or already are in a corporate space?
A: It is really hard because I am quite young but it’s a good talking point because you have to remind yourself that you are young and you are going to make mistakes. You’re still learning and evolving. You just have to trust that you’re in the right place and you’ve got backing from the people around you.
Ensure your support system is strong and that you have mentors you can rely on. Understand that you are smart enough to be there you just have to trust yourself and remind yourself that you will continue to learn and if you make mistakes, it’s only an opportunity to grow.
Q: What advice do you have for people in corporate Australia in terms of how they can be an ally?
A: Don’t only talk about things when they’re trending or when certain dates come up. When I was working heavily in the corporate world that is one thing I noticed, and it felt incredibly tokenistic. Make these conversations normal and part of your daily life.
Another component is not relying on First Nations colleagues to answer all your questions. It might seem like the right thing to do but it can be quite uncomfortable because they’re just humans and they’re still learning. You can do your own research and if you do ask questions, it can be more focused around fact-checking. Another important aspect is to be mindful of your language.
Q: How important is diversity and inclusion in the success of a company?
A: It’s extremely important. You can have a Reconciliation Action Plan and you can post about Aboriginal people during NAIDOC week, but if you aren’t doing the right things internally and practicing what you preach, you’re not going to attract staff or retain them. I feel like there has been a shift so that it’s normal now to have safe diversity inclusion policies and for that to just be the norm.
Q: We saw on Instagram that you have another business called Soul Sister- tell us about that?
A: That’s a small business that my best friend Ruby, a proud Yorta-Yorta woman, and I started. We just do apparel for now and are just having fun with it. We set it up to support and empower young women to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.
Q: What does National Reconciliation Week mean to you?
A: Reconciliation Week is a time to acknowledge but also learn and have conversations. The most important thing for Reconciliation Week is having conversations that are safe and meaningful and leave people feeling like they’ve learnt something and take something out of it. Have conversations in a safe and inclusive way that allows everyone to join in.
Every year we’re making advances and the First Nations space is changing and evolving in a positive way and we can see that people are more open every year to having conversations. It’s just a reminder to continuously learn. Today is Sorry Day and when the apology was made there were 10,000 children in out of home care and today there are 22,000. It’s just those little reminders and Reconciliation Week is a reminder to stay educated.
Find out more about Ngarrimili here.
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