Meet the mentee who’s dreaming big

Meet the mentee who’s dreaming big

After coming from Zimbabwe to Australia, Canberra mentee Tamai Heaton worked in the caring industry in Adelaide. As a temporary resident at the time, she didn’t have many other options and says she had little expectations of ever finding a ‘good’ job.

“I thought I would have to settle for an average profession. As a person of colour, I didn’t think there would be leadership opportunities for me. I disqualified myself from the start.”

After taking on a few more roles and moving to Canberra, a former supervisor recommended the Australian National University (ANU) and suggested Tamai would love to work there. From this point, the idea of pursuing a career at ANU stuck with Tamai; she was determined to make this happen.

“In my first interview I told them this was my third application to work at ANU and that I wasn’t going to give up,” she laughs.

As they say, third time’s a charm. She got the job. What was meant to be a six month contract turned into more opportunities, and now her career at ANU is seven years strong and still thriving.

Overcoming perceived barriers

When she started working at ANU her first manager was a Fijian man, now retired Professor Brij Lau. This eliminated any fears she held about being treated differently because of the colour of her skin.

“Seeing the amazing respect that was given to him helped me to realise that ANU was different to any organisation that I’d worked at before. Gender and ethnicity didn’t matter, it was about what you could bring to the table.”

This experience made Tamai realise that if she worked hard, she too could become a leader.

At ANU she started as an executive assistant, moved up into an administrative officer, and then into a management position. Now she’s an executive officer.

Looking forward, she’s excitedly thinking about the best next step for her, and that’s where Mentor Walks comes in.

Tamai’s mentor was Catherine Carter, Founding Director of Catherine Carter Consulting which provides specialist advisory services with a focus on urban environments, city building, new forms of collaboration and diversity. As a recognisable figure in Canberra’s property scene, having formerly been the Executive Director of the Property Council in the ACT, she knows a thing or two about working in a male dominated industry and how to move into a leadership role with tenacity.

As a next step, Tamai was contemplating doing a doctorate in business administration, when she completes her MBA (three units to go), and she wanted Catherine’s opinion on if she should pursue further study.

Tamai was already rubbing shoulders with academics in her workplace, so Catherine’s advice was to further her studies, so she could learn to speak the academic language.

“She said because I worked in an educational environment, qualifications always matter. She helped me to realise that recruiters will be looking out for someone who has qualifications.

“It will be hard work, and there will be a sacrifice to make, but I think it will be worth it in the end,” she says.

Women helping women

Other than seeking advice on her education path, Tamai was interested to hear the story of her mentor.

“I had a lot of common ground with Catherine. She’s also a mother to teenagers, so it was interesting to talk about balancing our families with work.

“As a woman in a male dominated industry, I wanted to learn about the secret to her success. She talked a lot about networks, too. No matter where you go or what you do, how you relate to people matters. I learnt that you can be firm but you must be pleasant. People will remember you for that.”

The overall highlight of the day for Tamai happened just before the walk began. She was looking up at the lineup of mentors who were introducing themselves, and she was awestruck at the quality of women standing before her.

“There was a range of women in terms of age and ethnicity. Seeing the quality of the mentors, and knowing that they’ve taken the time to speak with us, was a remarkable thing for me. It was very encouraging and I thought, in ten years that could be me.

“Sometimes in the workplace it can be difficult to spell out your career vision, and a mentor can revive that dream that’s inside of you. Mentoring means you’re not alone and it’s not a crime to dream big. In Australia we’ve got a bit of tall poppy syndrome, and you’ve got to be aware of that in the workplace, but mentoring is a safe space for the dreamers. 

“It’s not about always trying to reach the top, but just being effective where you already are,” she says.

“There’s a saying that goes something like, if you want to go somewhere and get there quickly, go by yourself, but if you want to go far, get some people around you. And I think that’s what mentoring does. It’s for people who want to go far.”

Our 2020 walk dates are up on our website. Check out when the next walk is happening in your city!

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