We love just about everything that Malcolm Gladwell has written but during this, the week of International Women’s Day his recollection of the story of Ms Abbie Conant, American musician being selected and then unselected as the lead trombonist in the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra strikes us as pertinent (Blink Penguin Books 2005).

Ms Conant was selected by several old-school males including the Philharmonic’s musical director, Sergiu Celibidache who, on hearing her live audition apparently cried out “That’s who we want! Send the others home.” However, to weed out nepotism and bias, this particular set of auditions was being conducted blind, with each candidate being hidden behind a screen. When Mr Celibidache discovered that one of the best trombonists he’d ever heard was a woman, he found a long list of reasons why she couldn’t possibly play lead trombone in his orchestra and she was demoted to second trombone. After a decade of legal battles around performance and then salary equity Ms Conant was finally entrenched as the Orchestra’s lead Trombonist. To become equal, Abbie had to disrupt the status quo and courageously influence change but it took time, effort and perseverance.

That story kicked off in 1980. 40+ years on, the lack of fair and impartial cultures in enormous segments of our society prompted Local Government NSW IWD to focus on #Embrace Equity today. One person pushing hard in this area is Amna K-Hussan, a Muslim woman who I met at the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue’s 2022 Collaborative Leadership Program that I helped facilitate and at which she was a delegate. I was immediately struck by her natural leadership qualities, her zeal, her and her vision. Amna speaks beautifully of her first-hand accounts of deeply ingrained bias and discrimination on so many levels in Australia. To help others, she found a way to generate affinity, belonging and inclusion for young women in Western Sydney living in minority communities by co-founding the Auburn Tigers (now Giants) AFL Footy Club. None of this was easy and Amna had to courageously and passionately drive change that made the AFL uncomfortable. Amna is a terrific example of the fact that when a powerful vision collides with passionate enthusiasm, success inevitably follows.

There’s a real link here between Amna K-Hassan and Abbie Conant. It’s that it shouldn’t be up to the person to whom the injustice has been dealt to fix the problem. It should be the responsibility of the ‘organisation’. Both of these women however, had to take it on themselves to create change. The real contribution they’ve both made is in getting people to think beyond the system and therefore influencing the system to accommodate the minority for the better long-term future of all.

When Helen and I discovered that Amna was delivering the keynote speech at the Local Government NSW IWD Lunch in Sydney this year, we applied to be her ‘speaker’ sponsor. It was a tremendous event – Well done @LGNSW.

We are always keen to have a discussion about courageous leadership, so please don't hesitate to get in touch if you feel ready to create influence and think beyond the system.  

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Will Martin

Written by Will Martin