JOHNSON DIVERSITY SERIES – Celia Tran

Winner of the Public Sector/Government category in the 2021 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards is Vietnamese-Australian, Celia Tran.

Celia is a passionate advocate for cultural diversity, anti-racism and meaningful community engagement, and is recognised for her ongoing commitment to supporting multi-cultural communities. Using her voice within the Victorian Public Sector, Celia advocates for systemic change, more inclusive workplaces and a greater representation of culturally diverse employees in government. Celia recently spoke to Johnson Partners (JP) about her influential role, sharing practical resources for workplaces seeking guidelines towards securing more inclusive professional environments and genuine support platforms for marginalised employees.

 JP Currently Principal Adviser at the Victorian Multi-Cultural Commission, can you outline your outreach practices to best inform yourself regarding the needs of multi-cultural communities in Victoria to advise on cultural diversity and inclusion?

It’s important to keep in mind that there is diversity within diversity and that good community engagement takes time and effort. I am by no means an expert. I learn every day on my job. The internet has plentiful resources about different cultures, faiths and traditions. Alternatively, when in doubt just ask! Of course, approach with utmost respect, come with an open mind with your assumptions left behind. Listen actively and you’d be surprised that so many are willing to share their stories with you and their experiences – the good, bad and ugly.

 JP And as Co-Chair of the Victorian Public Sector (VPS) Women of Colour Network (a staff- led volunteer collective with over 700+ employees), you recently led the association to produce a first of its kind report aimed at informing leaders and advocates in the VPS on ways they can generate positive change to make workplaces more culturally inclusive for all and provide a roadmap for change. Can you surmise some key revelations within the report and provide specific examples of how your efforts have affected workplaces?

Currently only for internal use within the VPS, the report is used to inform managers and leaders within the VPS on some of the experiences of women of colour (WoC) within the sector and provides recommendations for leaders to adopt. With the emergence of COVID-19, it highlighted the importance of workforce diversity and the value a diverse workforce brings to effective decision making, policy response and service delivery. Some of key themes and areas for improvement (though not unique to just the VPS) include the lack of opportunities for WoC to progress in their careers, the gender ethnic pay gap, access to flexible working arrangements, plus workplace cultural safety and inclusion.

The report was well received by leaders in the VPS and shared with the Victorian Secretaries Board, and more importantly has generated conversations within the VPS that has never happened before, in particular looking at gender equity through an intersectional lens. The report was also tabled to Victoria’s Anti-Racism Taskforce. Our findings also inform various Gender Equality Action Plans, which outline departments and agencies committed to tackling gender equities across the VPS as part of the ground-breaking 2020 Gender Equality Act.

 JP For those stigmatised in their workplace regarding either their cultural background or gender identity, where would you encourage them to seek advice regarding their rights within the workplace and acquire tools to defend themselves?

I recommend visiting the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission, which provides great free tools and resources. It also enables you to report your experiences and seek advice (humanrights.vic.gov.au/). Alternatively, you can visit the Australian Human Rights Commission (humanrights.gov.au/) website or WorkSafe’s website (worksafe.vic.gov.au/laws). I’d also encourage you to join your union to get external support. Whatever you do, reach out and know that you are not alone – talk to a friend or ask a trusted colleague for help.

JP I can’t imagine your working week involving consistent efforts behind a computer screen. How much of your work includes physical interaction with multi-cultural communities and where would a typical week (and weekend) take you (in a non-lockdown environment!)?

You’d be surprised to know that 100% of my work is done online or via the phone. In fact, engagement with multi-cultural communities has ramped up tenfold. Online connections have enabled us to meet around the clock and reach far and wide to communities we haven’t necessarily been able to before such as those in  regional Victoria. Of course, it’s not quite the same as face-to-face engagement, but that’s not to say that the engagement online is less genuine or meaningful. There’s something about human interaction that breaks down barriers including language. Pre-lockdown, a typical week was a hybrid of online interaction, phone calls, in person meetings, lots of workshops, consultations and events on weeknights and weekends.

 JP How can private workplaces obtain sound guidance to build and successfully manage a more inclusive workplace – essentially, where can they acquire productive information and advice? Also, how different are inclusive policies within local government compared to the private sector?

There are lots of resources and communities of practices or experts out there that can guide you and your organisation’s journey towards more inclusive workplaces. For example, the Diversity Council of Australia hosts some great resources for members. Networks like the Equal Employment Opportunity Network (EEON) are also fantastic communities to be a part of to learn from others in this space.

Alternatively, if your workplace has the budget, dedicate resources to find someone preferably with experience in a senior role within an authorising environment who can provide advice and implement change on matters regarding cultural diversity and/or cultural inclusion (or be sponsored by someone very senior in an organisation who can). It’s important to remember that genuine and successful workplace inclusion needs support from the very top, plus dedicated resources to plan and implement. When it comes to private vs government sector, I think that both can be equally as bold, but from my experience change can happen a lot quicker in the private sector – so be bold and fearless in your inclusion work, lead the way because others will eventually follow suit.

 JP During you schooling and university days did role models or mentors guide/influence your academic journey, or was it more a case of significant events (both public and private) that shaped your professional career?

I never really had mentors growing up (I wish I did but wasn’t sure how to access one)! Much of my early career was shaped by the values that I was brought up in – and still is to this day. Mum always instilled a sense of community in me; we were a refugee family, so I benefitted greatly from the generosity of organisations that supported us. I always sought out opportunities that were community focussed or had meaningful impact. I started my career in the NFP sector, and had ambitions to join the government because I wanted to understand how the machinery worked as I saw that there was often a disconnect between the two. I wanted to help be the bridge and serve our diverse communities using my lived experiences, skills and the passion that I obtained throughout my schooling and earlier career.

 JP How do you think your Vietnamese heritage has influenced you career choices?

My parents fled a war-torn Vietnam in the early 1980s.  They valued democracy deeply and are thankful that their children were afforded a second chance at life in a free and democratic society. I think part of this was a reason why I chose to be a public servant (or former roles that had an element of giving or serving the community). I also believe in a workforce that should reflect the diversity in which it serves.

 JP You were awarded the 2015 Victorian Multi-Cultural Commission Ambassador Award for Multi-Cultural Excellence, the 2016 Australia Day Maribyrnong City Council Youth Leadership Award, the prestigious 2016 Premier’s Volunteer of the year, the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Award, and were a finalist in the Australian Human Rights Commission for the 2017 Human Rights Medal Award. Also, in 2020 you became the youngest recipient of IPAA Victoria’s Top 50 Public Sector Women in recognition of your ongoing commitment to advocating for multi-cultural communities and being a strong voice within the VPS advocating for systemic change, for more inclusive workplaces and championing voices of culturally diverse employees in government. How have you been able to leverage these esteemed acknowledgments to best strengthen the impact of your work?

Essentially through giving visibility to the issues that I deeply care for. For example, for the Premier’s Volunteer Awards enabled me to donate my prize money of $10,000 to my charity of choice, Western Chances, and their great work. Western Chances was a charity that helped me with scholarships growing up, and is an organisation that I now sit on the board for. My human rights recognition gave me the platform to raise awareness to anti-racism and refugee rights. My top 50 Public Sector Women award elevated the voices and visibility of the staff-led network I started, bringing awareness to some of the issues that WoC faced.

I’m extremely humbled and grateful for the recognitions, but the most rewarding part of it all has been that the causes that I stand for are further elevated and visible. Another humbling factor has been that so many women – especially women of colour – have reached out to say how proud they are to see WoC recognised and that they have someone who looks like them that they can aspire to being like. Representation truly matters.

 JP Lastly, what are the key goals you hope to achieve over the next five to ten years and do you see yourself becoming more active on a national rather than state level?

A great question that I dread! To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I know that whatever route I take though, it will always be somewhat community driven. I’d like to continue my leadership journey, and develop further. I think the pandemic has taught me (and many others!) that anything can happen so it’s important to be open to whatever opportunity life throws before me.

“It’s important to keep in mind that there is diversity within diversity and that good community engagement takes time and effort. Listen actively and you’d be surprised that so many are willing to share their stories with you and their experiences – the good, bad and ugly”

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