Culturally Diverse Leader with Rana Ebrahimi

Journey from "Passion to Purpose"!

Rana Ebrahimi is the community engagement manager at Cancer Council Victoria and the co-founder/director at the Hueman Equity Consulting. She is the first Iranian woman as Head of Office for the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Iran, who was accountable for the protection and holistic wellbeing of 120,000 refugees and displaced refugees. Since immigration to Australia in 2016, she has undertaken leadership of several major projects. In 2018, Rana led the Reducing Racism project through her work with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). Rana has expertise in the areas of humanitarian ethics, diversity and gender-based issues. She holds a Masters in International Law with a thesis focusing on Afghan Refugee’s predicament in Iran. She is also a Board member of Australian Iranian Society of Victoria, Regional Advisory Committee member of Victorian Multicultural Commission and Consumer Advisory Committee member of Dental Health Victoria.

Hi Rana, When did you come to Australia and what was your Motivation?

I came to Australia in 2016. It was a decision to shift my life and have a better opportunity to grow as a woman. In that point of my life I could not have this progress in Iran but I had a choice to continue my career as an international officer or live in Australia. It was a hard decision because I knew I have to start over.

What was your initial experience here  ? culturally and socially?

I could settle in quickly because I had a very clear plan. I have obtained permanent residence visa while I was still living in Iran. So, I had the opportunity for due diligence and find out what I want to do in Australia. I selected Melbourne because I like the slower pace of life here and people are very friendly. I joined Rotary club to get to know the culture and met amazing people there. Finding a job was a bit hard but I knew the barriers.

The biggest one was that I had no local experience. To gain local experience I found a great volunteer position as Communication Coordinator for Diaspora Action Australia (a small NGO). I participated in a lot of “Meet ups” and learned how to adjust my resume and then looked for a job which was not in my level of experience but a bit lower. The other thing which helped me a lot is I found a leader to mentor me and he was the biggest support with insights that he generously shared with me.

What was your first role and what workplace challenges have you felt as a Culturally Diverse Leader?

I was extremely fortunate because I found my first job within six months. I applied as an Office Manager for Senator Janet Rice of the Greens and went for an interview. In the interview she told me that I am overqualified for this position and she is happy to refer me to her colleagues. One week after interview, I received a call from Senator Richard Di Natale’s office, and I went for the interview.

I started the same day with a short-term contract. I applied for the permanent role later on and I did not get it because I had not enough connections for the role. To me as a new immigrant it was not a fair reason because it is not a competency-based issue, I just needed more time to network. However, I’ve learned my lesson and networking is my most important skill now. I could find all my jobs because of my strong network.

The workplace culture is very intense in politics. As a long-term humanitarian activist, it was hard for me to get use to the office politics. I could also see the team has the intention to be diverse but has not the expertise to be inclusive.

Tell me a bit about what you do now current role?

After three years of working with different organisations I decided to start my own business with my friend and colleague. We founded a consulting agency to share our expertise in DEI and cultural intelligence with leaders. Also, I am working with Cancer Council Victoria as a priority community engagement manager. I lead a team of five to bring in equity and access for the under screened community of Victoria.

How did you overcome your challenges?

It is not easy. My challenges are very much related to intersectional discrimination and gender inequality. Through almost four years, I can say organisations in Victoria still need stronger business cases and genuine plans to address this issue. We are fortunate to have the legislation and it makes it easy to talk about compliance but most of the organisations need better plans to include people like me specially to their leadership level and facilitate this journey. This is not happening easily and although I understand it takes time, sometimes I feel frustrated for this ongoing dialogue and I am tired of trying to crack this glass ceiling.

What would be your biggest advise that you would like to give to CALD Leaders?

My biggest advice will be to all women in leadership. There is a huge gap to fill and it will not happen if we do not support each other. We should mentor each other to share the barriers and solutions. We also need to find good allies among men to support us. Without men who are ready to share the leadership this will be almost impossible. There is another issue that I like to address, and it is the diversity. We should note that the experiences are usually unique and while they can be shared among a group of people there are still intersectional aspect of that experience which need to be addressed individually.

Thank you Rana, your story is truly inspiring and eye opener for those who are wanting to become more successful through focus, commitment, purpose and behavioural flexibility. While many CALD leaders struggle to get their foot in the market you truly show us how to carve our path by staying true to our passion and purpose.

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