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Dynamic Duos: Tish & Holley

Is Adelaide a hub for queer women in leadership? The city has many incredible LGBTIQA+ women working hard to make their city a better place for their community and several of them are partners in life as well as partners in leadership!

For International Women's Day 2024 we talked to three dynamic duos in Adelaide who are inspiring inclusion in their work by leading the way as queer women.

Tish & Holley

This dynamic duo both come from different backgrounds but have contributed an enormous amount as CEOs of two household names in the Adelaide LGBTIQA+ community.

Tish is CEO of Feast Festival, Adelaide’s LGBTIQA+ Arts and Cultural Festival. Holley is CEO of SHINE SA, a hub of services for sexual health and relationship wellbeing.

Although they have different leadership styles, they bring their unique perspectives together to solve the problems they encounter.

According to you, what are the unique challenges and strengths of the queer community in Adelaide?

A challenge and a strength of the community is its size. Because it’s small, everyone knows everyone, so we have the opportunity to develop deeper connections. However, there is strength in numbers too, so this can be challenging at times.

We don’t have a lot of funded programs and organisations to support a LGBTIQA+ workforce, so most people are volunteering or working in very part-time roles on the sniff of an oily rag! We end up relying on the same people who are long standing members of the community that have given so much. Unfortunately this can lead to burnout, lateral hostility and conflict at times.

There is still not enough LGBTIQA+ representation in positions of influence, and it’s often challenging to attract new people into the sector because it is so small and not well resourced.

However, the community here has so much going for it - we have so many incredible, generous, caring, talented and gorgeous people we can count among us.

What challenges have you faced as women in leadership, and do you think being LGBTIQA+ has influenced your experiences?

H: I have certainly experienced homophobia in a mainstream workplace, and I have also experienced some pretty unfortunate misogyny in my work in the LGBTIQA+ health and HIV sector. While this has been challenging at times, I have also found it motivating…because nothing makes me more determined to achieve something than being told I cannot do it (especially if it’s because I am queer/a woman!).

T: When you’re the head of a Queer Arts organisation, you have to come out all the time. People ask what do you do? I work at a festival, and they ask which one. Feast Festival, I say, and if they haven’t heard of it they ask, what’s that, to which I reply Adelaide’s LGBTQIA Arts & Cultural Festival. To which in more cases than not, I just hear ‘oh’ as a response” Not everyone has to be interested in the work I do, but sometimes when you’re just getting an electrical quote, you don’t want to have to come out and wonder if they never got back to you because they’re either bad at their job, or whether they’re homophobic.

In what ways do you think your identities as LGBTIQA+ women contribute to your leadership approach?

H: I have been so privileged to work in LGBTIQA+ affirming workplaces and organisations for the past 15 years, which has meant my identity as a lesbian has been celebrated and considered an asset for the most part. This is something I want to foster in all workplaces - and has led me to prioritise cultural safety, celebration of diversity and social justice as foundational values which I lead by example.

Who are your LGBTIQA+ role models?

Both of us agreed we don’t have any particular career role models, what we do have is admiration and respect for so many people in our communities. People like Jenny Scott, trailblazer for the South Australian trans community; Keenan Smith, winner of the 2021 NAIDOC award for LGBTIQA+ Person of the Year, and so many other local LGBTIQA+ people who quietly achieve amazing outcomes for our communities.

What advice would you give to young LGBTIQA+ individuals?

Follow your passions, seek out and use mentors (as many as you can) and be relentless! It’s also important to take opportunities when the arise - even if it doesn’t feel like the right time and you don’t feel prepared. Back yourself - because all of us are learning as we go!

Try different things, so you have a breadth of experience. Good leadership requires a real diversity of skills and experience, being able to see all the moving parts and how they fit together to form a clear path towards a common goal.

Definitely volunteer for your local queer organisation! Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, learn new skills and develop experiences.

Finally, work on yourself. Being a good leader means constantly developing yourself and reflecting on who you are and how you show up - the ability to communicate well, motivate and inspire others, be humble and maintain good relationships will be critical to your success.


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