Rabia Siddique’s life story reads like a work of captivating fiction, which is why the memoir she has written will soon be transferred to the big screen. Siddique’s strong sense of destiny is inherent in the poise and strength she has shown in the pursuit of justice.
The daughter of a Muslim immigrant to Australia, she has survived sex abuse and is the mother of triplets. Fluent in four languages, she’s a former British Army lawyer, hostage negotiator, and terrorism and war crimes prosecutor. In 2006 she received a commendation from the Queen for her human rights work in Iraq and last year she was named as one of the 100 most influential women in Australia. Siddique is now legal counsel to the West Australian police commissioner.
LG: You have said that you, at times, felt powerless and without a voice, but those negative emotions actually drove some of your career choices. How can negativity be overcome, particularly in regard to introducing change? What are the lessons for HR professionals in a workplace setting?
RS: I have five words that sum up what I believe are the drivers of change: culture, values, ethics, diversity and equality. To me, culture is first and foremost. Culture is the one thing that really has the potential to change workplaces. We all have mission statements, performance indicators, values and mottos, but culture is the undefinable thing. It’s what you feel when you walk into a workplace as an outsider or a new employee. The culture is really what makes people feel valued or not. Everything stems from that in terms of how you treat your people, how people treat each other, management and leadership styles, work practices and work policies.
Culture is the commitment to really valuing your people as the most important resource, and it needs
to be worked on, not just within our workplaces but with in our society as well.
LG: You comment that we, as tourists, try to ease ourselves into new environments, including learning a bit about customs, culture and even some of the language. Yet this seems to be a courtesy often forgotten in our own neighbourhoods.
RS: This is a conflict that I’ve never quite been able to reconcile about us as Australians. We’re a nation of travellers, yet if you look at most of the developed nations, we are a country that speaks the least number of languages. Perhaps that reflects what is and isn’t valued in our society, and what conflicts with the whole culture.
This growing hysteria about protecting our borders, and treating people fleeing from other places as the enemy, is something we need to address as a priority because it goes against what we as a nation are built upon.
I don’t know whether it has come from the record affluence we seem to have achieved as a nation. The fact that we sort of live within this bubble. But there certainly is impatience and intolerance that I think comes from a place of ignorance.
Having said that, one of the wonderful examples of how we can change came a couple of days after the Sydney siege. There was the multidenominational coming together in Sydney and around the country, where elders and religious leaders preached the message of harmony and commonality. The whole world’s eyes were watching us, and that seemed to be our immediate reaction. That gave me cause for hope and I felt proud to call myself Australian again.
LG: What advice do you have about how to influence change?
RS: In order to understand where we’re at and what needs to be changed, we need to not adopt the ostrich approach, and we need to confront a situation and be honest with ourselves and each other.
Secondly, we have to change the narrative and how we perceive things in order to change the status quo. Finally, there’s a beautiful saying that injustice will continue to prevail if hope ceases to exist, and I truly do believe that. We protect hope by gathering and protecting our arsenal of supporters, by keeping close those who really enrich our lives.
Also, forcing ourselves to do something uncomfortable. That’s embracing our individual power and responsibility to create ripples of change. Because if we do that in our own world and in our own workplaces, ripples have a tendency to become waves. That’s how we’re going to not only sustain ourselves, but influence change on a wider scale.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the August 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘The ripple effect’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.