5 quick questions with Yen Eriksen

2 May 2018

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

The She Leads In-Conversation Series provides Canberrans with the opportunity to hear from women leaders from different backgrounds and industries in a conversational format, followed by a live Q&A session, networking, and canapes. Our May In-Conversation event will feature Jax Jacki Brown and Yen Eriksen, centering around activism, disability, human rights, the LGBTIQ community, and equality.

Yen Eriksen is an advocate, writer and storyteller. They are experienced in LGBTIQ advocacy and community development and are a loud and proud champion for intersectional feminism. They are a longtime community educator and workshop facilitator, and offer consulting and training in areas of gender, diversity, youth engagement and social media. Yen has worked across community media, the women’s sector, fundraising and higher education. Yen was also the 2015 Young Person’s Human Rights Award medalist awarded by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Describe your leadership journey in 30 words or less.

I found myself playing the role of leader in my youth projects out of a desire to cultivate success and support for the people around me. I think that when you are member of multiple minority communities, it becomes easier to realise what things around you could be improved and it becomes harder not to act on those issues.

What was (or is) your biggest leadership challenge?

One of the biggest challenges in leadership is taking apart and debunking what leadership means. It’s generally an inaccessible concept defined from corporate, political, and anglo-colonial spaces, historically masculine traits, and overall, is about dominance and control over others.

One of the biggest challenges we all face is unpacking what leadership means so that it can be more inclusive of less flag-waving look-at-me-leaders.

Together, we can make space for community, personal, creative, and grass-roots leadership, family leadership, and good citizenship, that isn’t about recognition or self-service.

Why do we need more women in leadership, and what difference can women in leadership make in terms of gender equality?

We need more diversity in leadership because it’s a key step to breaking down power structures. Power is generally centralised and localised in identity groups who benefit from it, which also forms part of debunking leadership norms.

What book should every aspiring woman leader read?

One of the best books I’ve read is The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke – it may not seem to be a book about leadership, but it is one of the most cutting and insightful books about growing up not-white in Australia ever written.

Everyone should read this book because it will make us all more empathetic to the impact of racism. I found it to have deep resonance as well as relevance. It takes leadership and courage to write a book of truth like The Hate Race.

Share with us the best piece of advice you’ve been given.

One of my school teachers told me that ‘leadership is service’, and I’ve always held to that idea. If you think about being a leader as working hard for others, volunteering your time and energy – may that be emotional or physical – to the service of others, then you are a leader.

Leadership is about serving the needs of others. Helping people who don’t have privilege gain access, get inspired, tell stories, work together, and ultimately, achieve something.

If you have integrity to service then I think that’s the kind of leadership I believe in.

You can hear more from Jax Jacki Brown and Yen Eriksen at the She Leads In-Conversation on Tuesday 8 May – secure your ticket online today!


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