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A Force to Be Reckoned With

From grassroots to government, proud Waanyi woman, Bernice Hookey, has been driving social and economic change across all levels. As a First Nations Cultural Advisor and the owner of local consulting service, MZB Empowerment, Bernice strives to educate business owners, corporates and governments on how to strengthen cultural inclusion of Indigenous Australians in the workplace.

“My mission is to value-add and transform the visibility and representation of Indigenous people through truth-telling education,” explains Bernice.

“Many organisations or businesses that are looking to develop a strategy to engage Indigenous employees find it challenging to figure out what that first step should be, so we specialise in simplifying that process through workshops, training and cultural design for development programs to provide that guidance.”

With an extensive career working in a mix of government, private sector, Aboriginal organisations and a 20-year stint in the mining sector, Bernice draws on both her personal and professional experience and learnings to empower others in the business space. She has been a keynote speaker at several events across sectors such as education, health and community, and notably presented at the Mining Leadership Summit for AusIMM in 2019.

“Successful change starts at the top; cultural inclusion needs to be underpinned by leadership strategy and it is crucial when it comes to running an effective team, so if I am able to get through to a business via their leader, then that leader is doing their job,” she explains.

“By embedding cross-cultural awareness with culturally appropriate tools, this in turn strengthens businesses to have the ability to invest in their workforces which leads to an array of talent who are committed to the company and to developing culturally appropriate responses to innovative solutions and maximise economic activity as a result.”

Bernice has facilitated leadership programs nationally and co-designed the Yanalangami Leadership program offered via Tranby which was successfully launched in 2021 and delivered to 16 women across Australia with the goal of increasing Indigenous female-led change. She is also a mentor for the Meereeng50 Accelerator Program for a Victorian-only Indigenous business and a facilitator for the One Business Program, helping create pathways for Indigenous businesses in the Queensland innovation economy.

“Connection, facilitation and engagement – whether in the form of mentorship in the corporate or government setting, or in the context of emerging Indigenous businesses – is the key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage,” she continues.

“It comes down to having access to the right resources, tools and education.”

Alongside her work at MZB Empowerment, Bernice also serves on several boards across health, women’s services, legal, disability and is the Queensland representative on the National Rural Women’s Coalition CRT.

Her tireless efforts have seen her become a finalist for both the Emerging Changemaker of the Year in the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards and Inspiring Leadership Awards 2020 for Women of Colour. She was also recently invited by the Australian Human Rights Commission to participate in a closed roundtable discussion on the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) report that was released in December 2020.

“Sitting in a room with 30 incredible women who were ex-ministers, academics and professors was an amazing experience and to be part of that process continues to be very humbling,” she adds.

“Successful stakeholder and community engagement is critical to business success regardless of the sector and for those seeking cultural expertise, it’s important to find a service that will assist you in achieving your key deliverables.

“By incorporating cross-cultural awareness in the workplace, we really are continuing that journey towards intergenerational healing.”

Photography credit: Tamara Lopdell Photography

Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She is preparing to study with The School of The New York Times later this year before commencing her journalism qualifications.