From a national park in Minnie Water, NSW to Harvard and the Big Apple … via journalism and social change

Profiling Jordan Akhurst, Senior Manager, Workplace Diversity and Inclusion, University of Queensland

Jordan Akhurst

If you were about to head to the US to present at Harvard University on a new disabled paradigm you have coined, continue your diversity and inclusion work, and be part of a project with the Indigenous Navaho community, you would be very excited.

This is exactly what Jordan Akhurst is about to do—she is currently Senior Manager, Workplace Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Queensland (UQ).

So how did this come about?

“With my background and experience in diversity and inclusion, I’ve been invited to Harvard University in Boston to present on a new paradigm in disability inclusion that I have coined: ‘disability courageous’,” Akhurst said.

Fantastic opportunity

“’Disability courageous’ entails dismantling current ‘deficit’ models of disability tolerance/acceptance and reframing them as ‘ability diversity’,” said Akhurst. “It’s such a fantastic opportunity for me.”

While in the US, she plans to continue her work focusing on women’s rights and gender-based violence prevention.

“I think it’s even more important to be working on these projects now with the current climate in the US and the world,” she said.

With Trump and his supporters perpetuating the problem of violence against women and Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, having rescinded protections for women who are victims of sexual assault on US college campuses, Akhurst’s research and work in gender-based violence at universities is even more important and timely.

She will also have an opportunity to be part of a project her husband Graham Akhurst—an Indigenous Australian Kokomini man from north-west Queensland—will be working on in the US.

An inbuilt passion for social justice

“My husband is an Indigenous writer and has a Fulbright Scholarship to work with Australian writer Peter Carey in New York on an inclusion project with the Indigenous Navaho community, which is another fantastic opportunity for both of us,” she said.

But it’s not by accident that Akhurst can take advantage of this Boston and New York moment.

“I have an inbuilt passion for social justice and my parents brought me up to treat people properly and fairly,” she said.

“We lived in a national park in Minnie Water, New South Wales, where I was surrounded by the beach and the bush and lots of interesting people, hippy communes and a diverse and inclusive community.”

“The country town of Grafton was an hour’s drive away and was totally different—it was where I first saw and experienced racism and sexism,” she said.

From journalism to Oxfam

With this background and her passion for social justice, she chose to study a Bachelor of Journalism at the University of Wollongong, began a career in journalism and ended up working in corporate communications for Oxfam.

While working for Oxfam she travelled to Cambodia and wrote about the post-conflict impacts.

“I felt very privileged to be able to travel with Oxfam to do this work and it made me realise that I wanted to work in this area and make a difference, not just write about it,” she said.

Akhurst then studied a Master of Communications, Social Change and Development at UQ and worked in a number of social change roles, including at Human Ventures where she was a Communication for Social Change Specialist for six months in 2014.

This included conducting a social impact assessment of Human Venture’s Creative Tracks program in Cherbourg, a remote Indigenous community in western Queensland.

A rich learning experience in a remote community

Cherbourg has a population of 1,241, making it Queensland’s third largest Aboriginal community.

The Creative Tracks program works within the communities of Cherbourg, Woorbinda, Logan and Hope Vale to develop skills in dance, singing, music, video production and leadership.

“I found the whole experience to be a rich learning one. It was amazing to travel to Cherbourg and be welcomed into such a rural and remote community,” Akhurst said.

Then in March 2015, Akhurst began working at UQ in the Equity and Diversity space, and by September 2017 was promoted to Senior Manager, Workplace Diversity and Inclusion.

She has loved her time and work at UQ in Equity and Diversity.

Applying an intersectional lens to diversity and inclusion work

“It’s allowed me to apply an intersectional lens to my diversity and inclusion work to develop strategic policies, programs and initiatives to address the under-representation of people in employment,” she said.

“I’ve got particular expertise in increasing representation, participation and inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM); LGBTIQA+ communities; culturally and linguistically diverse peoples; and people with a disability in the workplace,” she said.

In her time at the UQ she has seen things change quite dramatically.

“When I first started work here people would ask ‘Why do we have to do this?’, now they ask ‘How can we do this better?’ which is really good to hear.”

“A lot of this social change is by nature incremental and takes time, but I love being part of the bigger picture of social change and making a real impact over time—it’s very satisfying and very positive as well,” she said.

Valuable and first-rate expertise and capability

The UQ Ally Network at the University of Queensland is an award-winning and longstanding program of nearly 20 years. It provides a visible network of well-informed staff who create a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for sex, gender and sexually diverse people at UQ and in the broader community.

“It has been fantastic for me to work for an organisation with such a strong stance on making the workplace an accepting, positive, diverse and inclusive space,” Akhurst said.

The work at UQ sounds like it has been a perfect fit for her on many levels, as well as being an excellent opportunity for her social justice career.

With her valuable and first-rate expertise and capability in this area of work, she is more than set for New York, working with the Navaho community and on gender-based violence projects in the US … in fact, it will be hard to hold her back.