International Women’s Day: DFES HR boss says ‘sisterhood’ must work together for equality

International Women’s Day: DFES HR boss says ‘sisterhood’ must work together for equality

KAREN Roberts never “lifts the ladder up” behind herself and wants other women to do the same to support the “sisterhood” and achieve equality.

As the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) human resources director, Ms Roberts said to achieve progress women must work together rather than leaving others behind.

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“We have a personal responsibility to pay it forward and bring others along for the ride, don’t lift the ladder up behind us,” she said.

“Commit to each other and the sisterhood to make for a fairer more equal society.”

The 52-year-old Doubleview resident has worked in male-dominated organisations, including the WA Police, with a uniformed culture for the past 15 years.

Ms Roberts said in that time she had faced the challenge of not only being a women in those workforces but also for not being a uniformed officer and outside the “power circle”.

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As a career public servant, Ms Roberts first broke into the male-dominated uniformed workforce by joining the Army Reserves when her boyfriend at the time laid out the challenge for her when he said “you wouldn’t last five minutes.”

She lasted 13 years and said the experience was an “incredibly important character shaping activity” in terms of working in a male-dominated organisation.

“You’re out bush in your uniform, it’s equalising and it was very liberating,” she said.

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“All the sorts of ornamental things like doing your makeup and hair, that’s all gone.

“It’s about doing your job and often in a physical environment that was very challenging.”

The “amazing experience” fostered an unimaginable self belief in Ms Roberts who at about 19 was in an abusive relationship.

The unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship put her job in jeopardy due to ongoing absences because she didn’t want to go in and be seen with the visible injuries.

Ms Roberts, who accessed counselling at the time, said having experienced domestic violence as a young woman now looking back on it that it seemed like someone else’s life.

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She went on to pay it forward by volunteering at a women’s refuge where she could relate to the victims and show them that the situation didn’t have to “define” them.

Ms Roberts also spent one year working in Papua New Guinea where there was “so much sorrow” and women and children were disadvantaged and marginalised, with “unspeakable” situations of family violence.

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Her latest volunteer role is as a board member for Angel Hands, working with founder Ann O’Neill to provide support services for long-term recovery from trauma as a consequence of extreme violence.

Which brings Ms Roberts to her latest project of establishing DFES as a White Ribbon accredited organisation to transcend her commitment to social justice further into her professional workplace.

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She said with DFES being a male-dominated workforce, it was the perfect forum to have discussions about violence against women and develop champions to stand up against it.

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