Unafraid of challenging barriers and biases that prevent equity or inclusion

March 8, 2024 BY

Mandy Baxter is a dynamic and inclusive director of Children's services at Geelong organisation Meli.

If anyone can challenge stereotypes and inspire inclusion, it’s Mandy Baxter, director of Children’s Services at Geelong not-for-profit community service organisation Meli.

Mandy believes everyone deserves an opportunity to realise their full potential, explaining “the starting line for some is not on par with those who have readily available support, position and resources”.

For close to two decades, Mandy has dedicated her work life to supporting others, through various roles in youth and family services.

She was appointed a director at Meli in 2023 following the merger of two of Geelong’s oldest community service organisations, BCYF and Bethany.

Not only is Mandy a dynamic and inclusive leader, but she also has a disability and knows first-hand how difficult it can be battling long-held beliefs and systematic biases.

“Being a woman in leadership who has a disability is important to me, personally and professionally, but outwardly it challenges society’s view of disability,” she said.

“I seldom see anyone like me in leadership, as the saying goes, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it!”
Mandy is unafraid to challenge the barriers and biases that prevent true equity or inclusion.

“As a woman with disability, I can challenge the bias that I and my “sisterhood” face every day, but that can be exhausting.”

“Here is my advice: mainstream, move over, make some room, hand over the mic, women with disability are everywhere and our contribution is valid, exceptional, and we will change the world for better if given the floor.”

Reflecting on the International Women’s Day (IWD) theme of Invest in women: Accelerate progress, Mandy believes it’s particularly important to invest in women with disability because their inclusion at every level of society is low.

“If one in six people in Australia have a disability, where are we? It is often societal perception of disability that is the true ‘disabler’.”

As a leader in a female-dominated workplace (about 85 per cent), Mandy appreciates the “tapestry” of women who work across a range of support and education services at Meli.

“I admire the collective impact we have, both subtly and overt.,” she said.

“We are smart, adaptable, we can pivot, we raise the voices of women and children, we inspire action and lead by example.”

“Our experiences give much more insight into what our communities require, our diversity contributes to enabling communities to prosper.”

She says IWD is an opportunity to celebrate women and to hold genuine discussion on important issues such as pay equity, career advancement, and issues such as the unacceptably high rate of intimate partner violence.

“As a society, we require system (and attitudinal) change at all levels to ensure we continue to raise dialogue.

“IWD allows us to face the complexity of those challenges and also uplifts the achievement of all women and girls.”

For more information, head to meli.org.au

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