Today saw the start of a trial series of community workshops at my workplace. We’ve been very excited about these sessions, which have been tailored to suit a specific clientele.

Broadly speaking, women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds face the double whammy of cultural diversity and gender when applying for jobs in Australia. This infographic from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows a significantly lower rate of participation in the workforce on the part of this group compared to other women in Australia or, indeed, men from CALD backgrounds.

Having identified this need, our goal was to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for women from CALD backgrounds who are interested in trying to jump that barrier and find jobs in Australia.

The notion of a safe space that’s also a learning environment resonates strongly. My experience and background have taught me that learning is most likely to be successful in complex situations if extraneous factors can be limited. And yes, of course the real world is full of ’extraneous factors’ and job situations throw those at us every day. But until one has the tools to deal with some of those situations, that’s almost beside the point.

So what is a positive space? In an artistic sense, positive space refers to the main focus or subject of a picture rather than the background – which sometimes called the negative space. Together these form the picture as a whole, but there are times when the subject of the picture needs all our focus in order to reach its potential.

Socio-cultural situations are no different – and this is where a positive (or safe) space fits in.

My perception is that such as space should be one of empowerment. It should be somewhere that individuals, whether marginalized or not, should be able to come together to achieve their goals without fear of judgement relating to their age, gender, ethnicity, race or cultural context.

In the best of all possible worlds, these positive learning spaces – whether they are at a school, university, convention or community centre – should be inclusive, accessible spaces that can allow you to be who you are and provide a level of affirmation that you and your goals deserve support and care.

Does this concept open the door to misuse? No doubt it does. But the door that we’re trying to open is one in which an opportunity for best outcomes is created for the participants. In this scenario, we’re simply trying to provide a space from which people can then take a step forward into a future that they envision for themselves.

The workshops we designed cover a wide range of topics, from generating a resume to interview techniques. It also provides an opportunity for participants to practise their spoken English, pick up on current vernacular and learn a little about the Australian workplace. We’ve even included a mock interview scenario – and we’re all pretty excited to see just what can be achieved over the next few weeks.

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