For Ventia’s newest Indigenous Advisory Board member Jennifer (Jen) Mar Young, her path has been carved by purpose. 

Not all careers follow a linear path from school to university or trade school, to junior and then more senior roles, finally culminating in senior leadership. Sometimes that’s by design, sometimes life gets in the way and things go in a different direction than you planned. 

“I have always been focused on purpose rather than a calculated step in my career,” Jen explains. “I have not accepted new roles for title or salary, but based on whether I think I can make a difference in that role.”

Jen’s ability to make a difference in an organisation with a workforce of 35,000+ was one of the reasons she was interested in the Indigenous Advisory Board (IAB) position at Ventia.

My role on the IAB is not to represent every Aboriginal community, but to help amplify the sentiment that I see and hear out there across Australia.

“And then it might be that I point us in the right direction to find the answers we’re seeking or to connect the dots where they might not be connected yet.” 

Connecting the dots

Connecting the dots is something Jen loves to do, leveraging her large and always-growing network to do so.

“Everyone has different networks, and I might not have the answer to the question or the problem you’re posing, but I might know where to find out through my network.” 

As a Kamilaroi woman with Chinese heritage, you could argue that Jen’s cultural background predisposes her to looking at things through a long lens. But she thinks it’s important for all Australians to understand that we need to be in the reconciliation journey for the long haul. 

“Historically with reconciliation we’ve taken one step forward and two steps back,” Jen says. “To help us get past that, companies like Ventia need to get back to their ‘why’. Why do you have a Reconciliation Action Plan? What is your role in the reconciliation journey?”

I think that companies also need to stop navel gazing. Look outside your organisation to see what’s happening in communities and see how you can help make a positive impact.

Creating meaningful employment opportunities

When it comes to employment, Jen recognises that it’s not a one size fits all solution but that companies like Ventia, with a broad footprint, have an advantage as long as they are clear on their objectives. 

“The Aboriginal population is small, it’s young and it’s geographically dispersed. So for Ventia, what does employment success look like? You should have a nuanced plan rather than a number that’s about bums on seats.” 

“Hook into your why and the places in which you operate and the work you want to do. It may be about supporting the economic development of families and communities.”

“Whatever your ‘why’ is, this is a long game.”

Being a friend of change

Jen also suggests that being a disrupter can help make things happen, as long as you’re aware of the risk. 

“Sometimes disrupting things isn’t a good career move, but I’m proud that I have spoken up over the years when I have seen the need. It might not have helped me secure that next leadership role, but to me it’s about helping make the world a fairer place.”

Jen highlights the role of people like Nathan Ross, Ventia’s Indigenous Affairs Manager, who shoulder a huge cultural burden in an organisation of our size. 

“People really struggle with truthtelling in Australia,” Jen says. “Sometimes white guilt gets in the way of proper conversations.”

“We talk about being allies to marginalised communities, but I prefer the term friends. A friend is someone that you know on a personal level rather than looking at it as a formal process. And if you know someone, you’re less likely to let prejudices get in the way of how you treat them.” 

“The more people at Ventia that can lean in and help Nathan with the conversations that need to be had, the truthtelling that we should be encouraging, the easier it will be to progress reconciliation.” 

Sharing everyday success stories

Anyone that travels regularly on Qantas and likes to flip through the on-board magazine may have seen an interview with Jen in October 2023. 

One of the examples she highlighted was the opportunities Aboriginal people have in sport. 

“If you look at the AFL and NRL in Australia, Aboriginal players make up something like 12-15% of players, from a general population of about 3%,” Jen notes.

If workplaces gave Aboriginal employees the same level of support, coaching, opportunity that they do in sport, imagine what would be possible!

Jen also likes to note though that not everyone needs to be a famous athlete to be happy with their lives. 

“There are many Aboriginal people leading quiet, successful lives and we don’t talk about that enough,” she says. “Maybe that’s one way that Ventia can contribute. Share those stories.” 

With her first official Board meeting on 14 June, there is no doubt that Jen will add a lot of value to Ventia’s reconciliation journey. 

For more information on Ventia’s Reconciliation Action Plan or our Indigenous Participation governance structure, visit our website here.