SHAFAQNA – Captain Mona Shindy, a Muslim weapons engineer, cultural advisor, and business leader in the Royal Australian Navy, has been named the 2015 Telstra NSW Business Woman of the Year, honoring her long career in the navy during which she maintained a strong passion for cultural diversity and inclusion.
“I love to inspire people to be innovative and step out of their comfort zones to see things from a different perspective,” Captain Shindy, Director Littoral Warfare and Maritime Support, said at the Telstra celebration last Wednesday.
“I want people to be true to themselves without fear or discrimination and be respected for their varying views and contributions.”
The journey of Captain Shindy on Australian warships started 26 years ago when the 23-year-old holder of a university degree in the blokey domain of engineering climbed aboard HMAS Canberra to test missiles in the Pacific.
Throughout her 26 years in the Royal Australian Navy, she amassed wealth of experience including representing the country in Washington DC on the Australian Air Warfare Destroyer Program.
In her current role, she is responsible for the acquisition of the nation’s major defence assets.
“We were an absolute novelty and people knew our every movement, what we got up to and where we were. Overall the experience was a positive experience but there certainly were times that were quite challenging,” Captain Shindy told the Daily Telegraph.
“Most female engineers in any work environment _ you really do have to work that little bit harder initially to prove your worth, to demonstrate your competence to really be accepted fully as valued member and a real contributor to the team.”
Her first major challenge came in Ramadan when she was told to eat with everyone else or simply not.
“My first reaction is to empathize, rather than get angry, and to try and be part of the solution and work on the education piece, through engagement and interaction and just being professional about what I do and delivering professional outcomes and results. In the end, people respect that,” she said.
Winning her battles to bridge gaps, she was recently appointed the Chief of Navy’s Strategic Adviser on Islamic Cultural Affairs, for which she was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross in this year’s Australia Day honors for her work bridging cultural divides.
It is her aim to encourage more Muslims to join the defence force, around 100 of the 45000 defence force personnel identify as Muslim, 27 of them in the Navy.
“There’s lots of Australian Muslims who feel very hurt … by previous military campaigns that our defence forces have been on that have I guess resulted in discomfort and difficulty …. where those campaigns have occurred that have caused ramifications for a lot of innocent people,” she said.
She says terrorist attacks which have hijacked aspects of religious teachings to justify those behaviors have created “fear and uncertainty for others who are non-Muslims”.
“For some people that gets looked at as the whole Muslim community,” Captain Shindy said, adding that some young Muslim see this in black and white “us and them” terms.
“You can be a proud Australian that loves everything about this great nation and still love your roots and love where you came from and straddle both worlds and both communities. That’s how I live my life and I like to help other people find their way in living those two things,” she said.
Telstra Chief Operations Officer and Telstra Business Women’s Award Ambassador, Kate McKenzie, said Captain Shindy and all the NSW winners have achieved impressive results in their respective areas of business.
“The 2015 NSW winners are brilliant business women who are passionate, courageous and are willing to challenge the accepted way of doing things,” she said.
McKenzie said the Telstra Awards judges applauded Captain Shindy’s commitment towards cultural change within the Royal Australian Navy and her ability to push for diversity to make Australia’s defense force a more inclusive one.
“Mona has been a trailblazer during her career with the Navy, driving huge organizational change. Her ability to influence change is a rare thing to witness and is truly inspiring,” McKenzie said.