A finalist in the 2020 New Zealand Women of Influence Awards and one of Campaign Asia Pacific’s Women to Watch for 2020, Ziena Jalil was always destined to be a changemaker.
Head Girl at Fiji’s Natabua High School, she became a trainer in drug and substance abuse prevention at 16, represented South Pacific youth at a UN forum at The Hague, was an award-winning orator, and scored the highest English mark in the country in her final year of school.
A trailblazer in her demographic, the Kiwi Fiji Indian went onto rack up a string of other firsts. She graduated top student in her Bachelor of Communication Studies at AUT, was recognised as the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Young Practitioner of the Year for her work leveraging the historic NZ-China Free Trade Agreement, and at 27 was the youngest person to be appointed to the role of NZ Trade Commissioner.
Now 38, the dynamic mother of two continues to drive change in a spectacularly diverse range of sectors.
“I get bored easily so a range of different interests and roles is very natural to me.”
“We need genuine respect for difference, for diversity – not just political tolerance. We need real action to become a more inclusive, equitable society, not just paying lip service to diversity.”
Consulting Partner at PR firm SenateSHJ, Ziena serves on numerous boards, is a founding member of Gender Justice Collective, and during lockdown co-founded myyodaa, a mobile app connecting yoga and meditation students with teachers all over the world. She’s also a keynote speaker and commentator on everything from economic development, international and vocational education, and Asia business, to leadership, diversity and inclusion, and politics.
While that’s enough to give many of us heart palpitations, for Ziena, it’s her lifeblood. “Across all the work that I do, whether that’s with my own clients, my governance roles, or advocacy work, there’s a common theme around diversity and inclusion and ensuring a more equitable society, particularly better outcomes for our marginalised communities.”
Gender equity is high on her list and although she acknowledges that New Zealand is making progress (half our public service chief executive roles are now held by women and we have a female prime minister and leader of the opposition), Ziena says we still have a long way to go.
“Simply having women in these roles isn’t enough unless we see actions that make a tangible difference in the lives of women in our country. Only 20 percent of senior managers in New Zealand are females which places us as one of the lowest-ranked countries worldwide for women in senior leadership.
“We need genuine respect for difference, for diversity – not just political tolerance. We need real action to become a more inclusive, equitable society, not just paying lip service to diversity.” She has already dedicated a lifetime to the cause, but she’s got no intention of taking her foot off the accelerator any time soon.
“Challenging the status quo is never easy, and especially so as a young, brown woman in senior roles. But I’d like to continue to use my skills, experience, networks and knowledge particularly in the areas of Asia’s importance to New Zealand, economic development, education, and diversity and inclusion to contribute to a better, more inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand, and one that is engaged meaningfully in the Asia Pacific.”
Ziena identifies as much with Asia as she does with the Pacific, having spent a decade there as Head of North Asia Marketing and Communications for NZ Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand Trade Commissioner to Singapore, and Regional Director South and South East Asia for Education New Zealand.
“We cannot underestimate the importance of Asia to New Zealand’s future. And in doing so, especially at a time when travel is limited, we need to embrace the fullness of potential in our own country by recognising our own diversity and leveraging this as a strength as we partner and seek to grow in Asia.”