In the lead up to International Women's Day (March 8th 2019) we will be interviewing inspirational women about their journey in the business world. We want to recognise and share the achievements of these women; share their stories with others and encouraging other organisations to #BalanceforBetter in their businesses.

Our third interviewee is Lisa Annese | CEO | Diversity Council Australia

Charterhouse Australia Lisa Annese

Please tell us a little about your current mandate
As CEO of Diversity Council Australia, I work with organisations around Australia to help them create diverse and inclusive workplaces. Since I became CEO in 2014, I’ve been delighted to see how many workplaces are embracing diversity and inclusion – they understand that it’s actually good for their business and their employees.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?
The biggest challenge in this work is keeping people focussed on diversity initiatives that are grounded in evidence.  A rising backlash to inclusion more broadly has sometimes seen the conversation derailed into an ‘us versus them’ debate but I find that if you keep going back to the business case and the research that DCA produces, you can demonstrate that diversity and inclusion is a win-win proposition. Good for people, great for business.

What advice would you give to women looking to forge a career in your industry?Diversity and inclusion professionals are seen as change agents in organisations, especially given their work progressing initiatives and being a voice for change. It’s therefore important to focus on self-care so that you can stay resilient in the face of resistance and sometimes backlash. I would also advise people to utilise DCA resources so they can trust they are using best practice evidence-based tools and guidelines to create a better workplace. And finally, just keep at it. Change doesn’t happen overnight so you have to be in it for the long haul.

Who has been your biggest influence professionally?
I take inspiration from people who do heroic things in the face of opposition or even oppression (like Malala Yousafzai or the late Maya Angelou) or those who, through their creativity, shine a light on causes or issues, like writer Margaret Atwood or ballerina Misty Copeland.  It is not one person but a collection of individuals who inspire me to keep working hard to create a more inclusive society.  And I am just as inspired by the non-living as the living and I include fictional characters in that group too..

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing gender equality in the workplace?
I think we know that in Australia most corporations now understand the business case for gender diversity.  A greater challenge however is to now ensure we enable all women to benefit from progress towards gender equality. Not just white, straight, able-bodied women. DCA has done a lot of research that shows there are complex barriers for women who have intersectional diversity.  The more your identity deviates from the dominant group, the harder it gets.

What do you believe women uniquely bring to the table in senior positions?
It is somewhat of a stereotype to suggest that women have unique skills that men don’t.  It is probably better to say that the more diversity you have in your organisation and in your leadership team, the more likely you are to be innovative, creative and effective.

However, our research has found that managers with care-giving responsibilities are rated more highly than those that don’t have those responsibilities – and women are very often the care-givers so they are more likely to have those skills.  We’ve also found that flexible workers are more productive and again, women are more likely to work flexibly too due to their care-giving responsibilities.

What does International Women's Day mean to you?
IWD is a great chance to celebrate women’s achievements – but it’s also an opportunity to put the spotlight on inequalities and what can be done to address them. Also, we do need to ensure that these issues continue to receive attention throughout the year – not just for one day – or else progress will stagnate and we’ll revert back to our starting position.

For me personally, IWD provides a day of focus and it means that workplaces will reflect on their achievements and what they still need to do.

Thank you for your time in answering our questions, Lisa. 

You can follow Lisa's success at: