Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves!

Author : Lynne Graham

So it is 2018, and on the eve of March 8, the eve of International Women’s Day, I have asked myself a forbidden question, is it, International Women’s Day, still relevant? I know what my heart believes.

So, we have the vote, tick; we can have a career and a family, tick; we can undertake any career that we desire, tick; we can make it to the highest political office in the land, tick. However, delve a little deeper, we are not represented equally in parliament, in board rooms, have equal pay, and yes I would argue we do not have equal standing in community. Bold statement I know but it is how I feel and this topic is loaded with emotion.

So what is the origin of International Women’s Day? The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911. It is held in recognition that collective action and shared responsibility is required if we are ever to see gender parity. According to UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “Achieving gender parity equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world”. Another big, bold statement and one I believe.

In line with this thinking it is interesting to know that feminism was Merriam-Webster online dictionary’s most looked up word for 2017. The noun was looked up more than any other word, a 70 percent increase from the previous year, undoubtedly coinciding with a spike in news coverage related to women’s rights. “No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events, or stories of a given year ” Merriam-Webster said, “But when a single word is looked up in great volume, and also stands out as one associated with several different important stories, we can learn something about ourselves through the prism of vocabulary.”

Jessica Irvine, in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, reports on the release of the findings of the first ever survey of attitudes to work by Australian women aged 16 to 40. The national survey of more than 2100 women and 500 men asked respondents to nominate what matters “a lot” to their working lives.

  • Women ranked “respect” as the number one thing they valued in the workplace, ahead of having an interesting or well-paying job.
  • One in ten women experienced sexual harassment in their current jobs. Furthermore, the report identified prevalent forms of other gender-based discrimination “such as being belittled or singled out for their physical appearance”.
  • Only 31 per cent of women thought they were treated equally at work, compared to 50 per cent of men who said the same.
  • 53 per cent of young working women expect to see an improvement in gender equality in the workforce in the coming decade, while a third expect women’s experiences to remain about the same.

So what can I make out of these facts? There is as much need today in 2018 to herald International Women’s Day as there was in 1911. There is a need to continue the national conversation about the rights, the roles and aspirations of women.

As a CEO in a sector where the workforce is predominantly female I ask myself how I can make a difference. I can work to ensure the industrial tool is not eroded or undermined, I can ensure that there is access to training and opportunity and I can ensure there is no discrimination based on age, race, and gender. I always recognise that many women hold dual jobs, one in the workplace and one in the home and that one will always impact on the other, subject to operational limitations I can offer flexibility in recognition of the important role that family plays in our lives. I can mentor younger women offering my wisdom and experience and I can encourage and make space at the table for younger women wishing to progress their careers.

As I write this article, the anthem by the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin’, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” is playing in my head, the chorus particularly powerful:

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.
Standin’ on their own two feet.
And ringin’ on their own bells.

On International Women’s Day, “sisters” let’s keep ringing those bells; there will be a day when we will be heard. I will mostly definitely be wearing the colour of the movement on March 8, purple, and I hope to see many more “sisters” wearing it to!

Yes – let’s celebrate

International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) was held on 3 December. This is a United Nations sanctioned day that is celebrated across the world. The Australian Government has supported the day since 1996. The day aims to promote the human rights of people with disability and promote awareness of disability in social, political, economic and cultural life.

This year’s theme was “transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all”. I guess one could ask what does that really mean? At its most basic level it is about ensuring that no one is left behind.

Social justice, social inclusion and social recognition are important pillars of ensuring that no one is left behind. Including the person with a disability and ensuring that they have access and involvement in community is fundamental to this. The NDIS will go a long way to supporting this goal however it is every little interaction that a person with a disability has with others in a community that will have as big an impact as the structural reform that NDIS brings. It is the smile on the street, the small talk at the counter, the moving out of the way for the wheelchair, it is the hundreds of everyday interactions that will ultimately show the person with a disability their place in community.

I would like to think the day is also about celebrating the achievements of people with a disability; highlighting their abilities instead of focusing on their disability. For many years there has been a saying, don’t Dis my ability. Many times in my career I have been amazed at what individuals who face what seem insurmountable challenges can achieve.

I am unashamedly inspired by Madeline Stuart, a young woman with Downs Syndrome who has modeled in New York; Kurt Harry Fearnley, OAM who is an Australian wheelchair racer, who has won gold medals at the Paralympic Games and ‘crawled’ the Kokoda Track; and companies who actively discriminate to employ people who suffer from austism like start-up Xceptional that has found that individuals with autism make excellent software testers.

I recognise that not every individual with a disability can achieve at such a high level but every individual with a disability can achieve and their individual achievements will be as individual as they are. My role and your role is to recognise the achievements of people with a disability and make space and grace to celebrate them no matter how minor or insignificant the achievement may seem. Achievement will come in many forms a new skill, a new word, increased independence, a new friend, whatever it is let us not miss the chance to recognise, celebrate and enjoy the moment.

NDIS – The journey

Author – Lynne Graham

I have been reflecting on the NDIS, both the challenges and the opportunities that we as providers and participants face. I know that it is understated to say that this is significant reform, I think that it has been said that it is a once in a generation reform, yes it is that big. I think we forget that change is difficult particularly when it is on the scale of the NDIS.

I am not really sure that I can remember the introduction of Medibank/Medicare.  Medibank started on 1 July 1975. In nine months, the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) had increased its staff from 22 to 3500, opened 81 offices, installed 31 minicomputers, 633 terminals and 10 medium-sized computers linked by land-lines and issued registered health insurance cards to 90% of the Australian population. Yes, I guess one could say that was very big reform. Did it go smoothly? I would think not. Were people happy and satisfied with the initiative? I would think not.

The original Medibank scheme was to be financed by a 1.35% levy (with low income exemptions) but the bills were rejected by the Senate and so Medibank was originally funded from general revenue. Medicare is presently nominally funded by an income tax surcharge. Is everyone happy to support the funding of Medicare? I would think there will always be individuals who struggle with how their tax dollars are spent.

Why am I reflecting on the Medibank/Medicare journey? I guess it is important to recognise that many in the community cannot remember Australia without universal health care and indeed there are many that will remember the angst that such reform brought. Our universal health care, despite issues, remains one of the cornerstones of our social structure. Irrespective of gender, race, age or infirmity each Australian can access top quality health care services. As a community we have come to expect and accept this as a right. Today, do we remember the drama, the angst, the difficulties of implementation? I would think not.

So, along comes the NDIS, funded by an increase in our Medicare levy. Is everyone happy about that? I would think not. The rollout, has it been smooth? I have to say definitely not. Are providers and participants struggling in the new consumer driven market? I would have to say absolutely. However, at the centre of the angst, the stress, the frustration we have a piece of legislation that should and will make a fundamental difference to individuals and indeed to Australian society. Yes, it is that big.

I could focus on the challenges that the NDIS offers, however I want to rejoice in the fact that lives are being changed because of it. I want to celebrate that the NDIS will force the community to be more accepting of people with disabilities, to make space and place for individuals that for too long have sat on the peripheries of our communities. I want to believe that in five, ten, fifteen years that we won’t remember the difficulties, the dramas and the problems that we experienced during implementation. I want to believe that we will view the NDIS in the same way that we do universal health care as an expected and accepted right for those that have a disability.

So, take a breath people. Jump on the train it has left the station. Feel the movement as the train sways a little as it takes the bends. Believe that the journey is as important as the destination. Talk to the other passengers on the journey there is much we can learn from one another. Thank the drivers and the conductors because without them there would be no journey. Above all enjoy the ride with the knowledge that where we are headed is indeed better than from where we started.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to the NDIA and the LACs. I think we sometimes forget to thank you for driving this forward in a constantly changing environment. Good job!

An inclusive society for all

The majority of my professional life has been spent working in the third sector, or the not-for-profit sector.  What has been a consistent theme in my experience is that each organisation I have worked for has been values based. They may have used different words but the language was consistent, the language of social inclusion and acceptance. I guess one could say social inclusion and social justice runs deep in my veins. I felt compelled to write this article in response to what has occurred in our parliament this week.

Firstly, I must say that I am not writing this from a political bias, I am merely making comment about how I view what I see and hear on our media outlets. What occurred in our Senate with a female Senator, non-Muslim,  wearing a full burqa, was appalling.  Such actions are disrespectful and do nothing to build a socially inclusive society, in fact they fuel fear and misunderstanding. I know that there are many in our community who have decried such actions notwithstanding our PM who stated   “mutual respect is not just the foundation of our success as a multicultural society…… (it) enables us to live together, work together, in harmony.”

So what makes an inclusive community and why is diversity so important?  An inclusive community values everyone, eliminates forms of discrimination and actively promotes equal opportunity and treatment. Acts of exclusion, mistreatment, signalling out or injustice are not tolerated. Diversity is important, it provides a richness to our world and offers us experiences that enable us to grow. I want to live in a society that values diversity and welcomes those that are different.

It is not just those with different religious beliefs, but those who are poor, homeless, disabled, suffer from a mental illness or have a physical disability that require us to think about what we can do to build social connection and acceptance. It is in the language we use, it is in the interaction we have in the line-up at the checkout, it is what we say to our children, it is the multiple small interactions that we have every day that will ultimately impact on the type of community we live in. Yes, our politicians can set the broad agenda but it is you and me that really makes the difference. Next time you see someone just a little different to you have the courage to make eye contact, smile and say hello. Join with me in breaking down the barriers of fear and exclusion.

Building Bridges

Did you know that July 30 is the International Day of Friendship?  The day was proclaimed in 2011 by the United Nations General Assembly and is held in recognition of the relevance and importance of friendship as a noble and valuable sentiment in the lives of human beings around the world. The International Day of Friendship promotes the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities and ultimately promote the understanding and respect for diversity.

I was inspired to write this piece as I reflected on the importance of friendship. At the base of our humanity is the need to connect. What does connection mean? I am sure the meaning is different for each of us. For many of us our connection to family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours reinforces our place in community. It reinforces that we are indeed important to any number of people who are part of the intricate web of our lives.

I could not reflect on the value of the concept of friendship without recognising that there are many in our community who are currently missing the joy that this fundamental connection brings. I am struck by the vision of the lonely elderly neighbour, the invisible homeless person, the person with a disability who struggles to communicate with others and the person who has a mental illness  who has alienated family and friends as a result of their illness.

Why is it that we are so uncomfortable with others that are not like us? Why is that we find it difficult  to build bridges that break down the barriers to understanding and accepting others, we are after all,  the same; human. Why do we see the differences and focus on them, why does it matter about someone’s religion, sexuality, race or age?

If the International Day of Friendship is about inspiring the building of bridges between communities and people and promoting the value of diversity I ask you what can you do to make a difference; who can you reach your hand of friendship to?  I know exactly what I am going to do. I am going to make an effort to see those that are different to me, those that sit on the peripheries of my community and I am going to make an effort to acknowledge them, gee, I might even invite someone for coffee!


Mentally healthy workplaces

This morning whilst perusing the tabloids I came across an article that highlighted a CEO’s response to a staff member taking two days leave to manage her mental health. His response was perfect. He applauded her for her insight, for her openness and for cutting through the stigma of mental health and allowing us to bring our whole self to work.[1] I asked myself why is this news? Have we moved so little in our thinking about mental health, yes mental illness, that we are still afraid to disclose to our peers, bosses and others that we might be struggling?

Mental health is a continuum; on one end we have good mental health, capacity and resilience, on the other end we have illness manifesting itself in any number of ways for example anxiety, depression or a sense of being overwhelmed. Each of us has the capacity to move along that continuum at any time. Why some move more than others is a question for the researchers.

As a CEO my job is to build a culture where good and poor mental health is part of the business discourse, part of a culture where support and acceptance is in the DNA of the business. One would think that it would be easier for me given ICLA is a provider of support services for people suffering mental illness but I am not quite sure that is the case.

There are strategies that every leader can employ in order to break down this insidious barrier to acceptance and build a strong and inclusive culture. You may ask with all my competing demands as a leader why do I need to put this at the top of the list? Why, because good mental health is good for business. An inclusive and accepting culture can lead to reduced absenteeism and turnover rates and increased positive performance. It is not to simple to say a happy workforce leads to happy customers.

Research tells us that there are six key areas that workplaces can focus on to drive change. Building resilience is important and we can achieve this by training, mentoring and coaching. Undertaking smarter work design by providing flexibility and opportunities for involvement is an important pillar. Supporting recovery by offering return to work opportunities and providing support and training to supervisors is pivotal to reengaging individuals. Undertaking early intervention activities such as offering EAP may help to deescalate episodes.  It goes without saying building a better culture and increasing awareness  are key underpinnings to driving the change of acceptance.[2]

Ultimately what we want as a CEO is a happy, healthy and engaged workforce with high productivity and job satisfaction. We know if we have this business improves and customer satisfaction increases. There is much we can do in our roles to make that happen. I would encourage all business leaders to employ some of the strategies suggested here and better still become informed about creating a mentally healthy workplace. A great place to start is by joining the Heads Up community at

[1] Donnelly K, 2017, MSN Australia,  accessed July 12 2017,

[2] Mental Health Commission, Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces – A review of the literature, accessed July 12 2017,

A new era for ICLA

The social services industry is highly regulated with benchmark standards articulated in legislation. Over three days, 26-28 June 2017, ICLA was assessed, by independent agency DNG-VL, against the National Standards Mental Health Services and the National Standards Disability Services. I am delighted to say the the result was fabulous. However I will leave it to the Chair of the Board Nigel Harvey to relive the experience for you:


I am standing outside ICLA still slightly stunned by the feedback session Richard Crebbin and I attended a few hours ago with the external accreditation and ICLA senior management teams.

These people were tough as.  Pene who a few of us met Monday is a compliance expert scraping for flaws through every document and factoid presented to the point even of proudly spotting a “GRNC” (vs GNRC) typo somewhere in several metres of policies and other documents  she investigated. Her partner Joe is a charming but astute interviewer and flaw hunter who even rummaged through a garden shed!

Pene told us less than 20% of their charges get through upfront, albeit most can clean up sufficiently in the 90 days subsequently allowed to get the fully competent ticks they take such jealous care about awarding – and that we must have to breathe.

So I arrived  a few minutes late with some trepidation albeit fairly confident we’d at least have some weeks to resolve any matters but really not wanting to load yet more onto our senior management team after weeks of preparation work.

Well, I walked in to see Karen and John grinning and thumbing up and everyone else beaming almost absurdly.

We not only passed despite increasingly probing efforts to find deeper flaws than those we tidied up on the spot …….

We are outstanding.  We are best practice.  We have a laundry list of commendations not least for Lynne’s leadership, “walks on water” they cheerfully quoted one of our staff.  We are not just above average; we have handfuls of documents and procedures that are better than anything they have ever seen.

Some “Beautiful” even per Joe.

Well in the top 5% they said.

Joe has audited more than 100 organisations in more than a dozen years: Pene doubtless more.

They managed to find four things out of the 283 they look at that while to standard were less than perfect.  Four!

Joe allowed that ICLA is “very impressive”, “staff are very happy, people we support too”  “full marks to you”.

Pene said that it was all “excellent feedback”. Outstanding she said.

To be fair having been pushed into the result they were generous and I wish we’d taped the thing as no doubt some of the glow will be lost in the cabalistic bureauspeak of the formal report which we receive in a few weeks which I must say I am looking forward to reading.

But yes we can quote it proudly, with their logo and seal of approval and yes there will be a collective lift in the heel, and please have no  doubt  ICLA is in a new chapter of excellence!

Pip pip