Journalism, storytelling and democracy

From daily news headlines to unearthing the latest insights across the changing local and global landscape, we caught up with Lisa Watts, Executive Director of The Conversation. Lisa is also one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018. Read on for her views around diversity, opportunity and connectivity.
What has your career journey been like?

My journey has been like most people have – saying yes to things that come along. I worked in media from the start but on the commercial side of the business. I was originally an enthusiastic Yellow Pages sales representative and I was lucky enough to get some brilliant training and exposure to structured ways of selling and thinking about the exchange of value in a formal way.

The internet arrived and I was involved in the transformation that came with that. Businesses needed to embrace online so I worked in digital media, at Fairfax Digital and was running the employment business unit MyCareer during a period of high growth. Then I worked on a few digital start-ups, and then came along The Conversation, a not-for-profit project helping researchers share their knowledge with millions of readers worldwide. In seven years it has grown to 10 million users a month onsite and is in seven countries.

How have you found LGBTI inclusion overall?

It’s funny, I’ve been involved in high performance and very measurable environments and that can be quite equalising. There are rankings and competition I was able to have opportunities to be rewarded and progress my career. The numbers don’t lie!

I’ve always worked in environments where there has been lots of diversity. And certainly while I think that I have not personally been aware or exposed to challenging workplaces, I know other people have. For me, I hope that all workplaces are able to be encouraging of difference – no matter what it is. Diversity is really the key to a successful company, project and country – having a mix of people – and a diversity of ideas.

In your corporate career, what have been your greatest lessons?

think it’s about being bold, living openly and encouraging others to know about your whole life. And not having any fear makes a big difference to being happy and being liberated. I feel proud and lucky to be a part of the LGBTI community and life. I assume people are good and accepting, and completely ignore any signs of rejection. My identity has given me much more than it has been challenging. The strength you get from being part of a group is powerful – you have access to a big global business network. Find your gays! Work and help each other.

One thing you would like to change in the business world?

I think large companies are doing great things with a focus on ensuring that different groups feel more supported. There is diversity in pockets of journalism, as it tends to be a craft that attracts the bold. In terms of change, business needs to talk more about gender equality and trans-intersex diversity. We need to work together to ensure there are opportunities for marginalised people.

What does it mean to you to be part of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 list?

I am honoured to be in such interesting company and it’s great to look down the list and see a few people I know! It’s a powerful thing to reflect on and to read people’s stories. When you look through the list you realise there are a lot of different pathways to get to where you are going in order to be happy and fulfilled.

What is the power of storytelling?

have always been interested in policy and politics, the way the world works and the democratic process. The motivating thing about The Conversation is that it is about informing democracy – citizens have access to high quality information to help understand complex issues and make good decisions. Only academics who have real expertise can write. During the Marriage Equality debate we commissioned more than 100 articles so people could have access to research based articles and facts. We had more than 200 media outlets who picked up our articles and hundreds of thousands of readers.
It was a really powerful way to get good quality content and information into the wider community.

Guests are coming to your dinner party. Who would they be?

Vita Sackville-West, Harvey Milk, Rachel Maddow, Patricia Highsmith, RuPaul and Oscar Wilde. And I would invite all my friend gang along too!

And finally, do you have any favourite quotes?

I like the phrase “fortune favours the brave.” If you want to be lucky, be bold. Take some risks. You will have good fortune.

 

Lisa is one of our Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018 – a list that recognises and celebrates the many LGBTI role models in business. For more on our inspirational LGBTI leaders visit our Outstanding 50 webpage, or read more interviews in the series here.


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