Ebony Lillee: Words of wisdom to a workforce of women
The disability support workforce is a largely female, but progressing up into senior leadership roles remains a challenge for women.
Though nearly 70 per cent of Scope’s workforce identify as women and occupy many executive and board positions, qualified women across the sector are still 16 per cent less likely to apply for senior roles and 14 per cent less likely to be promoted.
From Volunteer Disability Support Worker to Acting General Manager, few Scope employees have experienced the career progression that Ebony Lillee has. With decades of experience in the sector, this International Women’s Day Ebony shares her insights.
“I was quite young when I started in the sector and then being a young woman in leadership positions definitely had its challenges,” Ebony said.
“I was often seen as a young woman, especially since many teams I had worked in had mostly male staff because we supported people with very complex behaviours.
“Working alongside a lot of older men – It was sometimes difficult to find the right balance and learn how to navigate that.”
Ebony’s first foray into disability work started when she began volunteering while in high school. In the following years, she moved between various smaller organisations that supported children with disabilities, before moving into permanent DSW roles with the former Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
“I love seeing people being provided with the same opportunities that we all deserve and living the life they want to live – not what someone else thinks someone wants to live.”
By the time the DFFH transferred over to Home@Scope, Ebony had been working in houses for 15 years. With the move to Home@Scope came a series of rapid professional growth opportunities and career milestones that led her to a Senior Manager role and later Acting General Manager.
“As I’ve matured and become more confident in my role and experience, it’s led me towards understanding that everyone has different roles for a reason – confidence has been the biggest thing I’ve had to work on throughout my career,” Ebony said.
“In the past, I’ve definitely come up against situations where I’ve been challenged based on my age and gender.”
“A lot of it came from my own insecurities and not feeling confident in myself.”
Confidence, connection and how to climb
When it comes to career progression, Ebony offers some crucial advice.
“Connect with people,” she said.
“I was offered amazing support and advice from people around me; from peers, senior staff and mentors – take those opportunities and have a conversation.
“Listen to them and talk to them about their experiences and really value what they say. If they give you advice, whatever it may be, take it on board if it resonates with you.”
But perhaps the most interesting piece of advice Ebony offers relates to women’s self-doubt.
Referencing a well-known report from Hewlett-Packard (better known as tech giant HP), Ebony said that like most women, she had to be pushed to apply for senior roles.
“The [report] said that men apply for positions if they meet just 60 per cent of the requirements, while women often only apply if they meet 100 per cent of them and that was the case with me.”
“I didn’t think I was ready; I didn’t think I had the skillset. I wanted to know each level 100 per cent and feel completely comfortable and confident before progressing – you’ll never know what’s coming up in the next role until you’re in it.
With the right supports and a willingness to ask for help, Ebony believes it really can be as simple as giving it a go.
“I have since learnt that sometimes women will look at opportunities and focus on the things they can’t do, and men will focus on the things they can do and ignore the rest – don’t put limitations on yourself.”