How Women’s Work Institute is connecting the dots in organisations between equality, effectiveness and profitability

Womens Work Institute


In the sixth of our interviews with key speakers who are presenting at SEC 11th -12th October 2018, Anna Dewar Gully and Dr Kristen Liesch discuss the work Women’s Work Institute is doing to connect the dots in organisations between equality, effectiveness and profitability.

Anna Dewar Gully is an organisational strategist, women’s equity expert and founder of Women’s Work Institute. She received her Master’s in Public Policy and Management from the University of London, UK and, in her early career, she led a variety of strategic, public policy and equality building initiatives in the health sector, the broader public sector and with women entrepreneurs. She has also worked as GM of Strategy and Planning in Canada’s largest social enterprise, the YMCA of Greater Toronto, where she helped to refine the organisation’s strategic plan and most recently led strategic planning and policy in the City of Toronto’s social assistance system, where she redesigned the organisation’s strategic purpose to better serve Toronto’s most vulnerable residents.

Dr Kristen Liesch began her career in the education sector as a public school teacher before pursuing graduate studies and earning a PhD at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. During her graduate studies she became acutely aware of how slowly we are seeing progress toward gender equality. In response, she started Blue Switch Consulting, which applies a systems-based approach to diversity and inclusion. She also advises on numerous startups, and lends her expertise to various non-profit initiatives.


 Could you offer a little background behind the Women’s Work Institute?

Women’s Work Institute was the by-product of a number of different light bulb moments for me. As an outspoken and ambitious woman, I could give you a thousand examples from my early life and career where I faced personal gendered challenges. Those personal experiences created awareness in me and a deep curiosity about other women’s experiences and about what organisations were doing to bring equality to the table. Initially through Women’s Work, I hosted public conversations in which I invited women to share their experiences on various issues, and to share their ideas for navigating hurdles and challenges they had experienced. I learned three things from those early conversations:

  1. These issues are very common and although we talk about problems at a macro level, we know very little about real lived experiences of individual women in specific organisations and sectors.
  2. Women have really, really good ideas about how to build greater equality in their own contexts and about what will and what will not work in terms of an intervention.
  3. Most organisations have relegated the role of solving inequality challenges to a department or leader without power, budget, relevant expertise, or access to shaping business strategy.

Those lessons helped me see the opportunity for turning Women’s Work Institute into a unique strategy firm dedicated to connecting the dots in organisations between equality, effectiveness and profitability.

Could you expand on how the methodology of the Institute differs from the majority of inclusion and diversity initiatives?

We deliberately designed it to be different. We set out to create a process to resolve some of the frustrations and pain points we had heard about from Diversity and Inclusion leaders and equality champions inside organisations. People were tired of conversation without action. Many of the solutions being implemented were one-size-fits-all and didn’t seem fit-for-purpose or appropriately nuanced for any specific working environment. People didn’t feel heard and moreover, conversations about equality were onerous and uninspiring, at best, and triggering resistance at worst. So we set out to design a process that was fun, engaging and uplifting, a process that could enable an organisation to tackle a known challenge to equality and to devise a solution that was inherently actionable inside that organisational context. We designed a process that brings the best ideas from people in an organisation to the table to solve a problem that matters to attendees and the business. All of our services are informed by behavioural science, strategic change best practices, and our own experiences of designing and implementing strategic change in large and complex organisations and systems.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of gender equality initiatives being deployed within organisations that are relatively ineffective (at best), and counterproductive (at worst). At Women’s Work Institute, we are committed to designing effective practices. We design strategic interventions that help organisations build equality in real-time.


Could you expand on the business case you put forward in terms of the financial opportunity that you believe gender parity affords?

There is no one-size-fits-all business case. The business case lives in each of the organisations we serve and is shaped by ideas we hear from the people working within that business. However, in terms of the big picture, it’s simple, women make up 51 per cent of the population, we make most purchasing decisions, the female economy in terms of purchasing is radically more powerful than most businesses understand, and we like to help women use their own experiences and perspectives about their organisations to educate them about the power of the female economy, and then they help us connect the dots between those opportunities and opportunities for women’s advancement. It’s women themselves who are best placed to make the tangible connection between equality, effectiveness and profitability.


You can find out more about the STEMM Equality Congress here

You can find out more about Anna Dewar Gully and Dr Kristen Liesch here