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Eternal optimist

Leaving the security of a large company and starting up a business has been a huge undertaking for Kate O’Reilly (GradDipPAdmin ’06 MPAdmin ’07). Previously a Deloitte director, O’Reilly was part of the Deloitte Inspiring Women Program. She was a winning finalist for the Deloitte Business Woman of the Year 08/09 and was also appointed to the Deloitte Emerging Leaders Council.

“It’s been a huge risk,” she admits, of her new venture: Optimiss Consulting. “But for me, the numbers of women in senior management and on boards is just dire – the numbers are actually decreasing and that’s really unacceptable. Best practice isn’t working and Optimiss is about creating new practice. It’s about doing things differently to get different results.”

Women make up 45 per cent of the workforce in Australia and nearly 60 per cent of graduates are female, yet the S&P/ASX 200 listed companies have women holding only 8 per cent of board positions and 10.7 per cent of executive management positions.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick was recently quoted in The Australian newspaper discussing the importance of the proposed new ASX corporate governance council guidelines on diversity. “They will require listed companies to disclose their diversity policies and objectives, report against these objectives and disclose annually the proportion of women in management and on the board,” she said.

O’Reilly started Optimiss to offer advice to companies on how they can achieve this, optimise their gender balance program and offer a competitive advantage and better business results.

Completing her Masters in Public Administration has been “invaluable” to O’Reilly’s career and she pays tribute to her alumni connections.

“My Masters degree gave me the opportunity to explore real life issues, events and best practice in Government and the private sector,” she explains. “The strong alumni network has also allowed me to retain strong connections with experienced practitioners in the ranks of the senior public service and the private sector.”

O’Reilly continues to contribute to the life of the University as an Honorary Associate with the Graduate School of Government in the Faculty of Business and Economics as well as putting an enormous amount of time and energy into her new business.

“I have been working very long hours – until midnight most evenings and also on weekends. My husband has been very understanding and supportive but very neglected! He tells me that I’m always looking to put things on my ‘to do’ list and he’s always looking to take things off. But it’s the first time I’ve had my own business and you can’t say, ‘I’ll just do it later.’ No one else will do it if you don’t, so you just stay at the computer and keep working.” Aged 39, O’Reilly doesn’t have children. “My thirties have been all about my career,” she reflects.

Originally from the UK, O’Reilly came to Australia on holiday in 1997. “I fell in love with the country. When I came here I felt like I’d just arrived home.” O’Reilly is hoping to launch Optimiss in the UK. “I’m going over later this year and hope to have established operations there within a year.”