Leonie Jackson, CEO of the Deaf Society, is breaking through the 'double glazed ceiling'. She was recently awarded an AICD Not-for-Profit Scholarship, which provides the next generation of NFP leaders a 12-month AICD membership and a place on the Company Directors Course™.
Leonie Jackson MAICD wishes her bosses had been more similar to her as she came up in the workplace. As a woman who is deaf, it has taken perseverance and a lot of determination over the years to prove herself.
“My bosses were mostly men without a disability. While they paid my salary and promoted me to where I am today, I would love to see more women with disabilities on boards and/or holding executive positions – as bosses to people like me.”
Jackson had a dual motivation when she applied for a scholarship to the Company Directors Course. She wanted to improve her understanding of good governance so that she could lead her organisation to greater success. But she also had a broader aim of continuing to do her bit to promote diversity in the workplace.
“I would like to further develop my skills at a governance level, and sit on boards to encourage opportunities for people at all levels, regardless of gender, race or ability.”
Her parents were her own sources of inspiration and encouragement as she grew up, instilling in her the belief that, as a woman who was deaf, she was capable of anything. Because of that belief, Jackson has always sought to reduce limitations for people impacted by deafness, working in the sector for over 25 years as an educator and a manager.
“When the job of the CEO of The Deaf Society came up, I saw it as an opportunity to break down the double-glazed ceiling…The Deaf Society is over 100 years old and it was the first time they had recruited a deaf CEO, so it was a very proud moment for me.”
Jackson says it is an exciting but challenging time at The Deaf Society, as the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) forces change across the disability sector. A significant reduction of government funding has also stimulated the need for substantial changes to the Society’s business model.
“With the changing business model where the customer now has the choice and control, the Society is going through a major cultural shift. We need to learn fast as things do change quite quickly. In the Society’s history it has never experienced such significant but exciting disability reforms as the NDIS. Therefore all the challenges the Society is experiencing right now are new. However, I do foresee that in a few years’ time, these challenges will be something to look back upon with pride. I can see how the changes we have put in place since I started have had a very positive impact on our customers – and we are not done yet.”
While she has found enjoyment in all of her roles in the sector, Jackson says the outcome for those affected by her efforts has always been the most rewarding part of her career.
“I could always see that I had a small part in the positive impacts on the students I’ve taught or the customers supported by The Deaf Society and Ai-Media. Every day I get to hear and see the wonderful impact that my team have on people and their families. I do not think it can get better than this.”
The AICD offers a range of NFP and disability scholarships to both members and non-members around Australia. These scholarships give directors and executives the opportunity to develop their skills and capabilities to become tomorrow's boardroom leaders.