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Australian Bureau Of Statistics (ABS)

  • #4 in Government & public services
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Lisette Aarons

Find mentors and champions in women you admire and once you’re doing something you love, find other people to mentor and champion.

What's your background?

I grew up in Melbourne’s Bayside suburbs. I spent weekends playing outside with neighbourhood kids and bike riding along the beach, or to my grandmother’s house, with my Dad and sister. Bike rides always involved stopping for ice-cream, no matter how cold it was! My schooling started at a tiny independent school, moved to the local primary and then to a girls grammar school, where I met the amazing and talented group of women who are still my friends today.

I met my (now) husband at the start of university and, for six years, juggled studying with simultaneous jobs in retail child-care, hospitality and qualitative research. These jobs laid the foundational skills for my current career, teaching me time management, the importance of diverse teams and great customer service skills.

We moved to Canberra to start graduate roles at the ABS. Friendships with other graduates were cemented as we discovered the south coast, learned to ski, took up boxing at the AIS and explored Canberra’s cultural and outdoor activities. Being a grad in Canberra was the best experience and I would recommend the move to anyone!

After building survey development and people management skills through a number of ABS roles, I spent nearly two years seconded to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in policy roles. After moving back to Melbourne with a new baby, I spent a number of years building deep expertise in crime and justice statistics, standing up new statistics on personal fraud victimisation and family and domestic violence. In 2016, I had the opportunity to work with Western Australia Police, helping them to assess and improve the quality of their crime statistics. In 2017, I moved into a Director role in the ABS Data Integration program, driving a significant scaling up of production and service provision over three years. Last year, as Program Manager overseeing a range of Data Integration functions, I also took on the establishment of the APS Data Professional Stream. This is now my main focus.

Varied and interesting work, many friendships and the ability to work flexibly around my children long before COVID, have made the ABS a brilliant career choice for me.

What's your job about?

The Australian Statistician, Dr David Gruen, was appointed the first Head of APS Data Profession in September 2020. Consequently, the ABS is establishing a Data Professional Stream on behalf of the Australian Public Service (APS), to uplift data capability for all APS employees, and build specialised data expertise. Professionalising data capabilities will ensure public servants collect and use data appropriately to generate deeper insights, inform evidence-based decisions, and enable more effective service delivery.

I lead a small team of talented ABS data and HR professionals to stand up this work. I have the privilege of working closely with Dr Gruen, as well as with other passionate data leaders from 24 APS agencies who are working with us to co-design an initial two-year work program. Collaboration is key to delivering this work program; to ensure that the initiatives we develop are truly useful for the whole APS and that we deliver the maximum impact possible within two years.

My role involves strategic and operational communications, program management, stakeholder engagement, people management, and project work. For example, I am working with partners in government and academia to design a data leadership course to raise general data skills for SES. My days involve video conferences, to present updates on the Data Professional Stream, run and participate in workshops and meetings, and collaborate with the team. I am grateful for IT improvements over the last year which have made virtual collaboration so much easier. My headset truly is by best friend!

Did you always know you wanted to work in this field?

No, I still have no idea what I want to do and struggle to name my ‘field’ specifically!

I am a data professional, but I am not a ‘numbers person’. I believe in the power of data and research to tell stories, help us make sense of our world, and inform policy. However, with power comes responsibility. That’s why having the skills to ensure that we are using data well; storing, handling and accessing it safely; and considering the legal and privacy obligations around the information we collect and use is critical, especially in the public service.

What is most rewarding about your job?

Working with great people! Being part of a small delivery focused team requires us all to pitch in, and in doing so, share our respective strengths and expertise. I am loving developing my HR and communications knowledge, which is necessary for building the foundations of a profession.

I also love working through challenges and solving problems with others and the co-design approach of the Data Professional Stream is such a rewarding way to work. Creating this program from nothing, articulating the vision and seeing it come to life and ignite people’s passions is another thing I never get tired of.

What were some of the challenges you faced in getting to where you are now?

When I started working flexibly over 15 years ago, I had to figure out how I could be most productive and build great relationships remotely, whilst looking after my own, and my family’s, well-being. The biggest challenges I faced were managing others’ expectations when they were not used to working virtually or with flexible arrangements. There is no magic answer, but building trust, through open conversations and delivering to a high quality are key.

For me, this meant often working at night or on weekends, but it also meant I could spend time with my kids, which was important to me. Being clear about how I work and why, that I don’t expect responses out of hours and starting a dialogue with colleagues about how they work best so we can find patterns that work as a team, are useful behaviours I learned along the way. I am passionate about creating collaborative, supportive and flexible working environments and believe this is the key to high performance and loving work.

3 pieces of advice for you would give women who want to work in your industry?

  • Find activities that you enjoy and get involved – find a craft group, join a club, play social sport, share your skills and learn from others. Find outlets beyond work and home to keep you mentally and physically at your peak.
  • Volunteer – you will learn many skills that make you better in your profession, as well as meeting wonderful people along the way.
  • Find mentors and champions in women you admire and once you’re doing something you love, find other people to mentor and champion.