The annual She Leads Conference will see women come together in Canberra on 1 June for a day of discussion, networking and action on women’s leadership. Women’s Agenda is proud to support the event again this year as Media Partner, sharing insights, advice and stories from some of the wonderful women who are speaking at the Conference. To find out more, or to register to attend, visit the She Leads website.
Elise Burgess wants all of us to make better and more compassionate choices regarding the food we eat, and has made the ultimate career change to help: moving from finance reporting to join the animal advocacy group Voiceless. She tells Joanna Le how she made the move.
Making a career change from financial services reporter to animal protection advocate might seem like an unlikely move, but for Elise Burgess, Head of Communications at Voiceless, it made perfect sense.
A lifelong animal lover and vegan, it was the 2011 Four Corners exposé on the treatment of Australian cattle exported live to Indonesia that spurred Burgess to make a career change.
“I thought it was all good and well to be active on animal protection in a personal capacity, but I wanted to do more. So, I started to seriously consider how I could use my media and communication skills to help animals, rather than write about superannuation and financial advice,” she said.
“I looked around at the different animal groups that were nearby to where I live in Sydney. Then, believe it or not (I feel like it was some sort of divine intervention), Voiceless advertised for a Senior Communications Officer. I applied, and as they say, the rest is history!”
For Burgess, it’s the tangible change and progress towards animals being treated as equals that continues to fuel her optimism and professional drive.
“There’s been a notable rise in Australian consumer awareness where people are starting to ask questions about who the animals are behind their meal choices, and what their lives were like,” she said.
“Just last year, a Roy Morgan research report found that there has been a huge growth in Vegetarianism and Veganism in Australia, with 2.1 million Australians now identifying as Vegetarian or almost-vegetarian. This is huge for a population of our size!”
And while Voiceless invests heavily on moving the policy and industry levers that determine animal protection, Burgess stresses the importance of individual behavior change as a key factor in changing outcomes for animals in Australia.
“At the heart of this issue is consumer responsibility. I want to see more people making compassionate choices around their food and consumerism,” she said.
“I want more people to move towards plant-based diets, and really make the connection between the cute animals we see on Instagram and social media videos, and the animal who’s on our plate.”
If you’re passionate about a social cause, want to align your career accordingly, and don’t quite know where to start, Burgess urges you to do your homework before taking the leap.
“Volunteer at an organisation or with a project that you are passionate about. Sometimes it’s important to get in behind the facade, see how it works day in and day out, and make sure it’s right for you,” she said.
“If possible, get to know the organisation’s people, campaigns, and their workplace culture. I’m a big believer in preparation – so over prepare to make the transition a little smoother.”
“It’s always going to be a shock to the system, but if your expectations of the workload, and role requirements are clear, you’re more likely to succeed.”
Burgess also recommends developing a self-care plan, to ensure you can play the long-game in your chosen area. A skill that can seem counter-intuitive when you are desperate to move the needle one notch closer to where you think it should be.
“I think when I first joined [Voiceless], it was hard to disconnect at the end of the day. When you’re working on a project of passion, it’s hard to go home at the end of the day, have dinner, and switch off,” she said.
“When you’re working on a social justice issue, you’re aware of a lot of things that are going on every minute of the day that are very upsetting, and it’s hard to tune out sometimes.”
“When I joined Voiceless I quickly realised that I’m not going to do the animals any good if I burn out. Now, I am a ridiculous Netflixer and I love horror movies, believe it or not. So, that’s my escapism.”
“Sometimes I’ll get home after a rough day and put on the silliest slasher flick, pour myself a glass of wine, and just unwind.”
Last chance for tickets! If you want to hear more from Elise Burgess, register to attend the She Leads Conference on 1 June at QT Canberra here.