Five quick questions with Jenessa O’Connell

10 February 2021

Rae Knopik

Rae is the Events and Marketing Officer at YWCA Canberra

The She Leads College Conference, taking place on Friday 26 March, is a one-day leadership event for young women and non-binary students in years 11 and 12. It is designed to equip participants with the practical skills and knowledge they need to become confident leaders in their community.  

This year’s theme ‘Wild’, is all about harnessing personal adversity and using it to thrive as leaders in our personal and professional capacities. Today we caught up with one of the She Leads College Conference panellists, Jenessa O’Connell, to talk about her leadership journey, leadership challenges and what it’s like to work as a woman in IT.   

As an accomplished technologist, Jenessa O’Connell is using her talent, skills and vision to pave a world-changing career pathway. She is a Senior Consultant within KPMG’s Management Consulting service line and has comprehensive experience within IT Service Management, Project Management and strategic innovation.   

In 2018, Jenessa became the Chair of the UN Women Australia Canberra International Women’s Day (IWD) Committee, the leading annual fundraiser for UNWA. The following year, Jenessa became the first recipient of the Women in ICT Emerging Leader award and recipient of the ARN Women in ICT Rising Star award in 2020. 

Describe yourself in 30 words or less.

Powerhouse: a person or thing of great energy, strength, or power. 

Tell us about a moment in your life that kick-started your leadership journey.

I have always marvelled at the leaders within history who used their charisma to build influence. 

My earliest memory of my leadership journey was in year six, where I created ‘Kindy Club’, a club where kindergarten students could participate in a program lead by year six students at lunch. The program involved group games and activities to help build and foster friendships among kindergarten students.   

From this innate drive to leadership and desire to help people, I went on to become house captain, founder of a captaincy at my College (Sustainability Captain), began a career in the IT industry at 18, lead my board position at Women in ICT Canberra, and take on a chair position at the UN Women Australia IWD Committee. 

What are the questions you’re tired of hearing about gender equality?

Why is gender equality important? Is gender equality a concern for men? 

What is a personal challenge you have had to overcome for your leadership goals?

Dyslexia and dyspraxia: Throughout my schooling, I was made to feel unintelligent and like an outsider due to my ‘learning difficulties’. There were uninformed stigmas associated with being dyslexic and having dyspraxia, which immediately affected me. Although these tendencies were seen as negative, I have since re-shaped my understanding of these conditions to help educate people on how they are actually superpowers.   

Endometriosis: I was diagnosed with endometriosis (endo) at the age of 19. Endometriosis is a debilitating illness, which has impacted my leadership journey personally. Endo has taught me to listen to my body and slow down, something I was not very good at previously. 

Sexism: I started in the IT industry at the age of 18. Within the past five years, I have managed to ‘climb the corporate ladder’ quickly, however, this has not come without its challenges. An example of this includes a time I was sexually assaulted at a work Christmas party. While informing my manager of the assault, I was told ‘at least you’re not pregnant’.   

Due to the sexism I experienced, I formed the Women in Business Committee within my workplace. Although these situations continue to arise within my professional capacity, I now have the skills and knowledge required to shut down sexist situations before they become harmful.   

Imagine yourself in your 40s. What leadership advice would your 40-year-old self give to you right now?

Meraki, meaning: “To leave a piece of yourself (your soul, creativity, or love) in your work.” 

Watch this space to keep up with Jenessa’s leadership journey. If you are a young woman or nonbinary person in years 11 or 12, ask your school to register you for the She Leads College Conference on Friday 26 March – visit the event page for more information. 

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