Divya Pasupuleti, Executive Manager at nbn, has been working extensively throughout her career to champion gender equity across countries. As a female from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, she is extremely passionate about creating equal opportunities for women in the Australian workforce. So, it comes as no surprise then that she was a finalist in the Gender Equity Awards – Recalibrate.

For Divya, it all started in India with her father, a doctor, who instilled the value of giving back to the community. He was known for providing support to those less fortunate and in need, through free medical camps. With such a great role model in her life, it was only natural that Divya would want to contribute too. While at school, she took the initiative to work for ‘Divya Disha’, a Not-for-Profit organisation (NFP) with UNICEF, that championed women’s and children’s rights, especially those from socio-economically diverse backgrounds. Despite her young age, it was not long before she became president of the South India chapter.

“Back in my home country, India, I was very fortunate to be brought up in an environment where equality and diversity was celebrated, and I was actively encouraged by my parents to challenge biases, call out discrimination and practice active inclusion,” says Divya. However, she quickly realised that most of her childhood peers did not have the same liberal upbringing, many of whom were encouraged to marry at a young age or deprioritise higher education and a career to meet societal expectations. At a young age, Divya recognised the need for gender equality in society and the workplace and the importance of advocating through equity. For the past two decades, this has been her driver and she has worked extensively to champion gender equity across countries.

In Australia, her early career was with a leading telecommunications organisation, where she was often in a male dominated environment and the only female in the room. When faced with challenging situations and inappropriate behaviours coming with inequity and biases, she recalls some of the early advice she was given at the time was ‘learning to deal with it’. Whilst this advice did help her build the courage and confidence to manage situations as they occurred, she says “it requires much more than women ‘dealing with it’ to fix the problem – it needs colleagues and managers calling out biases, it needs education and awareness, and efforts of the entire work ecosystem”. Divya notes that whilst, these days, there is much more awareness and support in the workplace, there is still a lot more to be done to ensure a fair, respectful, and inclusive playing field for women across all organisations and industries.

Divya has had a stellar career to become an Executive Manager at nbn with responsibility for Strategy, Performance and Operations for Business Segment. She reflects that she sometimes has faced imposter syndrome, wondering if she deserves the professional success and achievements she has experienced, or if she just happened to be ‘in the right place at the right time’. She notes that her imposter syndrome doesn’t stem from a lack of confidence in her abilities but rather from years of exposure to systemic practices and conditioning. “When you don’t often see culturally and linguistically diverse women like yourself thriving or succeeding in a career path you’re on, you tend to question if you belong there,” says Divya. This is why she strongly believes in the power of role modelling, mentoring and hearing the stories of other women who have faced similar challenges. Today, she feels more confident in her ‘skin’, but it has taken several years to achieve this.

For many women of diverse cultural backgrounds, she notes there is often a ‘double-glazed glass ceiling’ in the workplace, which can be doubly hard to crack. For this reason, she actively works to champion diversity and mentors to build confidence in other women. At nbn, Divya leads the Events & Opportunities pillar for nbn Equals, a committee sponsored by Executive leaders to support gender strategy and equity in the workplace. Divya has delivered multiple events within nbn, supporting employees on critical topics including career progression, mentoring, and support at important life stages, such as parental leave and busting the stigma around it. She is very proud of the ‘When She Talks’ program she started that shares unfiltered stories of women’s career journeys, which she personally finds enlightening and uplifting.

With a mission to give back to her community, Divya lobbied on the board of the not-for-profit organisation, Arts Assist, with the goal to make it more diverse. It was largely a homogenous group when she joined, with less than a quarter female representation. She soon became Secretary of the Board and has been responsible for leading the strategic direction of the organisation. Divya spearheaded several initiatives, but closest to her heart is the one to diversify the board, resulting in more than 50% gender representation. She is very proud that the current board is not just gender diverse but includes diverse industry experience, cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. “It definitely was not easy and required having many challenging conversations over the last four years,” she says. Having a diverse board has enabled Arts Assist to access and disburse grants to local artists and community groups, ensuring multicultural groups are represented.

Divya continued to take on more board and advisory roles.  As the Non-Executive Director for Project Management Institute (PMI Melbourne), she is very proud of the initiative she delivered in 2021, where project managers were connected to charities and NFPs in Victoria, on a pro-bono basis to deliver community critical projects. More than 1,500 hours of volunteering were allocated to the amazing work of charities such as Wildlife Victoria, Leprosy Mission, Humour Foundation and Cultural Infusion, resulting in enormous community benefits. In her role as an Advisory Committee Member for the National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO), she provides advice to the Board and Executive team on strategy, especially from an intersectionality lens.

When asked what is next, Divya is excited to be playing a pivotal role in leading and governing the 2022-2025 Gender Equity Strategy for nbn. She is a strong advocate of the culture nbn has built to foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace that helps its people bring their whole selves to work. She is proud of the work nbn is doing to be a leader in the Australian landscape for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace.

There is no doubt that Divya will seek out more community involvement, as clearly the power of giving back is what motivates her. Her advice to others who want to make a difference? “Don’t try to fit in, be proud of being different and own it.”

If you would like to learn more about the other finalists then click this link.