Premium member Elissa James is a senior corporate lawyer, writer, and entrepreneur based in Hong Kong.
Having worked in the law for over a decade across jurisdictions like Australia, South Africa, Gabon and Papua New Guinea, Elissa now shares her knowledge writing for Asia Times, South China Morning Post and here at Business Chicks. When she’s not freelancing, she’s working on her refreshingly candid career-focused website, Irislillian.com.
From her interviews with high-profile kickass women like Anya Hindmarch, Layne Beachley, and our own CEO, Olivia Ruello to the career advice you never knew you needed, Iris Lillian (named after her stylish grandmother) is invaluable for young women navigating their way through the sometimes murky corporate jungle. We caught up with her recently to ask her how she’s nailing life right now.
Name: Elissa James
Reach: 11k Instagram followers
Where I live: Hong Kong. I’m also a part-time Londoner and Sydney-sider.
Current gig: connecting and supporting professional change-makers all around the world on IrisLillian.com
Tech I use: iPhone 7, Macbook and Nik (my Nikon D610 camera)
Apps I can’t live without: Parmesan cheese. Oh, you meant apps? In that case, VSCO,
Airbnb, UNUM, and Google Maps.
The motto I live by: A cup of tea and bikkie fixes everything.
What I was doing before this…
I’m a dual-qualified English and Western Australian in-house corporate lawyer, specialising in the energy and renewables sectors.
I advise clients on oil and gas transactions in various regions across the Asia Pacific, East Africa, and West Africa. Most recently, I headed up the AGL New Energy legal team and did some exciting work around solar power, battery storage, electric vehicles and other disruptive technologies.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My husband has to lure me out of bed with a cup of coffee – I stand by his carrot and stick approach.
Tell us about IrisLillian.com
Iris Lillian is a light-hearted webzine for busy, professional women looking for a place to sanity check their lives and take a little time out. Work is hectic, so why not escape to IrisLillian.com for a 10-minute recharge?
Our primary purpose is to make the lives and careers of savvy professional women easier. We get the scoop on all the candid, hilariously real 9 to 5 experiences, life hacks and fashion advice, direct from career women on the front line.
Iris Lillian is also a supportive and inspiring community for the multitude of ambitious women who want to have interesting conversations, share ideas and celebrate their own and others’ success. If this sounds like your cup of tea, come and join The Squad.
Iris Lillian helps women of all ages to navigate challenges at work, but what career curveballs and challenges have you faced? How did you overcome them?
Women still face roadblocks in the workplace because, structurally and culturally, it doesn’t vibe for us yet. I could write an HBO sitcom about the hilarious and s*** experiences I faced during my decade in the corporate world.
“I avoided the tough conversations when faced with unwanted advances from male colleagues; and I awkwardly laughed off questions like, “…so, when are you popping out your first kid?”
For example, I worried about looking greedy when I asked for a pay rise after discovering I was being woefully underpaid compared to my male contemporaries. I avoided the tough conversations when faced with unwanted advances from male colleagues; and I awkwardly laughed off questions like, “…so, when are you popping out your first kid?”
I had few places to turn to help me navigate these challenges. I didn’t talk about them with anyone because I assumed they were just happening to me. What I needed was a wise friend to guide the way. Someone who could, on the one hand, pick me up when I was having a crisis of confidence and remind me that I’m really good at what I do, and on the other, help me style my leather trousers for casual Friday.
The opportunity to share this wealth of valuable on-the-job experience, and to support each other through content and collaboration, was the inspiration behind IrisLillian.com.
How did you grow your audience to over 11K followers?
I think of my Instagram account as a Tamagotchi: you have to feed it and play with it regularly, or it will get cranky and die. At one stage I was on Instagram until 3 am, checking in every half hour.
People go to Instagram to escape: you don’t want to burst the delicious daydream you have created, with a dose of cold hard reality. So, I keep my content as light-hearted as possible.
What’s the next wave of social media going to look like?
I think we are going to see a proliferation of ‘ethical’ apps and platforms. Right now, we are bombarded with notifications, pings and incessant updates, which we feel obliged to check on the way to the loo at midnight before scuttling back to bed. These apps are created, in part, to play on addictive tendencies, feelings of inadequacy and FOMO. I know a bunch of people who have deleted Facebook and Instagram, because of the anxiety they create. There’s certainly a gap in the market for alternatives.
Have we hit peak marble surfaces on Instagram yet?
The marble surface is to Instagram what Parmesan cheese is to me: you can never have too much.
What does your workspace look like?
My workspace fits inside my Anello backpack. I look like a turtle dashing about Hong Kong.
Where’s the weirdest place your work has taken you?
Hmm, sitting in an ancient ruin, eating fried water beetles and rice wine with Khmer locals at Angkor Wat in Cambodia; or Rosie Fortescue’s kitchen in London.
Have you ever felt like an imposter? When?
Often! When I sit down to write, I think, ‘What the heck are you doing; you’re not a writer.’ But, the more I chat with other men and women about their own imposter syndrome (everyone has it!), the less pronounced the angst is when it hits. Once you recognise the signs, you’re better positioned to check yourself and call it for the BS that it is.
Whose career path do you admire?
I admire Marisa Drew’s career path. She’s currently the Co-Head of Global Markets at Credit Suisse and one of the most powerful people in finance. I interviewed her as part of the Iris Lillian Interview Series. Early on in her career, if a role didn’t feel right she called it. It was an exercise in trial and error. She considered what she liked and disliked about the role, and would then go and find another job, which had shades of what she liked. She kept working towards finding the ‘whole package’ until she did. And now, she’s been happy and self-actualised in her career for over 28 years.
Current TV show / podcast / book binge?
Right now, I’m binging on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and I’m reading The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F***. It’s a game-changer. Go buy a copy at lunch.
How much time do you spend on social media every week?
I’m too scared to tally up the total number of hours!
What’s the last thing you do before going to bed?
I do an 18-minute guided meditation.
How many hours sleep per night do you get?
Usually between six and seven hours a night.
What’s one thing no one else knows about you?
When I was 19, I lived in Italy and won a singing competition. The single was called “MTV 2003” and was submitted to MTV Italy.