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23 female Australian executives on the insights they'd share with their younger selves

Today is International Women’s Day, and what better way to celebrate it than to talk to some of Australia’s most inspiring executives about business and the advice they have for others.

Business Insider asked 23 female business leaders for business lessons they would tell their younger selves.

Common themes included not being afraid of failure and encouragement to ask the big questions — here’s the advice they shared and hope others can learn from.

Janine Allis, co-founder and executive director of Retail Zoo.

You always think you are wiser this decade than you were the decade before. In fact you think back and you question those decision in your teens, 20’s, 30s, and 40s. I am sure when I get to my 80s I will finally be wise enough to make those really good decisions, but until then I will continue to learn from my mistakes.

So what would I tell my younger self?

Have fun and lots of it in your 20’s, you have a sense of adventure and risk-taking that seems to reduce as the years go on... You're also, young enough to stuff up and fix it.

In business you need to be courageous, don’t be that person who was too afraid to jump off the entrepreneurial cliff.

If you are not scared, then your goals are not big enough. You have to reach for the sky and whenever you reach your goal, then set another one bigger and bolder.

And remember to enjoy the journey as much as the results. Happiness and success is not necessarily lots of money or fame, but to find true love in your life through people around you and through passion for what you do. If you do this, then you have created success.

But most importantly know that there is nothing you cannot do or have in your life. It is yours for the taking. Just think it, say it and then make it happen.

Karen Stocks, managing director at Twitter Australia.

The advice I would give to my younger self would be - be bold, be brave and take chances. When I was first starting my career, many of the companies I would go on to work for did not exist yet. There was no path already taken that I could learn from, and being brave and seeking out new opportunities that challenged me was something I had to independently learn to do. The important thing to remember is that sometimes it pays off to take a leap of faith and step outside your comfort zone. You never know, it could lead to something truly inspiring.

Jane Lu, CEO of Showpo.

I would tell myself to not be so scared of failure.

Having massive failed with my first business, I realised that it's really not that bad! That I shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed and that you can learn so much from mistakes and failures.

Rachel Stocks, American Express managing director, Australia and New Zealand.

One of the biggest learnings in building my career is to not focus on results alone. Yes hard work and results are important, but you need to have sponsorship from above to champion you, help you get noticed, and navigate to the next position. This person can start out as a mentor, who sees your results and supports you. I find that where women are focused on doing a really good job, men are focused on doing a really good job – but also getting to the next level. For example, I haven’t always been open about my career ambitions, and by not showing this ‘getting to the top’ enthusiasm I was considered by my male boss, and his male boss, not to be serious about my career; they viewed my humility as a weakness. This could have not been further from the truth. As I never had a clear indication from my boss that I had the ability to ‘take a seat at the table’, I concentrated on driving results and fostering leadership through authenticity. Once I received the signal - it was a turning point in my career. My advice for men is – tell women they are good enough because they will always have ‘imposter syndrome’, and women – don’t be afraid to take a seat at the table with the men…because you are good enough.

I strongly believe that all companies need to be doing more to promote gender equality and pay equity. I’m proud to be an official Gender Pay Equality Ambassador on behalf of American Express, and have signed a commitment to ensure we continue supporting gender pay equality. We continually look at how we can improve and educate our employees on this subject and continue to raise the bar so that we can change the future of our people.

Jodie Fox, co-founder of Shoes of Prey.

I would tell my younger self to speak up, to believe in myself and not be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are about learning, not measuring your worth as a human being.

Lana Hopkins, founder and CEO of Mon Purse.

I would tell my younger self to focus on one thing at a time and focus manically. Entrepreneurs by nature have millions of creative ideas and potential executions running around in their minds at any one given time. By being highly inquisitive, there is a an innate temptation to multi task, solve problems, find solutions, move fast and never skip a beat. Over time I realised that the ability to focus has allowed me to achieve great things.

Karen Gee, founder and CEO of her self-named brand.

I would tell my younger self to not just accept her flaws but to embrace them. There are many times I had doubt, I didn't know what I was doing, and there were many times I wanted to give up. I didn't despite setbacks, and I am very proud to know that I pursued and continue to pursue.

I would tell my younger self that the unknown might well be scary, but it is also exciting. Use this fear as your determination, be your own cheerleader and give it everything you have.

A little hard work never hurt anyone – and it sure hasn't. It has shown me what I am capable of, it has built a business, it has given me a platform to help other women, and I could not be more grateful. Appreciate what you have while work to build what you do not. And enjoy every moment – otherwise, what is the point?

Rebekah Campbell, co-founder of Hey You.

I'd tell myself to aim big and don’t let young age or lack of experience hold you back. You won’t realise what a powerful asset youth is until you’ve lost it.

And don’t be afraid to be a bitch. Successful people don’t worry about what others think of them. But also have fun! Don’t work so hard that you miss out on enjoying each stage of life.

Kate Morris, CEO and founder of Adore Beauty.

Devote time and energy to developing your connections and networks. Yes, you might feel uncomfortable and nervous at first, but the more you do it the better you'll get at it, and it really will help your business tremendously.

Also, make sure you educate yourself financially. Those first-year-uni accounting subjects are not going to be enough, and you can't just rely on your accountant for the things you don't understand - you need to learn it for yourself.

Suzi Dafnis, CEO of HerBusiness.

I'd 'play big'.

You don't serve anyone by playing small. Create a vision that scares and inspires you. The world needs that special something that only you can bring. Harness it, develop it and share it.

Karin Sheppard, IHG COO for Australasia and Japan.

Presuming my younger self would listen, this is the advice I would give.

Consider the company culture and how it relates to you. If you’re serious about investing your time and energy into a successful career make sure the company you’re working for is too. Ask yourself – do they place an emphasis on training; is there a culture of diversity in the workplace; is there a progression plan in place or opportunity to initiate one; does the company offer benefits that cater to a sustainable career with them such as paid parental leave or flexible working arrangements; and is there a culture that focuses on people as well as efficient business practices. This involves some long term thinking but it will ultimately make work life more satisfying and rewarding.

Melissa Abu-Gazaleh, CEO of Top Blokes foundation.

I'd say to 'trust your instincts more'.

As a young person starting a charity, there are always people who try to provide advice without having any direct experience. When I was searching for answers, it was easy to become swayed by other people's opinions, even if they didn't have any direct experience in the subject matter. Trust your own instincts and don't doubt your judgement as much, because you actually have what it takes.

Fleur Brown, founder and CEO of Launch Group

Say yes. I’ve found some of the most powerful opportunities often turned up soon after I made a change in career direction or shifted my personal focus. This used to scare me because I didn’t feel ready. There were many opportunities, which presented themselves very early on in the formation of my current business including an offer to sell the business to a larger organisation for a lot of money which I basically talked myself out of because I felt overwhelmed by the idea. Looking back, the issues that seemed so daunting then, would have simply been personal growth opportunities.

Anna Rooke, CEO of QUT Creative Enterprise Australia.

Age is no barrier – when I first became a manager, most of my staff that were twice my age. Although I knew I had differing skills and capabilities, I used to be concerned that my views wouldn’t be taken as seriously because of being the youngest on the team. I’d tell myself at 25 to relax and know that I had secured the leadership responsibilities based on my work ethic, talent and experience in a new and growing sector. I think it’s important for women to know that no matter where they are on their career journey, to be respectful and supportive of each other and particularly to help young women excel to be the best that they can be.

Fiona Hitchiner, director of SeventeenHundred.

Ask questions – be inquisitive, you never know what connections and new opportunities may come up.

As a young professional, it can seem like asking questions is a sign of weakness; that you don’t really know how to do your job. That’s not really the case at all. By being willing to put myself out there and ask questions I have found many career development opportunities open to me.

Tash Sefton, co-founder of TheyAllHateUs.

I'd tell my younger self that long hours, listening and time working and learning from others gives you confidence to navigate when you are out on your own. It isn't a quick ride. Be patient.

Also, understand how different people tick - you will get far if you understand personalties and when it's your time to talk or shut up.

Sandra McLeod, CEO of Locomote.

Perhaps one of the most important business lessons I have learned is to treat everybody you meet with respect, not just your boss but also your peers. It costs nothing but is perhaps one of the best ways to build long-term relationships. People won't always remember what you said to them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. You never know when you will meet or work with people again, and it is so important to take a respectful approach to everyone you engage with, be they the administrative assistant or the CEO.

Don't be afraid to aim high, but remain humble. Ambition can be a wonderful thing and I believe everyone should have big goals for themselves, but humility will keep you grounded and help you remain true to your values as you progress through your career.

Carolyne Burns, co-founder and managing director of Expr3ss!

I’d take myself aside and say, 'Worry less and sleep more' for as Mark Twain once wisely said, 'I’ve put myself through a terrible lot of things… some of which have actually happened!'.

Nurturing a new business takes all your attention and it’s important to only ever worry productively. Productive worry allows you to imagine all the things that might go wrong, decide how you will deal with each of them if they do, and then set them aside. Chances are they probably won’t happen, but it’s good to have peace of mind.

I’d remind myself to sleep more so that I’d be better rested and my waking hours would be more productive.

Then I’d advise myself to take my own advice and not be surprised when I didn't because in those early years, your business is absolutely everything… your life, your breath, your dreams and nothing short of 100% will do.

Janelle Goulding, CEO of City West Housing.

Always listen and accept the views of others, be confident enough to accept your own faults, work around them and face reality, everyone has some. Learn from the past and use your mistakes to build your character as past performance can reflect future performance. Always work hard, set examples but don’t forget to make time for yourself, family and friends, never forget about them, no matter how busy you get. Always work in a job that you have a real passion for, financial gain is a huge motivator but does not always lead to success. Never be afraid to take a risk, just make sure you think about the consequences and weigh up the options, sometimes the biggest risks can carry the biggest rewards.

Bridget Loudon, CEO of Expert360.

Eradicate groundless fears: Do not let fear cause you anxiety or stress. Suffer bad outcomes if and when they arrive but do not suffer potential outcomes. This is not a rule for business but a rule for life for me. Fear is toxic and way too prevalent in modern life. What if we don't hit XYZ targets? I used to think about this a lot. Now my mindset is ... 'Let's do everything we can to get there but I will not fear the potential failure to hit those targets, I will suffer it if/when it arrives.'

Jenni Pilcher, CEO and CFO of ‎3D Medical.

Business is ultimately dealing with people - do not underestimate the need to spend time further developing interpersonal skills, and focus on building relationships – take the view that everyone has something valuable to offer, try to spend time finding out what it is if it’s not immediately obvious. Remember, you undoubtedly won’t like everyone you do business with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a success professional relationship.

Heidi Armstrong, head of consumer advocacy at Liberty.

I would tell myself that time goes quickly, and the next five years will go by as quickly as the last five. I was brought up being told you can be whatever you want to be – but I didn’t always believe it. So I would tell myself not to limit my beliefs so when I look back at what I’ve achieved in the last five, ten, or even fifteen years, I would know I’d completely emptied the tank.

Maureen Thurston, chair of Good Design.

On May 1 this year I will have reached my sixth decade on planet earth. Even though I’m a firm believer that the best is yet to come, I should take a moment’s pause and consider - if I had a time-machine - what would I suggest to my younger self.

A couple things come to mind: Trust your instincts, the little voice inside your head is often wiser than you think. You’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them, then move on, and test the water, then jump in and explore.

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