Whether you’re in the corporate world or running your own show, there has never been a better time for women in the Australian business landscape. Not only are there a plethora of networks and communities established specifically to support women and foster innovation, but performance – regardless of gender – is being recognised with great strides and is evident in the number of women at board level.
Employers are also embracing new ways of welcoming women back to work after they have started families or providing more flexible working arrangements.
Whilst there is a long way to go, the progression seen in Australia over the last couple of years demonstrates that there can only be bigger and more exciting advances ahead.
Helen Masters, VP and MD of Infor, South Asia–Pacific and ASEAN
Until recently, there has been a concentration of males in STEM occupations, but times are changing and it’s now an exciting time to be a woman working in the industry.
Australia is making a conscious effort to provide an important platform whereby teachers and students, especially girls, can engage in important discussions around not only STEM, but also the important role of women in the industry. This is having a positive effect on women’s perceptions and is encouraging more women to enter the field.
The not-so-secret “secret” is to stay focussed on your goals and not be deterred by industry segregation. Women should focus on the skills they can bring to the table and should be empowered to speak up, take action and be their number one supporter.
Victoria Curro, managing director of LIDA
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise; the fight isn’t over. There are still many moments in the workplace where gender stereotypes are applied. There is still a wage gap between men and women that has not changed significantly in over 20 years.
There are still many women who have to deal with sexual harassment or discrimination at work. But fighting for gender equality is not a fight against men, it’s not about bringing men down, but about bringing women up.
Helping women stand together can be as simple as calling out bad behaviour when you see others experiencing it and talking to men and women in your workplace about what crosses the line. It can start with a conversation with senior management about what barriers need to come down in your organisation, to make it truly gender diverse.
I do believe that when my daughter starts working she won’t have to deal with any of this – but I think we will only get there if our generation recognises that there is still a lot to be done.
Kate McKenzie McHarg, co-founder and director of 776BC
My view is that it’s up to the individual, male or female, whether they’re successful in business in Australia or anywhere.
There are incredible opportunities for females in business in Australia right now. You just have to not be afraid to speak up and be committed 110%. Success requires focus, tenacity, skill and honest hard work, and this applies whether your male or female.
Increasingly there are strong females in leadership positions and fantastic examples of Aussie female’s having incredible success not only on our doorstep, but on the world stage- Lisa Messenger of Collective Hub, Jodie Fox of Shoes of Prey, Kate Kendall of CloudPeeps.
With networks such as Business Chicks and female-focused funding groups actively fostering the community of females in business, it’s up to the individuals to continue to demonstrate that women are equally as able as men to have success in the Australian business environment.
Laura Huddle, head of marketing ANZ at Eventbrite
My recommendation for women (and men) in business, is that when you encounter sexism, especially the subtle, condescending sexism we all encounter far too frequently, do not let it slide. Call it out.
For instance, I was recently in a vendor meeting where the older male sales associate used the term “girl” for his female associate. To me, this language is essentially like patting someone on the head. I find it to be quite pejorative and not acceptable in today’s workplace. I pointed that out and quickly ended the meeting. If that’s how you treat your employees, then you’re not a business that I will work with.
Normalising demeaning behaviour has a very negative, long-term effect. It’s more important than ever to speak up when confronted with the casual everyday sexism we all encounter.
Sexist conduct, humour, and language doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s never “just words”. If people think it’s ok to joke about your gender, then is it really that far-fetched to believe they actually think less about your contributions?
Words really do matter. They shape the work environment and if we’re really building a better future where future generations of female leaders will face less of an uphill struggle, we need to actively try to make things better. We owe it to our daughters.
Rosie Kennedy, managing director of OnMarket BookBuilds
In the early 80s, merchant banking, and money market dealing in particular, was a new and exciting scene in every sense.
Starting my career in an industry during its embryotic stage meant that my colleagues and superiors were all young and energised. Promotion was based on merit and success came to those who had genuine interest in financial markets, were collaborative and could handle pressure.
Although it was a male-dominated industry, advancement was gender agnostic. My promotion to managing a large money market desk at the age of 25 was based on results and the support of a great team.
The bond market was also a burgeoning industry and, while there was a smattering of women on bond sales, there were no other females in charge of a bond trading desk. The role was not for the faint hearted, it was pressured and there was plenty of banter. So long as I kept the unwritten code of providing buy/sell quotes in the appropriate size and spread, my peers treated me as an equal.
I then changed tack and worked in management roles and, even in large organisations, I’ve found that it is your ability and who you are that counts.
Kim Liddell, founder and MD of Non Destructive Excavations Australia
The Australian business scene offers a world of opportunity for women right now. The climate is ripe and there are several supportive networks specifically targeted at women in business. Gone are the days where you have to go it alone.
Bringing women in business to the forefront are goals for HerBusiness’ Businesswomens Hall of Fame and Telstra’s Business Women’s Awards. The Inspiring Rare Birds movement has a vision to see 1,000,000 women entrepreneurs globally by 2020. EY have a brilliant Entrepreneurial Winning Women program, and organisations such as Business Chicks and the newly formed Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine group bring business savvy women together in various ways including social and learning events and thriving online communities.
My experience with the above mentioned groups as well as the Sydney Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation have been invaluable to my business journey, my learning and my growth. I believe raising the profile of women in business will create future generations of girls and women who will be inspired to step beyond their comfort zones and achieve greatness.
So reach out, get involved and build your entrepreneurial ideas into thriving businesses with the collective motivational support of other inspiring Australian business women.
Mary Retallack, MD of Retallack Viticulture
Lead on your own terms to create long-lasting change.
It is an exciting time to be a woman in Australian business. In the wine community, we are seeing generational change, greater awareness and inclusiveness. This opens the door for the next generation and importantly for women to contribute more effectively to decision making and business culture. Although there is still much work to do.
Women are working to their strengths and leading on their ‘own terms’, more so than ever before. We naturally do things differently. Now is the time to celebrate these differences and challenge the status quo to accelerate positive change.
Strong leadership is grounded in generosity, kindness and compassion. These attributes are needed to make an enduring connection and to be an effective influencer.
Traditionally, women have had to adapt to fit into a masculine workplace. Thankfully this is changing and there is broader recognition of the importance of diversity. Never underestimate the difference an individual can make. Have the confidence to speak up, be seen and be heard. Be a mentor, sponsor and role model. Lead on your own terms to help create long lasting change. Femininity is a strength, use it effectively.
Tanya Titman, managing director of Consolid8 and founder of Acceler8 Business Improvement Program
For most women in business it is a constant juggling act of trying to fit 48 hours into one day. Women want to achieve so much and make a difference, and the key to achieving this is leverage.
My core advice is to work out what you are best at. It can sometimes be confronting as a leader to admit you have flaws, however this self-realisation is the key to unlocking your potential. Once you know what you are great at, it is then a matter of filling the gaps and surrounding yourself with a great team that have complementary skills.
This concept of leverage is not new. But surprisingly many women seem to think they need to do it all.
In my case, I’m raising four children, managing house renovations, fund raising for charities, and being a spokeswoman for diversity in the workplace and women in business – all while running my two successful businesses.
The appearance of being able to juggle everything is backed up by a highly tuned team of incredible support people that extends from home-based domestic duties to key roles within my businesses. The result is quality time with family and the headspace to create award-winning, high value, sustainable businesses.
Lisy Kane, producer at League of Geeks
Go find yourself a girl gang and learn new skills together.
Build a business together, make a game together, learn to code together. Whatever it is – your girl gang is your best asset. There is never a skill that is too “hard” to learn – investing the time is usually the hard part. Doing it with friends is so much easier, and together you’re more likely to stick at it.
Technology is opening up so many industries we should be curious and consistently looking for new ways to innovate. If you want to take control of your career path, learning new skills is the best competitive advantage you can have.
I want to see and play more videogames made by women. We can pave the way for the next generation. Women in business need to stand up for their craft and not allow themselves to be bracketed into a gender stereotypical role.
With a lack of diverse people working on projects – and not just gender – we’re telling the same story over and over again. Around 75% of people making games are not women, despite around 50% of gamers being female. There are so many stories yet to be told.
Tricia Brennan, co-founder of Studio GoGo
I would love to see women of all ages give themselves permission to break free from traditional career paradigms and pursue their true dreams and passions.
There are few true constraints, other than those we impose on ourselves, and age should certainly not be one of them. I can testify to this, having launched an online retail startup, Studio GoGo and GoGo for Glasses, with my co-founder Tania King later in life.
Together, we have over 50 years’ experience in business and design which is invaluable to the growth of the business. In my 50’s, I feel more self-reliant and confident in my abilities than ever before.
There is no room for self-doubt when you are creating your own business venture. Be generous in the way you view yourself and trust your inner resources. When people see you are inspired and passionate about a project you believe in, they are more than happy to offer you support and encouragement.
You can’t always see every step in the process from a logical perspective but, if you are on the right track, you will intuitively get a sense of the next action to take.
Tammy Butow, SRE manager at Dropbox
It’s so important as a woman in business to find sponsors and believers to help push you to be better each day. Never underestimate the power of being surrounded by a caring community of people who will be the ones who have your back, encourage you and open doors for you to accelerate your career.
James Turnbull is an incredibly successful Australian business leader in the technology industry and has been there to support me since I joined his team as a security engineer back in 2010. He helped me to break into the US job market back when I first wanted to explore outside of Australia.
Personally, I really care a lot about seeing more women in technical and leadership roles. Women are over 50% of the population in many countries, so this needs to be reflected in industry if we really expect to benefit from a diverse business landscape that reflects society.
To achieve this, more men need to step up and support women, like James has supported me.
Every man in tech should be sponsoring at least one woman as there are just not enough senior women in tech to sponsor all the women who need this support. Sponsoring a woman could be supporting her to take on a great project, helping her get funding to study a leadership course, helping her get accepted to speak at a conference or creating an opportunity for her to take on a leadership role. There are many ways to be a great sponsor.
Louise Vorpagel, people & culture lead at RedEye
To really carve out a successful career in today’s business landscape you have to be courageous. Employers today are looking for people who can execute, lead and work autonomously. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you can make a contribution to your organisation and your own career trajectory.
Seeking out the right company that supports this quality is also important. You can get a feel for a company’s culture, its ethics, and whether this is an organisation that can help you grow as a professional in your space. The right company for you will support diversity and will have no barriers because you are a woman.
Diversity is about having the best people in the room to collaborate and solve a problem. It’s more than having the right percentage of people in the room. It’s having the right people with different experiences, ages, genders, personality, knowledge, values, education and race to allow you to collaborate, mitigate risks and succeed as a team.
There are endless opportunities, in fact there’s a market demand for women in the tech space.
Sarah Moran, co-founder and CEO at Girl Geek Academy
There are simply not enough women in the world choosing to build the internet. Currently only 12% of women are building our digital world, and we need to significantly increase the number of women and girls learning tech skills.
Whether it be learning how to build a website, using a 3D printer or making a game, we need to step up and learn at least some new technical skills. If we don’t, Australian women will be on the back foot in fighting for leadership positions and equal pay as we move forward into the digital-driven economy. It’s never been more important for women in business to embrace technology.
On a positive note, misogyny in the Australian business landscape is much less striking than in the U.S., for example, where during one of my first meetings I was told straight up by a recruiter that they would hire more women, yet “didn’t want to lower the bar”. This is ridiculously frustrating because female candidates are often more qualified because we have to try so hard to earn our place.
We look up to San Francisco and Silicon Valley as technical leaders, yet this attitude is quite normalised over there – as highlighted in the recent Uber case. When I recount this story in Australia most people are appalled.
In Australia the technology sector is improving, and we need to keep going. As women we have to help ourselves in two ways: we have to be outrageously ambitious, bold women; and we need to bring other women along. You can’t do one without the other.
Kathy Wilson, director of customer solutions at JESI
To be respected as a woman in the Australian business landscape you must first respect yourself and have clarity on how you want others to view your character.
Always self-reflect on how behavior and communication is impacting on others perceptions and listen to feedback both positive and negative. Don’t take for granted how much your actions can impact someone’s life.
Traditionally, women are exceptional multi-taskers, strategic thinkers and good at getting through practical tasks, so it’s important to remind ourselves that we have the fundamental traits needed to be successful in business.
Women can sometime shy away from self-promotion and we need to promote them more to demonstrate to others the journey and challenges of carving out a successful career. Sometimes the men in suits can get it wrong and women are just as capable of making executive decisions that will impact positively on an organisation.
I would also encourage women to strive to set an example. I want to demonstrate to my sons that life throws you interesting curveballs and it’s how you catch them and throw them that makes the difference.
Fabiola Gomez, CEO of LUXit
Women are currently situated in a positive business landscape with plenty of opportunity, and my key message to instil in other women is to have conviction behind your ideas and your business or the business community you work within.
Focusing on finding your craft and carving your business niche is essential, but equally important is this being backed by confidence in your decisions. Australian women in business continue to build and grow supportive and empowering communities for each other, and you should reflect this same mentality when it comes to your own ventures.
Feedback from mentors and industry experts is important, but ensure that you trust and develop your business instincts also. Women should be encouraged to take risks and make big moves to define themselves in the market with confidence, and this needs to be echoed by companies that employ women by taking action and advocating on behalf of them for promotions and career development.
Selena Mazuran, founder of FBI Fashion College
I do think it’s tough today for women. It’s hard to make money but even more difficult to keep those funds because it seems other people want them!
To stay focused on your original vision is pertinent but tricky.
I find that concentrating on WHY you are doing what you’re doing is helpful. It’s not always about making money, that shouldn’t be your main purpose, but a result.
As Simon Sinek asks, what’s your purpose? What’s your belief?
Don’t work just because you need the money, work because you believe in your product and surround yourself with like-minded people who believe in what you believe.
To start internally is a challenge because the world demands us to work externally. Worrying about being overcharged for renovating your office, buying a company car or not being paid enough for a job, distract us from our real purpose.
Let’s make sure that we are the inspired individuals who communicate from the inside out and focus on WHY we are business women.
Kate Morris, CEO and founder of Adore Beauty
The one thing Australian business women need to know right now is that you’re not the only one who has that creeping suspicion that something isn’t right, or that the odds are stacked against you.
The odds ARE stacked against you, and we’re all feeling it. The answer isn’t to “lean in” more, or act more like a man. We all have a voice and we need to start using it, to point out bias or inequality wherever and whenever we see it, and demand change. Keeping quiet and being nice isn’t getting us anywhere. The only way to make a difference is to speak up.
I have two daughters, and I refuse to accept a world where they have less of a chance of being leaders, or be paid less if they do get there.
Zoe Pointon, co-CEO and co-founder of OpenAgent
Business women need to know that childcare solutions are expensive, non-tax deductible and in many cases hard to get into, and not necessarily aligned with the schedule of a senior woman in business: for example many day care solutions require women to leave the office at 4-4:30pm, and school finishes at 3pm.
If you are used to being able to be in the office until 6 or 7pm this is very difficult to manage.
Laura Cardinal, general manager of product development at Xero
If I could tell women one thing, it’s that they have permission to be themselves. When I started out in technology, I progressed quickly. I suddenly was a 21-year old managing 40-year old men. I immediately felt pressure to be like them and manage things the way they did. What I’ve discovered over the years is that it doesn’t work. I have to champion my own style. We are paving the way way for the future of women in leadership, and we need to lead by example and show them that it’s okay to be themselves. When you’re true to your passion and your values, that’s when you do your best work.
Sandra McLeod, CEO of Travelport Locomote
Having worked in the travel tech industry for almost 30 years, I have borne witness to a huge amount of change since I began my career, but there’s still a lot more to do.
The tech industry is still seen as a male-dominated industry, particularly at an executive level which can create more of a challenge for women trying to progress in their careers. That needs to change.
As a female CEO of an international business, I make it a priority to place gender diversity and quality mentoring of good talents at the forefront of our people & culture strategy at Travelport Locomote. Without creating the infrastructure for success, gender parity will never happen, and it is up to all of us to ensure that we invest in it.
My hope is that over the next few years, we’ll see more and more businesses investing in their female employees, enabling them to become better leaders and ultimately propelling them to success.
Kristen Lunman, programme director of Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator
Women have more tools at their disposal and opportunities to succeed in business than ever before.
Not only are their new channels for raising capital (think crowdfunding, seed angel networks, venture funds, institutional and individual investors) which can accelerate a business, we also have specialised resources to help support female entrepreneurs, such as networking and mentoring groups like Cultivate Lab, accelerators like Australia’s SheStarts and Wellington’s Lightning Lab XX.
As COO of Wipster and now as the Programme Director at the Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator in Wellington, I’ve seen a groundswell of support for female leaders on both social and traditional media because women are agile problem solvers and frankly, just get stuff done. This is rewarded (and rewarding!) in a startup environment.
Lori Tyrrell, head of people and culture at HealthEngine
I think it’s important that business leaders take personal action and continue to champion gender equality in the workplace. We are the ones who can make change.
HealthEngine is really proud to be diversity leaders. Our team is made up of people representing over 10 different countries and cultures, several disabilities, and out of 100 people, 46 of them are women.
We understand just how hard it is to get access to opportunity if you are not a white, anglo saxon male aged between 23 and 45. I personally understand how hard it is to develop as a female leader without inspiring role models like Marcus Tan, my current boss and CEO at HealthEngine.
I truly believe it takes little effort to challenge our typical stereotypes and create opportunity for those who don’t have privilege or are under represented.
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