On November 28 I was invited to be a guest of the NBN on the Enterprising Women panel, hosted by the National Press Club of Australia. Alongside my fellow panellists Olivia Ruello (CEO, Business Chicks – below right) and Mikaela Jade (Founder, Indigital – below left) we discussed the topic of women in business and leadership, specifically female entrepreneurship in rural and regional areas.
A recent study by the NBN found the number of women starting up their own businesses in areas that are connected to the NBN has gone through the roof. Now a 2.3% lift doesn’t sound like much, but that’s actually twenty times the pace of growth that’s happening in areas that are not as well connected. Technology is empowering women to be more financially and professionally independent, and to strike out on their own. Here I reflect on the day’s events and share some of my key thoughts and take-outs from the day.
Is there enough attention being given to helping women start their own businesses, particularly in rural and regional areas?
I’ve visited and addressed audiences in places from Mt Isa to Shepparton, Tasmania to Bundaberg – and the number one thing I’ve noticed and been excited to see shifting more and more is the ability for so many locals to enjoy an incredible lifestyle while maintaining employment, largely through remote working. They may commute weekly or a few times a month to conduct face-to-face business meetings in the major cities, but the rest of the time they’re raising families in small country towns and rural areas; their lifestyles enabled by technology and connection.
As a role model for others and an advocate for small business, I love to share what I have learnt. The most important thing for us to do for start-ups in the community is to encourage people to have the vision. What is it that they really want to achieve? You can be world-class at anything anywhere in this country now. That’s transformational for Australia to be on the global stage.
How do we also harness that enthusiasm?
There is a certain level of business acumen required to sit underneath – it’s one thing to have an idea and another thing to be able to execute on it. So what I believe we need more of is educating people on the business acumen and the support networks to help them grow their business. At any given point, more than a third of Australians think they have a cracker of an idea that they want to turn into a business. But I promise you, not a third of Australians should be business owners…
The real power comes when self-employed women become true ‘entrepreneurs’ or business owners, employing others in the local community. That’s when the real value and impact will be amplified even further.
Do you think something has to change in the Australian political system, especially in regard to the treatment of women?
People have a choice of where they focus their gifts and their energy and where they want to make a difference. When people talk to me about leadership I approach it from the perspective of, ow I can best use my unique gifts for the good those around us.. I sometimes ask myself where can I make the ‘biggest difference?’ In my opinion right now the biggest difference I can make is by growing the Big Red Group and delivering customers to the thousands of small businesses who provide experiences to our marketplaces. One thing that continues to drive me is seeing the economic impact I have because of the work we do. Perhaps this is the best way for me to show leadership.
So I believe that every woman who believes in leadership, who believes in ethics and the power of doing good, should start wearing red shoes. We need a symbol to remind us every single day of the role we need to play for our daughters and our granddaughters. We’ve had enough. The suffragettes did their work. They got us the vote. We must remind each other. Julie Bishop made a statement with her red shoes and has since donated them to the Museum of Australian Democracy. Ann Sherry, from Chief Executive Women, wore red shoes. We see Annabel Crabb wearing red shoes. There is a reason why I wear red shoes. I am a leader for others. I am a role model for others. It is important that I show people I’m a leader and I will stand out. I am proud to be woman.
Once you have the idea, how do you get it off the ground?
First and foremost, there are the fundamentals of business. You’ve got to earn more than you spend and then you make the profit. Money is the way our system works. I sit on the board of the business and economics faculty of the University of Melbourne, of which I am a graduate. After all these years they invited me back because I represent small business – and I’m so proud to be able to be a voice on behalf of small business. What we need more than anything is role models and people to say ‘this is possible’. But what they also told me is that 60 percent of their undergraduates want to run their own businesses. They had bankers and lawyers and accountants on our board, but they had a need to show people the way forward when it comes to running businesses and the fundamental shifts and changes to come as the nature and notion of work changes. The future of work is very different than the work we sit in today, and as such we need nimble, agile, education – not just institutional.
We must educate for the workplaces of tomorrow. Life is a lesson, it is our curiosity that allows us to become the best version of ourselves. Thisis the first part of a two-part series. Check in next week for part two.