Six successful female leaders share their best business advice

Jane Huxley

Jane Huxley, Managing Director, ANZ Spotify.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 34 per cent of business owners or managers are women – up from 31 per cent in 1991. What’s more, studies have revealed that while one in six startups were founded by females in 2011, this number jumped to one in four by 2014, which represents a 9 per cent increase in new female entrepreneurs in just 3 years.

This upward trend, which sees more and more women entering Australia’s business and startup scene, seems set to continue. In fact, Australia has been ranked second in the world for its environment for female entrepreneurship, behind the US in first place.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2018—and with progress towards a more equal opportunity future well underway—here are some highlights, tips, and challenges from six successful business women who are contributing to the growing number of role models for tomorrow’s female leaders.

Jane Huxley – Managing Director, ANZ Spotify

The challenges are different at every stage – they are endless – but always look smaller in the rear vision mirror. Sure, facing challenges builds resilience but more importantly, they expose vulnerability; a quality which, in turn, drives humility from where you can rebuild.

I know it’s trite, but challenges have made me who I am, and they fuel a desire for me to always want to do better; this is also when you truly learn the value of your network and having incredible people around you.

Equal doses of positivity, resilience, and humour have served me well, as well as surrounding yourself with similar people, or at least those who can course-correct you during the times where you may slip in your career. 

A piece of advice was given to me by a wise woman: “Don’t believe everything you think”.

Women, in particular, have a tendency to overthink, replay, and project scenarios that didn’t actually happen. It’s always worth checking in with yourself “what are the actual facts of a situation and what have you imagined” before you choose your course of action.

Jamie Lee – Australia Country Lead at Carousell and Co-Founder at Austern International

Jamie Lee

I believe entrepreneurship is a mindset and business is all about people. I love choosing opportunities based on the quality of people I get to work with, rather than the perfect job or title. This has allowed me to pursue interests that I had zero experience in and be mentored by some of the top industry leaders.  

I was 20-years-old when I started my first business and my priority was hitting the next big goal; so, I neglected a lot of things—including my health and time spent with family. Now, I try to ask myself the question: “When I’m old, how much would I be willing to pay to travel back in time and relive the moment I’m experiencing right now?”

That moment might be eating a home-cooked meal with my family or celebrating Chinese New Year with my niece. This simple question just puts everything in perspective and makes me feel grateful for the experience I’m having right now, versus being lost in thoughts about planning the future. At the end of the day, success is a journey not a destination. 

I love helping people, so learning to say “no” didn’t come easy for me. But once I started my role with Carousell, while also trying to juggle the business that I’ve co-founded, I realised I have a lot less time than I thought. It took me a while to rewire my brain and to have the courage to say no to friends, events, or opportunities that simply don’t serve me. 

Sally Bevan – Founder & CEO at Milray Park

Sally Bevan

In my personal entrepreneurial journey, I have found that momentum springs from a mix of gall, curiosity, grit and kindness to self. The gall to dream bigger, curiosity to drive you up the learning curve, grit so you can strap in for the bumpy ride, and positive self-talk to regulate energy and propel you forward.

Learning to prioritise (and re-prioritise) on the fly is a superpower that can not only save the day but drive home real results. In a similar vein, developing effective judgement is important. For example, knowing what to execute because ‘good enough’ is enough, or what to defer for another day because sleeping on it, and letting it simmer in your subconscious mind for a few days, will produce the better result.

My ability to do this effectively came with experience but I still get it wrong sometimes, everyone does. The takeaway is this; our brains operate like muscles and they get stronger with use.

Your potential is only limited by your imagination. Seriously. And vulnerability is strength; the more you share and connect, the more empowered you are to grow.

Yee Trinh – Co-Founder and CMO at SavvySME

Yee Trinh

Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Ego gets you only so far in business. Be patient, but resolute on your goals.

Being in business requires a certain mindset. Allow yourself to be in an environment that perpetuates that mindset easily. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and make sure you look after yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually.

Sally Paris – Co-Founder Metier Recruitment

Sally Paris with the team at Metier Recruitment

Sally Paris (second from left) with the team at Metier Recruitment.

When I entered the workforce, I was fortunate to work under two of the most dynamic female leaders in Australian business. These included Poppy King (Young Australian of The Year 1995) and Julia Ross, one of the most revered (to this day) female recruitment figureheads.

By having direct access to both of these highly driven and capable women, I was able to see how they operated, the way they looked at situations, and how they handled them. In fact, because they were the only companies I had worked for, I took on the standards of high performers which set me up for success.

Poppy King was the same age as my (slightly older) sister and only 18 when she started her own business! Julia Ross was a single mum when she started her own recruitment agency. They gave me the chutzpah to start my own recruitment agency.

I also had access to a lot of great people who taught me the value of a dollar and kept me grounded; I realised how quickly success can come and go. You can never take your eyes off the prize or someone else who’s hungrier than you may claim it.

Know you are responsible for everything. There is so much more pressure dealing with your own money rather than managing someone else’s money; it’s such a different pressure. It’s not something that ever goes away but something you get better with over time through experience. 

And never use being a female as a reason why you can’t start your own business – that’s bull****!

Claire Morris – Managing Director & Co-Founder, Prezzee

Claire Morris

Never take no for an answer. When someone says something can’t be done – it’s like throwing down a gauntlet for me. Game on!

Sometimes being a woman in business you feel you are not seen as an equal. Being passionate about your dream should not be mistaken for being emotional (which has its place too). Stay strong and don’t let these issues get in your way of success.

Surround yourself with people that inspire you. This includes your team, mentors, and advisors. Choose them well and involve them in your plans for the future. Do your research, know your product and know your numbers. Be yourself and play to your strengths.

Some way to go on the journey to equality

As our six successful business leaders demonstrate, more and more inspiring female role models are entering the business sphere, but there’s still some way to go on the journey to real equality. Even today, gender stereotypes around what it means to be a business leader can leave some women feeling unfairly isolated as they carve their pathway and shape their own identity in their field.   

Jamie Lee, Australia Country Lead at Carousell and Co-Founder at Austern International says: Ignore the societal pressures that suggest you have to act a certain way because you are female; it’s tough to be heard or stand out if you are always terrified about what others might think”.  

Balancing business and family life can also place a great deal of pressure on women compared to their male counterparts, because traditional gender expectations are still widespread when it comes to family responsibilities. There’s also the challenge of securing funding in a male dominated venture capital sector that’s said to have a tendency to support its own “tribe”.   

Moving in the right direction, we may be, but closing the gender gap once and for all will come down to how quickly and successfully society evolves to break down the barriers and challenges that still stubbornly stand in the way for so many talented female business leaders.

However, with more women leading by example, and a new generation of talent rising to the challenges, the signs are more positive than they were even a decade ago.

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