It was a Friday morning, close to the winter equinox on a below zero Canberra morning. Outside it was pitch black as I got in my car and drove the (thankfully) short distance to the National Gallery of Australia. “I must be committed,” I thought to myself as I concentrated on driving in my sleep-addled state. “I really need a stiff cup of tea.” The event? The Tall Poppies business breakfast that highlighted female entrepreneurs organised by Australia Post and hosted by Canberra Women in Business.
Woman. Business. Two words that don’t always go together. But they should and they increasingly are. I was fortunate growing up that my mother, a successful fashion designer, was an icon and role model. I remember once a taxi driver asking me ‘what did your dad do’ when he dropped me home, and me proudly saying “Actually, my mother has a business”. I didn’t quite get it growing up, wondering why she was often busy. However now looking back I am in admiration about how she managed to build a successful business that included four boutiques, a national wholesale business and even export with raising two daughters as a predominately single mother and making sure she was there when we got home from school each day. I remember my sister and I would play with buttons under her cutting table, as she worked on crafting dress patterns from her own sketches.
Opening the session was an address by Nicole Williams, President of Canberra Women in Business. I had not heard of this organisation (where have I been?) but it will not be my last as I am now a member. As a blogger and writer, I have not always seen myself as a business person. And as I am writing this, it occurred to me that many women in business don’t necessarily see themselves as entrepreneurs of innovators because they don’t fit the stereotypical young male tech-success model – yet that is exactly what they are.
The panel featured Hayley Purbrick (Big Sky Ideas), Irene Falcone (Nourished Life), Kristal Kinsela (Director of Indigenous Professional Services), and friend and thrifty writer Kylie Travers (CEO of Occasio Enterprises).
The stories were inspirational. Whether it was stories of marriage breakdown, violence, geographical isolation or struggles to manage a corporate career while raising young children, there were nods to their shared experiences. Women, much more so than men, crave flexibility in navigating parenthood.
Irene Falcone, for example, talked about the difficulty in pumping breastmilk while juggling a corporate role, and of the difficulty in attending regular evening events when there are children at home. Kristal Kinsela shared openly her story of leaving her children behind in Port Macquarie to work in Sydney. I use the story ‘leaving’ loosely; she returns one week a month and considers herself like a Fly in, Fly Out employee. This was a hard decision to put her and her financial well-being first, as in her Indigenous culture there was a belief that woman would have children young and then stay home to look after them. (Stop to consider for a minute how you would feel if it was a story about a man who travelled three weeks out of four for work – would you consider him a hardworking provider or a deadbeat dad?)
Ah, guilt. Women putting themselves first. Daring to dream big. Creating prosperity for themselves and their families.
Why don’t women do this more? Why do so many women still wait for a husband to provide for them? Why do we feel guilty about not being the perfect mother? (Yes, there were lots of stories about imperfect mothering on the panel and some things are left in confidence. Says me who forgot her child’s lunch yesterday. Bad mother syndrome I call it.)
It is changing, and the speakers on this panel bore testimony to that. It shows how women are making choices about how to live their lives, and how to live in an economically empowered way. Often this means creating a business because full-time work is not a cookie cutter mould that fits the realities of their lives and aspirationals. Today’s smart women want to do more and have more, and they are rewriting the rules to enable them to do so.
Kylie Travers, an award-winning writer and blogger, has a strong narrative about escaping domestic violence, being homeless and then rebuilding her life. The traditional nine to five model did not work for her as a single mother, so she reshaped it to one that relied on a social media. When one business model doesn’t work, she adapts to fit the next.
Hayley Purbrick went from being an accountant in Melbourne aspiring to be a manager (and hoping she would not end up marrying another accountant), to being with a young child on a remote farm near Deniliquin. She talks about her excitement when, pushing a pram around near her home, she came across another woman. Her business reflects her desire to be connected to the local community and to help make a difference.
Apart from listening to the panellists, the event was a great opportunity to network. I enjoyed meeting up with friends Lisa (This Canberran Life) and Kylie Travers (Occasio Enterprises). I was also inspired by speaking with Mashblox founder Alix Merope, and a female engineer and property investor at our table.
And I loved, loved, loved my bouquet from Poetry in Flowers. I have shopped there before and am always amazed at how busy they are. “Oh, that’s normal,” they said to me last time I asked. And given the beauty of what they produce, I can see why. Flowers are definitely a way to my heart.
This event was part of the Australia Post’s Regional Pitchfest, that has been encouraging innovation in Australia’s regional areas. Yes, there is a surprising wealth of expertise and innovation in Australia and it is not all in big cities, nor is it all being formulated by men. I have come away from this event with renewed optimism about what is possible and renewed faith in the importance of dreaming big.
Do you dare to dream big? What can women do to create greater prosperity?