Celebrating the talented women around us.
Today and every day is always about supporting women. We wanted to focus on starting a decent conversation about women in business and helping others achieve their goals. For this International Women's Day, we were lucky enough to speak to a few women from our network on the importance of female leadership, the hurdles they have faced, and how women can be supported in their professional careers.
Lisa Miles-Heal (decent Advisory Board member & female technology leader)
Lizzie Gurr (CEO of the wonderful Ozone Coffee Roasters)
Sophia (baker & owner of the delicious Sourdough Sophia bakery)
Sadie (owner of Sadie's, a funky female-forward cafe & bar)
What’s it been like as a woman working in what’s traditionally been a male-dominated industry? Any hurdles you have had to overcome?
Lizzie: Having grown up in an all-female household with a solo, feminist mum, I am fortunate to have a hard-wired belief that I deserve to be in any room and any role that any man does. I’ve had my share of exposure to toxic male environments (especially in restaurants which is my background); namely heavy drinking, bullying and both sexual and general harassment. More recently, since becoming CEO, I have found myself in situations where external professional contacts have only made eye contact and directed all the conversation to a male colleague in the room. That's been a new one for me and I struggle to come to terms with it, not because it personally really affects me (I can see it for what is, misinformed bias) but it opens my eyes to how much female oppression still exists in the world and while we’re making headway in socially progressive countries and industries, on a global scale, the crisis is very real and women are suffering every day. I have built a team culture and network of people around me of true feminists and strive for better equality in the workplace every day.
Sophia: It’s both good and challenging at times. It’s good because I can provide a nurturing, really emotionally stable environment and really care about my staff. I feel like as a woman and being a mother you can really give back to your staff and that is something special in hospitality. I have seen it all too often in a male-dominated environment where abusive talk becomes the norm and quickly you create a really negative workspace. As a woman in hospitality, I have made it my mission to change that.
Sadie: Sadie’s was born out of the frustration around pay inequalities and males being promoted over women for no reason other than, being a male. Unfortunately, it’s a slow, slow road to changing the status quo and I felt I needed to do something about it, now.
Lisa: Yes as a woman in tech it’s been an interesting journey, one that has seen both opportunities and challenges. Some were funny (people’s embarrassed reactions when they assumed I’m my husband's plus one at events before realising he’s mine), and some not so - such as being asked to leave a strategy meeting to go shopping with a male boss’s wife and “to dress more femininely”. But generally, I try not to think of the hurdles as being gender related because framing them that way gives that power.
What’s the importance of women's leadership in business?
Lizzie: Female leadership in business is critical for a sustainable, equitable future. It’s now commonly recognized that businesses with female leaders are proven to return better profits and better engagement.
Lisa: Crucial - I fully subscribe to the “you have to see it to be it” construct. I saw very few leaders like me in my career and I think this discouraged women (and men) from believing women can lead just as capably.
What improvements/changes have you seen in the industry and what else would you like to see?
Lizzie: The spotlight on mental health in our industry is so long overdue and such an important conversation. The next generation coming through have much better boundaries and expectations around work/life balance. It’s common now for team members to only want to work 3-4 days per week so they can pursue other interests or to simply have more time to relax and I have so much respect for it. I come from a generation of over-productivity and find it extremely difficult to stop and relax. When I started out, working anything less than a 60-hour week felt lazy and 70-hour weeks were normal. I’m still relatively young and have another 3 decades of work in front of me – I will never work more than 40 hours a week again. I would like to see people of all ages and stages of life embrace a healthy work/life balance and spend as much time on themselves as they do on their job.
Sophia: I have seen great positive change. You need to lead positive change in order for it to happen and many businesses are recognising that. I’ve seen better hours, less night shifts, more reasonable pay and overall hospitality is becoming more focused on creating a sustainable working environment for long-term employment. I would love to see more support for mums and dads to be able to carry less of the burden when it comes to the work-family life split and this has to come from the government, not the employer.
One of the biggest things we need to tackle is the issue with maternity leave and maternity pay as well as paternity leave and paternity pay. If you can fix how we view women on maternity and how little we support them currently and how little we give fathers, then you can probably fix the gender inequality.
Sadie: It’s hard to say whether the industry is getting better - a lot of it is still the same with pay inequities and so forth. The difference now is that more people are calling things out and realising their worth - people aren’t going to work too many hours for crap pay anymore.
Lisa: I’ve seen many - some as part of widespread Diversity & Inclusion initiatives generally e.g improved support for flexible work, parental leave, pay equity, gender-neutral language and workplace physical and mental safety. Ensuring events have gender-balanced speakers and panels - all these things make a difference.
How do you hero/champion other women, personally and/or professionally?
Lizzie: I believe the most important thing you can do to champion other women professionally is to pull them up the ladder, advocate for them and put them in the room you once dreamed of being in. I try really hard to do this and to see other women as allies, not competition. 60% of our Senior Leadership Team is female and we have equal representation across the business. Personally, I try to be a real, flawed human and a good friend. I stopped posting on Instagram about a year ago and just log on occasionally for work purposes. I became increasingly aware of how I was subconsciously portraying this image to my friends and peer groups of ‘having it all’. The career, husband, gym habit, kids... social media is a curated snapshot,and my focus is having real human interactions - spending quality time with my female friends and being on a mission to spend time in real life, connecting with other people.
Sadie: Using women-owned brands first and foremost. At Sadie’s, every month we have a new women artist led exhibition. We run events such as our Lonely Womens Club (speed dating to make friends), pottery classes and quizzes.
Lisa: I mentor and speak in schools to increase visibility. A lot of it begins at home with our daughter - encouraging and challenging her. I always ensure a gender balance in hiring - will not shortlist for senior roles if there are no women present in that list (I will go back and reassess hiring comms/process). Representing a realistic style for female leadership - especially when dealing with balancing parenting, and telling stories about the journey - showing non-typical success pathways.
How do you think people who don’t identify as women, can help support women?
Sadie: By buying female-owned brands, supporting their businesses, shouting about them online. Having transparency with pay and making sure no pay gap between staff on the same level.
Lizzie: Allyship. My predecessor and mentor of 10 years, Craig Macfarlane, has been my biggest professional advocate and has put me in rooms I never would have imagined. He gave me a seat at the table from day 1 and is a testament to the role of male allyship in the fight for gender equity. Allyship at home is important too - balancing the roles between us and role-modelling this for our children.
Do you have any advice for women in the industry or looking to forge their own path in a professional sense?
Lisa: Keep learning - the industry is moving really fast; be authentic, always take roles that interest you over money or other short-term rewards. Have a career development plan and review it every year (I always do it in the first week of January). Don’t be so hard on yourself and build resilience.
Lizzie: Actively seek out help and mentorship. What that looks like will be different for everyone; whether it’s therapy, peer sponsorship, or upskilling - you will drive yourself to despair trying to do it alone (trust me- I’ve been there!).
Sadie: Make connections and build relationships with as many people as you can - do collaborations, take part in networking events. This all lifts each other up.
Sophia: Go for it. It is the most satisfying and empowering thing you can do. Don’t weigh out the risks too much, you will talk yourself out of it in no time. Try to take risk, enjoy the journey and never give up your morals.
Thank you ladies. Although we have come a long way in gender-equality, there is still a lot of work to be done. We hope you can take something from the above insights and no matter who or what you identify as, continue to lift each other up in achieving a gender-equal future.