How Australian businesswomen are breaking the bias in 2022
We asked nine inspirational female business leaders to tell us the one thing they’re doing this year to break the bias. Their answers point the way forward for female equality and achievement.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, with its theme of #BreakTheBias, we asked nine inspirational female business owners and executives to share the one thing they’ll be doing this year to create lasting change.
“Women comprise a tiny – but growing – minority of the trades sector in Australia. While we’re getting better at encouraging girls and women onto the tools, the real challenge lies in creating psychologically safe and welcoming workplaces. Over the next few months, my focus will be on having productive conversations with male and female tradies alike, about how we can create environments where everyone feels comfortable and supported. When we’re able to sit down and listen to one another without bias, very often men and women find they actually want the same basic things: to be able to be their authentic selves at work, and to get the job done, without being bullied, harassed or judged. Take away gender, race and religion and we’re all just human beings from different backgrounds, looking to play to our strengths.” Hacia Atherton, CEO and Founder, Empowered Women in Trades
“There’s been a massive shift in the vet industry over the past couple of decades. Women now comprise close to 65 per cent of the workforce – but they only own 35 per cent of privately owned vet practices. And when you consider that privately owned practices in Australia make up just 45 per cent of all practices, you can see that the number of female owners is proportionally even smaller. I started My Vet Animal Hospital in 2014 at the age of 29, and this year I’ll be opening a second facility. The best way for me to encourage more hardworking, driven women to take the same step is to keep doing what I’ve tried to do from the get-go: give early career vets a chance, share what I know about running a practice, and create a positive, respectful working environment. It’s my mission to show other young people that having your own business can be challenging, but it’s also fun and super rewarding.” Dr Cherlene Lee, Founder, My Vet Animal Hospital
“Our Angus cattle business has 12 employees – six of them female. The team is expecting three babies this year and I’m focused on building the sort of supportive, flexible workplace environment that many corporate employees with young children are lucky enough to take for granted. Simple practices like encouraging male workers to go home and look after their children so their wives can attend appointments haven’t been the norm in our industry, but committed leadership can change that. Equal opportunity gives us a lot more talent to pick from and we’re mad if we don’t do everything we can to make working for farm businesses more family friendly, for both women and men.” Lucinda Corrigan, Director, Rennylea Pastoral Company
“I never underestimate how important regional Australia is in driving the national economy. It’s been calculated regional Australia accounts for 40 per cent of our total economic output and provides more than one-third of our exports. Women play a hugely important part of that – a third of Australian women live in regional, rural and remote areas – but their participation in the regional and rural workforce lags behind men. Imagine the benefit to our nation and to women if we could improve that. It’s why, this year, I will continue to push for greater female opportunity in our regional workforce, along with greater recognition of, and support for, the brilliant role the regional women and communities of Australia play in our nation’s economy.” Julie Rynski, Executive Business Banking Regional and Agri – Australia, NAB
“Since 1993, my business has grown from a hospitality side hustle into supplying lavosh to supermarkets, retailers and restaurants nationwide. We’ve lived the values of diversity and inclusion every step of that growth journey. Today, women of many nationalities account for 72 per cent of our workforce and hold key roles across the organisation. I’ve never played the gender card in my business life, but I recognise that women need role models; they need to hear from female leaders about how they’ve done things and how they could have done some of them better. That’s why I’ll be sharing some of my learnings with Australian women at all stages of their career journeys, via a national talking and storytelling tour this year.” Karen Lebsanft, Co-Founder, Kurrajong Kitchen
“Building great leadership is one of my passions. Since taking on my new role at the end of 2021, I’ve been privileged to work alongside some very talented colleagues leading our growing professional services teams around the country. I’m a big believer that building great and diverse leadership in teams forges better connections, better relationships and better results. That’s why this year I will be working hard at every opportunity I can, to strengthen my leadership team through hiring people that have diverse backgrounds and connect with the business community to support their diversity in leadership goals.” Sara Zahedi, GM Specialised Banking – Professional Services
“Sourcing and selling coffee that’s been ethically and sustainably grown has been our raison d’être since we launched our roastery and café in Ballina in 2016. Specialising in Southeast Asian beans has given us the opportunity – and the privilege – of working with scores of small producers in Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and, most recently, Laos. Women play a very big role in the coffee industry in those countries, and we deal directly with so many inspiring female farmers. Being able to sell their coffee at a fair price can help them lift their families out of poverty. COVID has made life difficult for us, but we’re committed to maintaining those relationships this year because we know they literally do change lives.” Amelia Hicks, Co-Founder, Old Quarter Coffee
“At the moment, 50 per cent of Australian businesswomen have no access to mentoring, yet it can make a huge difference to their career, or their success in business if they’re self-employed. As the leader of a collaborative community focused on helping women achieve professional and business success, breaking the bias is pretty much my job! ‘Democratising’ mentoring is one of the things I’ll be concentrating on in 2022. Wise counsel, support and connections can save them a lot of trial and error and second guessing. So many senior women relish the opportunity to pay it forward and, with their help, we’ll be expanding our free Mentor Mornings program to reach more women around Australia. Our goal is to mentor a million women – all part of our mission to create an unlimited future for women!” Lisa Sweeney, CEO, Business in Heels
“I’m passionate about supporting Australian business owners to start, manage and grow their businesses and the past two years have been incredibly challenging for many of our small business customers. We’re here to back our customers through good times and bad, and this includes through initiatives like Business in Heels, which connects female mentors and mentees. With ninety-eight per cent of all Australian businesses classified as small to medium, it’s great to be able to provide female business entrepreneurs with the opportunity to learn, gain inspiration and ideas, collaborate and ultimately grow their business.” Ana Marinkovic, Executive, Business Direct & Small Business, NAB