Celebrating and inspiring women in entrepreneurship
To celebrate International Women’s Day, a panel of female entrepreneurs hosted by UTS Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IEU), offered personal and candid reflections on what it’s like to be a woman in the entrepreneurship space, and the importance of a good work-life balance.
Over brunch and sparkling mimosas, female founders and student entrepreneurs got to know each other in the UTS Startups Events Space to share their experiences and advice.
The panel featured Joanne Jacobs, managing partner of one of Australia’s leading innovation firms, Disruptor’s Handbook; Carly Stebbing, lawyer and founder of her own legal startup, Resolution123; and, Emma Earley, who founded a company at only 22 years old and is also now the Inspiration Manager for UTS Startups.
Minding the gap
Margaret Maile Petty, Executive Director of IEU, set the scene for a lively discussion recalling her first experience of Sydney’s wheeling and dealing venture capital fund world: finding herself being a disruptor simply by being the only woman in a room of middle-aged men.
Carly Stebbing, who began her career as a lawyer, was astounded to confront face-to-face, the ever-present issue of the gender pay gap in her first job.
“I took a major cut to my salary because I thought that was what was best for my career and I very quickly learnt from a male peer that he was getting paid ten thousand dollars more than I was for an equivalent role.”
Describing how she had to demand equal pay, Stebbing added: “To me it was really shocking. It was the first time it was smacked in my face that I wasn’t equal and it was also the first time that I was given the very stark choice to either suck it up and carry on or to call it out.”
Emma Earley shared her experiences of gender-bias that continue to impact how others perceive her.
“It’s the little things like taking part in a hackathon and hearing the comment: “oh, that was pretty good for a chick”.
“It’s been a struggle over the years trying to figure out how to speak up because you can often be perceived as the ‘emotional female’, instead of someone that just happens to be confident and assertive.”
Joanne Jacobs expressed her struggle to find female voices to aspire to in an industry dominated by men – a struggle that can be addressed by panel discussions and events for female entrepreneurs.
“My biggest challenge has always been to find platforms where women identify with the ideas and with the achievements that they bring so they feel they have something they want to do.”
Reflecting on how she approached often male-dominated work environments earlier in her career, she said: “I changed the way that I dressed, the way I communicated in order to mirror their behaviours so that I could be accepted.”
Taking the steps to be a female entrepreneur
Despite differences in age, career path and field of work, each of the panellists began careers as entrepreneurs after discovering their work was lacking inspiration and fulfilment.
“I wanted to do more. I didn’t want to be told what to do or how to do it by someone else,” said Emma Earley. “For me, it was about realising that I’ve done something unique in the world, I've forged my own path and I’ve made the choice to believe in myself. That's the most satisfying feeling.”
For Joanne Jacobs, realising her job wasn’t the right fit led her to co-found a new company.
“The last thing that I want is a job for the rest of my life where I don’t practice what I preach,” she said.
The importance of taking care of yourself
As women with successful careers and multiple responsibilities, the panelists acknowledged that sometimes, it becomes overwhelming and taking time out is crucial.
Emma’s golden piece of advice was to make time for the small things that make you happy.
“I used to think it was a virtue to overwork yourself and it was only a year ago, when my mental and physical health were so far off their peak that I decided to change that,” she said.
Carly said her life changed dramatically after her partner became a stay-at-home-dad and she took over as the breadwinner in the family.
“For me it was about accepting that you can not do everything nor do you have to, and if you’re in a partnership, why not share the load?”
Joanne shared a different perspective as someone not in a relationship or having the responsibility of family.
“I’ve always been fond of my own company so I go away on a regular basis and enjoy the experience of new places by myself. It sounds antisocial but it’s actually a really important part of self-care. You have to make sure you’re living a life that’s right for you,” she said.