How wonderful it was to be on a panel alongside three highly successful women in business yesterday, to help raise awareness of and set actions for the theme for International Women’s Day this year, #PressForProgress.
We hosted a morning tea and panel of inspiring female leaders that was facilitated by the wonderful Sandy Burgham (founder of Play Contemporary Leadership Colab). I was on the panel too and joined by Jenene Crossan, founder and chief executive of Flossie.com; Philippa O’Mara, director of Engine Room; and Miriana Lowrie, founder and chief executive of 1Centre Limited, and our aim was to celebrate women who are driving and shaping the world of small business across the globe.
We also discussed the issues, challenges and opportunities that women in business face. The theme #PressForProgress is a particularly relevant one in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements which have been gathering momentum across the globe.
Sandy opened the event by describing her excitement at having a conversation with the panel of “fantastic women in business, all who share an entrepreneurial spirit, a love of tech and an interest in gender parity”.
Jenene set the tone of the discussion when she said International Women’s Day should not only be a celebration of what women have achieved, it should also be a day of action. It’s not necessarily about holding men accountable, it’s also about holding ourselves accountable. Women can be each others’ harshest critics and it starts with us as parents, as bosses, and as females, to break those attitudes down and lead from the front.
After asking for a show of hands and discovering three of the 80 or so attendees were Maori, Miriana identified the lack of female Maori role models in the tech industry as a real action point for her. “As a female tech founder of Maori descent, there is a massive gap of Maori women in this space. There is a lot of talk, and very little has changed.”
As a director of Engine Room, Philippa’s extensive experience in accounting and small business consulting gives her a unique perspective on what women need in order to thrive not only in the small business space, but in the broader sense. “It’s important we keep pushing the message out that women have somewhere safe they can ask questions about accounting and finance. But we also need to change the mindset past business and start pushing it out to men and young people so we’re not just having a conversation about this with women.”
The overall theme that I took out from these motivated leaders is that it is time for action. There has been a lot of discussion about it and as Sandy said, “let’s not just say ‘believe in yourself’ or ‘you go girl’, let’s give these women some specific action points”.
So in the spirit of taking action and #PressingForProgress, here is some tangible, real advice from some women who are at the forefront of progress in the New Zealand technology industry:
Jenene – “Fall out of love with your own business. Try to take a step back to identify the opportunities and challenges facing the business – it will be much easier if you can look at it objectively… And I implore you to stop yourself next time you find yourself being critical of another woman – that is one of the major changes we need to make for progress.”
Miriana – “Life is not a role play – you don’t get to live it over again. When you find your ‘thing’, grab onto it and go for it 100 percent. But make sure you help others along the way. What are you doing in your own environment? Do you have family and friends you could help along the way?”
Philippa – “Encourage others, help them to learn about life. There are so many people who don’t have any financial understanding. For those of us who are strong in financial literacy, we should be going out and helping them – even if it’s just your girlfriends.”
I shared a great piece of advice I picked up from Rachael Powell, our Chief Customer and People Officer at Xero, last year. Ask what the gender mix is. Commit to asking that of every business owner or manager you meet over the next few weeks. It’s a really simple question and it helps start the conversation about gender diversity and the thought process that perhaps something needs to be changed.
I was really proud to talk about our culture here at Xero. There is a pretty even gender split in Xero’s senior executive team, and that’s largely due to our culture and our values. One of Xero’s key values is #human – quite simply, that’s about having empathy and just treating people how you would like to be treated. Equality and pay parity need to be part of a business’ belief structure, because if you and your staff don’t believe in your business’ values, you’re not going to get change.
As Sandy, whose expertise is in the impact of gender on leadership and the workplace, said, “Diversity and inclusion is a natural outcome of a different process about understanding how culture works. If you get your culture right, you’ll start seeing a real shift in diversity.”
Craig Hudson, New Zealand’s Country Manager for Xero, opened the panel discussion by saying “I’m a little nervous by being one of a few men in the room – but this is important as I have three daughters.” Sandy responded “I always say, ‘imagine how we feel’. If you are a male chief executive, making it personal is what counts, because this is personal.”
So let’s take action and #PressForProgress together!