What women entrepreneurs really want for International Women's Day

Libby-Jane Charleston

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International Women's Day is a great opportunity to acknowledge the great achievements of women and the progress made in terms of gender equality.

But it's still a stark reminder of what still needs to be done. It's not just about achieving equal pay for equal work and removing the glass ceiling; it's also about ending discrimination and pushing for gender equality in every area of our lives. 

Men still dominate the startup sector in Australia. In October 2020, there were 355,000 registered startups, but just 22 percent are all-women led — that's a rise of just three percent in 20 years. 

Nicole O'Brien, CEO of startup community Fishburners, is familiar with statistics that show, traditionally, women are thrown into more unpaid and unrecognized responsibilities compared to men.

"This reduces their freedom to follow their dreams. We aim to turn this around and make sure our future belongs within a much more diverse and inclusive community. Fishburners aims to turn this around and make sure our future belongs within a much more diverse and inclusive community," Nicole says.

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Nicole O'Brien CEO Fishburners. (Picture:supplied)

"We are empowering women with programs such as our 'Fempowered program', which works to upskill women of all backgrounds and expertise to build a startup and become their own CEO."

"My wish for IWD is for a world where women are confident, believe in themselves, are empowered to realize their abilities and achieve their dreams."

Let's hear from some fantastic Australian women entrepreneurs, sharing their thoughts and wishes for IWD.

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Sarah Cummings, founder of TeachTed (Picture: supplied)

Sarah Cummings

Founder of TeachTed; reducing anxiety for children during medical experiences and improving operational efficiencies for care providers.

Sarah believes there has been an improvement in recent years in the understanding of the issues faced by women in business.

"Things have really improved a lot over the last decade, to make startup events and opportunities more accessible for women. There are many great female role models within the startup ecosystem. The move to virtual events due to COVID-19 has also made information and networking more accessible, particularly to women with younger families," Sarah says.

"The work being done by groups like Fishburners helps to build support networks for women as they grow their businesses. Startup life can be very lonely. Finding a community where you are welcomed and supported makes your journey so much easier."

Sarah also believes many women might not realize they can transfer their skills from one industry to another.

"When I first had kids, I became a marriage celebrant. One thing I learned from this was how many of the skills I'd learned in financial services were transferable to other industries. I think my co-founder and I were also lucky in a way that we didn't know a lot about the health sector. Sometimes naivety can be a benefit! We just didn't know what was or wasn't considered possible," Sarah says.

"This year's International Women's Day theme is 'Choose to Challenge'. At Teachted we feel that challenging the status quo is important when it comes to improving patient experiences. There are so many amazing people who work in our specialized children's services and we want to get that information out to families everywhere."

Michelle Forster

Founder of family calendar assistant myWhanau

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Michelle Forster. Picture: supplied

Michelle believes we all need more affordable services designed around improving productivity at home – as well as the recognition that this can benefit productivity at work.

"One of the barriers to gender equality is how hard it is to outsource household chores right now. It is just too hard, too expensive, quality is 'hit and miss' and parents don't know where to start.  A key reason is because products and services in the marketplace have not been designed specifically around parents' needs; particularly mother's needs – this is what I'm trying to fix," Michelle says.

"There is another barrier I have found; I've realized that mothers tend to devalue their time compared to the dads. This is why more historical 'masculine chores', such as gardening and lawn services, have greatly increased. And yet chores more associated with women, such as cleaning, have only changed modestly. Research has shown that outsourcing is not related to the female income, but whether women's time is valued.

"My wish for IWD is something that we can control and that is to value our time more. And I'm working to ensure that we can make it easier, cheaper and quicker."

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Rhoda Esquivel Picture: Supplied

Rhoda Esquivel

Founder of Woolfie, a team-building app for Slack to help keep the human connection alive in tech teams

Rhoda says she's learned some crucial lessons as an entrepreneur that she'd like other women to know.

"The first thing that prevents you from following your dreams is often fear. I see this in a lot of people, including myself: I could always come up with surface-level excuses for not doing something. If I looked deep down, the real reason was because I was afraid of failing," Rhoda says.

"If you know you want it, you have to overcome your fear of starting something new. Businesses always have a chance of failing. Think: what's the worst that could happen? If it doesn't involve anything catastrophic, then you should go for it!"

For IWD, Rhoda's wish is for changes to be made, to make life easier for women in the workplace.

"I want flexible remote work to be the norm. This will enable more women to pursue their goals. But, remote work, despite all its advantages, does make people feel more isolated," Rhoda says.

"I want people to feel as connected to their team as if they were in the office. This is what inspired me to create Woolfie, because we bring people together in the workplace, even if they work remotely."

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.

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