International Women’s Day is an invitation to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women globally. It recognises how far we’ve come towards gender equality, and also how far we still have to go.
In 2022, the IWD theme of #BreakTheBias challenges use to take practical steps to create a world free from stereotypes and discrimination and make inroads towards gender equality in work and life at large.
But incredible women across Australia and beyond have been working hard to break down biases and create a diverse and inclusive world well before this year’s IWD theme was announced.
That’s why we’re thrilled to spotlight five stellar Australian women who are shattering stereotypes, rewriting narratives and shaking up their industry and society at large.
From building fast-growing femtech startups to designing leadership and mentoring programs helping to close the gender pay gap, these passionate women are changing the outlook for women nationwide (today and every day).
Shivani Gopal is a passionate feminist, serial entrepreneur and finance expert on a mission to create a more equal world. She is the Founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman, a leadership and mentoring platform helping to close the gender pay gap.
“The biggest bias I shattered early in life was leaving my early adult marriage. I come from an Indian background and leaving is simply not something you do. I shattered the bias around women being expected to just stay in unhappy marriages simply because they were married.
A recent bias I shattered was around the ability for female founders to raise capital. It’s challenging and women only receive less than 3% of the world’s VC funds. So when I was pregnant I decided that I’d bring my round forward and raise while I was visibly ‘about to pop’.
I wanted to challenge the biases around women not just being worthy of investment, but pregnant women too. There’s something really powerful about owning all that you are and showing up in all your glory, and I ended up closing my round, fully funded, a month before giving birth. Knowing that I managed to pull that off gives me a great deal of hope for the future.
I get out of bed every day, doing what I do here at The Remarkable Woman, helping women connect with mentors and attend masterclasses because I want to make sure that no more women experience challenges like we’ve already endured.
I urge everyone to challenge bias wherever they can. Success is in the nuances of how you handle things – so think about winning the war and not just the battle. For example, if you feel that you’re not being paid your worth vs a male colleague (hello male breadwinner bias) don’t try to win the battle by challenging your leader in front of your team.
Instead, win the war by framing a solid argument in a private meeting with the right information and framing to negotiate. Then, not only have you challenged the bias, but you’ve won for yourself and for your fellow female employees who’ll come after you.”
Sheree Rubinstein is the Founder & CEO of One Roof, which started out as an Australian co-working space and has since pivoted to a digital membership for entrepreneurial women Australia-wide.
“When I raised $1 million in capital from five investors for my business, it was unfamiliar territory and I felt completely out of my comfort zone. But the odds are stacked against us when it comes to funding for entrepreneurs and startups.
I was adamant that I had to do this for myself, my business and also so that I could encourage and support other women to do the same. Every single meeting, phone call and interaction felt hard and uncomfortable but my favourite saying is ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ I used every bit of courage I had to show up and push through.
I successfully closed the round of funding and while things didn’t go to plan after that, I still hold on to that sense of achievement knowing that the startup and business world still make it so hard and often impossible for women to achieve.
I work tirelessly to break the gender biases for myself, for my daughter, for future generations, for all women and for the planet.
My advice to all women is to continue to show up and find a seat at the table. We need women to be seen, to be heard and to push through the discomfort. We need to know it can be done. I would also encourage you to find your tribe, your people who understand your challenges and can offer tools and support. When women find their tribe and feel truly supported they are almost always unstoppable.”
Cherie Clonan is an award-winning digital marketer and the Founder of Melbourne-based social media marketing agency, The Digital Picnic (a.k.a. The nicest place on the internet).
“I remember interviewing for a huge promotion which would see me managing a team of x70 people, and I knew I was the right person for the role. I was more than qualified, and I had the right experience.
I was also five weeks pregnant with my son.
Throughout the interview [which was a panel style interview of x3 people], I was asked if I was planning on having children as – in their exact words – “the last x3 hires we’ve had in this role have all become pregnant directly after beginning the role”. I knew this question was illegal, but I also know [sadly] that if I were to call this out throughout the interview … I’d likely just not gain the role, and so I instead decided – in that moment – that the best thing I could do would be to secure the role > nail that role > announce my pregnancy > subsequently show them that a woman deciding to grow a life doesn’t mean she’s incapable of a) doing her role, and b) coming back to it even more qualified than she was before.
… and that’s exactly what I did, and my Manager still describes me as being one of the most effective leaders they’ve had in that role, because my leadership strengths are centred around empathic leadership and servant leadership [these are really hard things to find in leaders and emerging leaders, and particularly hard to detect in an interview setting]. But the ripple effects of an empathic leader and a servant leader in your workplace? Well, I’ve seen its impact … and it’s a beautiful thing.
I’d like to think that I challenged their beliefs around ever feeling like they get to ask that question of a woman, and more importantly, judge a woman on her ability to perform in a role [whether she is a Mother, or not].
I’m an organisational leader within my own company now, and I’ve lost count of how many people we’ve promoted to senior management directly after they’ve announced a pregnancy, and every time I do this? … I know I’m smashing those all-important biases and stereotypes that exist for women.
What motivates me to break biases that exist for women is the knowledge I have around what women bring to the table, if we’re invited to it. And because I know we often aren’t, I instead want to focus on the impact that I can make … which is not just being able to invite them to the table within my own company, but advance them professionally [and subsequently personally] so that they can break generational cycles, and socioeconomic limitations, and the so many other things some of my company’s senior leaders are able to break off the back of The Digital Picnic opportunities I’ve made available to them.
And rightfully so.
And deservedly so.”
Alice Williams is the Founder of Ovira, an Aussie femtech startup that has created an incredible wearable device that stops period pain and is on a mission to find innovative ways to support women’s reproductive wellbeing.
“As a young, solo female founder with no experience running a business, let alone a tech startup, I came up against plenty of barriers in the early days of Ovira.
I quickly realised that I had no choice but to back myself 110% if I was ever going to shatter the bias and play my role in reconstructing what a tech founder looks and sounds like. So far, I’ve been able to prove wrong all those who doubted my capability by building one of the fastest-growing Aussie femtech startups of recent years.
Put simply, it’s got to be women who solve women’s issues. I founded Ovira after suffering excruciating endometriosis and painful periods for years. We’re talking about vomiting, blacking out and days lost to my bed.
I was in agony and no one had the solutions I needed. I could see that I had to be my own hero, so I went on a journey of research into the technology that would later become the Noha device. Looking back now, I’m so angry to know that this solution was there all along (TENS technology has been around for decades), but no one ever thought to use it to treat the pain experienced by half of the global population.
Our society is alarmingly comfortable with pain and suffering being an expected part of life for women. As women, we’re used to being told that ‘it’s all in your head’ or ‘just deal with it’. This is just not good enough. I have no doubt that if it was men experiencing this kind of pain, we would have had a device like Noha decades ago.
The more they ignore you, the louder you need to be. Whether we’re talking about women’s health issues, the gender pay gap, violence against women or any other issue affecting women in society. It’s time to be loud about the thing we were taught to be quiet about and refuse to suffer in silence.
Don’t expect change or success to happen overnight, and don’t be put off when things aren’t going your way – in work or life. We need more women in power, calling the shots and making the decisions that will ultimately pave the way for more change to come.
To get there we need to block out the biases, presumptions and stereotyping, and focus on what needs to be done. If you put the work in, the results will speak for themselves sooner or later.”
Verity White is the Founder and Chief Contract Enthusiast of Checklist Legal, a digital law firm on a mission to help female founders and leaders feel confident and courageous in business.
“Most law firms are traditionally male, pale, and stale, built around a sense of prestige and fear and aggression. That is not how I want to deliver legal services.
Checklist Legal is a collaborative design-focused law firm, where we help women in business and law create powerful, values-led contracts that make the world a better place.
One of the reasons I started my law firm was specifically because I think the law can be used to intimidate and confuse people. I’m motivated to push against biases that many people hold about women in business because these kinds of stereotypes often hold us back.
For example, it’s okay to charge an appropriate price for your valuable services. Women in business and in general are starting to negotiate more and ask for what they are worth, and I think this should be a huge focus for organisations.
Women are missing out on wages at every stage in their careers… we need to get better at asking for more and companies must do better in seeking to find any gender bias in their wages, positions, incentives, and promotions.
My advice for women who are encountering biases in work or life is to keep an eye out for opportunities, companies, or people you think might be more open and encouraging and make a move!
Don’t wait for permission to step up or try something new, have a go at forging your own path.”