The Stella Women Series: Fleur Madden, CEO and Co-Founder of Freelancing Gems

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When it comes to finding flexible work and thriving in the gig economy, nobody knows more about the challenge women face than Fleur Madden, CEO and Co-Founder of Freelancing Gems and Gem Recruitment.

When Fleur realised there were no job sites in Australia that championed women to find work in the gig economy she knew she had to do something, and then the pandemic hit. 

She saw how COVID was disproportionately affecting women within the workplace and the gig economy. Fleur saw the perfect opportunity to launch an inclusive community that connects women freelancers and entrepreneurs with inclusive and diverse workplaces and more recently has developed a sister business, a DE&I benchmarking and consulting platform for organisations. 

As a long-standing activist for women in business, Fleur is passionate about closing the gender pay gap and encouraging women to thrive in the workplace. And she knows a thing or two about it, with over two decades of experience in business ownership she has a lot of wisdom to impart. 

We had the absolute pleasure of catching up with Fleur to find out more about her 20-year career and how she champions diversity, equity, inclusion and flexibility for women in the workplace.

To kick things off, can you give us a quick introduction to yourself?

“My name is Fleur Madden and I am the CEO and co-founder of Freelancing Gems and Gem Recruitment – we are home to women’s recruitment in Australia. 

At Freelancing Gems we help women redefine their 9 to 5 and connect them to flexible work, be it freelance, part-time, remote, or contract roles. We also offer support via business tools and templates, networking, masterclasses, coworking days and group coaching to ensure they have everything they need to be successful in their careers. 

For employers, we provide a central location where they can find professional women looking for work via our digital jobs board that connects them to talent using our AI jobs matching. 

We are on a mission to close the gender pay gap for women in the gig economy and last year 70% of the women on our platform said they put up their rates or negotiated a pay rise after our guidance. 

At Gem Recruitment, we offer full-time placements and DE&I benchmarking and consulting for organisations. We redefine how employers find, connect with, attract and retain more diverse talent and guide them to create workplaces where everyone belongs. 

I would describe myself as a career entrepreneur, having owned multiple businesses for over 20 years. My first was a PR and brand agency with offices in Brisbane, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Los Angeles that I sold to a multinational. The second was an online beauty company that sold luxury and hard-to-find beauty brands from around the world and we had our own range of makeup brushes and tools that were also sold.

I knew my next business would be in the women’s space, but I took about 18 months off between businesses to define what was important to me about the next business and during that time Freelancing Gems was created.”

What inspired you to co-found Freelancing Gems, Australia’s first digital jobs platform dedicated to female freelancers, consultants, side-hustlers and small business owners?

“During my semi ‘retirement’ after selling one of my businesses, I was doing some consulting work for a business that was looking for freelancers and their team was predominantly female. I literally typed into Google ‘female freelancer jobs site’ and it took me to a US site and I thought this couldn’t be right – but it was.

There were no job sites in Australia that championed women to find work in the gig economy. Then I read that women who freelance typically charge 38% less than their male counterparts and I thought, well that is unacceptable and we can help there! 

Kirsty (my co-founder) and I were already working on Freelancing Gems when COVID hit, which saw over a million Australian women out of work and women hit disproportionately harder with job losses, lack of income, and stepping into caring roles. We knew that we could help more women find flexible work, so we launched in August 2020. There had never been a better time to be supporting and championing women at work.

Gem Recruitment is our sister business that has come from the demand we have seen from employers who use Freelancing Gems for part-time and freelance talent who also need assistance with full-time roles. We identified that in order to ensure that the women we placed were retained, work needs  to be done in the Diversity Equity and Inclusion space in organisations and we are uniquely positioned to assist because we know what women want at work.”

You’ve founded and sold multiple successful businesses throughout your career. What have you learned about leadership and entrepreneurship over the past 20+ years? 

“Gosh so much! It’s hard to summarise 20 years in business in a paragraph, but there are a few things I know to be true for me and, like everyone, I need reminding sometimes too.

  • Don’t play SMALL. I often reflect on an idea or conversation and then a few days later come back with how we expand on it, how we offer that service or product to more people, and how we go bigger. 
  • No one is coming to save you. When you realise this, there is actually power in putting on your big girl pants, digging deep and making the tough calls because you accept the buck stops with you in your business and you need to take responsibility for your success and your failures. 
  • Go the extra mile. It is never crowded. It’s not hard to do and makes a big difference.  
  • And, most importantly,  f**k ordinary.”

Why are you so passionate about helping more women find success, purpose and fulfilment in their lives?

“I think we all have an obligation to drop the ladder down in our communities and after 20 years supporting women in business I now know it is my passion and calling. 

We know that when women thrive our communities thrive.  I wish I had had this support at different times in my businesses and I just didn’t know where to find it, so Kirsty and I are creating what we couldn’t find. I also wish as a business owner I had access to all these amazingly talented women looking for work in one place in my past businesses –  it could have saved me hundreds of hours hunting for talent.

We have scholarship programs to ensure that all women have access to our services, and we support a lot of charities that support women, like The Forgotten Women which helps homeless women find affordable housing. 

The largest growing group of homeless people in Australia are women over the age of 55 and it’s  because they weren’t paid properly (the gender pay gap is real), they didn’t have superannuation, and they didn’t have access to flexible work. 

Organisations like that really speak to me because at Freelancing Gems we could be changing that statistic by helping women earlier on in their careers. I truly believe we walk the talk and the women on my team are also driven by our mission to help other women find meaningful work and help them get paid what they are worth. ”

Outside of building the Freelancing Gems empire, what drives you each day?

“I am driven to be a good mum for my boys, to be active and present, which is challenging when you work full-time. I never want them to think they didn’t come first. Interestingly, because I was a businesswoman for 16 years before I became a mum I am quite good with separating the two roles, but damn it is a juggle. I am driven to succeed in my businesses to provide a great life for them and ensure they have all the opportunities and experiences I had and more.”

What’s next for you in 2023?

“At Freelancing Gems we are launching mastermind coaching for women who are just starting their freelance journey as well as an accelerator program for more experienced consultants. We also have an e-course coming out mid-year to reach more people who need assistance with building a thriving freelance career. 

Over at Gem Recruitment, we have just launched our D&I workshops for leaders and we will be building technology for organisations to benchmark where their people think they are at and where they need assistance with D&I, which will hopefully create workplaces of the future that retain their teams for longer. 

Personally, we are building a new family home and my eldest just started prep so 2023 is HUGE in my house.”Stay up to date with Fleur Madden on LinkedIn and find out more about Freelancing Gems and Gem Recruitment over on their websites.

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