International Women's Day 2019 - a Celebration
It’s an exciting time to be a woman. We’re excited about the future for women. Really excited. More and more we are seeing women in leadership roles driving change from the top down. This month we celebrate International Women’s Day and the achievements of the many kick ass women around us. We also take this time to reflect on what we can do to effect positive change for us and our future generations of women. This year the theme is #BalanceForBetter, which asks us how we can collectively build a gender-balanced world.
We are so fortunate to be surrounded by a whole bunch of incredibly inspiring female entrepreneurs who are paving the way in their fields. We asked some of these Remarkable Robe Women who work in fields from swimwear design to medicine to share their experiences (good and bad!) and tell us what it means to be a working woman in 2019.
My marketing team told me that I had to answer some of these questions myself. This posed an interesting question for me – do I inspire myself? My initial reaction to this was NO NO NO – that is arrogant and weird. But actually, sometimes I have to admit I do feel inspired by me. When I feel like I am being the best version of myself – ie. Not yelling at the kids, exercising regularly, eating cleanly and drinking less (so not very often actually!). But then the more I got thinking about this, the more important it became to me that we should all be inspired by ourselves. All the time. I know we all aspire from time to time to be like other inspirational women…but shouldn’t we actually aspire to be more like ourselves. When we are inspired by our own lives, whether that’s the everyday grind or because we have made some truly inspirational changes and feel REALLY good about ourselves or just because we like who we are, then aren’t we being our best selves? So here I go…
Why is building a values-based business important to you and how does that manifest on an everyday basis?
Robe has always been about more than just a product. I wanted to build something that I could be proud of, that my kids could be proud of. Something that made a real difference in the lives of the people we touched. While Robe is a business, it is not just a business. That is – it’s not just about profits. Any business that grows and does well will necessarily have a certain amount of power in that it can reach and speak to so many people. It’s really important for me that that power is used positively – if you have a voice…use it. But use it for good. And set an example for other businesses.
On an everyday basis, my aim is to ensure Robe is flexible and integrates humanity into what we do.
When I worked as a lawyer (and despite the firms I worked for assuring me they were ‘flexible’ and ‘family friendly’) I never managed to strike the balance I wanted between work and my family because there were fairly fixed working patterns, which actually couldn’t be altered in the way I needed them to be. I am happy to work all the hours under the sun so long as I can do it when it suits me and my family. If that’s at 2am because I wanted to read my kids a bedtime story then it’s at 2am.
When I started Robe, I knew that I could offer my team the kind of flexibility I always craved. We have a fully flexible working policy in place as a result of that. Work when and what days you choose and work wherever you would like to work from – home, your car, the studio. Whatever suits. Of course sometimes my team needs to be in the studio and we have commitments when we need to be in a certain place at a certain time but in general – we are a fully flexible working place. I am really proud of that.
It is also really important to me that Robe supports the community within which it operates. This means having a policy in place from the very beginning that supports local initiatives that need donations or help. We have created Robe – Humanity for this purpose. Every month Robe supports a cause that’s close to our hearts at that time – whether that is supporting a charitable initiative or using our platform and reach to raise awareness
In your time at the helm of Robe, what have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?
I think I started learning about leadership well before Robe. While working for someone else and with other people in a team I learnt a lot about what I thought made a good leader and (unfortunately) also a lot (probably more, which is really sad but typical in law) about what made a bad leader. When I started Robe, it was really important to me to lead with passion and example. I want my team to feel empowered and valued and part of something that is bigger than all of us. Understanding your teams’ strengths both individually and collectively and allowing them to work to those strengths is a really important aspect of effective leadership. I don’t want to dictate how things should be done, I want to enable and support my team to get things done in whatever manner suits them best.
I am still getting my head around the label ‘female entrepreneur’ because most of the time I just feel like I am doing something that is important to me and something that makes me happy. That is, I don’t think I ever really saw Robe as anything other than a passion. I recognise that it’s really hard to make the decision to leave a successful career to pursue something that is high risk and really really challenging, which is what I did but it just made sense at the time. I have a much greater appreciation for the term entrepreneurship now as I understand first-hand the sheer determination and grit that it takes to start-up and make a business successful.
I had held a mentoring position in my career in law for over a decade before I started Robe. I think the way I mentor now is very different from when I was a lawyer. Law can be very prescriptive and you grow up in an environment where you learn to do things in the way in which your partner (boss) does things. Consequently, that’s how you mentor. Ultimately your mentee needs to learn to do things in the way in which the partner does things so that’s how you teach and mentor. I look back on that now and find it really stifling. I think that bringing on someone who is fresh and sees things from a different perspective - and isn’t afraid to voice that - is how a business grows. So now I like to mentor in a very different way. I like to nurture and encourage and allow my team the space they need to grow, which includes being allowed to make mistakes. And, most importantly, allows them to do things differently from me.
You have two beautiful children. How do you balance (if balance is ever possible) being a mother and a professional? What have you sacrificed both personally and professionally to achieve this?
I feel really fortunate to have children and still be able to work in the way I want to work. I know that that is not a reality for many mums’ and it certainly wasn’t always a reality for me. When I stepped out of the corporate world I made the decision to try to focus on my children as much as possible (without going insane of course). I think making that decision now reminds me to put down my phone when I can and say ‘yes’ as much as I can. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not the Mum that turns up to school with 50 fresh cupcakes for the birthday celebration or volunteers consistently at the tuckshop, which my kids would LOVE me to do. I choose what I can do and then do it well. This means missing out on some of the things I feel like I ‘should’ do. But I have learnt to let that go and my kids now understand that I can’t be there for everything. I also have a lot of help – there is no way I could do what I do without it. The kids have always had a part-time nanny and we heavily rely on baby-sitters. I still feel mum guilt from time to time but I am working really hard not to.
I don’t think I have sacrificed anything or at least I don’t see it that way. Making the decision to have children and then deciding that I would be the primary care-giver was an opportunity not a sacrifice. To the contrary of a sacrifice, I think what I have done and continue to do has been of benefit to both my career and my family. I get to work on something really cool, have incredible flexibility and teach my kids that I can have both – because that’s what I want.
How do you start your day and why do you think that contributes to your success?
I start every day with a cup of tea in bed and a quick chat to my husband. To be honest my ability to function is severely hampered if this does not occur. I am not sure it contributes to my success but it certainly makes me more centered…and nicer!
After that it is exercise. I try to do something most days – whether that’s a run with my hubbie or on my own or a swim – again with my hubbie or on my own. Over the years we have managed to work out a system that enables us to exercise together. This, most certainly, contributes to my ‘success’. I use this term loosely as it is so subjective and difficult to quantify. However (that’s a whole other blog), when I exercise (running in particular) I completely lose myself in my thoughts and I am free to explore. That sounds a bit vague sorry but I think I have the mind space when I exercise to explore complex thoughts and ideas without being hampered by the everyday grind. I also feel really energised and strong at the end – I am proud of what my body can do and it feels good when I have used it to do something hard.
How do you relax and take your mind off work?
I REALLY want to say wine! But…this year I decided to stop drinking Monday – Friday. Again – that’s a whole other blog but it has meant that I have had to find other ways to wind down in the evening. I am not sure I am very good at it yet as I will still usually pick up my computer once the kids have gone to bed or check my socials (that is such a hard habit to break)..which is not particularly relaxing!
I listen to a lot of podcasts, which I find relaxing. There is something really powerful in listening to other people’s stories. It can be inspiring, heart-breaking, it can give you a damn good reality check and help put things in perspective, it can be laugh out loud funny and educational. The mood I am in will dictate what I listen to but my tastes are really varied. I usually fall asleep with the podcast on!
I will shamelessly admit sometimes I will watch reality TV to relax. Actually, I really only watch the Bachelor. But I love it. Sooooo much better with wine though!
You actively support other women in business. Why is this so important for you as a leader and entrepreneur? How can we encourage others to do the same?
I have been a proud feminist since high school when my Grade 8 teacher made us write on an envelope that was being addressed our parents “Mrs Joan McBeath and Mr Mike McBeath” instead of “Mr & Mrs Mike McBeath”, which was the etiquette in those days (am I showing my age??). Despite the fact that that particular exercise was irrelevant because my Mum and Dad were separated, it was the first time I thought about women’s rights and the culture of our society at the time.
Women are so underrepresented in business and in leadership roles. One of the ways that we can change things for our future generations is but encouraging and empowering more women to participate in the workforce. Creating true flexibility like we have at Robe will really help eliminate one of the biggest barriers for women to participate equally in the workforce. I would challenge any business out there to stop with this ‘seat on bums in an office’ attitude and allow people to work when they want, how they want and where they want. This is within reason of course – I understand sometimes that is not possible. But where it is – do it!
What has been a pivotal moment in your career (good or bad!) that’s led you to where you are now?
I had a really terrible experience working at a top tier law firm a few years ago. Up until that time I had had amazing partners and I loved what I did. But after that I really lost my passion for and (since we are being honest), my confidence in my practice. I won’t go into the details of what happened (I may blog about it some other time) but it made me re-think what I wanted from my career and whether or not law was still where I wanted to be given the culture I was working in. The conclusion I reached was that I wanted something different, something that made me happy every day and proud. But it actually wasn’t until I founded Robe that I realised I could leave the law without regret and move on to something new and exciting and challenging and completely out of my comfort zone.
And finally (a completely gratuitous question of course), which Robe is your favourite and why?
The Molly is my favourite (sorry all other Robes out there). I always feel so elegant and sexy when I wear it...and...of course, a plug for the business - it's incredibly versatile!