Entrepreneur Sarah Liu is all too familiar with the adversities that come with being a corporate woman – even saying that she had “bosses that put her through hell”. Confronted by the lack of support available to female entrepreneurs in Australia, in 2010, Liu founded Little Girl Big Dream. The purpose of her organisation is to empower and equip women to rise up to leadership positions, realise their full potential and flourish in any pursuit.
After three years in operation, this January, Liu launched her latest initiative, The Dream Collective Membership Program. The program was designed to extend her impact and instigate further change in the professional lives of young women in Australia, in the lead up to the organisation’s global expansion.
There are key core offerings in the program: Think Tank Series, a monthly 90-minute structured workshop where passionate young women come together and share learning, resources and insights relevant to their respective industries; Retreat, a bootcamp-style holiday focusing on intense career and business planning; and Masterclass, where leading trainers, coaches and executives across Australia present on topics such as B2B and B2C marketing, mastering your finances, building a business vision, presenting before an audience and negotiating.
Some of Australia’s most successful businesswomen have united in the Little Girl Big Dream movement to support emerging female talent – including Pip Marlow, MD of Microsoft; Kate Burleigh, MD of Intel; Catriona Noble, CEO of McDonalds; Kristina Karlsson, Founder & Creative Director kikki K; Maryanne Shearer, Founder of T2; and Lorna Jane Clarkson, among others.
In an exclusive Q&A with Shoe String, Liu talks about the gensis of Little Girl Big Dream, the philosophy that drives her organisation, and what it’s like for women in the corporate and business worlds.
What was the inspiration behind creating Little Girl Big Dream? How is it different to other organisations like the League of Extraordinary Women?
Sarah Liu: The inspiration behind creating Little Girl Big Dream was really to provide young professional women like myself with a forum where we could be connected and developed to achieve our career ambition.
I have always been passionate and ambitious, always searching for opportunities to develop and grow professionally as soon as I entered the corporate world. However, I was confronted by the lack of resources and support networks available to young professional women. That’s when I decided to take it upon myself to create such platforms and founded Little Girl Big Dream, a community where like-minded young women can connect in a professional forum and be empowered and equipped to pursue our dreams.
It’s a place where we can support, encourage and collaborate to achieve success and where we can be mentored and guided by high calibre leaders in Australia to realise our potential.
The key difference between Little Girl Big Dream with other organisations is that: 1) We cater for both corporate professionals as well as entrepreneurs (whereas most of the organisations focuses on entrepreneurs only); and 2) We are extremely focused in our approach in that we cater specifically for young women under the age of 35 with a background or interest in Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Corporate Leadership.
What does Little Girl Big Dream offer to young women entrepreneurs? What do they gain from being a member?
Sarah Liu: We offer professional development programs such as Networking Conferences, Monthly Think Tank Series Career Workshops, Online Q&A with Australia’s leading business leaders and Master Classes to equip both corporate professionals as well as entrepreneurs with the skill-sets necessary to advance in their respective career/businesses.
Members receive full access to all our programs and even exclusive invitation to overseas career bootcamp! We are not about selling memberships, but building successful leaders.
What was the reason behind choosing the name ‘Little Girl Big Dream’?
Sarah Liu: It’s always been a concept close to my heart as it is symbolic of my own journey. Ever since a young age, I have had a big dream to drive change and influence many. This is the very sentiment I hope our organisation will continue to radiate as we empower many more young women to dream big and to rise up to achieve that dream.
You say we, as young women, are out to change Australia’s corporate landscape. Why does it need changing? How does the corporate world treat women?
Sarah Liu: We have certainly come a long way, but we are still not quite there yet in terms of advanced support, infrastructure and development opportunities in place to enable and facilitate women’s career success. It needs to change as we need more women in leadership positions across most sectors and more men to share and champion this cause together so we can build an environment in which young women are encouraged to pursue their dreams and are armed with all the support necessary to help them get there.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a businesswoman? What lessons have you learned from them that you would pass onto other women?
Sarah Liu: Oh where do I start! The reality is that challenges are never ending. The one day I don’t see a challenge ahead is the day I tell myself to step up the game. Many people see challenge and hardship as difficulties to get through, but I would encourage everyone to view it as an opportunity to grow and stretch beyond your comfort zone.
I run into road blocks that most people would also face, including limited resources to grow my business quickly as an entrepreneur, or having to deal with terrible bosses who put me through hell on earth. I have learnt that the only way forward is to calm down, rationalise the situation/problem at hand and decide whether it is a battle worth fighting, because sometimes it actually isn’t!
Life is too short, so focus your energy on what’s worth fighting for! Once this issue is decided on, believe in your decision and tackle the problem head on, but don’t get overly emotional. My advice is to see every challenge as an opportunity to grow. I know it sounds easier said than done, but trust me, it will make the journey so much easier and that’s the only way you will be able to come out of it stronger than ever.
Do women face different challenges to men? Why?
Sarah Liu: There are challenges that are more prevalent and pronounced amongst women such as limited self-belief, and often being the one responsible for child rearing simply because how families are traditionally structured and also how girls are raised. This is gradually changing but support needs to be in place to help women bridge that gap.
How did you get that impressive line-up of women entrepreneurs to support Little Girl Big Dream?
Sarah Liu: By being passionate about what I do and being determined, bold and with a deep conviction to build this passion of mine. Passion is infectious – the more you believe in your purpose and dream the more you can bring people on this journey with you.
Do you think women-only clubs or membership programmes cause further division in the business world?
Sarah Liu: It is never the programmes, networks or “clubs” that causes division – it’s the message they convey. It is important to focus on being constructive and build on a more positive society rather than driving division and opposition. We are not about driving the feminism agenda or debating the gender issue – but to empower and equip young professional women to rise up and pursue their dreams and realize their full potential.
What is your proudest achievement as an entrepreneur?
Sarah Liu: Having young women writing to me everyday about how our programs, resources and books have inspired them to pursue their dream!
What are your plans for Little GIrl Big Dream this year?
Sarah Liu: Bigger, Better & Great things! We have an Asia version of our “500 Words of Wisdom” Book launching in Asia this year; Interstate Think Tank Series in Melbourne & Perth and also an overseas retreat/career bootcamp on the horizon!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sarah Liu: Always believe in the power of your dreams – because it is only when we can dream the audacious that we can achieve the unthinkable.
For more information on The Dream Collective Membership Program, visit www.littlegirlbigdream.com.
Little Girl Big Dream is also hosting an event next Thursday in Sydney, Six Critical Trends To Help You Succeed In 2014. More details on the event are available via www.facebook.com/events/434517030011933.