Women leading startups on what motivates and inspires them

- March 8, 2018 9 MIN READ

As the saying goes, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. As we look to highlight women working in the innovation landscape on this International Women’s Day in the hopes of inspiring others, with the help of Head Over Heels we asked the women leading some of Australia’s fastest-growing tech companies what motivates and inspires them.

Tessa Court founded Intelligence Bank

What inspired you to start your business?

IntelligenceBank is a content management platform to help teams manage business processes and workflows around digital information.  We have digital asset management, board portal and risk and compliance applications that are used by over 175,000 users worldwide. 

Our flagship product is our Digital Asset Management tool, which helps sales and marketing teams manage creative operations including workflow and marketing project management.  I have a background in sales and marketing and I essentially built the product I wanted to have managing a global team of sales and marketing professionals. 

What motivates you as a leader?

There are two things that motivate me as a leader.  The first is that I have a passion to create things – products, new systems and of course, scalable growing businesses.  On the human side, I get a lot of satisfaction helping people to progress their careers and ensuring our staff get the most out of their time with IntelligenceBank. 

I love that our second employee ever hired as a sales and support manager is now running global product development.  With a rapidly growing global business, there are excellent opportunities for staff who can and want to step up. 

How can we create thriving businesses that promote gender equality in our workplaces?

Gender equality starts with tone at the top.  If CEOs create a fair playing field for all people, the business will absolutely thrive – and so will women.  When I hear CEOs complain they can’t find female developers, I have a quiet laugh as more than 50 percent of our R&D staff are women.  I get asked how I found them, and I always reply that they found us.

Jess May founded Enabled Employment 

What inspired you to start your business?

I started Enabled Employment because of my own experience in trying to find work as a person with a disability. I could see the need for a diversity led recruitment company that specialised in using positive discrimination to ensure job opportunities are available for people that are often overlooked as qualified and skilled workers because of their background. The thing about discrimination is that it all comes from the one place – preconceived ideas or stereotypes about a person and their ability to do the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re a former Australian Defence Force personnel member or a migrant, a person with a disability, or a woman, discrimination happens because of these preconceived ideas. As a recruitment company that is diversity led, we actively use positive discrimination for our candidates, and we specialise in accessibility brokering, which enables people to do the job and achieve amazing results.

What motivates you as a leader?

I’m motivated by social change – I really do believe that we need to bring our attitudes into the 21st century along with our technology. If we’re going to move our economy forward, we have to acknowledge that we’re a very diverse society in Australia, and practising real inclusion with flexible working. 

We need to acknowledge there are new ways of working and use technology to enable people to give their best to a job and work from an environment that is both safe and productive. We also need to examine our motivation, be honest about our preconceptions, and move our businesses forward with passion, and with real inclusion.

I’m motivated by the challenge of using technology to achieve social change, and better diversity in our workforce and enabling people, businesses and governments to realise their full potential.

How can we create thriving businesses that promote gender equality in our workplaces?

Businesses can improve their profit margins by 35 per cent just by having a diverse workforce and practising real inclusion.  What we know from university research and studies on diversity and inclusion, is that where teams and businesses have more diverse management and staff, there is better decision making, better problem solving, higher innovation rates, and – most importantly higher profit margins.

It’s an economic imperative that we recognise what the research says, and realise we’ll get better results with a more diverse workforce at all levels, and use flexible working and technology led solutions to enable our workforce to perform. Management need to lead in this respect, and commit to the inclusion policies and ensure that the entire workforce buys in to the concept, whether you’re in a not-for-profit, a private business, or a public sector organisation.

Natalie Goldman founded FlexCareers 

What inspired you to start your business?

FlexCareers was started with the identification of a gap in the market, where women were struggling to find flexible work, particularly full time flexible work for women really serious about their careers.

We’ve been fortunate to see a market shift that flexible working is now for everybody. It still is a key enabler for lowering the barrier for women to return to work, and actually getting the roles that they’re wanting. What we’ve seen in the shift is that men want more work, as well as all generations who want flexible work, from millennials though to baby boomers.

What motivates you as a leader?

What motivates me as a leader is the success of my team, and seeing people succeed and becoming the best that they can be which is a very proud achievement for me.

Our team at FlexCareers is hitting goals monthly, and that’s all because of the fantastic culture that we’ve created. Seeing my team’s success is what keeps me going day to day. 

Our employees are wanting more real, more authentic workplaces that have purpose and passion. We’ve found that they want to feel connected on their values, and most people really believe in equality for all.

It’s so important to create a culture of gender equality were both women and men are recognised for their skills and capabilities irrespective of their gender, and where people get recognised for promotions and opportunities through their hard work.  

How can we create thriving businesses that promote gender equality in our workplaces?

Well, simply put by taking  gender off the lens of how we see roles is a way to promote gender equality, by seeing that there are no male roles or female roles. Another way is to ensure that if there isn’t unconscious bias, and to ensure that women are promoted just as equally as men, with equal pay. 

Some other tips are:

  • Providing additional mentoring and support for men and women, particularly moving into leadership roles, and also those returning to work is also important for progression.
  • Creating a culture that supports those who do have children in having great parental leave options and return to work options, both for women and for men. 
  • Ensuring there’s no discriminatory practices from sexual harassment to redundancy during pregnancy.
  • Making sure we have thriving businesses through gender equality, which is really important as it benefits every situation, and statistics show that organisations that have diversity reflect their customer base, which then becomes more in touch and productive and in the long run profitable.

Emma Lo Russo founded Digivizer

What inspired you to start your business?

Over ten years ago Apple started a revolution with its first iproducts. I watched the rapid adoption of mobile phones, social networks, personal devices, and the move to mass-personalisation with the speed of adoption of smart devices being particularly fast in developing countries. This created an opportunity that I saw which was around  providing a solution that harnessed this explosion in shared personal data and connectivity. This is the space where Digivizer sits to help companies create greater value for and from their customers, by knowing more about them, and it’s guided our vision from day one.

After working for 20 years in large companies being told that I was an innovator and a leader demonstrating entrepreneurial thinking, I needed to prove it by leaving that safety of guaranteed income and launching Digivizer. Nothing like having no income and high personal debt to drive your success!

What motivates you as a leader?

My joy comes in growing people who in turn grow businesses, and helping people unlock their talent and then understanding and using their strengths. Working with so many talented individuals, I love providing the vision, the guidance, the fuel and the support to help them achieve and deliver great results.  

How can we create thriving businesses that promote gender equality in our workplaces?

Businesses need to focus on defining the outcomes and impact they want to achieve, rather than on formal promotion structures. It’s less about creating formal positions and quotas, and more around building, rewarding and supporting value. We need to create teams who achieve, and who can also come together around streams of work, with an emphasis of bringing in diversity around gender, experience, cultures, and abilities. Only when you break traditional structures can you more quickly deliver equality and greater opportunities in the workplace. Diversity drives better company performance. For companies this should be about employment branding, and candidates should seek companies where they ask for equality to be demonstrated and proven.

Valeria  Ignatieva and Gemma Lloyd cofounded DCC Jobs

 What inspired you to start your business?

After spending 10 years in the tech industry, we had experienced both the “boys’ club” work environments, as well as incredible organisations which valued all employees regardless of gender. Frustrated with the status quo and passionate about helping other women who were experiencing similar challenges, the idea of a job site to solve this problem was born.

Employers who advertise on the DCC Jobs website are pre-screened to ensure they support women’s careers, with an emphasis on pay equity, flexible working, women in leadership and paid parental leave. Not only do we ask these questions, we make that information publicly available to women, a first for job boards.

 What motivates you as a leader? 

At a time when diversity in the workplace was becoming recognised as being both fair AND good for the bottom line, large corporations began contacting us to ask for advice on how they could make improvements to their own business.  Meanwhile, we were helping hundreds of women find the roles they deserved, working for companies that valued their contribution.Then, something even more amazing happened. Businesses who did not meet our criteria at first, began changing their workplaces for the better in order to advertise with DCC. You can read one of our success stories here.

How can we create thriving businesses that promote gender equality in our workplaces?

At DCC we come across so many initiatives to promote gender equality, there is not enough room to list them all, here are some of the best examples we have seen;

  • Provide equal amounts of paid parental leave to both primary and secondary carers. For example, DCC Endorsed Employers Zendesk (120+ staff in Australia) offer 16 weeks’ paid leave and Commoncode (30+ staff in Melbourne) offer 8 paid weeks to either carers.
  • Become a Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Pay Equity Ambassador. DCC Endorsed Employer Laing O’Rourke is leading the construction industry by example, with 26 weeks’ paid parental leave for primary carers and their MD, Cathal O’Rourke a recently appointed Pay Equity Ambassador.
  • Pay superannuation on both the paid and unpaid portions of the parental leave. With the super gap for women widening to over 50%, this is a critical initiative with the following DCC Endorsed Employers supporting this: BHP, Thales, CommBank, NAB, BOQ, MYOB, City of Melbourne, Aurecon, Cbus, Holcim, Avanade Australia, Stanwell, HSBC, AustralianSuper and Schneider Electric.”

Noga Edelstein cofounded UrbanYou with Elke Keeley 

What inspired you to start your business?

I met my cofounder Elke when we both worked at Yahoo! which was a hugely entrepreneurial environment, and we were empowered to get involved in creating technology-based solutions to problems, even if they were outside of our core business area.  This gave us the confidence to start UrbanYou to solve a problem we saw our colleagues experience everyday – being that they never had enough time to get things done around their house!  We wanted to make it just as easy to get your house cleaned, as it is to buy a book on Amazon. 

What motivates you as a leader? 

I get bored quickly and I love the fast-paced nature of a startup and that no two days are the same! I thrive on a challenge, and derive huge satisfaction from laying out an ambitious vision and then working with our amazing team to figure out how we’re going to get there – and most importantly, celebrating success when we achieve the milestone. As a founder, I think it’s crucial to keep learning in order to build the best possible company and culture – podcasts are my favourite for the work commute, I’m currently loving Masters of Scale from Reid Hoffman.

How can we create thriving businesses that promote gender equality in our workplaces?

We need more women in leadership positions, decision making roles and running companies. While the dial is definitely shifting on gender equality in the workplace, the fact is that women are still largely reporting to men, pitching for investment to men and getting paid less than their male counterparts. Female-focused networks such as Heads over Heels and Springboard are important tools in redressing the imbalance, by creating game-changing connections for female-led companies and improving access to capital for female founders.

Medical Media COO Alexis Rouch on the things she wishes she could tell her younger self on International Women’s Day 

Forget mentors – get yourself some sponsors.  You will need the occasional boost to counter the conscious and unconscious bias of most organisations for men.  Keep working on developing and stretching yourself but don’t kid yourself that hard work and delivering results is enough.  Of course you want to be promoted on merit – we all do – but who defines what merit looks like? Usually that same white male dominated culture with its biased perspective.

Stay in touch with people you connect with along the way.  Some people call it networking, I call it making friends. It might seem like you don’t have time for it, and that you should be focussed solely on delivering good results, but it will make you’re work so much more rewarding in the long run and, as it happens, it will also help your career.  Continue to help others, it is your natural instinct, but don’t forget people like helping you too.

Don’t be afraid to branch out into entrepreneurship.  Big corporates and consulting firms provide a fantastic grounding and you won’t regret time spent there but startups and small businesses provide the real freedom to be the best you can be.