Wednesday, 25 September, 2019

Panel post-event-image

Women in business in the Upper Hunter was a focus of the HRF Centre’s Upper Hunter Economic breakfast in Muswellbrook on 11 September.

Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for the HRF Centre, presented data on the proportion of female-led businesses in the Upper Hunter and how they perform against their male-run counterparts.

The HRF Centre has been recording the gender of the business owners and decision makers, interviewed as part of its Business Pulse, since December 2013. The female share of operators has grown a little over that time from 44 per cent to 46 per cent in 2019. This is on par with the latest Australian Taxation Office figures, which show around 45 per cent of Australia's small business operators are women. This number continues to grow.

Female-operated Upper Hunter* businesses are more likely to be in the health and social assistance and the education sectors than those operated by men. A greater proportion of women than men are running businesses with 11-50 employees within the Upper Hunter, in contrast to the national trend. Women are less likely than men to be self-employed.

There is no substantial difference in profitability, levels of trading or hiring in businesses operated by men and women within the Upper Hunter. Businesses operated by women are more likely to be exporting than those run by men.

Three women who lead or operate businesses in the Upper Hunter spoke about their experiences at the breakfast. They answered questions from the 200-strong audience.

Dr Kirsten Molloy, CEO of the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC), gave a presentation on her career path in the male-dominated mining sector. Prior to her role at HVCCC, Dr Molloy was a Business Manager for Orica Mining Services in South-East Australia following a range of other executive commercial and technical roles over 16 years at Orica.

Dr Molloy said her professional experiences spurred her efforts to support gender diversity in leadership, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) related fields.

“When I entered the workforce as a graduate, there were women all around me,” she said. “By my early 30s, I was often the only woman in the room. We are going backwards in gender diversity.”

The number of female CEOs in the ASX 200 has dropped, according to the Chief Executive Women’s (CEW) ASX200 census just released, Dr Molloy said. This census also shows a lack of women in line roles at the senior level that lead to CEO or CFO roles. There are lots more women in functional roles, in IT, human resources and compliance, which typically do not lead to CEO roles. While around half of Australia’s graduates are women - Australia leads the world in educating women according to the World Economic Forum – we rank 39th in the world when it comes to overall gender equity, she said.

Dr Molloy is co-founder and Chair of the Equal Futures Project in the Hunter, and the Hunter Diversity Awards supporting diversity, equity and inclusion. She is also founder of Verity Leadership, which aims to ensure leadership ranks reflect the diversity of society.

Dr Molloy joined Joplin Higgins of Joplin Lawyers and Claire Quigley of Launchpad9 on a panel at the breakfast to discuss their aspirations, challenges and successes.

Joplin Higgins’ business employs 20 people (18 of them women) across three legal offices in the Hunter. When asked what motivated her to start her own business, Ms Higgins said she had identified a ‘hole in the market’ in servicing women, particularly in domestic violence cases.

“I wanted to provide a safety net for my clients,” she said. “I wanted them to enter into a partnership with me as opposed to them being just a number in the system.”

Ms Higgins also tries to create career pathways for the women she employs, offering training, career coaching and flexible working hours.

“The main vision of Joplin Lawyers is to service women in our community and provide a service to regional Australia,” she said.

Business innovation coach Claire Quigley was asked whether women bring different qualities than men to running businesses. While stating she usually viewed male and female entrepreneurs and business owners as equal, she was able to identify some differences within her client base.

“Female business owners often come later into the game, having had another career or children. This tends to make us very much aware that confidence in an idea is not enough. I think that is a great attribute to have. Women will ask, who can help me, rather than trying to go it alone, which is more typical of male entrepreneurs.

“The second attribute is perseverance. My Dad calls me a little terrier because I won’t be diverted from that passion that drives an idea. Many female entrepreneurs and business owners tend to invest more personally. We don’t tend to go down the typical path of raising capital from the outset. We are more likely to say, hey, let’s start with this and see how we go.

“Thirdly, women tend to be much more aware of the social impact they can have, as well as the economic impact.”

Ms Quigley cited a McKinsey report that estimates that creating gender parity between male and female entrepreneurs and business operators by 2025 in Australia would generate an additional $225 billion in GDP over and above today’s level.

When questioned about what strategies she believes would encourage greater gender diversity, Dr Molloy replied: “the current leadership base making different decisions”.

“The massive amount of denial and inertia around this is amazing,” she said. “Because it has been fairly topical for so long, there is a perception out there that it is solved. It is far from solved and it is not just gender inequality. It is in ethnicity, sexual orientation and a whole raft of other groups that are under-represented in leadership.”

All three of the speakers had encountered substantial barriers in pursuing their careers. They have all balanced family life with work. Each of them offered valuable advice to young women entering business.

“Believe in yourself and your talent. Accept training and never take no for an answer,” said Ms Higgins.

“Be articulate, strong and clear on what you want and don’t want,” Ms Quigley advised. “Know in your core what you are going for and be prepared to fail for it. I have had multiple different careers in my lifetime and have learned not to be afraid to fail.”

Dr Molloy stressed the importance of building support networks.

“You will encounter challenges in having a career, it will get tough,” she counselled. “It is important to create your own personal ‘board of directors’, who you can go to for advice and who can help you to deal with issues and problems.”

The HRF Centre’s breakfast series theme for 2019 is Collaboration and Vision. Visit our website for more information on our remaining events.

*Upper Hunter region – Singleton, Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter Local Government Areas