Time to act, what women entrepreneurs want

IMG_3827Enough talk, now its time to act and deliver on some practical outcomes for women entrepreneurs. In the last few weeks I’ve been privileged to participate in a number of initiatives around listening to women entrepreneurs. The first was Ministers Wyatt Roy and Michaelia Cash Female founders breakfast at Fishburners where I facilitated a panel discussion and question and answer session.

Over 150 women attended in full force at 7am in Ultimo. Two gracious ministers allowed me to run it like a pitch event – they each had a few minutes to say what they wanted then the rest of the session was listening to female founders – Gen George of One Shift , Nikki Durkin of 99Dresses and Jess Wilson of Stashd and hearing from amazing women on the floor. Three main areas were covered education, mentoring and finance. It was also noted that a culture change in needed to allow people to try and fail to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit.

The sIMG_3804econd was Leaders in Heels #RedHeelDay over 200 women attended a mid week event where we were wowed and inspired by amazing women – Jules Sebastien, stylist, wife and mother,  Alexandra Mills, CEO at Aussie Commerce Group  Kirsten Galliott , Editor in Chief Qantas Media  and Veronica Auld from LinkedIn all shared their wisdom about the trials and tribulations of getting ahead. I facilitated a workshop for NSW Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro about what women need from NSW government to pursue their dreams of being entrepreneurs and leaders. The call out was the same – education, mentors, finance and networks.

Finally I attended a round table with Minister for Small Business John Barilaro and Minister for Women, Pru Goward, this was a select group of successful women entrepreneurs and female founders gathered by Trade and Investment and the Office of Small Business Commissioner listened intently about how government can make things easier for female entrepreneurs. Again women reiterated what I’d already heard – education, mentors, finance, networks.IMG_4452

All this got me thinking – is it a generational thing ? Gen Y events like Launch Qand StartUpBus seem to have a better gender balance than my generation. You see, every team had strong and capable women, often leading and pitching – in fact the majority of the winners were teams lead by women.

Ground Hog Day Consultation

About 20 odd years ago I worked in the multicultural sector – advocating for migrants and ethnic communities. At the tender age of 16 I was the Youth Vice Chair for the Ethnic Communities Council and at 18 the Youth Deputy Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council. In 1988 at age  21 I became an Adviser to the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs –the Hon Alan Clyde Holding MP. Ethnic communities were consulted by most agencies and ministers– every year various NGOs came together and presented reports, papers and submissions on the needs on migrants – 20 years on we are still asking ethnic communities what they need.  So you can imagine my shock that we are asking the same questions 20 years on, and in fact, even worse the same issues and concerns remain , as if in a time warp.

Flash forward to the new millennia and you can easily overlay this consultation inertia on any other group – disability, Indigenous, youth, seniors, startups, entrepreneurs, women – seriously people how many times do you have to ask what people need before someone says ENOUGH- we’ve been consulted to death and its time to stop talking and start acting?

2015 has been a whirlwind – this time the women of start up and entrepreneurs are getting on the consultation treadmill and we are everywhere – trotting out our stuff – our ideas, our mantras and our needs – we conquer state and federal attention however there is a point of difference between us and our forbears – we are not organised under one solid voice – we are fragmented and there are many voices but not a single entity that represents us – in fact there are many.  Ministers and agencies – well intentioned – cobble us together as the reluctant representatives of what women entrepreneurs want.

I’m really worried we are going to do the same thing to women entrepreneurs, the flavour of the moment – everyone wants to consult us, everyone wants to know what we need. I’m getting an eerie feeling of Déjà vu and I don’t like it because in 2016  we will be busy building our businesses, helping our fellow sisterhood and it would be a shame if all our combined talent and chutzpah  is not heard and acted on. I’m really hoping that in 2016 we lead a new narrative about ACTION.

Frankly this is not that hard – the women have spoken, books are being written, blogs posted and forums and roundtables had so what will it take to get us heard and just get on with some action ?

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Women want action

So what do women want – out of all the forums, round tables and events Ive been to this year – women want opportunity – from school through to post school. We want entrepreneurism taught in schools, we want  access to early advice, networks and finance, and we want a one stop shop to get information on all of the above. Women are desperate to connect to each other and to get the right advice at the right time so they can have a level playing field when it comes to entrepreneurship. We want to share our stories and celebrate our successes, we want to see ourselves and our peers on panels, advisory groups and at conferences and events.

What we don’t want is to keep being and asked what we want for the next 20 years with no outcomes other than nice photo ops and talk fest bulletins. We want action and we want to be heard beyond election cycles and we are willing to roll up ourselves and show you how – just ask.

Three steps to action for women entrepreneurs

  1. Hack it – pull together what is out there  – enough said – time to consolidate what we’ve said and what needs to happen.
  2. Host action dialogues where the information is presented and endorsed – these gatherings could emulate Policy Hack with some scaffolding (co-design with the relevant agencies, and a post hack accelerator)
  3. Consolidate the voices so we can walk to the beat of the same drum – consolidate our networks and be a force to be reckoned with and to get shit done.

Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in innovation and disruption for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Anne-Marie has recently joined the Board of Western Sydney Women and the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation.

Follow Anne-Marie’s  journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or visit www.chiefdisrupter.com