The power of the collective
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Business Chicks, CommBank’s Women in Focus and the Telstra Business Women’s Awards – this is a powerful trio, all committed to enriching the lives of the women in our communities. Business Chicks’ Latte took a bunch of women to afternoon tea to talk about the sheer power of the collective community that’s been created.

Who is talking?

  1. Emma Isaacs is the founder and global CEO of Business Chicks.
  2. Emma Bannister is the founder and CEO of Presentation Studio.
  3. Naomi Menahem is the group manager for the Telstra Awards 2016.
  4. Jacqueline Arias is the founder and CEO of República.
  5. Nicole Brown of Women in Focus.

What power do you see in women’s communities?

Emma B: There is such power in coming together and meeting people that you wouldn’t have ever met before– it’s huge. A couple of years ago, I got to the point in my business where we had a number of challenges, but I couldn’t go to my team and ask them questions, because you’re not allowed to as the ‘boss’. So having a number of groups that I could go to, get answers and share experiences with was incredible. I would just not have been able to cope otherwise.

Nicole B: The power of women coming together as a community lies in the support, connection and nourishment they get from community. Life’s better for the women in our community as individuals, but also for their businesses and for the people who are touched by these business communities as well. And it’s a lot of fun, too.

Jacqueline: For me, I think there are three elements about communities, especially female communities. The most important one is confidence building, which is often when you’re operating on your own, you don’t have the confidence to get out, and I think that community provides that confidence-building factor, so that’s really important. The second one is access to a whole host of people, whether it’s somebody that you’d like to learn from or somebody that  you need access to. And then there’s just learning. It’s such an amazing opportunity for all of us. So learning from each other and learning from masters in business as well.

Naomi: I think also there’s that place of finding people just like me and what that gives you in comradeship, where otherwise women can feel quite isolated. That notion of finding others like you and the support that it provides is invaluable.

Emma I: You find that wherever you are, whether it’s Sydney, Melbourne, Africa or Bangladesh, is that women are the executors, they’re the doers, they’re the captivators, the starters… there is not only the power of a collective community, but the power of an individual and their impact on their community.

Why do you think the shared experience across Business Chicks, Telstra and Women in Focus are essential for women in business?

Naomi: Recognition and celebration of outstanding achievement is essential. Networking is a wonderful part of that experience. When you bring together many smart and successful business women excelling in their fields, powerful things happen. 

Jacqueline: For me it goes back to this body of knowledge and body of contacts. Between the three organisations, there’s a huge body of knowledge and huge network of contacts and those are of extraordinary value, so I think that really is the crux of it for me.

Nicole B: When we come together for a common purpose and can bring our individual strengths to the table to make something better and stronger than we could by themselves. The Telstra Business Women’s Awards help us celebrate the achievements of women in our communities, and our partnership with Business Chicks introduces our community to the events, programs and inspiration of the Business Chicks community. I really think we all want to see women in business thrive and together we can really do so much more.

Emma B: I heard the phrase ‘global neighbourhood’ the other day, and I think the three different groups definitely bring that because you’ve got the corporate, the government, all of those different areas and then you have the medium- to really small-sized business. I've had so many conversations with people with all the same goals, but with different ways of approaching them through these different networks.

Jacqueline: I also think the value is the power that these organisations have as a voice for women … they have a voice that is very loud in the public domain where as we, as individual women, wouldn’t have that voice.

Emma I: I think it’s been said that working to each other’s strengths is really important. I’m fascinated by strengths, on an individual point of view and a team’s point of view, and if you amplify that back into communities, how can that play to our strengths and play to the best way we know to serve people?

What opportunities do you see for women in business right now?

Naomi: Really, anything is possible. It sounds quite trite, but the truth is the Young Business Women’s Award winners – who are 29 and under – are so courageous. They don’t see any boundaries, they don’t see any problems, they’re just in it. We are also seeing a lot of women succeeding in male-dominated industries, which I think is a result of businesses adopting more flexible ways of working, and men and women sharing the role of parenting, which is really positive.

Jacqueline: I feel that the biggest opportunity is momentum right now. I don’t know any day where you’d pick up the newspaper or pick up any type of media, and there isn’t an article about women in business, women leaders, and women leading countries. Momentum is really behind us and that has significance at a macro level and from the macro level obviously it filters down. So it’s momentum; the media is on our side. There is a change in generation. My son can’t see why women would be paid differently compared to men for the same job.

Nicole B: It’s also about where and how people are choosing to spend their money. There’s a growing awareness now that women influence the majority of purchasing decisions, and people are becoming more conscious of supply chain diversity, and there’s a real opportunity for women (and men) in businesses to tap into that. The other opportunity I see for women in business is to be the champions of inclusion and diversity more broadly in our businesses and society.

Emma B: I’ve got about 15 under-25-year-olds on our team and a lot of those are girls who don’t even see gender as thing, they don’t see culture as a thing, they don’t see age as a thing – they’re just as happy to walk up to the Telstra CMO and have a conversation with her and push back on things – something that I would never dream of doing. They have such confidence, they don’t even see the walls we saw. They recognise that we and generations before us have knocked these walls down and made changes for them, but now they’re just full steam ahead.

Emma I: I think the millennial thing is interesting because to Naomi’s point and Emma’s point, they don’t see it. It doesn’t exist for them, it’s not a thing. They have no evidence or proof of it, but at some point they’re going to get to a situation where they are met with resistance, whether it be on gender pay gap, discrimination, whatever the factors are, and so we can’t ignore what the stats are telling us and what systemic issues we still face. Whether we want to be all optimistic and positive, that’s not the point – it’s only because many young women haven’t got to a point where they’ve had to raise money for their start-up and are being faced with an entirely male VC funding team.

Why do you believe that celebrating the success of women in business is so important?

Nicole B: I listened to Andrea Mason, who was the 2016 Telstra Business Woman of the Year, accept her award, and I thought this is what celebrating business women is all about. Because you could see clearly the award was incredibly important to her, her community, indigenous Australians, people in the Northern Territory, and her family. So for me, it’s important to celebrate not only the individual woman, but by doing that, you’re really celebrating her family, her business and her achievements. And I love the expression, ‘If she can see it, she can be it.’ By celebrating women you’re saying, she can be it. You’re showing other women and girls what really is possible.

Emma B: I remember when you started, Emma, and I’d see you on stage and I'd say, ‘Ah, I could never do that’ – but when you see what other people have done and even when I share my story, it gives people belief that they actually can. They’re as normal as you. I think sharing the success of what we’ve achieved helps people believe that it’s not just this silver-lined story; we’ve all worked bloody hard and can do the same thing.

Naomi: For me, it’s two things. Firstly, only about one in five Telstra Business Women’s Awards entrants nominate themselves, meaning four in five are nominated by other people – a boss, a colleague, a partner, a friend. So that moment when you are nominated and recognised by someone that you respect is special. We see the absolute joy that brings. Then, secondly it provides the rare opportunity for reflection. They go and do the entry form, and actually take the time to say, these are my achievements, this is what I’ve actually done and I’ve never before stopped to think about it. There’s an importance in that and the nourishment it gives.

Emma I: I just wanted to add to your point Naomi – that 20 per cent of nominations are self-nominated – I think we have a real cultural issue in Australia with our women in business and our confidence, I’m sure that if we had these awards in America they would be 100 per cent self-nominated. American people are confident, direct and they believe they’ve earned their place … I believe there’s a lot of work we need to do on our confidence and owning our power in Australia.

Jacqueline: Validations are a really, really important point. I think that we women tend to underplay our achievements and not even take the time to celebrate what we’ve achieved; therefore, if we don’t celebrate it and there’s not an avenue to celebrate, we just keep going. And we will be the silent people in our community. So for me it also reinforces why these communities are so important, because it provides a platform to celebrate each other and to celebrate each other’s achievements. Also, role models can’t be underestimated. I’m a refugee, I came here as a refugee, so it’s really important that my achievements are celebrated because it makes it public and it paints a picture for other refugees that they could potentially do the same thing.

In your opinion, how do we smash the glass ceiling?

Emma B: I was thinking about this, and I haven’t cried in ages but the morning after the American election, I heard Hillary Clinton’s speech and I just balled my eyes out. I was on my way to work and just kept crying. She was talking to the future generation about that glass ceiling – sometimes I think the more we talk about it, the more we make it there, and sometimes I think that just talking about it makes it worse.

Nicole B: I think you need a small army to break the glass ceiling. I think that goes back to what we were talking about at the start: strength in numbers. There’s a great quote: ‘One is a token, two is a presence, three is a voice.’ So I think for me, to break the glass ceiling you really need to harness the whole power of all of our communities. And not just the women in those communities, but the men too.

Jacqueline: I’m an incredibly positive person, and I don’t have any magic here – all I can say is that we keep going, forge ahead. Like what’s been shared at the table, I was extremely down on Hillary not winning and I think that has put a dampness on things because it would have been that final, massive opportunity for one woman to break that absolute most powerful position if the world, so I think that was disappointing. But there are others. Michelle Obama is coming forward and I was equally moved by her speech. There is nothing else we can do but keep going.

Naomi: I read an article where Hillary Clinton said that there are cracks now [in the glass ceiling] and the sunshine is coming through… and I think there is.

Emma I: I think we also have to give more power to the individuals. Often when I do speaking engagements it’s for a younger audience, and a 25-year–old-girl will pop up her hand and ask, ‘How can I smash the glass ceiling?’, or, ‘I’m scared to raise my voice in my corporation because I think I’ll be shut down,’ and I’d say to her, ‘You’ve got to speak up for every single woman behind you.’ I think people think that it's somebody else’s job to do, and that someone else will smash the glass ceiling, somebody else is going to be the voice – when we all need to be that voice to encourage every single girl and woman to play a part in that. It’s not down to one woman in a senior role of an organisation to do, it’s not her responsibility. Every single person, in every nation and every corporation, needs to speak up.

CommBank’s Women in Focus creates powerful experiences that enable women to thrive in business. Explore their face-to-face events program and digital channels, and tap into the insights, resources and expertise of CommBank.

Originally published in Issue 51 of Business Chicks' Latte magazine. 


What a fabulous group of women all supporting each other.

Emma is amazing she came and spoke to our Secondary Principals in Met Sth West and they were so inspired by her presentation It would be great for more business people to connect with our educational leaders thank you Emma 


It was such a lovely afternoon! Thank you for sharing this ~ so many wonderful learnings from amazing women! @emmabpresents 

I absolutely agree with you. Women collectives are so important. It's like everyone motivates each other, like going to the gym together! It gives a lot of strenght!