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Entering the Dragon’s Den - Hustling Your Way to the Top

Posted on 07 February 2018

The Women's Leadership Summit takes place in over twelve countries every year. Last week, our founder Michelle, spoke on their entrepreneurs' panel entitled, Entering the Dragon’s Den - Hustling Your Way to the Top. She sums it up below.

I'm always a little nervous speaking in public, but my fears of not having something valuable to add to the room of high powered women quickly disappeared after a chat with our moderator Elizabeth Thomson. She rightly pointed out that as an entrepreneur running a small company, we face different challenges. So our job that day was to give a different perspective. Elizabeth led Sally Ryder who runs Ryder Diamonds, and I masterfully through the discussion.

The two-day agenda covered serious topics like gender diversity in the workplace, unconscious bias, how to survive a male-dominated workplace/industry etc. While I gleaned valuable insights and other surprising ones too, my daily life as a business owner is far removed from the corporate world. I've tried to sum up the points we coved below:


Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs in running their business  

I always get a sense of solidarity from swapping war stories with other founders. On the taxi over to the conference, Sally told me how she'd found an old photo of herself in her first office, scrubbing the toilets. Sweet nostalgia! Small companies don't have hierarchical structures or the same support systems that corporations do. You have to be prepared to wear many hats and rally your friends and family to help. 


Find Mentors & Advisors

Finding mentors and trusted advisors to bounce ideas off and go to when decisions need to be made is invaluable. Lawyer by training, Elizabeth sold her first business and knowing that entrepreneur life is often quite lonely and unhappy with the lack of support for women entrepreneurs, she co-founded WEN, an organisation helping women scale-up their business. 


How do you lead YOU?  How do you lead Others? 

Besides navigating the fashion business, learning to become a good boss has been a challenge for me personally. We both agreed that being the boss means we're really accountable to ourselves, so it's often about self discipline and self correcting if we've gone off track. I believe being a good leader is about being able to rally your troops to a common goal. I've experimented over the years and feel that I've found the style that works for me. Sally talked about resolving conflict among her team and how stepping up and being mother hen got her team back on track.


Prioritise Your Time

If you don't start off with a full team, you get to build it. As you grow you'll have to prioritise on your strengths and hire where your weakness is. Sally's former career was in HR, so deciding how to grow her team came naturally. She remembers the early days when book-keeping took up so much energy, her first hire was an accountant. I was a little luckier, my mom is a CPA, so she was my first accountant. I work best under pressure and in creative chaos, so my first hire was an assistant who was so organised she managed me. It was magic.


Experience Isn't Compulsory

Contrary to what Simon Sinek says about millennials, I'm all for hiring them and investing time into nurturing them. Unlike large corporates, there's usually more work than hands and we're constantly short staffed. Elizabeth, Sally and I agreed, as small business we can rarely offer competitive salaries, so finding talent is a challenge. Fortunately, the ones that we do find are special people. They're resourceful, up for a challenge and have and an entrepreneur's spirit.


Benefits of Entrepreneurship?

It's not all freedom! We all agreed even though we endure sleepless nights, a rollercoaster of emotions, personality clashes and epic disasters, we don't look back on starting our businesses. You get to create your own company culture and champion the causes you really believe in, like our Room To Read partnership

The 5th Annual Women in Leadership Summit convenes professionals from diverse fields – finance, construction, law, mining, engineering, business, tech and others - to engage in a creative dialogue around a shared commitment to gender equity and diversity.

Summit attendees will actively engage with business leaders pioneering innovative best practices relating to women’s advancement and provide tools for achieving meaningful organisational change. Participants will learn about strategies for improving diversity outcomes and leave with tools to help their organisations better retain, support and advance women.



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