Celebrating courageous female founders this International Women’s Day

I am writing my annual IWD letter on the plane to Singapore – my first trip back since making the tough decision to relocate to Sydney late last year for family reasons.

As I sit, ponder and write, I reflect on the morning that I have just had – a reminder of the constant juggling act that at least I experience as a woman in business and that I am sure many others in my position do too. I started my business as a young mother because of the glass ceiling I encountered in corporate Australia. And, while my daughters are teenagers now and far more independent, the demands of a growing business and the important stage that they are both at with their schooling means the juggling act required to keep all the balls up in the air without dropping one is even more intense than ever before!

Standing at the Qantas counter waiting for all my documents to be checked (COVID vaccination certificate, negative PCR test, VTL documentations etc) I received a call from one of my daughters in tears, deeply distressed that I was travelling again. It has been close to 2.5 years since I have travelled leaving my daughters, whereas once upon a time it was a regular occurrence. It has never been easy, but it was part of our life. And we now need to get used to it again as borders open and business continues to grow.

Trying to calm my daughter on the phone in front of airport officials and people waiting behind me impatiently in the line, I was then told that I was missing a form and would have to move to the side to fill it in before I could go any further. Trying hard not to panic that I now had to fill in a long online form that I had missed, and close to tears myself while comforting my daughter, feeling guilty that my business demanded me to travel, I was reminded that there is a delicate line that you need to walk in business as a woman – and it never seems to get easier.

In the lead-up to getting ready to travel for an extended period, there are the never-ending lists and logistics. There is the planning around the girls: which house will they stay at (their Dad’s or mine, and what days), do they have all the different uniforms (between the two of them, there are five different ones!) required ironed and ready to go for while I am away, and the list goes on. There are multiple lists that I constantly have running in my head or on my phone – and let’s not forget the 3am thoughts, such as I haven’t yet booked in parent-teacher interviews, must do that in the morning. And on top of that, there are the numerous business to-do lists – and clearly, I missed the memo about that one form I needed to fill in! It is a lot.

So this International Women’s Day, I want to acknowledge fellow female founders who should be celebrated for the extraordinary bravery and courage that they show every day by pushing the boundaries and breaking down barriers despite the demands on us as women.

People often say to me, “I don’t know how you do it Gemma!” I don’t know either, to be honest! But I know I need to do my bit in paving the way for the next generation and I have a responsibility to do this for my own daughters who already dream big and see bright futures.

The good news is that there are more women turning to running their own businesses than when I started 14 years ago. At the time, there were a handful of Australian female entrepreneurs that were making inroads – Suzi Dafnis, Katherine Edgar and Naomi Simpson were three that stood out for me personally. I like to think that there are many more now, but there is still a long way to go in terms of gender equality in the world of business.

I know this only too well. Recently, I had it confirmed that my marketing firm is being paid significantly less than another male-led similar provider in the same client account for similar services. To know this, even when I know this other firm is more newly established and doesn’t have the same credentials as us is so deeply insulting and hurtful. It isn’t the first time too that I have been made aware of such disparity. I have experienced this time and time again since the beginning but thought that we were beyond this now.

And did you know that only 2% of VC funding goes to women entrepreneurs? And women are less likely to get traditional small-business bank loans? It is widely reported that women-owned businesses tend to suffer more than male-owned businesses in times of recession and difficult economic crises in part because of this.

I think it’s clear, there are a lot of balls to juggle as a female in business in an environment that is still not a level playing field. And this often can seem deeply unfair and discouraging.

So why would you do it? Why would you run a business as a woman knowing that it isn’t a level playing field, and that you have challenge upon challenge, and that you still have your commitments as a mother, a daughter, a sister, a carer etc?

As hard as it is (and trust me there are many days that I’m tempted to throw in the towel), for change to take place, we need trailblazers to challenge the status quo. I am privileged to know some incredible women and female entrepreneurs who are changing the game such as Ginger Jones and Amanda Fry and my own darling mama– women whom I get so much strength and inspiration from.

Despite the sleepless nights, the endless running lists, the disappointments by some along the way who make the journey even more difficult, we must strive to make positive change and break down barriers. We need bucketloads of resilience, bravery and courage to do this, but we need to show the next generation of female leaders that there are no limits. We simply have to.

So this IWD, please celebrate the courageous women you know. We need them more than ever. Show them that you appreciate what they do for womankind. We would be lost without them.