PEOPLE: Laura’s transition from allied health professional to tech startup founder

In this interview, Laura outlines how her career in allied health led to her founding her own startup, Theratrak, a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.

  • What interests you most about the allied health sector?

I’ve worked as a paediatric occupational therapist for the last 8 years and every day is just such a privilege and a joy. I get to work with kids to support them to achieve their functional goals. Whether that’s building skills so they can make their first friend, improving their fine motor skills so they can learn an instrument and join a band or overcome anxieties that might be holding them back from participating in a family meal.

The allied health sector is such an incredible space to be in because we are able to support people to live as independently as possible by either working with the person to modify their environment, teach them the skills to do the task or advocating and creating a more accessible experience. I believe this sector plays a big role in the preventative model of healthcare and when we use the model we can help people to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.

  • Why did you launch Theratrak? 

I started Theratrak for many reasons. The first was because I was frustrated with an outdated and inconsistent healthcare system that meant my clients weren’t able to remember what we had spoken about in therapy and therefore struggled to implement therapy strategies outside of the clinic.

I also know that we have a workforce shortage of allied health practitioners, waitlists only seem to get longer and so many kids miss out on early intervention at the right time because there’s just not enough of us. I believe that parents and carers can be the best support for their child’s early intervention process and if technology can support them to feel more confident and supported with what they are doing at home then that is what technology should be doing. Theratrak is designed to support both the clinician by improving their workflow, saving them time and creating easier avenues to connect and communicate with their clients. Theratrak is also designed to support parents so that, hopefully, we can reduce the amount of time kids spend in therapy, reduce the cost of healthcare to these families and support kids with the right amount of access to early intervention so that they can live their most independent life.

  • What has been the biggest surprise since launching the business? How does this differ to what you were anticipating? 

There have definitely been a few. Very early on one of the big surprises was how much kids embraced technology in therapy sessions and weren’t distracted by it. I had some reservations about what therapy sessions might look like if therapists pulled out a phone and used to record photos and videos of the kids with the app. I was worried that the tech might take over the session and that it would distract from the therapeutic relationship. I could not have been more wrong on so many occasions, kids and parents seem to really embrace the tech in sessions, I see kids getting excited that we are taking images of them and using them to build a bespoke and customised home program. I even had one client ask me to refilm something so that he could have a practice and do it better to show his mum.

The other big surprise which has been such a great learning curve for me, but how many similarities there are between occupational therapy (OT) and starting a tech startup. In OT we look at a functional problem for a person and then break the task down to either teach the skill, modify the task or modify the environment to allow the person to be able to solve the problem. I see this time and time again when we are building features for the app, we come up against a problem, break it down and either add new features, modify old features or change the user experience to solve the problem. I think I didn’t expect to have so many soft skills that I had learnt as an OT that would apply to being a tech startup founder.

The last surprise and I’m sure it won’t be the last, is just how many people we have the potential to help with the platform. I started the journey with the idea that I would create a home programming app for paediatric OTs and that would be my target audience. However, along the journey, I have realised that the same problem exists across all areas of allied health, both from discipline and age, it’s exciting to know that we can potentially help so many people and our reach and impact can go so far.

  • How are you seeing the allied health sector adopt new technologies and digital capabilities?

It’s definitely getting better that’s for sure. I think previously there have been many factors that impact people changing their behaviours around technology. Tech burnout in the health sector is a huge issue, I’ve spoken to many practitioners who are fed up with old clunky systems, or they’ve hacked their way around an old system so that it fits their workflow and so many times they didn’t know that they could approach the technology companies and ask for the help to solve their problem. The other challenge is time, time to learn new technology is crucial. Clinicians need to feel confident with the tool they pick up before they are going to use it with their client, if they aren’t given enough time in training it can be very hard to even start the process. 

However, COVID has been an incredible accelerator of this process for therapists, as much as it was tricky, many therapists had to learn about new ways of providing care early on in the year and I think there was a lot of grace given by clients who were also learning how to use tech in healthcare. I definitely think we are on the right path to digitising healthcare, especially with younger clinicians who seem to expect technology to be part of the healthcare system and are often confused when it’s not. 

  • How has the pandemic impacted Theratrak and your plans for 2021? 

Yes, we’ve seen a definite impact, but a positive one which is great. At the start of the year in 3 months we grew our user base by 500%. I think the pandemic had clinicians looking for alternative solutions to provide care and home programming was at the top of everyone’s mind.

We also have expanded to other areas of allied healthcare this year. At the start we were mainly focused on occupational therapy, we then found speech therapists and physiotherapists were jumping onto our platform and wanting to work as multidisciplinary teams with their clients.

So we are now in the process of expanding Theratrak so that it is a multidisciplinary platform so that teams of therapists can work collaboratively with their clients, gain better visibility about what they have prescribed and hopefully better outcomes for their clients as well.

We also became HIPAA compliant in April and now have a few US therapists on our platform. The goal was to expand to the US next year but the pandemic just seems to have accelorated most of our goals. Now our plans for 2021 are to find another large enterprise partner to continue to build theratrak with us and expand further into the US, maybe even Europe at this rate as well.

About the expert

Laura Simmons is the founder and CEO of Theratrak: a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.

Therapists use the mobile app to create custom therapy programs and send them within the clinical sessions, saving time. Parents also get access to the app for free, they receive automated nudges throughout the week to stay on track and send feedback to their therapist about their progress. Finally, therapists can also use the clinic portal to customise the platform to meet their therapeutic treatment styles.

Laura is also a passionate paediatric occupational therapist and has worked across Sydney’s private health sector for the last eight years. Laura is passionate about supporting the digitisation of healthcare to improve global access to early intervention for children living with disabilities. Laura launched her start-up journey entering into one of Australia’s leading tech accelerators for female founders SheStarts in January of 2018, launched the first version of the app, raised a pre-seed round and had her first paying customers within a year of starting the company. She also won the inaugural Australian Artificial Intelligence Medicine (AIMed) shark tank award in 2020.

Image description: Photo of Laura in a children’s playroom. There is a colourful alphabet-themed playmat on the ground, climbing equipment and a rainbow tunnel through which a child is excitedly crawling. Laura is sitting at the end of the tunnel watching the child, smiling, and wearing a black t-shirt and black pants.


PEOPLE: How Zara reacted after uncovering flaws across almost every aspect of the healthcare system

Zara Lord founded uPaged after experiencing first-hand and discovering from further research the depth and breadth of flaws in the Australian healthcare system, including over-working nurses and inefficient management of hospital budgets, leading to poorer patient experiences.

In this interview, she outlines how she is addressing these problems with technology and her goals for uPaged despite the disruptions of the pandemic.

  • What sparked the idea for uPaged? 

In 2016, I’d been working as an 8th year Registered Nurse (RN) in one of Sydney’s largest and busiest Intensive Care Units. I’d also just completed a Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing, and was undecided as to what was next in my career. 

With a love of travel, and while living in one of Australia’s most expensive cities, I had been supplementing my income doing as many as three agency nursing shifts a week. I first started as an Assistant in Nursing (AIN) while I was an undergraduate. Even when I was full-time and in charge of the ward, I picked up the odd agency shift when work had no overtime. 

The agency nursing experience always left me with a feeling of unease about the disconnect. With experience on both sides of the fence – as the agency nurse and the nurse in charge – both roles highlighted several points of abrasion between agency nurse, agency, permanent hospital staff, hospital booking manager and patient.

This led to nine months of research into how I could make the agency nursing experience better for the nurse, hospital and patient.

What I uncovered through that research revealed flaws across nearly every aspect of the system.

Hospitals were paying for nurses whom they knew very little about, and had no choice over whom they were given – in effect, a recruiter was making the decision about what staff were sent to look after patients, so hospitals couldn’t effectively utilise the unique skills and experience of their agency nurses.

Nurses I spoke to repeatedly complained of frequent agency cancellations, a lack of respect for their skills, no trust from peers and allocations to patients they had no experience with.

I also discovered that the Australian healthcare system spent at least $1.2 billion dollars on contingency workforce fees in 2018 alone. In NSW Health, this figure is conservatively reported at $15 million, a figure that increased by more than a million dollars from the year before. That got me really fired up – here I was working two jobs to get by comfortably – and that money that was not going on nurses’ wages – it was just on recruitment agency fees.

The cost to Australian hospitals for agency nurses cripples hospital budgets. It’s a vicious cycle. When budgets dry up, hospital beds get closed, contingency workforce is slashed, more pressure is put onto permanent nursing staff who burn out, and patients lose out. I knew I had to do something, and so that’s how uPaged came about.

  • What are your key goals? How will you know if you’re making a difference? 

My goal is for uPaged to be available to every hospital in Australia, and for every nurse that works additional shifts in other healthcare facilities, to have a profile on the platform, so that clinicians can make the decisions about who cares for their patients. 

I  want the technology to deliver so much efficiency that hospitals find uPaged 10 times easier than their current incumbent manual processes. We’ve just saved one of our hospitals $85K in the past year, with quite conservative usage (2,475 hours). Furthermore, in a time when agency nurses are hard to come by, uPaged has had a reliable and consistent supply of nurses for their intensive care, wards, day surgery and outpatient clinics. I’d love to be able to do this for at least another dozen hospitals.  

For nurses, my key goal is for higher rates of pay across all uPaged shifts, while giving nurses more control and choice over where and when they work.

I also want to save the Australian healthcare system a billion dollars over the next decade, and that’s doable if more hospitals start using the platform.

My final goal is for better patient outcomes. And uPaged positively impacts shift fills rates so that they are well above industry standard, patient care – and outcomes – are improved. 

Oh, and investment – we’d love to get investment so we can supercharge our growth.

A key element of the uPaged platform is its 2-way ratings and feedback loop between hospital and nurse. It would be a dream to be able capture patient feedback one day, but in the meantime, I’ll settle for knowing that I’m making a difference by saving hospitals tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, and by improving the career paths of nurses by putting control and choice back in their hands and by making sure they get better rates of pay. We can already track most of this in the platform and we know we’re getting some great results already.

  • What have been the biggest challenges to date? How have you overcome them?

Since day one, our biggest challenge has been identifying and getting in front of the decision makers in hospitals. There are so many stakeholders, and hospitals have tended to be slow to adopt change, but COVID has shown just how quickly they can move if they need to, so we want to capitalise on that. 

uPaged is disrupting an outdated, 30-year-old model that has worked in the past, but just isn’t appropriate any more, and its long term impact is only being realised now through the awareness that uPaged is creating. Change is difficult for large organisations, so we’re working hard to bring uPaged to every hospital nationwide but it requires stealth, grit, determination and feet on the ground to do that, so that’s what we’re doing. 

  • How has the pandemic impacted the way you run the business? 

We can’t ignore COVID’s impact on healthcare, small businesses and startups.

uPaged has undertaken immense diversification during the pandemic, and we acted at lightning speed to innovate and adapt to the challenges presented. This included pivoting our business model, as well as our user and customer base on both sides of our marketplace. 

We took an approach to ‘build the plane while flying it’, to do whatever it took to meet our clients’ changing requirements and make the experience as high touch and service-focused as possible. We also secured new revenue streams by tapping areas we’d previously not engaged with. 

When hospital operating theatres shut down, our workflow in the acute private sector dwindled and business development opportunities halted as hospitals averted their attention to their own pandemic response. The nurses who usually served these areas were left without work as local health districts redeployed their permanent staff, and then filled their gaps with staff from the hospitality and tourism sectors. 

Our swift response, our agility and openness to change meant that nurses gained and retained employment opportunities that they would have otherwise been unable to. 

It means we’ve created partnerships in sectors we once steered away from, and we’ve achieved breadth and depth serving clients that were not previously part of our business strategy. 

While already a very lean, bootstrapped operation, we implemented cost cutting measures immediately, so I’ve been working without pay for 7 months, and the Development Team of 3 worked on significantly reduced hours for 3 months.

  • How has this impacted your business plans for 2021?

We’ve been able to get really laser-focused about where we want to be for 2021. We’re opening up to serve healthcare organisations requiring term contracts, as well as facilitating permanent placements, in addition to serving healthcare providers and facilities nationwide.

In true marketplace style, we are also delivering our service as a technology solution so that hospitals and our nursing agencies can fully integrate our technology into their businesses so that their own staff can be better utilised within their own organisation, the talent pool can be improved, as well as across their multiple facilities, putting an end to under-employment of existing staff.

At this point in time, 2021 is looking very promising.

About the expert

The founder of uPaged, Zara Lord is an 8th year registered nurse, specialised in Intensive Care. Having experienced the current model of agency nursing from both the nurse and institutional side, she knew there had to be a better way. Having harnessed technology, her deep industry knowledge/experience and her network she has single handedly built a nursing digital marketplace which is the first of its kind in Australia.

Image description: Zara is smiling and wearing a blue shirt with ‘uPAGED’ print on the right. She has blonde hair, which is tied up. She is in front of a green and leafy hedge.

VIEW: Why 2021 will be the year for Australian tech

The below is a guest post from Sarah Neill, Founder of Mys Tyler, a fashion tech company solving the $1 trillion “fit” problem, by creating a more empowering and personalised shopping experience for all women.

We’ve always had a size disadvantage against the rest of the world with our meager 25 million population. Here in Australia, we’ve had to solve global problems, or mainstream local problems to turn a decent profit. However, in the US for example, with a population 13 times larger, even a niche solution can have a sizable and profitable market. And if you get traction there, growth can be FAST!

Having spent a decade in New York, I’ve seen first hand that bad ideas can have more success in the US than brilliant ideas born out of Australia. As the underdog, it’s tougher for us and we have to punch above our weight. As a result, a LOT of our top talent has migrated to places like Silicon Valley, to have more chance of success through tapping into the scale, but most importantly, tapping into the community. The US runs on referrals, and over there connecting people is a form of social currency.

But, a global pandemic later, and I think the tables are going to turn in 2021!

Top tech talent will return to Australia (if they haven’t already)

If you’re working remotely, and living in a big city in lockdown, there’s not much upside to paying expensive rents in the likes of New York or Silicon Valley. As US employers grapple with the idea of remote working until, at earliest, mid-next year, many employees have left the hubs, and returned to their hometowns, for family, and a lower cost of living (while picking up the same paycheck).

For Australians, this will also be true, and many have, and will choose to return to Australia (and work crazy hours to accommodate the time difference), or re-enter the Australian tech community!

Even those that continue working for the international companies will be back in the community, sharing thoughts, ideas and connections. I myself decided to return home to Sydney to start fashtech app Mys Tyler just as the pandemic was starting to hit.

Entrepreneurs will stop masquerading as Intrapreneurs

In the US, Australians have the good fortune of access to the E3 visa. This treaty visa makes it remarkably easy to work in the states and remain for years or even decades. We have more than we use, and employers aren’t required to prove that they could have hired an American (a huge hurdle for prospects from other nations). So, if you want to be amongst the heart of the Tech scene in Silicon Valley or New York, you can find a job, get a visa, and live happily on a great salary. Being an entrepreneur on the other hand is harder. The visa is more complicated, more expensive, and far riskier. Plus, living there is expensive. As a foreigner you don’t have family or friends you can mooch off, so the no/low salary of running your own business removes some of the allure of being there.

As a result, I know too many of the most brilliant entrepreneurs, picking up their paycheck, and gratefully renewing their E3 visa every two years. Not only will many move back given this new world. But I think many will see this as the chance to found their own companies, build their own dreams, without the shackles of a visa and high rent!

Zoom is leveling the playing field

Everywhere in the world has an element of “cliqueness”. It’s who you know, and who they know. People love referrals, and in the US in particular, connecting is a social currency.

But before, we couldn’t be in the same room to have a seat at the table, now, neither can they. We can attend the same events (virtually), meet investors/prospects/partners in the same way as the rest, and it’s going to level the playing field for us.

Exchange rate advantage

Compared to the EU and US, we’re discounted. And it’s a benefit. As our talent pool fills, I think we’ll see more investment coming in the form of higher headcount from global offices. In addition to this, there’s a lot of global uncertainty right now, leading investors to look at diversifying their investments outside of their home country.

With added thanks to Canva, AfterPay, Linktree who have shown the world that BIG ideas can come from Oz, along with the Aussie Expats who have been spreading the word on our work ethic, we’ll also see investment money flow in to the startup world.

Australia is still a great test market

Ideas that aren’t capitalising on the immediate demands created in response to the pandemic, can focus on building now, and selling later. They can test the waters locally, without waking any sleeping bears (potential competitors) and then go global with a bang in late 2021 when the world finds its new equilibrium.

I guess what I’m saying is that Australians are bred tough, and with an influx of returning talent (to add to the already amazing people here), a flow of foreign investment, and a leveling of the playing field, now is our time to pull up a chair to the tech table and start showing the world what we’re made of.

About the expert

Sarah Neill is a technology and startup powerhouse with more than 15 years driving marketing and innovation for major consumer technology brands across in-house and agency settings in the USA, UK and Australia. Over the course of her career, Sarah has held senior leadership roles at mobile disrupters Boost Mobile and Mint Mobile, led multi-million-dollar agency accounts for marquee companies Telstra, Vodafone and Samsung, and as a serial entrepreneur founded companies Doodad, A Relatively Unique Inc and Mys Tyler.

In 2013, Sarah launched DOODAD, a travel tech company which saw her raise more than $1 Million USD to disrupt the global roaming industry. She then joined the executive team of Ultra Mobile, the fastest growing private company in the US (ranked #1 on the Inc. 5000 in 2015). During this time, she led corporate development, launched the IoT department and ultimately held the post Chief of Staff.

Sarah left Ultra Mobile to return to Sydney and build Mys Tyler, a fashion tech company solving the $1 trillion “fit” problem, by creating a more empowering and personalised shopping experience for all women.

Image description: Sarah is sitting on a grey couch in front of some indoor plants with some office furniture blurred in the background. She has brown hair, is smiling and wears a beige top and black pants.

PEOPLE: Celebrating Aussie STEM Stars through storytelling

Children’s author and science writer, Cristy Burne, discusses her involvement with Aussie STEM Stars, a series of narrative biographies that share the childhood and lives of high-achieving Australian scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

  • What is Aussie STEM Stars and why was this project started? 

Not everyone realises that scientists are ordinary people. Aussie STEM Stars is series of biographies featuring the lives of Australia’s scientist heroes. Each biography is written like a novel, especially for readers aged 10+. The brief from publisher Wild Dingo Press was that each book should be as engaging and exciting as fiction – but entirely true.

Turning someone’s ordinary life into a blockbuster story might seem a tall order, but not when you’re writing about some of Australia’s most exciting and innovative scientists. I was lucky enough to be paired with Professor Fiona Wood, the daughter of fifth generation coal miners who is now a dynamic surgeon, inventor of spray-on skin and National Living Treasure.

When I finally stopped pinching myself (I get to work with Fiona Wood! I get to work with Fiona Wood!), I had absolutely zero trouble finding enough exciting, surprising, gut-wrenching, laugh-out-loud funny and — most of all – inspiring moments from Fiona’s life to fill a dozen books!

This series is all about showing the personal side of Australia’s unsung STEM heroes. Were they born clever? Or rich? Were they popular at school? Did they do their homework?

Two other books in the series are already out: One features Munjed al Muderis, a refugee from Iraq who now leads the world in life-changing osseointegration technology; and the other is about Georgia Ward-Fear, a little girl who loved investigating (and dissecting!) the natural world and who turned that passion into a career spent conserving and protecting our planet.

  • What are the biggest misconceptions about STEM careers that these books are looking to address? Why is this important? 

A lot of people think you have to be smart to be a scientist. Nothing could be further than the truth! Smart helps, but most important is courage. Science is all about the unknown. It’s about resilience, sticking with difficulty, getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable. That’s because science depends on failure. Science is about striving to make things better. Scientists get an idea, try it out, and when it doesn’t work out, we try it again.

My own personal bugbear is the trope of the “evil scientist”: I mean, please! Science gives electricity, clean water and flushing toilets. It gives us purpose and wonder and hope. Scientists devote their lives to the discovery of new knowledge. And new knowledge helps us solve problems. Just ask anyone you know what they think of 2020, and it’ll become abundantly clear that our planet has problems. Now, more than ever, we need innovators. We need creators. We need problem-solvers. And that means we need STEM.

  • What have been your biggest surprises throughout this project? 

This shouldn’t really be a surprise, because I knew right from the start that Fiona Wood was beloved by Australians, and especially Western Australians … but I am always thrilled and excited to hear from the many, many people whose lives have been personally touched by Fiona.

In almost every group I speak to about this book — whether it’s adults or children – someone will put up their hand and share their story of Fiona. Patients, friends of patients, relatives of patients. She has helped so many people, she has mended so many lives.

  • What drew you towards getting involved in the project?

I’m passionate about our planet. I love it so much: the wild places, the explosions of colour and life, the mind-bending opportunity of being alive. And like many of you, I’m concerned about what’s happening to our ball of rock as it hurtles through space.

To solve our shared global problems, we’re going to need a whole bunch of clever, articulate, tech-savvy and empathetic humans.

Well, what better way to fuel the change we need than to write stories for children? What better way than to share the true stories of Australia’s science heroes? They’re stories of courage and innovation and hope, and I think we all deserve to hear them.

  • You’re the author of the first book in this project, which will be about Fiona Wood. What can we expect in this book?

Pick up a copy of Fiona Wood and you’ll go behind the scenes into the life and childhood of one of Australia’s most influential surgeons and inventors. From her dream to become an Olympic sprinter to her courage in daring to dream that tomorrow could be better. It was a huge honour to work with Fiona on this book.

Never before, not in anything I’ve written in all my 20 years as an author and journalist, have I felt such responsibility as with this book! Fiona’s life is so fascinating, so surprising, so intricately woven into the lives of her patients. It was incredibly important to tell it with empathy, honesty and compassion. I hope I’ve pulled it off!

About the expert

Children’s author and science writer Cristy Burne has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, US, South Africa and beyond.

Cristy has degrees in biotechnology and science communication. She has performed in a science circus, worked as a garbage analyst, and was a reporter at CERN when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider. Her books have been published in three languages across six countries.

Cristy’s favourite job is working to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity. Cristy has a passion for learning through doing and loves to inspire creativity, daring and resilience in her readers. And she also loves chocolate.

Image description: Headshot from the waist up of Cristy in a red collared shirt with black buttons. Cristy has short, curly blonde hair and is smiling at the camera.

VIEW: Is a university degree a deal-breaker for business success?

The below is a guest post from Pip Meecham, Director of ProjectBox.

From a young age, our parents and teachers tell us to go to school and get an education. Then, to further that education by heading off to university and getting tertiary qualifications.

We’re repeatedly told education is the most important thing, that you need a university degree to ‘make it’ in the world, that regardless of your big dreams you need a degree to ‘fall back on’ (whatever that means), to have a career, to run a business, to be successful…

But I don’t think this is necessarily true. It certainly hasn’t been the case for me.

Despite never going to uni (or even finishing high school), I’ve built and continue to run an award-winning consulting business. I help business owners streamline their operations so they can work faster, better and smarter. I’ve made a niche for myself as a systemisation specialist and clients say I’m ‘faster than Google’.

The world has changed, and we need to change with it

We live in a very different world to our parents. The digital revolution has changed the way we work and study, and it’s opened up new opportunities and challenges that many of our parents could not even imagine. The business environment is rapidly changing, and we’re evolving and adapting with it.

In 2020, a degree isn’t a mandatory requirement for business success, and it’s far from a guarantee of one. According to the 2019 Future of Work report, job outcomes for university graduates have declined significantly over the past decade and graduates are more likely than ever to find themselves in jobs where their degree is under-utilised.

Employers are realising that a person’s life experience, skills and values can be more important than an expensive piece of paper displayed in a nice frame. In fact, many top firms including EY, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Google have gotten rid of their degree entry requirements, choosing to hire on merit instead of qualifications.

Of course, there are many professions where tertiary qualifications are crucial (medicine, legal and accounting to name a few), and many people who thrive in a university environment. But it’s not for everyone, and it’s important to remember that incredible careers can be built on a foundation of courage, determination, a willingness to learn, and finding the thing that makes you tick.

From high-school drop out to successful business owner

So, how did I go from high school drop-out to owning a six-figure consulting firm?

Slowly. It didn’t happen overnight, and I definitely didn’t leave school knowing I wanted to be a systemisation specialist!

I began by working in other people’s businesses, starting as a dress-up children’s entertainer in a play centre (yes, really). From there I moved into administrative roles and gradually worked my way into operations.

Over many years I worked in a huge range of industries. I continuously looked for ways to self-develop. I sought out opportunities to say ‘yes’ and step out of my comfort zone. Every single role, no matter how junior, gave me real-life work experience that I still draw on today, and with every role, I grew personally and professionally.

Yes, I made plenty of professional mistakes, but they were mistakes tertiary education wouldn’t have prepared me for anyway – most learning is done on the job. Each mistake was a chance to reflect, to learn and to further develop and strengthen my unique skill set.

Over time, I worked out what I was good at and what I loved to do, and I was able to package up all of my work experience and professional development and turn it into something sturdy enough to build a business on.

If you don’t feel like uni is for you…

That’s ok.

The digital world brings countless opportunities for learning and professional development, with more current and practical skills than you could learn in a university environment. Seek out learning opportunities everywhere. Work out what you’re good at and what makes you unique.

This all sounds fantastic, right? Don’t go to uni, just get out there and start making money and teach yourself some stuff along the way? But it’s not quite that easy – it takes a serious level of personal commitment to continuously learn and upskill in your own time. And, just like studying for a degree, it takes time and dedication to apply these learned skills to the professional world, to practice them over and over and turn them into something marketable.

Employers no longer make hiring decisions based on education alone and are instead turning to the ‘hire character, train skill’ methodology. They seek talent that meets internal culture requirements, business values, emotional intelligence and a commitment to learning and continuous improvement. 

So when people ask me if I believe a university degree is necessary for business success, I say no. Not one customer has ever asked me what my qualifications are. Instead, they trust the quality of my work, my positive testimonials from previous clients and my reputation.

If you’re curious, tenacious and willing to learn, you’ll find your way with or without a degree.

About the expert

Pip is a systemisation specialist with a love for all things systems, technology, processes and workflows. She is a lover of all things systems and tech and has earned the nickname ‘Faster than Google’ by her peers. She looks at the HOW in your business – how you do the things you do, then translates that to ensure your processes and workflows are optimised for efficiency and effectiveness, implementing tools and technology to help streamline your operations, with operating procedures that help you scale and build a business that can work without you.  

Image description: Black and white photo of Pip sitting by a windowsill smiling at the camera.

ADVICE: Be a risk taker – Marie Mortimer shares her nine years of trial and error

Only 25% of the mortgage industry is female, and in 2018 fewer than 30% of the employees in tech’s biggest companies and 20% of faculty in university computer science departments were women, despite research consistenyl highlighting the value and importance of diversity in the workplace.

Marie Mortimer, founder of, shares her experiences as a woman in both finance and technology, her advice to others, and her experiences starting and growing her business over nine years.

  • What was the most challenging aspect of starting back in 2011? 

When I started in 2011 it was just a concept and a very different business model to our core business at Firstmac. Firstmac is our parent organisation and Australia’s largest non-bank lender and wholesale funder, who primarily distributes loans via third party networks such as mortgage brokers. was launched as a direct to retail model and a lot of people internally and externally to our business were very negative about this direction. Also, at the time nobody was really offering a full home loan application online to retail customers, so it was very different changing the customer mindset that they could jump online and do it all themselves to save thousands of dollars.

So, as well as being challenged by our industry peers, we were also challenged by customers as we had to change their mindset and help them understand that switching home loans is easy and, in their control, not their banks’.

  • What have been the biggest challenges in sustaining and growing the business since then?

Everybody thinks being an online lender is as simple as having a cool website with a great rate. It takes a lot of work to plug that website into an entire backend system that makes the loan decision process simple for everyday Australians. It also takes a lot of work to get people to visit  your website and apply, because it’s not like a shop front where you have face to face contact and it’s easy to talk to a customer and get your message across.

It has taken 9 years of trial and error and constant improvement to get customers to switch to and stay. The competitive landscape is always changing, so we stay true to our business model and our customers, which means we have a very loyal following. We now have over $6billion in settlements, which makes us bigger than some smaller banks and credit unions.

  • How did you overcome these challenges? 

I’ve overcome these challenges by breaking them down and being methodical about my approach. Sometimes it can be disheartening and exhausting when you have a setback, however there is always a way. Sometimes you must get creative and think outside the box, sometimes you’ve just got to roll up your sleeves and get on with it. I think with experience, I’ve learnt where to fix something and where to move on. Don’t look back, look forward.

  • As a woman in finance and tech, a minority on both counts, what is your advice to others considering launching into either of these industries, or graduating this year from those fields of study?

Take the risk and back yourself. As a female in a very male dominated profession, being the minority is the norm. But the good news is that there has been more focus on this in recent years and there are a lot of places to get help. It might sound cliche, but more women need to have confidence in themselves, and take the risk, ignore the noise around you. It’s easier said than done, but if you have a vision or a dream, you’ve got to go for it. Be a risk taker, that’s what we need all women to do, in order to challenge the status quo.

I also think that so much focus has been put on diversity at the top executive level of organisations, and that has done great things towards achieving parity, however I believe that we need to focus on the earlier stages of the career. Young women shouldn’t shy away from male dominated industries when they are choosing what to study. We need more women in finance and technology because diversity brings a different point of view and innovation. You may think you will be the minority, and you probably will be, but what you will be able to bring is something unique. Don’t underestimate yourself!

About the expert

Marie launched in 2011 and has since grown it into a business with $6 billion worth of home loans under management. Marie has been instrumental in changing the way Australians apply for home loans by moving them online and away from traditional bricks and mortar banks. Marie is passionate about developing the FinTech industry in Australia, particularly in the consumer space. When she isn’t at work, Marie loves to spend time with her husband and two young children.

Image description: Headshot of Marie in front of a white background. She has short black hair and is wearing a black blazer over a black and white patterned blouse.

VIEW: Learning on the job is more valuable than formal education in fast-paced industries

Nikki Hamilton started her own marketing consultancy, Seedling Digital, under a year ago with no formal qualifications yet is succeeding beyond all her expectations. With a baby just over one, a commitment to constant learning, and a dedication to building beautiful brands with meaning, Nikki is a driven leader and passionate about helping businesses grow and thrive.

In this interview, Nikki shares the ups and downs of starting a business, the challenges she’s faced along the way and her advice to other small business owners and entrepreneurs.

  • What made you decide to go out on your own and start your own business? 

This one was a bit of a journey, with a few bumps in the road for me! I’ll try to keep it snappy!

I started my career as a teacher after completing a degree. After teaching in New Zealand for a year, I decided to move to Canada to chase snow, where I met my now husband. We stayed in a little town called Fernie for three years and I laid the foundations for my first business, making natural, vegan, skincare products.

We moved back to Sydney together, and I went all-in on the business, but after a while realized it wasn’t for me. I loved the marketing side, but the day to day management and production was just not my jam. However, I learnt a tonne, and had great success with marketing the product and building a great social media following in a short space of time.

So, I sold the business, but took that springboard and everything I’d learned and got a job in the corporate world as a Marketing Coordinator for a financial services company.

Throughout my time there I thrived, receiving a number of promotions and becoming more and more specialized in the area of digital marketing. I was constantly upskilling with short courses and development in the evenings and weekends. I primarily worked in the areas of website design / development / management, social media marketing, and email direct marketing. I loved my time in this role and am extremely grateful for the experience in a corporate space. I feel it really allowed me to develop a voice, gain exposure to all areas of marketing, build confidence, learn to work with stakeholders, take criticism constructively and develop a polish you don’t get elsewhere.

After over two and a half years with this company, I learnt I was pregnant. I was in discussions to have my contract extended again and decided to do ‘the right thing’ and let them know about the unexpected tiny human brewing in my belly. Unfortunately, I was told shortly after this that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. I was absolutely devastated to say the least. I remember ugly sobbing through a wad of tissues with the phone on mute to HR. It was one of the hardest times of my life, personally, professionally and financially. I decided to end my contract early, as I didn’t want to stay with a company who could let a woman go at 7 months pregnant! This would have left me ineligible for any government maternity support, and I didn’t fancy my chances of finding another job that close to my due date.

I got another job to tide me over, and took a big step back in terms of pay, responsibility and job satisfaction, and dropping my hours down to around half. It was one of the hardest times of my life. I was also battling with HG (hyperemesis gravidarum) which meant vomiting up to 50 times a day, which was less than ideal!

Throughout the second half of my pregnancy, I decided to refocus my energy, and put this into something positive. I spent a lot of time working on my mindset, setting goals, manifesting and trying to build something that would suit me better than a corporate role.

I wanted to build something where I wasn’t reliant on anyone else, something where I could utilise my skills and hustle as the basis for success. Something where I loved my work, I loved my clients, and I was able to make a difference in the success of other businesses. I wanted to make more money than I made in my corporate role, and have flexibility in my hours to work around my new baby.

By the way, I’ve succeeded in everything I wanted!

  • Were there any areas or skill-sets where you didn’t feel confident? How did you go about filling those gaps? 

Absolutely – a lot! As a woman in tech, I at times feel overwhelmed and over my head! It’s such a male-dominated industry, but I just keep on going and keep on growing. Google is my best friend – there’s nothing you can’t learn from Google with the right search term and a bit of time!

However, I’m a big fan of getting the distilled version, from experts in their field where possible. I’ve spent a lot of money on ecourses this year. My favourite thing is learning, and I’m a big believer that investment in my education, even through non-traditional routes will pay me back in dividends. I also love that as a business owner, I can direct where that money is spent, and I love supporting other women in business offering up their knowledge.

  • What’s your view on the role of formal education and training in the current world of work, particularly in your field? 

My view on this is likely contentious, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not necessary! Particularly in my field. I’ve actively encouraged other women to not invest in formal education, and instead to put their time into learning on the job, completing short courses or finding a mentor.

The nature of my work is so fast-paced, technologies are constantly changing. I feel like traditional education fields can’t pivot that quickly, there is a lot of process and time involved with adding new, more relevant material. Additionally, when tutors are out of the field, not ‘doing the work’, I can see how it would be easy to fall out of touch. 

  • What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?

The most challenging aspect of starting Seedling Digital has been the time factor, as I’m sure most business owners can attest! But as a mum to a busy, co-sleeping baby boy, I think I have a few more demands on my time than many!

In my line of work, creativity is so important, and it takes time to get in that flow. I need uninterrupted space and time to get going, and it’s something I just don’t have while my baby is at home with me. We’ve put him in daycare a few days a week, and having that space has been vital over the last couple of months to really build my business.

I’ve also become a master at spending my time more intentionally. So when I’m working, I’m working. When I’m with him, I’m with him! But within that, I complete tasks within the appropriate pockets. So for example when I’m on ‘mum time’ I can complete errands, like putting a load of washing on, picking up groceries or sending a package. Learning to make the most of time, and almost bend it to suit you is vital to success. 

  • For others considering starting their own business in 2020, what’s your advice and what’s the biggest watch-out they need to be aware of?

My biggest advice is to learn to back yourself. We come inbuilt with intuition, and over the span of our lifetime we learn to tune this out and rely more on our logical, thinking brain. As a business owner it’s important to turn that side back on and learn to work with your gut.

In most cases, you already know the answer, so it’s important to just take action! Watch out for people who take advantage of your skills and knowledge, especially as women we need to stand up and speak out, and demand to be paid appropriately for our time.

About the expert

Nikki Hamilton is an easily entertained, 90’s hip hop obsessed, exclamation point loving, perfectionist. She is a mother, a wife, a passionate creative based on the sunny Gold Coast of Australia.

Originally from New Zealand, she found myself in Sydney after a three-year stint chasing snow (and a certain handsome Australian guy) through the Rocky Mountains of Fernie, Canada.

Her diverse background includes working in the corporate marketing sphere, as a degree qualified teacher, and as an owner of a product-based business. This experience allows her to apply technical, design, strategic, marketing and coaching lenses to every project she works on.

Image description: A black-and-white landscape headshot from the waist up of a women with shoulder-length curly hair, a floral embroidered top and blazer in front of large rock formations.

PEOPLE: “Education is a privilege and a STEM career is a huge step towards empowerment and equality” – Muneera Bano

Muneera Bano is a passionate advocate for women in STEM and is an active role model for the next generation via the various accolades and positions she holds, including a ‘Superstar of STEM’ for Science and Technology Australia, and the Go Girl, Go For IT 2020 Ambassador. In this interview, Muneera shares her views on driving diversity and inclusion in STEM fields.

  • What are the big things companies are getting right and wrong about how they position IT careers to the public?

My research focuses on the socio-technical domain of software engineering and I work at the intersection of human and computers in order to study the impact of technology on society. The amazing thing to see in the field of IT from my perspective is how current technological innovations have transformed society in ways so that we cannot imagine life without an aspect of IT. Especially during the pandemic of covid19, IT infrastructure became the critical backbone of society to keep most jobs on track. IT jobs and careers will become even more critical to the core of the post-pandemic society as we will see more transition to online job markets.  

One of my research interests in the field of IT is the inclusion and diversity of under-privileged and under-represented groups of people who do not receive the benefits of IT initiatives. While we look towards an advanced technological future with AI at the back, the digital divide could increase substantially. More initiatives are needed now than ever before to ensure that the future belongs to all, regardless of their gender, race, identity and socio-economic status.

  • How does this impact who applies for IT and technology roles?

The innovations in current IT infrastructure and platforms have enabled a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurship and have created new jobs. With e-learning and distant educational initiatives, anyone can upskill their capabilities to meet the new job requirements. The digital divide and the data gaps make it more competitive to access equal opportunities to new initiatives for those from under-privileged and under-represented backgrounds.

  • Why did you decide to recently become a Go Girl, Go for IT ambassador? 

Being a woman, an immigrant in Australia coming from Pashtun ethnicity, and in the male-dominated field of IT and Engineering, I have experienced every facet of diversity, and that makes me personally a passionate advocate. The aims of ‘Go Girl, Go for IT’ align with my mission of gender equality in IT careers.

In the future, with increased reliance on IT infrastructure, we have to ensure the design and outcomes of IT solutions meet the requirements of everyone. Innovation should be driven to improve the quality of life for all. For that, we have to impress upon the younger generation to play their part, especially girls and under-represented groups, to step forward and move into IT careers, so that we can create a fair and inclusive future together.

  • STEM careers tend to have stigmas such as being difficult, complex, boring, or only for high-achievers. How has or hasn’t this been your experience?

At the core of all STEM subjects are elements of intellectual curiosity, a quest for inquiry and creativity. Once we are able to invoke these factors in young minds, personal pursuit and motivation make STEM subjects easy and enjoyable. In my experience, personal motivation was the biggest driving force behind me selecting IT and Engineering fields.

Yes, STEM subjects and careers have a stereotype with only the high-achievers pursuing them. However, STEM subjects should be taught with the pedagogical design of accepting mistakes and making students learn from their failures rather than penalising them. This might help in not just academic and professional pursuits, but also change perspectives on life. 

  • What’s your message to young women who are steering away from STEM careers because they feel they don’t have high enough grades or school marks?

I come from an ethnic background in Pakistan where in my mother’s generation of girls were not allowed access to education. Given the equal opportunity to education, I decided to prove I can outperform in a male-dominated field. I grew up without any female role models and had to find my way.

Next time you go to school, think of all those who have been denied of this opportunity and have to fight for their right of education. I have a clear conviction in my life that education is a privilege and a STEM career is a huge step towards empowerment and equality. If you wish to make your mark in digital history, now is the time to make a choice.

About the expert

A passionate advocate for women in STEM, Muneera Bano was announced as the ‘Most Influential Asian-Australian Under 40’ in 2019. A ‘Superstar of STEM’ and member of ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ committee for Science and Technology Australia, Muneera has a strong commitment to smash society’s gender and cultural assumptions about scientists. She is the Go Girl, Go For IT 2020 Ambassador with the aim to inspire the next generation of girls in STEM careers.

During her research career, Muneera has also received prestigious recognition for her work, including being named as a finalist for Google Australia’s Anita Borg Award for Women in Computer Science, Asia-Pacific 2015. She was also the recipient of Schlumberger’s Faculty For The Future (FFTF) Award for Women in STEM (2014 and 2015) and was given the ‘Distinguished Research Paper Award’ at International Requirements Engineering Conference held in August 2018. As the winner of Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australians Award, Muneera was offered Dr John Yu Fellowship for Cultural Diversity and Leadership at Sydney University in November 2019 .

PEOPLE: 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10 – Milly Bannister’s mission to change the stats

Milly Bannister is the the Founder & Director of GRLKND, a non-profit organisation connecting young women to mental health resources.

GRLKND is an organisation build by and for women. With the purpose of advancing self-belief and kindness in high-school leaving and college-aged women, its self-development curriculum and online support community is backed by a board of female experts and psychologists.

The GRLKND App (free) supports a daily check-in experience to help users get to know themselves better and feel supported, and a ‘help me hub’ for instant access to mental health resources and crisis lines.

In this interview, Milly reflected on GRLKND’s journey so far, and why she wants to “represent and empower women to not only know they matter, but to chase and create realities they desire.”

  • What instigated you to build GRLKND? 

In the United States, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (10.6%). In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15–24 (35%). These stats are terrifying. They indicate that, now, unlike ever before, young people are faced with a critical amount of risks to mental health. Traditional education may not effectively cover these areas of self-development in a relatable, accessible way. It’s only with judgement-free, peer-educational space and support that I was able to understand what mental health meant and why it mattered. Being able to label things and have your emotions and feelings validated is crucially important for young people. That’s exactly why GRLKND exists. Feeling supported is something every human deserves.

  • What was the original ambition for GRLKND and how has that evolved over time? 

Great question – it’s quite enjoyable (and a little cringe) to look back at what GRLKND looked like a couple of years ago during its conception in 2018. Originally, I wanted it to be an online program that facilitated a young woman’s journey towards self-love, kindness and confidence. Now the extensive ’online program’ that was written in co-ordination with our board of experts, exists on our site, socials and free App as a series of videos and worksheets. I guess the high-level evolution is pretty visible in the way we transitioned from a self-development program to a mental-health focused non-profit organisation.

  • Have you been surprised by the response to GRLKND? Why or why not? 

Initially I had a little bit of imposter syndrome – expecting the worst for my little concept I cooked up in my brain as a young, inexperienced businesswoman. The more I spoke about the idea and workshopped it and brought the pitch to industry-leading female experts, who helped shape what we are today, the more I realised how much young people need this space. Then of course the feedback we received from in-person workshops, social media, the podcast from our target demographic was beyond anything I could have ever expected. For me, supporting even just one person a day is a success.

  • In your view, what do you think are the biggest reasons for why 84% of girls rate their self-belief and self-love below a 5/10? 

I don’t think there’s a single, uncomplicated answer for that. It’s a whole barrage of events and circumstances culminating into a high-pressure, virtual, relentless monster that hangs heavy on the back of all of us, so heavier than others. This generation, that I’m a part of, (our target demo of female-identifying 15-25 year olds) grew up online. Traditional education, the more clinical psychologists, therapists, books and even our parents cannot actually comprehend what that’s like since they never experienced it.

I think it’s important for us to remember that yes, it’s possible for us to understand that the expectations we see on social media and in real life are only societal structures, while simultaneously struggling with self-perception, self-love and self-kindness. Some days are harder than others in this continuous journey towards self-acceptance, which is why at GRLKND, we want to support every moment of that and help each individual understand their worth, their value throughout every part of that.

  • How did you expand GRLKND to the US? 

I actually moved over to California in 2017 to finish my last year of a Bachelor of media/journalism and got to experience life on campus (yep, it’s just like the movies). I got certified in human research and suicide prevention while I was there and made lots of meaningful connections. Once I founded GRLKND in 2018, while living in NYC, things moved pretty quickly, as I was able to meet companies, brands and organisations in person and get the resources I needed to make an impact. I was able to partner with a high-school touring organisation to visit public high-schools across 6 different US States. Sadly our March tour got cancelled due to covid-19, but we’ll be back on the road in August for a bigger one! We’re still in early days, but soon I’d ideally love to host inter-campus conferences and events and retreats with high-school-leaving and college-aged girls. I think we could all use a community-focused, connection-building safe space, led by bad-a** female industry-leading experts.

  • What is your advice to other women considering starting a social impact organisation like you did? Any watch-outs to be aware of?

Honestly just go for it. If your heart is with the mission, and your intentions are honest, things will open up for you. Since everyone’s journey is different, make lots of mistakes quickly and move on. Just keep moving forward and reach out for help. You may be surprised by how incredibly ambitious, kind and serving this generation of women is. Empowered women empower women. Get it, girl.

About the expert

Milly Bannister is a communications expert, lifestyle journalist, mentor and creative director with over 175,000 followers. She’s the big sister/ BFF you always wanted, backed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism & Media, and certification in Human Research and Suicide Prevention.

As Founder & Director of mental health-empowerment and educational organization, GRLKND (est. 2018), her professional lifestyle and travel photos are filtered, but her words are not.

ADVICE: Seek out a mentor, be a mentor, and be visible

Chahida Bakkour has had an extensive career in technology, engineering and aviation. Today, as well as being an A/g Service Design and Alignment Manager for Airservices Australia, she believes strongly in the importance of encouraging women to join and empowering women to thrive in male-dominated industries.

In this interview, she shares her advice and experiences regarding imposter syndrome, confidence and leadership.

  • In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing female leaders in male-dominated industries? 

Self confidence, fear of failure and the lack of role models and mentors.

  • How have you overcome these challenges throughout your career, and what’s your advice to others experiencing or foreseeing these challenges?

I tackle things head on, overcoming lack of self-confidence and fear of failure are no exceptions.  I set goals and mantras like in 2019 “getting out of my comfort zone”. I take ownership of my development and accomplishments instead of waiting to be asked. It’s a journey, I am happy to now realise getting out of my comfort zone has become the norm me. For me, showing up and being visible was out of my comfort zone but was something I needed to overcome for the purpose of being a visible role model.

I surround myself with like-minded inspiring women who support my goals and we work closely to uplift each other. Last year, I attended a truly inspiring week-long leadership summit which included leadership coaching sessions, networking events and a great line up of inspiring speakers who all were great role models. I walked away from the summit feeling motivated, inspired and connected to a greater network of other like-minded leaders and role models. 

My advice is to seek out mentors, be a mentor and be visible so that others can see you as a role model, then inspire others to do the same. Take ownership of your leadership, attend leadership forums and build your network.

  • In your view, what is the biggest thing driving the local and global shortage of women working in tech? What is the low-hanging fruit for each of governments, corporates, and individuals to improve the ratio?

Some of the key factors that contribute to the local and global shortage of women in tech roles include the belief that these types of roles are not suitable for females (gender stereotypes), male dominated culture and a lack of role models. We are dealing with a mindset and culture that dates back a long time.

We need to be educating the younger generations about the broad range of roles and pathways that are available and suitable for women seeking a career in tech. The aim should be to embed a culture where women in tech roles are seen as the norm across various layers of society.

Governments play a key role in ensuring school curriculums starting from prep to year 12 target these key areas. We need to start planting seeds from a very early age. The result would be an increase to the number of females that are attracted to and complete further studies in this field.

Corporations that haven’t already done so, need to review recruitment processes, position descriptions and job advertisements. In many instances position descriptions and job advertisements are written in a way that deters women from applying. Diversity strategies are needed to support the organisation in retaining staff and creating an inclusive culture, including educating on how we manage unconscious bias.  

We, as individuals, all play a role in challenging the status quo, promoting, supporting and encouraging more women in gaining and retaining roles within tech.

  • A lot of people feel pressured to behave a certain way to be seen as a ‘leader’, which can often involve acting against their gut instincts. In your view, when is this type of change necessary, and how should people experiencing this feeling address it in the moment?

Start by reflecting on your leadership style, purpose and values. It takes self awareness, confidence and courage to stay true to your values when being pressured by others to behave in a certain way that goes against your gut instinct. Believe in yourself and trust your gut instinct.

  • Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, could you share some examples?

Yes, I have definitely experienced imposter syndrome and to my surprise so have many others. I will never forget the day I discovered the imposter syndrome. I was flipping through an RACV magazine (of all places) and stumbled across an article about the imposter syndrome. I was so relieved to know that my negative thoughts, thinking I wasn’t good enough, always working towards perfection, fear of failure and continuously focusing on things that I lacked was a result of the imposter syndrome.

  • These days, do you ever experience imposter syndrome or self doubt? If so, how do you overcome that and what’s your advice to others going through this?

Yes, I occasionally still experience it but I shut down the negative thoughts pretty quickly. As mentioned earlier, 2019 was my year of “getting out of my comfort zone”. I no longer hold myself back from trying new things or seeking new opportunities due to a fear of failure. I shifted my mindset to one that sees failure as an opportunity to learn and develop from the experience. I also now keep a list of my achievements and accomplishments, no matter how big or small they are. I use the list when I need to shift my mindset from one that is focusing on things that I lack instead of the great things I do well but do unconsciously.  

My advice would be to start by educating yourself on imposter syndrome, there are some great resources available online. The first book I read was “The secret thoughts of successful women: Why capable people suffer from the imposter syndrome and how they thrive in spite of it.” By Valerie Young ED.D

If you don’t have a mentor, seek one out to support you in working through self doubt and imposter syndrome.

  • ‘Anyone can be a mentor.’ – Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Agree, anyone can be mentor. All it takes is someone who has a good attitude, and is a positive role model who is willing to share relevant knowledge, experiences and advice to assist others in developing. Many people already have an informal mentoring relationship and may not realise that they are already mentoring. Whether you have a formal or informal mentoring relationship the ability to actively listen and focus on the needs of the mentee is key.

The ability to support and guide a mentee in setting career and development goals is extremely rewarding.

About the expert

Chahida dedicated part of her adulthood to raising her two boys. Once they were in primary school, there was passion to do more and be a positive role model for her family, especial her sons. Through process of discovery, Chahida found passion and fascination with technology. With the support of her family, Chahida invested in returning to studies with focus on Information Technology completing Bachelor of Business in Computer Systems Management. 

Chahida currently works for Airservices Australia, Australia’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), who safely manage 11% of the world airspace. With over 10 years of experience working in the Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems domain in both technical and leadership roles, she has led an extremely diverse team of software and systems engineers that provide frontline engineering support to real time, large-scale ATM systems. Like most leadership roles, she was responsible for management of a works program, resource management, project delivery support and planning, recruitment, mentoring/coaching and performance management.

Seeking to challenge herself and live to her 2019 mantra of pushing herself out of her comfort zone, Chahida accepted secondment into a senior leadership role; Service Design and Alignment Manager, an extremely challenging role that she thoroughly enjoys. People who know Chahida would describe her as a great role model, breaking down several stereotypes by being a female Muslim leader, from a non-English speaking background, in what is traditionally a male dominated field. Chahida practices what she preaches, mentoring in The Future Through Collaboration (TFTC) program, a formal cross defence industry mentoring program for female engineers and project managers. She is also a Women in Aviation International and Australian charter.

Outside Air Traffic Management, Chahida is on the board at Migrant Resource Centre North West Region (MRC NWR), a non-for-profit, community based organisation, in the role of Assistant Treasurer. Her contributions and leading example were acknowledged in 2019’s Women Acknowledging Women’s Award – STEM Contribution Achievement

ADVICE: How to change the gender diversity ratios in STEM

While progress is being made in some areas, there is still a dire lack of diversity in STEM fields overall. Women still only hold about one in four STEM jobs, and many in the industry end up leaving due to hostility in the workplace.

We asked four highly accomplished women in STEM what can be done to drive change on this important issue.

  • In your view, what is the biggest thing driving the local and global shortage of women working in tech and data? What is the low-hanging fruit for each of governments, corporates, and individuals to improve the ratio?

Jamie K Leach, CEO, Open Data Australia:

The topic of diversity and equity in technology is a complex subject that requires many initiatives at multiple levels to address the disproportion.

  • Improve Education – A change in education from the earliest of ages to break down stereotypes and to bolster the number of girls studying science and technology from primary school, through to secondary school and onto tertiary education. Formal education, paired with exposure to real-world professionals through mentoring and work experience opportunities.
  • Champion Role Models – Champion role models need to be visible and accessible as both women in tech, and the male champions that support and promote equality and diversity in the tech industry.
  • Challenge Negative Stereotypes – Negative stereotypes exist from the earliest of years, with segregation in toys, entertainment and through the direction of play-based learning during infancy and early childhood education. Also, the perceived requirement for women to form women-only networking groups and forums and to separate the genders is continuing to exacerbate the gap. While support from other women can be nurturing and beneficial, it does not assist in breaking down stereotypes. It does not help in correcting the exposure to hiring executives and reducing the barriers that exist through network theory and segregation to decision-makers.
  • Create and Foster Networking and Mentoring Opportunities – networking and mentoring opportunities need to consider the following in their creation:
    • Exposure to decision-makers – executives and recruiters
    • Visibility to successful and passionate females in tech
    • The opportunity to showcase up-and-coming talent
    • A safe environment for females and students to ask open and honest questions without fearing judgement or retribution
    • The ability to celebrate appointments and promotions publicly to perpetuate success stories
    • Continuing education and development at the highest levels

  • What can today’s STEM leaders be doing to empower women and those of diverse backgrounds in their careers?

Dr Bianca Capra, Senior Aerospace Engineering Lecturer, UNSW:

There are many things our STEM leaders of today can do empower women and those from diverse backgrounds. Some are small, and some are large but all have positive impact. My advice would be to be mindful of your own unconscious bias and to openly and honestly listen to the challenges, experiences and opinions of minorities in your areas. We can all learn a lot by listening to others and reflecting on what we hear, and how we can each collectively act to improve and advocate for systematic structural changes so that diversity and inclusivity are core to our businesses.

Some immediate practical advice would be to mentor, promote and advocate for those in all minority groups that work for you – look for the differences people bring, value these differences, and help them develop and find their voice and passion.

Take the manel pledge! As a female aerospace engineer that was never taught by a female at university level, and regularly attends conferences where all keynote speakers, and most session chairs are male I say enough is enough! Women have always, and continue to, contribute to engineering and STEM more broadly. Be bold as STEM leaders and wear your values, don’t agree to sit on panels that don’t include true diversity and be open and honest about your choices. Without this visible and vocal support of our STEM leaders we will not be able to enact effective change. 

Understand that the system we are working in was designed primarily for one demographic only and that as a result the structures and mechanisms supporting this system are inherently biased. By recognising and accepting this, our leaders can then make effective change to promote greater diversity, such as introducing flexible working for all, supporting staff who are returning from long career breaks, looking for and valuing the knowledge and experience that diverse teams bring, and redefining the metrics we use to measure success so that it is reflective of all.

Give women and others from diverse backgrounds the tools to succeed – showcase, highlight and value the ideas and thinking they bring to teams. Importantly, empowering women and those from other underrepresented groups requires showing your current staff the important role we all have in creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment.

I would like to add that leaders and influences come in many forms. Parents, teachers and peers all have a key role in shaping the identity and self believe of the young people around them, so in my opinion these are also today’s STEM leaders. Listen to the passions of the young around you, use inclusive language, encourage and support their interest in STEM, and never say ‘never’ or ‘yes but …’.

  • Why do you think there is a lack of diversity in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths) fields? What can practitioners, organisations, and communities do to overcome these barriers? 

Dr Kudzai Kanhutu, infectious diseases physician, telehealth Clinical lead and Deputy Medical Information Officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital:

It boils down to meaningful opportunities and informed choice. Where there are historical power imbalances it can be very difficult to shift the balance and provide everyone with equal opportunities.  If I had my time again I may well have chosen to study Engineering and not Medicine. However, I wasn’t in a position to pursue that option because I didn’t really understand at the time the incredible opportunities that might be available if I chose engineering, physics or pure maths.

We need to get better at communicating what is available to people and how it can apply in their contexts, finding creative personalised ways to teach and foster STEAM curiosity.  Often the best people to come up with creative solutions to problems are those most affected by it.

  • In your view, what is the biggest thing driving the local and global shortage of women working in tech and data? What is the low-hanging fruit for each of governments, corporates, and individuals to improve the ratio?

Courtney Blackman, CMO, YBF Ventures:

There are so many layered factors that have pervaded modern culture for millennia including hiring practices to media portrayal of women as to what constitutes a “male” job and what constitutes a “female” job. Historically, tech has been framed as a “male” job. From a media perspective and more recently in regard to popular television shows focused on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) world – The Big Bang Theory and Silicon Valley, which concluded their final seasons last year, were both hotbeds of same-old tropes with men taking centre stage and women being the support characters. It was only in later episodes of The Big Bang Theory that female scientists were introduced as characters, where previously, it was four male “geniuses” and a blonde woman who was both a waitress and struggling actress. I’ll put my hand up and say I’m as guilty as anyone for watching shows like these and I’m fully aware of the gender biases slipping stealthily into my own brain. Unfortunately, these biases will permeate through to the next generations as they will forever live on through re-runs (both on television and the way people think).

When hiring, everyone from the founder of a tech startup to HR departments in larger companies already have biases in place, and more often than not, the pool of potential tech employees is an omnipresent visual of masculinity. Females, regrettably, are more reticent to put themselves up for tech roles as the roles are deemed and enforced as “not for them”.

With that said, there are so many inspiring women working in tech, but sadly the turnover is twice as high for senior women working in tech than men. And three times more males found startups in Australia than females, according to Startup Muster’s 2018 annual report.

Education targeting young women in STEM will certainly help with a future inclusive workforce, but today, programs need to be put into place to retain female tech leadership, which would in turn have a positive impact on recruitment and retention for junior tech roles.

I’m the CMO (and sit on the Executive Leadership Team) of tech and innovation hub, YBF – which has offices in Melbourne and Sydney. The company upgraded its leadership at the end of 2017 and one of the key pillars of the new leadership was to take an active approach to gender equality. When I joined the team at the end of 2017 there was one female on the team. With the hiring of me, that number was inched up to two, but our new CEO wanted to see parity. Over the next six to twelve months we worked together as a team on recruitment and by mid-2018, we reached gender parity. We have fluctuated a few times where we’ve actually had more females on the team then male, but normally the average is 50-50. This has been an incredible achievement – to shift the entire culture of Australia’s most renowned tech and innovation hub from being primarily male to being gender inclusive. In 2018 when we did reach parity for the first time, one of the men on the team was actually moved to tears as it was never a priority for the company previously and he realised how important it was.

Part of my specific role in shifting our company’s culture was developing and directing the Lift Off Awards. The awards take place annually in Melbourne and they celebrate gender and cultural diversity in fintech. To date, the awards have gained endorsement from incredible female leaders including Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Sally Capp, Australia’s first Fintech Minister, Senator Jane Hume and the Chief Executive Partner of Lander & Rogers, Genevieve Collins.

PEOPLE: How Courtney Blackman’s international career in music and fashion led her to Melbourne’s tech industry

Courtney Blackman has worked in London, Melbourne, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Costa Rica and more. Following a long and impressive career in the music and fashion industries, she recently shifted her career into the tech sphere and is now CMO at YBF Ventures.

Courtney has shared her experiences working in different countries, different industries, and among constant change.

  • You’ve had an incredibly international and diverse career across multiple industries. What have been the biggest challenges of moving your career across countries and sectors, and how did you overcome those challenges?

I’ve loved the challenge of diverse roles across multiple geographies. Straight out of university, I worked in real estate and hospitality in Costa Rica; then moved to the Dominican Republic to set up processes and systems to create a sustainable back office for a school for vulnerable children. Then I moved back in America (I was born and raised in the States) and did stints at the World Trade Office in Vermont and at an institutional investment advisory firm outside of Chicago. After that, I side-stepped in to fashion and music after moving to London and hovered there for 15 years working in PR, television and publishing – I actually exited two small businesses in London, one which I founded, one which my partner and I acquired. Sandwiched in the London run, my partner and I historically restored and operated a hundred-year-old opera house and ran an art gallery – both in Canada*.

*We don’t have children, so we do a lot of stuff, and then more stuff on the side.

I’ve been in Australia for nearly three years and once again have shifted to a new industry: tech.

You know when you get hired at a new company and the onboarding takes a few weeks, as you’re learning new systems, a new corporate culture and new skills? I think the same can be said for changing careers and moving to new countries ­– you have to take the time to learn the key components that will enable you to do your job. It’s just a different context – and maybe an actual new language.

One of the most noticeable things for me when I moved to Australia was the lack of any network whatsoever. In London, I had spent 15 years nurturing businesses and a solid, wide-reaching network. You don’t realise how important that is until it’s not there. When I moved to Australia, it wasn’t just moving to another country where I knew no one, it was moving to a new industry with a network of zero people in it. I’m nearly three years in and am still building my network, still always learning things about tech and I try to squash any feelings of being an imposter the moment they creep into my brain.

  • Many people dream of an international career – is it as glamorous as it sounds? 

Working internationally is an amazing way to deeply experience a country or culture. When you go on a holiday for a contracted period of time, you’re not deep diving into anything and in fact, you might actually be participating in a “set up” tourist experience.

Spending serious time somewhere allows you to understand deeper cultural norms – whether a country is high-context or low-context if it’s polite inclusive or polite exclusive to linguistics and beliefs and how everything spills over into everything everyone does including the way they conduct business.

Once you get past closing down a life in one place and moving across an ocean or a continent, get used to the time difference and realise you don’t have any friends or family around, you have to move fast to plant roots and get your head around your new career.

It’s a lot of moving parts all at once and it can be pretty stressful with its fair share of embarrassing moments. When I moved to the Dominican Republic from Costa Rica, I was at the airport and thought I was asking the person behind the counter for a plastic bag. It turned out in Costa Rican vernacular I was asking for a bag; in Dominican Spanish, I had requested a certain area of the male anatomy! Whoops. Even in the UK, one of my bosses once asked me to fetch him a rubber and I was horrified, as growing up in the US, the word “rubber” was synonymous with condom. He in fact meant the small rubber bit on the end of a pencil. Phew.

Is it glamourous? Due to the nature of my job in London (fashion and music), I got to attend some incredible events and meet extraordinary people. Looking back on it now, sometimes it feels like it was someone else’s life.

  • What instigated your shift from the fashion and music industries, into tech? 

First off, I loved working in fashion and music and as mentioned above, I got to meet and work with remarkable people from all over the world, from so many different backgrounds.

An opportunity was presented to my partner and I to move to Australia. The company that I work for, YBF, is also the company that he works for. YBF’s Board was looking for a globally-experienced CEO in 2017 and my partner was the top contender (having had executive roles at BP, Motorola and GE). He was like, “Do you want to move to Australia?” I’m always up for an adventure, so I said, “Yes”. We shut down our lives in other countries and here we are.

When my partner took the reins of YBF, the company needed to internalise the marketing and PR function. As I had run a PR company for so many years in the UK, I was tapped on the shoulder. Doing PR and marketing for a tech company isn’t all that different from the fashion and music industries – a small business (be it a designer or a musician or a tech company) is a small business – all the same fundamental elements are there – they are just different languages with different sets of vocabulary as you move in to specifics.

  • What’s your advice to others considering a career shift into tech? Why?

Almost every aspect of our lives is touched by tech. Why not be involved in shaping it?

  • You’ve mentioned before that diversity is important. What role has it played in your life and career? 

I’ve always been curious about different cultures. When I was very young, I was almost magnetically drawn to foreign exchange students. I was obsessed about anything different and learning about things that were unfamiliar to what I knew and was comfortable with. I’m still the same, and with a more experienced take on the world, understand how important diversity is. Understanding the way other people think and operate is so important not for just for making up a diverse workforce, but for creating products and services that reach a wider audience more effectively and efficiently.

Prior to the global pandemic, when we were holding regular tech events at YBF, my team was always very cognizant of trying to create as diverse panels as possible and we know that it’s not something that we can do on our own. We turn to our networks for panellist and guest speaker suggestions. My personal goal is to not just to represent gender diversity, but cultural diversity as well, which is often an afterthought in the world of tech. I’ve learned so much and continue to learn from Winitha Bonney about how women of colour are marginalised and look to Winitha to make sure YBF is practicing diversity in as many aspects as possible.

  • Where have you seen diversity make the most positive impact in the workforce, and where have you seen it create a negative impact? 

Diversity shifts behaviour for the better in a workforce. I’ve been in a meeting with only male coworkers and the one leading the meeting only made eye contact with the other males and if I tried to speak, I was met with a sarcastic laugh and an eye roll – like how could I (a female) possibly have anything to add. It turned out another female in the company was also feeling gender excluded by this individual. It was a problem and one that was eventually sorted with the removal of the individual and replacing him with people that shared the company’s values. The impact was immediately positive across the entire team, which was an incredible revelation around inclusivity. That person’s behaviour had made everyone uncomfortable and less likely to share ideas.

  • What are your biggest priorities at YBF this year?

The world has shifted significantly since the pandemic, but our mission at YBF is always to help startups to scale, scaleups to succeed and corporates to innovate. We’ll see how the next several months take shape, but our priority will always be working toward those three key company goals.

Later in the year, we’ll plan on opening more internal innovation hubs. Presently, we’re home to Melbourne’s largest fintech hub, Australia’s first Web 3.0 and legaltech hubs, and we’ve recently opened a proptech hub in Sydney.

We also aim to hold our Lift Off Awards later in the year and will continue leading from the front in regards to tech-focused content creation: we produce three branded newsletters, multiple videos each month, written content on our News page and last year we launched a podcast: People Building Businesses.

  • How are you integrating diversity initiatives into the organisation? What do you foresee becoming your biggest challenges? 

Along with making sure our own team is diverse – we’re 50/50 gender balanced and we come from seven countries, speak over eight languages and have an age range from 20 to mid-50s – we have KPIs in place around diversity and support female-led events and diversity-focused initiatives. Our newsletters are all edited with great effort to ensure diverse representation and we make sure that the guests for our videos and our podcasts are a balanced representation of all of the people that make up the tech industry in Australia.

Inclusivity will always be something that we and any company should make sure is managed alongside diversity. You can build a diverse team, but if inclusivity isn’t part of the value proposition, diversity fails.

  • For other business leaders wanting to encourage and enable diversity in their organisations, what’s your advice?

It’s not hard to do. Put a policy place around diversity (and inclusivity) and make sure that everyone supports it. For example, at YBF, we have a community statement that is sent to every new member and anyone using our event space has to sign off in agreement to it and ensure that they and their guests acknowledge our values. The statement expresses that YBF is an environment that fosters inclusivity and embraces diversity regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, disability, age, gender identity or sexual orientation. It also goes on to say that members, partners, guests or anyone passing through our doors are required to treat people with respect.

As far as building a diverse team, it’s just a matter of effort – thinking about the language of job postings and the recruitment process to ensure that unconscious biases are eliminated and an active plan is not only in place, but being followed.

About the expert

Prior to relocating to Australia, Courtney was a firm fixture within London’s dynamic fashion and music landscape and scaled and sold two media businesses. Courtney founded and acted as producer and editor-in-chief of The Industry, a multi-platform media company that was exited in Courtney founded London’s Forward PR in 2004 and served as managing director for 13 years. Courtney has also been featured in and provided commentary for numerous publications including the CNN, NBC’s Today Show, The Guardian, Business of Fashion and Vogue.

ADVICE: How Olivia started Bromleigh Capital at 23 years old and her guidance to entrepreneurs

At the age of 23, Olivia Molesworth started her own capital fund from her home, loaning almost $1 million to businesses in its first year, 40% of which were women-owned.

Olivia is one of many women in the VC, startup, entrepreneurial and technology spheres operating and succeeding in a male-dominated environment, and doing her utmost to support other women in these fields.

In this interview, Olivia shares why and how she started her own capital fund, Bromleigh Capital, the biggest challenges others in the industry should watch out for, and guidance for those considering starting their own fund.

  • What sparked the initial idea for Bromleigh Capital? 

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed working in the financial services industry at PwC and am appreciative of the technical foundation I acquired there, I felt drawn to the entrepreneurial aspects of business and decided to pursue a career in the start-up space. I therefore left PwC and successfully worked at two eCommerce start-ups. These roles allowed me to develop a strong strategic and operational knowledge of early stage businesses.

While employed as the Head of Operations and State Manager respectively for these two start-up businesses, I quickly identified a desperate need for affordable and sustainable debt funding for small businesses to be able to grow, employ people and support themselves. Both of the businesses I worked for struggled to reach their growth potential due to an inability to access affordable capital. I have also had a deep personal interest and belief in micro-financing and the role that such financing plays in allowing people, particularly those that do not have a highly educated background, to reach their full independent potential.

After extensive market and regulatory research, I began to understand the predatory lending behaviour exhibited by the banks and online lenders that was commonplace in the market. Prudential changes and the Financial Services Royal Commission had meant that the large Australian banks had significantly reduced small business lending, and it was increasingly difficult for small businesses to access traditional funding without extensive physical collateral. This vacuum was being filled by the emergence of unethical online lenders and credit providers operating with opaque structures and pricing.

In exploring the idea of Bromleigh, it became apparent to me that there was real investor interest to gain exposure to classes of ethical investment, and Bromleigh could offer a unique conduit for investors to fulfil their social investment goals.

Bromleigh was therefore established as Australia’s first ethically focused small business financier, fully dedicated to ethical lending and serving impact businesses. We offer unique products with simplistic pricing, being simple no-fee fixed-rate revolving and term facilities, together with business mentoring services.

  • What was the original purpose for the organisation? How has this changed over time? 

The original purpose of the organisation was to provide affordable and sustainable debt funding, in an ethical manner, to impact small businesses. This goal has not changed, and we are committed to supporting impact businesses more than ever. If anything, we have developed an even narrower focus, with a particular passion for female founded programs and young entrepreneurs. We try to do everything we can to propel minority founders that struggle to access capital otherwise.

Over time we’ve tried to increase the importance placed on rewarding businesses attempting to create meaningful impacts within their communities. While there has been great progress regarding impact equity funding in Australia and many other countries, there has been effectively no focus on providing debt financing solutions to this sector. We have developed a program which financially rewards high impact Australian small businesses.

  • What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with building, developing and growing Bromleigh Capital? Why? 

Raising capital as a young, relatively inexperienced female founder in a male dominated industry was definitely a big challenge, and it continues to be an ongoing challenge, one I know so many other female founders similarly face. My own personal experience has only furthered my desire to continue working in this space, attempting to improve the industry’s attitude towards investing in female founders.

  • What’s your advice to others considering starting their own capital fund? 

I would give three simple tips to those considering starting their own capital fund:

  1. Get your books and backend systems in place. This is a highly regulated industry, with stringent compliance rules. It is imperative that your backend systems are transparent, compliant, and run efficiently. Taking out loans is a stressful task for many small businesses, so the user experience needs to be seamless for the customer.
  2. Ensure that you have a clear and narrow vision. What is the purpose of your fund? Who do you hope to provide for? What is the gap in the market that you’re trying to fill? What is your vision for your customers?
  3. Establish the right networks and ensure you have the right relationships in place. Starting any kind of business is a huge challenge, let alone one in such a regulated space. Asking for help is inevitable, so you will need to surround yourself with mentors and networks that can support you.
  • What are the biggest changes you noticed in the capital funding sphere in 2019, and how do you expect them to impact the industry in 2020? 

The markets in 2020 are likely to be beyond anything we expected due to the coronavirus outbreak. 2019 was a unique year as it was the first year after the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. We saw significant tightening of capital for small businesses, resulting in a decreased availability of funds.

Due to the coronavirus we are now in unchartered waters, the effect and depth of the pullback is something which we can’t yet predict. However, what is certain, is that it will harder than ever for small business to access funding.

About the expert

After working in the start-up space for over two years, Olivia identified a common struggle for young businesses to access funding. Olivia founded Bromleigh Capital, a FinTech business providing affordable and sustainable financing solutions to Australia’s small business working capital needs.

Olivia is responsible for all marketing channels and underlying marketing strategy, including dictation of direction and management of digital marketing strategy and execution. She manages all customer relations and customer service, including all interactions with potential and existing clients. Olivia is responsible for creation and maintenance of branding, communications and community presence.

Olivia overviews financial due diligence and credit check procedures undertaken for all potential clients. She overviews of all company financials and all external relations relating to company finances. Olivia is responsible for all elements of capital raising and investor relations and partnerships. Olivia has ultimate responsibility of all internal systems and operations, data collection, technical infrastructure and operational management.

Outside of her work, Olivia is an accomplished musician and plays violin in the Old Scotch Symphony Orchestra, where she sits on the committee as Treasurer and Vice-President. Olivia is committed to women’s education and sits on the committee of the St Catherine’s Old Girls Association as Treasurer. Additionally, she sits on the committee of the Toorak Liberals Branch as Secretary and sits on the Marketing and Fundraising Committee of the National Trust, being passionate about heritage and conservation.

ADVICE: Consider the possibilities of mobility from a business perspective, Look at developing nations

While Coronavirus is threatening the future of globalisation and its fundamental definition, Adele Beachley, Vice President JAPAC at Wizy EMM, believes strongly in the value of looking beyond one’s own geographical borders to generate innovative and progressive workforces.

In this interview, she shares her views on what businesses can learn from their international counterparts, and her advice on how to action the successes and learnings from innovators around the world.

  • In your view, how are Australian businesses and leaders performing on the global tech stage? Why? 

As we meet with representatives of global organisations or with local resellers or end users in Australia, we find they are only interested in who our customers are in this market and in understanding the use cases from this market. Of course, you can appreciate interest in local experience and proof points but they typically aren’t interested in hearing about learnings or implementations in other markets.

This is anecdotal, but it can extend to hiring practices as well, in that Australians returning from years of overseas work often find that experience isn’t quite as valued as it might be and they need to shore up local experience before they can get the role they’re seeking.

That has the potential to stifle the market. There is much innovation going on across JAPAC, in some cases driven by necessity to overcome obstacles that perhaps this country doesn’t experience to the same degree, that can provide inspiration for Australian business leaders.

When I meet with business leaders elsewhere in JAPAC, local use cases are valued but they’re interested to hear stories regardless of region because it helps with their own idea generation.

I would encourage Australian organisations to consider great use cases from elsewhere and how you can transfer that success to Australia. 

  • For most business leaders globally, innovation and digital transformation are top priorities. What are the best ways for businesses to ensure they’re approaching these in line with best practice, while also thinking outside the box? 

Consider the possibilities of mobility from a business perspective – Enterprise and business mobility extends well beyond the fleet of mobile devices used by office staff and knowledge workers, whether they be provided or BYOD. It’s the fleet of workers delivering groceries or mail, the retail staff. It’s about devices supporting the logistics industry, the  connected devices in organisations’ IoT projects and in industrial IoT settings. This kind of mobility is solving problems every day and there is so much more potential. It’s exciting!

Be open to new sources of inspiration – Many businesses and nations look to Silicon Valley as the gold standard for technology inspiration. Visit Stanford. Go to Salesforce. Visit a Google campus. Wander around Berkeley. Done.

I suggest looking to developing nations. India, Kenya, Nigeria all have fantastic mobile networks. They skipped some “progress steps” because there was no copper in the ground or network to upgrade, and went mobile from the outset. There are learnings there that can be applied to more developed nations now looking at solving problems with greater mobility.  

In India everyone has a digital fingerprint on record, which opened up digital banking, services, payment etc. for which ID is required where previously poverty and low literacy levels were hindering progress. Also in India is Bikxie Pink, an app-based two-wheeler taxi and on-demand delivery service for women by women. It provides a safe service for women, as well as training and jobs. Its efficiency, affordability and societal contribution are impressive.

Bikxie Pink helps people travel that “last mile” from transit services to home, solving a problem with mobile service, cheap smartphones, an app and affordable mobile device management. In Sydney, the B line bus and a bunch of parking stations were introduced to help solve commuter traffic congestion problems. But in many cases there’s no bus service to the B Line station, so people drive. Someone could set up a last mile service, perhaps a carpool or shuttle solution with a mobile booking app, but so far that’s not a problem I see anyone working on. 

In Indonesia, you can have many things delivered by motorcycle, thanks to a company called Gojek, which has become part of the vernacular. You can “Gojek” a ride, food, a manicure, a hair stylist, a handyman and much more. It’s a highly lucrative business; a logistics company, payment platform and online marketplace for myriad services enabling many businesses and sole traders to operate successfully.

If you are not looking to the innovation from developing nations you’re missing out.

  • What are some of the greatest innovations you witnessed in 2019? 

Bikxie Pink and Gojek are definitely up there.

Almost 2 billion people are living without electricity day to day. The Solar Puff solar powered lantern is an elegant solar lighting invention that leverages Japanese origami. They are beautiful, portable, eco-friendly, convenient and ship flat. Light allows students to study and do homework after dark, bathrooms can be lit so individuals can feel safe, families can see one another across the dinner table. This is the kind of life-changing innovation we need. 

The giant Tesla battery in South Australia is an impressive project and one that I hope will inspire more like it.

The Android operating system allows for low price point devices to be used as fleet devices, and for the creation of all sorts of connected devices at economical price points. Adding RBM (Rich Business Messaging), Android’s version of iMessage, to that is exciting because of the innovation it enables and encourages.  

  • How do you think those ideas will evolve in 2020 and what can business leaders learn from them when planning for their year ahead? 

The situation evolving right now because of the Coronavirus means that suddenly a more mobile and remote workforce is vital. Every organisation should have or develop a work-from-home policy in response to this situation, but in general it makes sense for organisations to be prepared for a natural increase in remote work.

We’re seeing mobility growth and innovation in ecommerce and along the supply chain. With situations such as Coronavirus and the rush on certain types of goods, further innovations will be forced in supply chain and warehouse management systems due to the need to move goods and restock shelves much more quickly. Mobility is central to this.

Increasingly, mobile devices will be designed not for the individual user, but for the task at hand, creating huge data sets useful for predictive analytics, that only make sense if you’re working in the cloud. 

What’s good for small businesses is that it means that the set of tools from a tech perspective are the same for everyone. You can be a business with 10 employees and have enterprise grade software and mobility without having to pay over the odds; you can leverage the cloud to scale up and scale down to needs.

About the expert

Adele Beachley leads Wizy EMM’s business and operations across the JAPAC region and also manages WizyEMM’s key global strategic Partnerships. Adele’s experience is rare: 25 years of experience in telecoms, mobility, hardware and software services in the enterprise and consumer sectors. She has lived and managed the wave of transformation from the introduction of the first mobile networks and devices through to the new era of big data and the possibilities cloud services can deliver. Her career has seen her take on senior leadership roles in large, multinational technology corporations all over the world, acting as a strategist, growth architect and sales innovator.

Shifting gears to a more dynamic, agile and startup technology world, at Wizy EMM, Adele’s exceptional track record in business development and partnerships, attention to detail and execution to plan coupled with a depth of industry knowledge, relationships, insights and understanding of international drivers and perspective,  accelerate WizyEMM’s global mission: to  provide the best innovative mobility and cloud solutions that give Partners and Customers a distinct leading edge in managing their businesses and associated costs.

Holding a BA (Hons) Degree from the University of Salford, Adele is a multilingual, passionate and proactive leader. Based in Australia, Adele works across JAPAC and has been recognised in the Indian market as one of the Top 20 Women in IT and one of the Top 25 Channel Heads. In her personal life, Adele has a family, is an avid gardener, beach lover, runner, volunteer, charity board member, fundraiser and diversity advocate.

PEOPLE: Debunking common misconceptions of hiring blind professionals – Rhonda Partain

Rhonda Partain is one of millions of Americans and 2.2 billion people globally who are legally blind or visually impaired.

In Rhonda’s experience, there are common misconceptions that being blind hinders someone from being able to work effectively, creates excessive costs for an employer, and limits their ability to travel for work.

Today, Rhonda is debunking these myths in the workplace and does her utmost to ensure employers and the professional workforce overall gets a more accurate understanding of the true capabilities of blind people. She is a customer service level 1 tech support person for Serotek Corporation, public speaker, and CEO of Inspiravate Enterprises LLC.

In this interview, she shares her experiences as a blind person in the workplace, observations of employers that don’t understand or welcome diversity, and how she sees diversity evolving in the corporate sphere.

  • You’ve coined the term ‘inspiravate’. What does this mean to you? Why was it important to introduce this term?

Inspiravate means to inspire and motivate. Often people have said I’m an inspiration. They see I am blind and live life as a child. I climbed trees because other kids said I couldn’t. I rode a bicycle. I attended public school before mainstreaming was cool. I never allowed my blindness to stop me.  I’m married, have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. I graduated from college and work for a company that sells access technology. I don’t want people to feel I’m an inspiration just because I manage to live life to the fullest. I want to motivate them to overcome their own personal challenges. We all have challenges of some sort. My challenge just happens to be very noticeable.

  • How have your personal experiences impacted the work you do today and what drives you? 

I work as a customer service level 1 tech support person for Serotek Corporation. I truly enjoy helping other visually impaired or blind people learn how they can navigate and even play on the internet. It can be challenging understanding new software. I know – I’ve been there before.

I am patient and go step by step with my explanations. I am empathetic to customers who have recently lost their sight. It can feel devastating at first. I listen and offer encouragement.

My own experience has taught me that many employers are just ignorant. They see a person who is blind and immediately they assume I couldn’t do their job. Education, access technology, and blindness organizations help many to live out their life with happiness. The main barrier to employment to people with a disability is the attitudes of companies. It won’t matter if I have technology that will read me text on my computer screen; it won’t matter that I can travel independently with a guide dog if those with hiring authority continue to hold to their negative perceptions of disability. I don’t even like the word disability. Dis means to subtract. I would be having a minus in my abilities and that just isn’t true.

  • What are the biggest misconceptions about diversity and inclusion you come across among the businesses and business leaders you work with? How do you believe society can overcome these? 

Businesses think that accommodating a person with a disability will be expensive for them. They don’t bother to investigate. Most accommodations are very low cost. I just feel that many employers are quick to say they value diversity, but their actions say otherwise.

I remember interviewing over the phone for a customer service job. I felt the interview had went great. I was later told that I should have disclosed my blindness. I told them the job had nothing to do with sight. It required I answer calls, make notes of the calls, answer customer concerns and forward on calls that needed escalation. They didn’t end up hiring me.

Companies need to be told of successful workers who have different abilities. When they conduct an interview, their concern should be – “Does this person possess the skills and education needed to perform the job duties?”

  • In your experience, how has the diversity and inclusion debate changed in the last five years, and how do you think it will evolve in the next five years?

I believe people are more aware of diversity than when I attended college in 1983. Many web sites are now accessible. I can shop at Target and Walmart. I can do my banking online and don’t have to have someone else know about my financial records. Many apps on the iPhone are helpful, from telling me what color a shirt is to reading directions on a package of cake mix. Money might be green, but businesses don’t care who gives them money. Many legal suits have caused companies to realize that sites must be accessible to all.

I do see improvement and I look forward to a day when a blind person, a person who is deaf, and a person who uses a wheelchair can compete equally for jobs and services.

I have great hope for the future. Diversity makes a company great. No company wants workers who are all the same. I am a great problem solver having had to find alternative methods of cooking, cleaning, raising children and working. I don’t give the word ‘can’t’ any respect. I find a way.

About the expert

Rhonda Partain is a Public Speaker who evangelizes on a myriad of topics from diversity and inclusion to advocacy for the differently-abled of every skillset. In addition to being an integral part of the Serotek Corporation as a Customer Service Specialist and a Tier One Technical Support Specialist Rhonda is CEO of Inspiravate Enterprises LLC, a company founded by her and her husband to represent her in her public endeavors. She has been featured as an Essayist with Pop-Up Magazine, a multi-media theater presentation from San Francisco, California and has toured all over the United States during the past three years, recounting her life in an essay entitled Blind Date. Rhonda lives in Bremen, Georgia with her husband of thirty-five years, Ben, has two daughters and five grandchildren.

Rhonda holds a BA in Psychology and Sociology from Liberty University in Virginia and a MA in Vocational Rehabilitation from University of Kentucky.