If you see it, you can be it

At a recent startup event Joanna Greenlees used a pitching opportunity to draw attention to the lack of female founders and entrepreneurs in Australia. She talked passionately about doubting her own qualifications, experience and value; what the barriers are to women founding their own startups and what we can all do to solve the problem. For International Women’s Day 2018 Joanna’s put pen to paper to encourage us all to help women see entrepreneurship as a viable career pathway.

Joanna Greenlees is the Chief Information Officer at Zentivo, an InsurTech firm aiming to revolutionise the insurance claim lodgement process. Joanna has been attracted to Queensland from New South Wales as part of the Advance Queensland Hot DesQ program.

Joanna holds a Master of Commerce specialising in strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship from the University of Sydney. Joanna also holds a Master of Environmental Law and a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University.

Joanna Greenlees

I was so excited to have been selected to come to Queensland with the Hot DesQ program in September last year. I was particularly looking forward to mentoring other startups in Queensland as part of the program.

However, in the back of my mind I have to admit I was thinking:

What do I have to say? How could I possibly help other startups? I haven’t got enough experience, I haven’t got enough education. I haven’t got enough

This is despite having multiple Masters degrees — one specialising in entrepreneurship; winning startup competitions; attending the exclusive MIT Innovation and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp; successfully raising money and engaging large client partners.

This paradigm of confidence has been more obvious over the past six months, not only in myself, but in other Australian entrepreneurs. It is often referred to as the confidence gap, which is particularly insidious for women and can be debilitating; which is a problem as women who don’t have a positive view of their capabilities are less likely to start a business (according to the 2017 Women’s Entrepreneurship Report).

Joanna at the Hot DesQ Showcase

In Australia between 15 to 25% of startups have female founders depending on the industry, with technology industries having lower female founder rates. You may look at this figure of 25% and think that’s not so bad, but that still leaves 75% of founders as men. On top of this according to the 2017 Startup Muster Report almost 40% of startups are employing zero full-time women, resulting in all male startup teams. We know that startup teams with one or more female founders performed 63% better than all male teams.

Psychologically, we take in a lot of information unconsciously, and because women in entrepreneurship are not seeing other women in entrepreneurship around them: in their group of friends, their parents, their communities, this impacts the confidence to be able to do it themselves.

If they can see others doing it they are more likely to think they can do it themselves “if you can see it, you can be it”.

When I compare with my overseas Hot DesQ companions, we as Australians are really uncomfortable about talking about successes, accomplishments and failures. Often referred to as ‘tall poppy syndrome’, essentially, if you seem too big for your boots you’ll be cut down to size by your peers. Much of the time, particularly for women, we don’t like to talk about our stories so as not to be seen as ‘boasting’. I myself have been party to this, by keeping my successes to myself.

But unless we start to spread the message of our journey, to speak to other women, to mentor others than we won’t be helping others to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

I know for myself, I didn’t see many Australian female entrepreneurial role models that I could look to and relate to. I believe the only reason I started to think the entrepreneurial path was possible for me was because a good friend of 20 years had started her own business when she was 23 years old. Now into her 30s and after much hard work, the business is wildly successful and still growing.

Joanna pitching at a Hot DesQ welcome event

While I was a mentor in Longreach for the Techstars Startup Weekend Women Outback Edition, I met so many amazing women. One in particular had decades of experience in the meat processing industry. Just talking with her briefly I could see she had such an in-depth knowledge of the area, contacts and enthusiasm for making a difference. But she was so hard on herself, and her perceived lack of enough experience, it was heartbreaking. What if she had seen a female role model from the outback meat industry years ago, would she have started a business years ago?

So how can we all help?

There are some great initiatives building momentum, including more podcasts focused on women’s stories, grants for women, and startup events for women, but what we need is to spread the message of entrepreneurship in our circles:

1. If you are a women, talk about accomplishments and aspirations, goals, successes and failures to friends and family. Show them how you’ve done it.

2. Ask the local school if they need people to talk about their entrepreneurial experiences.

3. Ask about other’s stories and then listen, encourage by being supportive and interested in what others have to say.

4. Be curious, recognise unconscious reactions to other’s achievements or failures, and if it’s judgment that is just an unconscious reaction, it can be overcome as we move to being curious.

5. Spread the message of the stories you hear, particularly female stories. You never know who’s listening and needing to hear that one piece of encouragement.

Of course, this won’t solve the problem in isolation but if we do this, perhaps we can start to build the confidence of women to see entrepreneurship a viable path, particularly for those who don’t know where to start.


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Last updated 21 Jun, 2018
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0) ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/au/ )

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