Inspiring Women CEOs and Business Leaders

by Angel Britanico on March 24, 2015 and last updated on August 18, 2016

Biologist Thomas Huxley once said, “The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher.”

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This sentiment rings true in the lives of every present-day working woman, who climbs up the corporate ladder while also looking out for their families and their own well-being.

Throughout history, media messages coupled with social, cultural and economic influences popularized the idea of women who waited to be swept off their feet. But time and time again, women prove that they could very well sweep up a storm in their own lives and that of others – all while shattering notions of glass slippers and glass ceilings that limit who they were, who they are and who they could be.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we teamed up with successful women CEOS and business leaders and asked them the following questions:

  • How did you get started in your current career?
  • Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?
  • As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?
  • Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?
  • What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?
  • What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Our partners for this project are CEOs, directors or founders of private and public organizations, as well as trainers and experts on a variety of fields. Click on the links below for quick access to each business leader’s answer:

  1. Johanna Walker – Public Speaking Coach
  2. Leticia Mooney — Content Strategist at Brutal Pixie
  3. Emma Hoffman — Serial entrepreneur and Co-founder of Class Hopper
  4. Melissa Abu-Gazaleh — Founder and CEO of Top Blokes Foundation
  5. Natalie Snelling and Eva Rado — Owners and Directors of 2 Mums 2 Help
  6. Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew — CEO of Soulstice Consultancy
  7. Duree Ross — President of Duree and Company
  8. Lucy Kendall — Head of Client and People Development at Granger Reis
  9. Amanda Bolt — Founder of Boardroom Mum
  10. Gail Hounslea — Managing Director of Wardworth
  11. Nicole Gruendl — Life Coach and Speaker
  12. Sarah-Jane Butler — Director of Parental Choice
  13. Karen Chaston — CEO of Alionment
  14. Megan Iemma – Founder of Tech Coach HQ
  15. Debbie Zita – Life Stylist, Success Coach and Author

Read on for their insights and experiences on balancing responsibilities at work and at home:

1. Johanna Walker — Public Speaking Coach 01

How did you get started in your current career?

I was a “starving artist” for years, teaching solo performance and storytelling, and painting houses and doing odd jobs to make ends meet. A student of mine asked me to coach her for an upcoming TED talk she was giving. I said sure, I’ll see what I can do. So I did, and I made a big difference.

I decided to hang a placard as a public speaking coach and started taking myself seriously as a business owner, and now have a thriving business. While I originally thought public speaking and performance/storytelling were different, I now have come back around to the roots of my business and the heart of my coaching business is in telling great stories.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

Myka McLaughlin, founder of Women in Community, a local business supporting women entrepreneurs. I had done Marie Forler’s B-School which was amazing content, but felt a little like a firehose coming at me and at that stage in my business I wasn’t able to integrate much. Working live with Myka, and in community with other local women entrepreneurs, is what turned my business around and allowed me to start putting all this new learning into action. The network of local women she continues to build and grow is an invaluable resource of support for me.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

For so many years I had no clue that I was capable of being the CEO of my own business. That was something men did. I had no idea my voice mattered. I had no idea I could take myself seriously and actually make money. I had no idea I had something deeply valuable to SELL. This was a huge awakening for me.

I believe a lot of these messages are what got under my skin as a result of sexism. So as a woman, to overcome them, and stand in my power and watch my business grow by leaps and bounds is amazing. Those old stories still creep in from time to time, but now my relationships with them is different, and I have powerful connections with other women to remind me of my value. Now, what I as a woman bring to my business is extraordinary.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

To teach them that as a leader, lots of people will “pin” lots of their own disappointments on you – in the shape of judgement and competitiveness and meanness. It’s important to be really solid in your own core and your own self-love to not let that stuff in.

I think it’s important for women to have practices that keep them connected to their own heart, their own truth, and their own values, so that when the “stuff” of the culture comes flying at them, and the madness of technology, and the competitive and speedy nature of the marketplace tries to suck them in, they have solid ground to stand on, and live their lives and run their businesses ON THEIR OWN TERMS. Way easier said than done, but that’s the work we all need to do.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

It means sometimes choosing to go for a hike with someone you love instead of doing that one more business training video. It means sometimes staying up late to finish some web copy instead of going to bed at the same time as your partner. It essentially means we have a choice about how we live our lives and how we run our businesses. My life. My business. I’m in the driver’s seat, so I get to choose. That’s balance to me.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

I grew up with the “starving artist” myth, thinking that artists had to be poor, and making lots of money was shallow and bad. I also am sad to say that I’m at the tail end of the generation that was waiting for a man to come support me so I didn’t really think I needed to make money.

I wish someone had told me the transformational magic that comes in owning your own business. The personal empowerment that comes from making a really solid and substantial income. That making money is not only possible, but empowering and transformative.

 

2. Leticia Mooney — Content Strategist at Brutal Pixie 02

How did you get started in your current career?

By literally diving in and carving my way forwards. My career history is peppered with a variety of industries and roles, a couple of failed businesses, an acquisition, and a new company. So I guess, I had a destination in mind and I’ve been driving forwards towards it ever since.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

My first one is my dad, who has owned a successful company for 25 years. I never used to listen to him – then my business failed, then I listened more closely. I learned how to work with his ideas without being overly influenced by them. I don’t have any really formal mentors. My attitude is that I can learn something from every experience every day – and I do.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

Not to me. I have been a publisher in a heavily male-dominated music genre, and never found it an issue. I’ve never been discriminated against because of my gender. I’ve never had a glass ceiling – in fact, I think that many women expect there to be one, and so find them. This is not a popular point of view, however.

The greatest challenges are those thrown at any business leader: Facing your own insecurities, facing your own fears, driving yourself with your own motivations. Those things will always persist.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

Women typically mistrust themselves and have low self esteem, which is a social problem more than anything else. The best way to prepare a woman for leadership is to put her in a leadership role. Learn by doing!

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

My out-of-work life is vital to me, as an entrepreneur. If I don’t structure it, I work all the damn time. So, I have a dance scholarship (I’m in my mid-30s by the way), and I dance 4 to 6 times per week. I shut down at 4, and work later in the evening if I have to. I don’t work on weekends unless there are extraordinary circumstances. And I govern my mornings and evenings with routines to make life easy. A relaxed life is never just relaxed, you have to plan it.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

I wish I’d been told to get out of uni and start working; I spent WAY too long there. The other thing I wish I’d had is someone to encourage me to just dive in, and to surround myself with like-minded people.

If you’re an aspiring businesswoman, remember that the only thing limiting you is yourself. And if you can’t trust yourself to be confident enough to jump off the cliff into uncharted waters, surround yourself with people who will cheer you on. Those two things are more important in leadership than anything else.

 

3. Emma Hoffman — Serial entrepreneur and Co-founder of Class Hopper 03-Emma-Hoffman

How did you get started in your current career?

I studied marketing at university and spent a few years working for some major national and global organisations but quickly realised that I felt suffocated working for someone else.

I always knew there was a glass ceiling. I’d always been entrepreneurial and had side projects on the go at all times to keep my mind stimulated. After recently having my previous startup acquired, I’m about to launch my second startup in the coming weeks, called Classhopper.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I’m fortunate enough to have two brilliant business mentors. The first is my step-father Jeff Nadelman, General Manager of MOR Cosmetics. Jeff is a self-made businessman and is easily the best negotiator I’ve ever met. He has always guided me in my business ventures and his advice has been invaluable. I always consult Jeff with any decisions I make in my companies and having his support and approval is extremely important to me.

The second is my business partner and original Founder of Classhopper, Gary Kshepitzki. Gary has 20 years experience in software research and development, as well as product and project management. He is highly analytical and looks at scenarios holistically and logically, which keeps me focused and grounded. Gary and I continually motivate and inspire each other, which is why we work so well together.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

I don’t believe my gender has ever limited or restricted me in any capacity. I truly believe that any success I achieve is based solely on my hard work, tenacity and never-say-die attitude. I believe the quality of work that I produce speaks for itself and can’t recall a time that my biology has ever had an impact, positive or negative.

Whilst women are mothers, or daughters, or nurturers, or caregivers, etc., when you enter the office, you put on a different hat, where home and work lives should be kept separate – the pressures of home life should not play on your mind at work and vice versa. However, women’s inherent ability to empathise, juggle competing deadlines and multitask are characteristics which could serve as an advantage in the business world.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

Leadership can’t be learnt. It is a delicate balance between having the right skills and a personality to match. Anyone can learn business skills but what sets a leader apart is their inherent characteristics.

These include being focused, logical, analytical, driven, forward thinking, committed and accountable for both their successes and their shortfalls. It’s no secret that being in a position of leadership can be time consuming and a lot of pressure, but if your ambition or goal is to be a leader then you’re already aware that these things come with the territory – so go for it!

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

Work-life balance is incredibly important. There is nothing fulfilling about being highly successful but never having time to spend with the people you care about or doing the things you love. Also, without a decent work-life balance, you’re much more likely to burn out or become less productive. The way I ensure that I maintain a work-life balance is by setting myself daily deadlines.

For example, if I start work at 8am, I’ll tell myself I have to stop at 5pm, no exceptions. It can be hard to have such a hardline approach with yourself but ultimately it pays off. This strategy means that I force myself to be as productive and focused as I possibly can during my work hours, and can still have time for that gym session or dinner with friends, etc.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

In the mind of any entrepreneur, there are only two sides to the spectrum – success and failure. Most entrepreneurs will tell you the same thing…they hate failure. The point of difference is how they measure success. My advice would be to think about what success means to you and go after it. Never give up and never compromise until you’ve achieved your goals. In doing so, make sure to plan effectively and know where you want to be in six months, twelve months, two years and five years.

 

4. Melissa Abu-Gazaleh — Founder and CEO of Top Blokes Foundation 04 Melissa

How did you get started in your current career?

At age 19, I founded and became CEO of the Top Blokes Foundation, Australia’s leading boys health organisation. I have been named in Australia’s 100 Brightest Young Minds and Australia’s top 50 Young & Extraordinary. I am definitely living my dream and am passionate to help educate Australia on why we need to invest in young men’s health and well-being.

At 19, I knew something was drastically wrong in our country with how we think of and associate with young men. News stories every night flashed images of young men provoking alcohol fueled violence, reckless driving and vandalism. And the one question that I noticed that is always thrown around: Where is the positive male role models for our children. Some say this is the fatherless generation, the misguided generation and something needs to be done about it.

So I wanted to volunteer with an organisation that actually empowered guys to stand up and change this man-shaming culture. I looked around and there was nothing. So I did what any frustrated 19 year old would say, I said: “Screw it, I’ll start something myself.”

I’ve learnt that people throughout my whole life will test me, challenge me and want to see what I’m made of. Because they wont waste their time if I don’t take myself seriously, if I don’t own it. So I always make it a focus to step up, get out of my comfort zones and create significance.

Today, at age 28, I run the Top Blokes Foundation, Australian’s only youth-led organisation that works with thousands of teenage boys and young men each year addressing the topics that often teachers and parents struggle to talk about: drugs, alcohol, anger management, mental health, sex, porn and sexting. We employ incredible positive male role models aged under 30 to mentor boys struggling with everyday life.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

One of the biggest resources that I leveraged from was having several mentors from professional backgrounds who would invest time in me and my personal and professional development. Some of these mentors have come from formal mentoring programs for young business people and others were from informal means.

They each would be straight up and keep me accountable to the goals and visions that I had for myself and Top Blokes Foundation. I recommend everyone to find a mentor, but when you do, ensure that you respect their time, come to meetings prepared, energized and open-minded. Anything less is a disrespect to them and a disservice to yourself.

I am a fiercely passionate and motivated young woman who by nature wants to use my life to better humankind. I am most comfortable being out of my comfort zone. When I am in new territory it means I am learning, growing and becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

What challenge hasn’t been thrown my way!

Right from the beginning, my journey has always consisted of challenges. In the early years, young men’s health wasn’t recognised as a legitimate issue for the majority of Australians. I dedicated a lot of time educating various groups (from community organisations, schools, corporates, etc.) on why Australia needs to invest financially to build up boys’ mental health, emotional resilience and community connections to reduce the current trends of street and alcohol-fueled violence.

Years later, the hard work has paid off as more people understand the need. Today, my current challenges include battling the community sector climate (limited and competitive funding) while trying to maximise our social impact.

But each time I am faced with hardship, doubt or fear, I always have to return to the core of why I do what I do.

Being in the NFP leadership space, it’s often an incredibly tiresome and yet rewarding role. Some days it’s amazing, other days it feels like a battle that just keeps getting harder (they said it gets easier the bigger your organisation grows – haha wrong!), but one thing I see in common among all of us young people giving it a go is that we never give up in the face of hardship – it only fuels us. It’s important to create a strong community of change-makers of all ages, to give us a voice and help make a bigger impact in Australia.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

The best ways for women to prepare for leadership roles is to surround themselves with a supportive network of people and resources. I would find one or two mentors and ask them for a 30-minute coffee meeting and pick their brains on how they handle various leadership challenges. I would also read up various leadership literature to know the dynamic elements that I would be entering.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

Starting and leading an organisation takes incredible hard work, sacrifices (sleep, what’s that?!), frustration, rejection, heartache and stress. Work life balance is out the window, you’ll marry your project and you’ll be thankful for 24-hour fast food. But when you see your idea and vision come to life, when you have people thanking you, telling you you’ve inspired them to make a change, they now have stepped out of their comfort zone to better themselves, trust me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Each business woman has their own journey of defining an acceptable work/life balance. I am constantly improving my work life balance by working smarter, not harder and up-skilling my staff members so that delegation can be made with trust.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

My favourite quote is “a race-horse is meant to race,” so I’m a believer that if you have an inner drive within you, you can’t push it away or ignore it, you have to use that energy to create significance that is bigger than yourself.

Remember, behind every successful woman is herself. Focus on your end vision and don’t let distractions (by others or things) get in the way of you achieving your best.

 

5. Natalie Snelling and Eva Rado — Owners and Directors of 2 Mums 2 Help 05-Natalie-and-Eva

How did you get started in your current career?

My business partner and I met through our girls attending kinder at a time when we both were looking for a different direction in careers. After many coffees and chats, we decided to pool together the variety of services we had separately written down and create 2mums2HELP to help the time poor.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

We have each other. While we don’t have a mentor currently, we do meet with other successful entrepreneurs in a group situation every 6 weeks or so over the past 22 months.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

One of the biggest challenges so far is still juggling work and young children. For both of us it is still US that takes the children to school each day and do pick ups as well, and this can eat into our working day. School holidays are a big thing that we still struggle with and will persist with. Also, we are both still the cook and cleaners primarily in the home so it is learning to now juggle home duties with running a business.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

Be patient, learn to ask for help from family and friends. Do some early planning with your family so that you can have time to put into the business. Be prepared to put in some good hours of an evening in the very early stages of starting a business. Ensure you have full support of your “better half” or of your friends ’cause you are going to need to lean of them from time to time.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

Making even time between your work and remembering to switch off by a set time to then give time to your family. It’s about being organised and being a good time manager in both areas. Remembering that family does come first and then business.

That is what we have decided and that we are present for our children and husbands and work is between work hours that we have agreed and set. Getting in some “me” time which includes some exercise is best and eating well is important.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

To believe in myself and my passion, and be confident enough to be open to my passions changing.

 

6. Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew — CEO of Soulstice Consultancy 06 Froswa

How did you get started in your current career?

I have been in nonprofit management since I was in college. I always had a desire to help others and as a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, I was involved in student programming on campus. Little did I know that these skills would be used in my future in developing programs for organizations.

I learned how to develop and maintain budgets as a result of that experience. In college, I worked for Girl Scouts as a program coordinator in a really challenged neighborhood. Since that time, I have had a history of working with organizations that impact the lives of children, their families or the communities they live in.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I have several mentors that have taught me both personally and professionally. My parents were mentors. I saw my parents own a restaurant when I was a teenager and watched the struggles but also the importance of hard work to make your dreams happen.

I also have individuals like Dr. Terry Flowers who taught me so much about the nonprofit world. There are even mentors who were not very helpful or positive that demonstrated to me that it was critical to do something different if I wanted different results.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

I think it is difficult to know your worth and ask for what you deserve/desire. I think I’m better but it is still a work in progress.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

I think it is important for women to have not only mentors but support systems of others who can speak into your life, offer guidance and even constructive criticism as needed. I think leadership programs can offer some insight but it is the experiences of others and practical application that helps a woman in her growth as a leader.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

I was recently reviewing papers for the upcoming conference for the American Management Association and one of the authors coined the term “work synthesis.” She noted that women of color had to strive for more than work-life balance but had to synthesize those areas of their lives together in order to thrive.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

I wish someone had told me to recognize the value of my experiences, of my story. One thing that stands out above anyone else is your personal story and what you bring to the table. Find mentors that excel in areas that you struggle in. Quite often, we gravitate to those who are successful in business but not necessarily in life. We need them both!

 

7. Duree Ross — President of Duree and Company 07 Duree Ross

How did you get started in your current career?

I was very lucky in that I found my calling at the age of 19 while attending the University of Miami. I took a part-time job to see what public relations was all about and realized immediately it was my calling. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago! Not sure where the time has gone, but as they say, “time flies when you are having fun!”

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I have had several mentors along the way and have worked with/for them. I am proud to now be a mentor myself, participating in South Florida Business Journal’s Mentoring Monday on March 30th for the second year. It’s a great morning of speed mentoring, just like speed dating where you get to spend some time with a variety of different individuals.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

Sometimes we are not taken as seriously as we might like. I do still see these issues – though much less than even ten years ago. There are many new opportunities out there allowing women in business to network and really help each other succeed!

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

By encouraging women, supporting them and standing behind them 100%. I try my very hardest to support the women in my life – including my staff, friends and colleagues. Knowing there is someone behind you as your cheerleader makes a world of difference. I also make myself available to listen, encourage and mentor.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

I think that work-life balance doesn’t really exist. I actually don’t strive to achieve it – I strive to do the very best I can do. Being a full-time working mother and wife, plus a business owner, can make life crazy busy. Having a supportive husband and a support system helps me make it all happen!

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Intern, intern, intern. Then intern some more. The best way to figure out what you do love (or can’t stand) is by interning in various businesses. It often times leads to job opportunities and the connections are extremely valuable. I can honestly say that even to this day 20 years later, I still do business with contacts and colleagues I met when interning.

 

8. Lucy Kendall — Head of Client and People Development at Granger Reis 08 Lucy Kendall

How did you get started in your current career?

I left UMIST with a Business degree but didn’t want to head into a graduate program – I’d grown up around very entrepreneurial family businesses. Whilst working in one of them after uni, I saw an advert for a “no experience required” recruitment business advertising for consultants.  I really had no idea about the profession but it seemed like a good place for someone with lots of drive, determination to succeed and their own ideas.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I am fortunate to have met in my career (nature of the job!) and personal life some very successful people, and when we catch up I’d like to think we share our experiences and both benefit from the other side. When we moved house about 10 years ago, our neighbour was the current COO for a major financial institution – our relationship was never about work until more recently, as my career was taking a turn into unchartered territory.  Part of my role today is most definitely a result of his advice and guidance – I’m very grateful to have access to someone who has experienced so much in their career and allows me to take that all-important sanity check.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

I have always worked in very male-dominant environments, even prior to entering the recruitment world before and after university. Whilst I most definitely experienced questionable treatment and attitudes before I graduated (jobs throughout 16-19), I have never felt, in this profession, my path to leadership has been inhibited because I am a woman – good start!

The greatest challenge for me has been the way other women perceive me. As I’ve got older and become a parent this has definitely become less of an issue – but throughout my 20’s and early 30’s being a high achiever and being good at my job seemed to attract negative comments. I’m sure they do still exist today, but in my business I won’t let this happen. I try to instill the motto “girls compete with each other, women empower each other” – we need to support and encourage one another not knock each other down!

 Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

I am 100% about the “parent approach.” My husband and I are parents and we both have responsibilities at work and at home, so we work out how we can get it all to work.  So I guess my message is if you’re aspirations are to fulfill your career potential and that means leading an organisation, team, region, and you and your partner want a family – you need to share the responsibility as a team.

The other thing I would say is find a company (like Granger Reis) that is flexible and grasps that there is a period of time where you are having a family. But it is a relatively short period of time in relation to your whole career – they need to support their talent for the long haul.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

My children are still quite young at the moment (2 and 4 years old), so I do find this a bit of a challenge.  I try to see the days I work as 100% work-focused and whatever I need to do to deliver, I do.  The days I am at home, I do my best to minimise peeking at my e-mails and focus on family responsibilities – including having lots of fun with the children.

I try every day to make sure I do something for myself – it might be catching up with a TV drama, a chat with a friend, a bath, pilates. This seems to work and I will periodically inject a weekend away with the girls (guaranteed laughs aplenty) or dinner with my husband. And sleep, sleep is very important!

 What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Don’t think you have to be an expert in everything. I am a bit of a control freak, but have learnt that it’s about surrounding yourself by the right people who are working towards a common goal. Working your internal relationships in a business and developing internal sponsors who can help you achieve your objectives is so important. I might have expended less energy early on in my career if I’d have embraced this earlier on.

For aspiring women in business, I think it’s important to have that self belief and drive – that conviction. I would actually say the same thing to a man or a woman.  Business has its high and lows so resilience and self-confidence can steer you through the lower points.

Self-awareness is also really key. It’s good to acknowledge what you are good at, what you find challenging, how you are coming across to someone, how you are making others feel – that emotional intelligence. If you are self-aware, I think you tend to get the best out of your colleagues and team.

 

9. Amanda Bolt — Founder of Boardroom Mum 09 amanda bolt

How did you get started in your current career?

I knew that I wanted to work in the city from a very young age, but was not more specific than that. I came to London straight from university without a job and started temping to earn some money. I found investor relations by accident or it found me! I have not looked back. My most recent roles were as Head of Investor Relations and a Corporate Broker working with the management teams and boards of companies of all sectors and sizes.

After the birth of my son, I set up and still run my own investor relations consultancy which provides flexible and strategic investor relations services, whether as an investor relations officer or trainer.

I started Boardroom Mum as a resource discussing the issues surrounding women combining their professional/business lives alongside motherhood and its impact businesses and the UK economy. The content reflects what I could not find when I needed it. We also analyse 1800+ UK plc boards by gender.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I have never had a formal mentor but a couple of my managers have filled that position during my career. I think today, things are much more focused and organised and getting a mentor is much more common. Finding someone who is successful, approachable but very honest is key.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

My greatest challenge was probably to be taken seriously. That issue probably still does exist for many today, but the only way you can silence your critics is by performing well and communicating that in a constructive and effective way.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

I think trying to move away from stereotypes as children is important. This applies to education too. I believe you cannot plan for everything, but women should plan out as far as they can their objectives (able to change if needed), and find out what experience is needed. They should also speak to recruitment consultants reasonably regularly and others in their sector, to find out the skills and qualifications that are needed and where they can get them.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

Every person and family has their own circumstances, which is really important to highlight. My work-life balance is very important and in order to have as much control as I can, I decided to step away from conventional employment to become my own business owner. It is not the easy option but I am finding it extremely challenging and satisfying, whilst at the same time trying to be the best mum I can be!

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Networking.  Not just in your space but across sectors. Also being self-confident and being successful is fine, but if you do not publicise that outwards in the right way, then you and your talents will stay hidden. Also, be courageous!

 

10. Gail Hounslea — Managing Director of Wardworth 10 gail hounslea

How did you get started in your current career?

I started an internet business at home in a bedroom in 1999 when my children were still at school. I had no experience of running a business and no internet experience, but I found someone who could build me a website and moved on from there. The first website that I had was not a transactional website.

The business kept growing until it was too busy to be run from home and I moved into serviced offices and started to take on staff. Twelve months later, I bought a building and carried on growing. It hasn’t all been plain sailing but I have carried on always trying to grow and develop the business.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I have always been very collaborative and take advice from where I can find it. In 2007, when I had five staff and the business was growing very quickly, I looked round for some management training for myself.

The training that I found that made sense to me was IOD training and I completed the training and received a Diploma in Company Direction. I went on in 2008 to become a Chartered Director with the IOD and always do at least double the 30 hours CPD required to keep the qualification. This encourages me to go out into the world and be curious about best practice in leadership techniques.

I have a Business Coach who I talk to on a monthly basis who helps me to be the best version of me that I can be, and I am also a Chair of Governors at state Academy School which gives me a different perspective on leadership.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

Originally when I started the business, it was work-life balance. I had stayed at home with my two daughters, so when I set up the business it was hard to be both a good Mum and work hard establishing a start up business. My youngest daughter used to say, “Are you a Mum or a business woman?” and it was very hard trying to be good at both.

As the business has grown, it has been interesting being in primarily a man’s world. The company supplies ladders and access equipment to all sorts of companies, including the construction industry, and I was often seen as the odd one out especially by our suppliers.

This has made me more determined and we are now one of the premier companies for advice on working at height. As one of our priorities has always been customer service, we as a team have always been insistent about knowing as much as we can about our subject. So we are heavily involved with our suppliers, the Ladder Association and the HSE.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

I think one of the biggest challenges is making sure that women and girls have self-esteem and a wider understanding of what opportunities are available. I mentor a girl in a school through Girls Out Loud and am now on my second year as a mentor.

What I have found is that a lot of girls lack self-confidence and are not aware of what types of jobs and careers are available. Also girls that show leadership skills are called bossy at school, whereas boys are encouraged to develop their leadership skills.

This is getting better, and as a company we have always taken apprentices – both boys and girls – and developed them to be the best they can be. We also encourage lifelong learning and I am always looking at opportunities for all of the team to develop and train in new skills.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

I love my work and enjoy coming to work (most of the time!). However, I am very aware that I need to protect my health, so I try to eat as healthily as possible and exercise when I can. I make sure that I schedule in breaks on a regular basis so that I open my eyes to what is going on in the world. I try very hard to spend a third of my time working in the business, a third on the business and a third out of the business and this keeps me sane.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Build up your professional network because they are the people that you can turn to for advice. Say yes to opportunities and frequently put yourself outside your comfort zone, as it leads to all sorts of exciting things. “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for” is one of my mottos.

 

11. Nicole Gruendl — Life Coach and Speaker 11 Nicole Gruendl

How did you get started in your current career?

As a single mom of a young boy, I had moved back to the west coast from a life-lesson-learned second marriage in Texas. I started to rebuild my life here with my son. Not having worked outside the home for the past seven years, I was starting from square one. Low pay and too much responsibility, I knew there was more to my existence and purpose but didn’t have any direction.

I thought there had to be more support for women in my situation but I had no place to turn. That is when one of my tennis partners approached me and said, “You know, Nicole, you should check out my coaching program. When you speak, people listen. You have an amazing personality, huge heart and love to help people.”

That was the first day of the rest of my life. I attended the workshop and introduction session. The first thing I thought was that this was a whole big therapy session, me sitting there in my leather jacket and black boots. I almost left before the actual training but thought otherwise after speaking to a couple of the students that were part of the class.

It’s when the founder and president of the coaching program, after guiding us through a lengthy and emotional sharing session, looked at me and said, “Nicole, all that comes to mind when I listen to your share and watch how you act with others is the word “SYNERGY.”

My response was, “Okay.” Because truth be told, I had no idea what he was talking about. This was a whole new world to me and I was still in my head and in total denial that I needed fixing.

With the “I’m FINE” attitude, until the bitter end, I challenged him about why I should choose his program above all others. He just smiled and said, “It’s okay, you will see soon enough.”

After speaking to some of his graduates and mentors of the program, it became evident that it would be one of the most important decisions in my life – which would set me up not only for change in my personal life, but in my son’s, and the many people that I would touch and connect with throughout my journey.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I have met many people that I have learned from throughout my coaching and business career but the one that stands out and to this day, when in need, I reach out to is Greg Reid.

Greg is a #1 best-selling author, motivational speaker and mentor coach. I had the pleasure of being introduced to him when we co-Authored the #1 best-selling book Bouncing Back – Thriving in Changing Times. I decided after the book was published to do an interview series and Greg was one of the authors that I interviewed.

When I first talked to him to set up an interview, and I remember the words he said to me like I heard them yesterday, “Nicole, you are in the top 5% of people who are action takers. I am impressed on the way you are taking things to the next level.”

After that it was a couple of years later that I had an opportunity to go to San Diego and volunteer at one of his Secret Knock events. I had not only the opportunity to meet him in person, but to meet such iconic people in the coaching realm that it was like a dream come true.

One of them is Frank Shankwitz, the founder of Make A Wish Foundation. This meeting with Frank has supported me in one of my local organizations that I support and work with, Burned Children.

I have consulted with Frank and Greg more and more when it comes to hitting difficult times, working with conflicting people and trying to figure out my sense of direction. For that, I will always be grateful. Since then, I attended three Secret Knock events where I have met some amazing people, including the actual publisher of our book, and more life-inspiring mentors.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

Starting a business on my own in a small town in difficult financial times. The past had “beat me down” and self-worth was a tough pill to swallow for me. With the “victim and story” aside, doing it all on my own as a single mom was not always easy. This part is a little difficult for me because, yes it does still affect me through this day.

For the past three years, it’s been a roller coaster of life-learning events that I have shared with my clients, and showed them that giving up is never an option. It’s this way of thinking that not only helped me through my personal trials and tribulations, but also gave me the want to write another book talking about just that.

This triggered the series of inspirational series of ebooks, website, events and webinar series in supporting women in bringing balance between their business and personal life called “The Power of She.”

Based on self-worth and self-care, I believe that many of us put everything and everyone else first and this is the incorrect way in many parts of our lives. It’s an important piece of our puzzle and it’s something that I live by. It’s not always easy but it’s always a choice.

And it’s a choice that I continue to make on a daily basis to live by my purpose and to show that it doesn’t matter how touch life gets, though it won’t always be easy, it will always be worth it.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

We, as women, face many challenges and often tend to put everyone else and everything else before our own well-being. It’s in our nature. From family to friends, work to LIFE in general, everything else take precedence. With that in mind, preparing oneself for a leadership role is quite simple. Make it all about YOU!

You know how the old saying goes, “If Mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy” or “if the wife isn’t happy…” You get the idea. Now the question is how do you do this and why? Well, by putting yourself as priority – WHEN it is feasible because there are always exceptions to the rule – you request your space and alone time.

This includes coming from from work, in the office and at home. There are times where you can call a timeout and say, I will be back at such and such a time. When I return, that is when I am available to you once again.

It’s pretty simple really. You must ask for what you want because if you don’t ask, you do not receive. Best tip for when a woman comes home from a long day and she’s tired and mentally spent, request that she has 10 minutes or so to herself to breathe, and take a moment to BE and relax. Then she is open to the kids, dinner and the whole day’s escapades.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

Work and life balance is a tricky thing at times. Making sure that you don’t give too much and leaving yourself depleted of energy – physical, mental and emotional.
It’s a give-and-take scenario that one must request from the people that surround that.

Being productive and not overwhelmed comes with a fine line. And to me that means creating serenity when and where I can. From a calm work place, to attracting the right people, to allowing myself to be at peace with what I do and support others in doing. Everyone that I work with and attract have a reason to be and to take part in my life. It’s up to me to figure out the WHY.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

I received many different words of wisdom throughout my business career, but I wish that I could have had the words: “Trust yourself – your purpose is bigger than you can ever imagine.” But not only hear the words, UNDERSTAND them.

So my best advice ever to any woman who is in business – or even working a 9-to-5 or whatever place she finds herself at this point in time – is this: TRUST your intuition. It’s never wrong. If I had trusted mine a few times in the past, things could and would have turned out differently.

We all have a journey in life and a purpose – it’s up to us to sort out what is most important. When it comes down to the stuff in your life, that’s all it is, just stuff. Putting things into perspective is really what is the most important concept here, and seeing that if you don’t take care of YOU, then how can YOU support and be there for anyone else?

 

12. Sarah-Jane Butler — Director of Parental Choice 12 Sarah-Jane Butler

How did you get started in your current career?

I originally qualified as a capital markets lawyer in 2003. However, after having my first child and realising the difficulties many parents have in combining their careers with the right childcare, I wanted to support other parents to avoid the stress and hassle I had encountered. I also firmly believed that many companies were losing valuable talent and experience through parents leaving work due to lack of support and recognition by their employers.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

I haven’t had direct official mentoring or coaching, but I have been lucky to talk to two amazing and inspirational women since setting up Parental Choice: Vanessa Vallely, founder of WATC, and Laura Tenison, founder of JoJo Maman Bebe. They both gave me some very useful tips on running my own business and whilst being mothers themselves have inspired me.

When I did work in the City, I also worked with Tamara Box, now partner at Reed Smith, who frankly never gave up and always had a smile on her face. I learnt a lot from her networking and management skills and also her sheer determination. She treated the people who worked for her well and inspired loyalty and confidence and that is the kind of boss I aim to be.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

I don’t think that the challenges faced by women in business are any different than those faced by men. Or more specifically, if you let yourself be treated differently because you’re a woman, then you will face challenges. The greatest challenge I faced was when I returned from maternity leave and my employers did not recognise my commitment or desire to work whilst supporting the fact that I was a parent.

There are many parents who are very dedicated to their jobs. Just because they become a parent doesn’t mean they are any less ambitious, effective or hardworking. In fact, often, the opposite is true. I refused to be defined by other people’s opinions, so I set up my business to show there is an alternative. I practice what I preach and all my team work flexibly and are supported as parents. They are incredibly efficient and happy as a result.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

The answer is in the question. The skills are already there. If you’re looking after a family and a home and pursuing a career, you already have all of the inherent skills and talents to become a leader. Women just need to have the confidence to believe in themselves and the support of others to get there.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

Fitting my family around my work and not the other way round. I do the school run as often as I can and I’m with them every night – bar the odd exception – to feed, bathe and put them to bed. I will then work in the evenings. It works for me and my family have me when they need me.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

I probably got the right career advice. Whether I listened to it is another matter. I think the one thing I wished I had had was the confidence and belief in my own abilities and plans. That would be my advice for other women: to have the courage of your convictions.

 

13. Karen Chaston — CEO of Alionment 13-Karen-Chaston

How did you get started in your current career?

Surprisingly, it took the death of my son Dan for me to become more aware, grateful, healthier, energised and live in my Essence.

Prior to Dan’s passing I was a Chief Financial Officer of a publicly listed company and perceived to be very successful. Actually I was living a ground hog day existence: working, eating, and drinking too much, always in  fight mode, my masculine totally denying my feminine side, running on empty, not fulfilled, not understanding that adrenalin in a woman’s body causes burnout, exhaustion, and disconnectedness.

I now spend my days inspiring women to become their own best friend and live in their Essence.

After Dan’s funeral, I immediately went back to work and engrossed myself into my job, working even longer hours. Then 15 months later, the best thing happened, I chose redundancy when two companies merged and I was offered a reduced salary for basically doing the same role.

At least I had enough sense to honour me, though probably it was Dan’s guided awareness!
Within weeks, I found myself at a BraveHeart Women (BHW) LA conference – RiseLA2012.
For four days I nodded in agreement as founder Dr. Ellie Drake shared many gems, like:

 

  • Key to joy, prosperity and fulfillment; Live your life on Purpose – Personally, Professionally and Globally;
  • Move from survival to thriving
  • Adrenalin does not work in a woman’s body
  • Say NO, to misaligned projects and people; gain extra time and energy
  • Learn to receive, starting with a compliment, prosperity will follow

 

I jumped at the opportunity to become a BHW Resonator and start building community in Australia.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

Over the past two years I have had numerous business mentors, both male and female – and what I have found is that they just show up as and when they are required. When you are living your life on purpose, the universe provides and connects you with the right people as and when required. I am so much more aware, that I continually see opportunities or ways that I can collaborate with various people.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader?

As I was rising through the ranks in my corporate roles, I was continually given advice on how I should act professionally if I wanted to succeed in business. I followed this advice and whilst it was given with the best intentions, it was in fact unconsciously incompetent advice.

Women have really only been in management roles since the end of the Second World War, and our business education does not allow for the differences between men and women on a physiological and biochemical basis.

When women follow the “male business model” they generally turn into men, leading them to deny their innate feminine qualities of nurturing, empathy and collaboration.
Numerous studies have shown that when there is a balanced gender board and senior management team where the women have remained true to their innate feminine qualities the company will have:

  • Employees who are more inspired and passionate about their roles within the organisation
  • Team members supporting and collaborating with each other – a more inducing environment
  • Productivity increase due to improved communication and engagement with all staff
  • Inspired and passionate employees provide improved customer service. (Research shows that it costs up to 10 times as much to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer)
  • More profits for the company

The key to a successful business is to recognise that the health and prosperity of your business is directly correlated to the health of your employees, namely the female employees.

Do these issues persist to this day?

Yes they do. Many businesses talk about gender equality, though many men are reluctant to champion women. And to be honest, I can understand why. Women who have not gone through the training I provide are very much in their masculine. Very aggressive, competitive and generally men find it hard to work with these women.

Whilst at the same time, many women are looking at them thinking that if they have to be that sort of women for that role, maybe they should re-think their career aspirations
So why would anyone want more of that sort of woman in the boardroom?

The training programs that I provide assist women to understand and value their feminine qualities, which helps to guide female colleagues away from burnout, exhaustion and competition towards inspired, motivated collaborative employees – which creates a more conducive and profitable workplace.

The training I provide assist women personally and professionally which in turn assists everyone on a global basis.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

Through the programs I provide, which assist women to understand themselves on a physiological and bio-chemical basis. The programs help women to understand their body. Until you understand what adrenalin, cortisol and oxytocin does to your body, you will always feel exhausted, burnout and unfulfilled.

When women learn to look after themselves first each day, they then are coming from a space of overflow – so they can give, give, and give all day, always energised and fulfilled, never exhausted or in resentment. Women learn how to say “no” to misaligned projects and people, which in turn creates more time and energy.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

When you become your own best friend and live in your Essence, work-life balance comes naturally. You put your requirements first, which gives you more time and energy. Every relationship in your life improves and you live in the PRESENT. This means that you enjoy and embrace what you are doing at any given moment.

No longer are you at work feeling guilty that you should be at home and vice versa – when you are at home, you no longer are thinking about your workload. You live in the present. This creates more time and energy.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career?

I wish my book, A Journey to Becoming Your Own Best Friend: A Woman’s Guide to Getting Out of Her Own Way, had been around when I was in my early twenties.
My whole life would have been different and every single relationship would have been better, right from the start.

To understand that you are your own unique self and there is no requirement to try and force your viewpoint onto anyone else is a GIFT. You save so much time and energy!
By understanding and being true to who you are, all seven areas of your life will improve: mentally, physically, professionally, financially, socially, family and spiritually.

Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Live your life on purpose: personally, professionally and globally. Look inside as that is where all the answers lie. We are all unique individuals, you are the only person you will spend your entire life with, so learn to love yourself – become your own best friend.

Stop beating yourself up over silly little things and stop comparing yourself to others as the comparison is unrealistic.

 

14. Megan Iemma — Founder of Tech Coach HQ 14-Megan-Iemma

How did you get started in your current career?

Worked previously as a music teacher, but realised I had a passion for working with adults and using technology. I set up Tech Coach HQ as I realised there was a need to help businesses to use technology effectively.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

My two business mentors I met back in 2000. One is John Kolm, who I share the same birthday with 21 years apart. His business is Team Results USA. The other is Sonia Kokkalos from Recruitment Pool. John introduced me to Sonia back in 2000 and both are great for different parts of Tech Coach HQ.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

The biggest challenges are getting recognised in the area of ICT or IT, and I don’t currently have an IT degree. Also, as a speaker, it is very much male-dominated.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

Get a mentor, join networking groups where possible and shadow people where possible.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

It all depends on values, and for me at the moment, it means not working on a device when family is around (i.e., when kids come home from school, unless I have a tight deadline to meet).

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

Get a business coach! Stretch yourself, get tech-savvy. Realise your own brand is precious and nurture it, since you never know when you might need to move.

 

15. Debbie Zita — Life Stylist, Success Coach and Author of “Ignite Your Joy: How to Invite More Love, Purpose & Profit into Your Life”
13-Karen-Chaston

How did you get started in your current career?

I have always been interested in personal development, spiritual growth and business development. I decided to leave my career as a social worker back in 2007 and moved into setting up an online store plus fashion and personal styling.

Following the birth of my son and death of my mum (both in 2008) I embraced my spiritual qualities and worked as a psychic medium. So essentially this current version of me and my business has been a journey and one that has incorporated everything that I am passionate about. And I’m immensely grateful for everything I have experienced.

Who is/are your business mentor/s and how did you come to know them?

My business coach/mentor is a dear friend of mine who is himself a coach – his name is Mihir Thaker. Other people I look up to include Luanne Simmons who runs Goddess on Purpose. I met Mihir via Facebook years ago, and Luanne I met through word of month.

I am also inspired immensely by Marianne Williamson, Gabby Bernstein and Marie Forleo. However I do not know them personally yet (would love to one day). The key is to get yourself out there and to take the advice and help when offered to you by people you trust. Building relationships is key and is something that needs to happen organically.

As a woman, what were the greatest challenges thrown your way as a business leader? Do these issues persist to this day?

Biggest challenge has been trying to be perfect. Working in an industry where personal development and spiritual and business growth are what I do, I had a hard time servicing my clients, commenting as a leader and speaker/writing when I felt things in my own life were not “perfect.”

Do I still struggle with it? Absolutely I do, but I have learnt to keep moving forward anyway as I am not helping myself or anyone by staying stuck there. So now when I notice those insecurities, I honour them for showing up and then I just keep going.

Given the challenges they face at work and home, what are the best ways to prepare women for leadership roles?

  • Know who you are. Know what makes you tick, know what supports you need and have them in place.
  • Be okay to say no to people/jobs/behaviours. Your time and energy are important, and setting boundaries is a key part of being a leader.
  • Be okay to not be everyone’s cup of tea. Better to have one good strong cup of tea than 20 watered down versions.

What does work-life balance mean to you, and how do you achieve it?

It means having time and energy for what is important to me, which are my son, my family, my health, my spiritual growth, my work. How I achieve it is by focusing on what it is that I want to create and move in that direction. When the shit hits the fan because I’m human too, I notice it and accept that it is what it is in that moment and I keep moving forward.

What piece of career advice did you wish you received earlier in
your career? Any other advice for aspiring women in business?

I wish I knew that you do not have to experience every type of situation in order to be an expert in your field. Skills are transferable and at some point you need to stop acquiring knowledge and just start to apply what it is that you already know. It’s in the action that the real learning occurs. Lastly, leadership and business like anything is a journey, so celebrate the wins and the seeming losses. They are equally important.

 

Conclusion

Keep calm and carry on? No thanks. These women chose instead to take a chance, learn from their mistakes and change their world.

Your turn: Do you know a woman or women who took charge of her destiny and helped improve that of others? Have you got your own experiences and insights to share about being or working with successful businesswomen? Drop us a line in the comments below!

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About Angel Britanico

Angel is a social media specialist and blogger for Convene.

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