29th February, 2020
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down for a cuppa and a chat with some true business Wonder Women. From climbing the corporate ladder to starting social enterprises, these fab females shared their insights, experiences, and kick-ass advice on all things ‘women in business’.
What does coffee have to do with social change? And how can event management improve lives? Just ask Jane Marx, founder of Merchant Road.
After volunteering as an English-language teacher for female refugees in Melbourne’s North, Jane was struck by the number of women who were concerned about their children’s futures in Australia.
Donning her problem-solving hat, Jane began by setting up Long Street Coffee, which offered work and training opportunities to women in this community. She then transitioned the business to Merchant Road, an events management company whose training program focuses exclusively on providing young refugee women with the skills to succeed in the hospitality and events industry.
We sat down with Jane to find out more about her experiences as a woman in business.
Jane, what was your motivation to start Merchant Road?
When I sold my first business, I had a lot of time to reflect on exactly what I wanted to do next. This ‘thinking time’ allowed me to create a business that really aligned with both my passions and my skill-set. As someone who adores hosting and ‘bringing it all together’, it’s the perfect fit.
But Merchant Road is about much more than just playing to my strengths and interests. It’s enabled me to continue supporting women and providing much-needed opportunities in the community.
I was so inspired by the women involved with Long Street and the team I’d developed over the years. They motivated me to create a business in a similar vein, that would continue to empower women to succeed in the workforce.
And what kind of reaction did you get to your business idea? How did you deal with the ‘nay-sayers’?
While I was lucky to have a lot of support and encouragement from family and friends, I definitely encountered my fair share of negative reactions and people telling me that I would fail. And, I’ve got to be honest, I absolutely put this down to my gender and my age.
In terms of dealing with that negativity, I learnt early on that you have to be very careful about what you choose to let in. It’s not about shying away from criticism – far from it – but about having the self-belief and self-confidence to back yourself and your ideas relentlessly.
Have the courage to walk your own path and don’t let the negative opinions of others sway you from it. This sense of resilience is particularly important for women (and not just in business).
How important is it for women to support each other? What has that meant to you in the course of your career?
Having the support of other women is everything. I wouldn’t have survived a week in business without my female support crew.
I have a core group of women who’ve been by my side in the business for the past seven years. Knowing I have people around me who truly believe in me and will dedicate their time and energy to help bring my vision to life has been imperative to the success of Merchant Road.
So, I would say to anyone thinking of starting their own business – surround yourself with a community of supportive women. Whether it’s your family, friends, mentors, or colleagues, being able to turn to people who really believe in what you’re doing and support your goals is invaluable.
What strengths do you think women possess that can help them succeed in business?
Let’s face it – the ‘system’ in which we work wasn’t exactly designed for women. However, I believe this is actually what gives us the opportunity to innovate. We’re basically forced to come up with creative ways to stand out and make things happen.
Thinking outside the box has been a necessity for so long that women seem to have a natural ability for it. We draw on our creativity and ingenuity to bring our business ideas to fruition – this is a huge strength that can really help us succeed.
What more can people do to support women in business? What kind of changes need to be made to empower more women to succeed?
Firstly, we need more women supporting women. I’d love to see more female-led businesses that are focused on empowering the next generation of women – whatever that looks like for them.
Secondly – and this is a more practical one – there needs to be more funding for women looking to start their own businesses. Right now, the lack of financial support means ‘setting up shop’ simply isn’t a feasible option for many women, regardless of how good their idea is or how talented they may be.
We need more grants and incentives coming from the government if we want to enable real change.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard many more conversations about supporting female-led businesses and empowering women. But, while the level of awareness may have increased, we’re not seeing much action at this stage. There’s definitely a lot more to be done.
Finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to women thinking of starting their own business, what would it be?
Back yourself without apology and have an unwavering belief in your ideas. There’ll be plenty of people telling you that you won’t succeed, so make a conscious effort to not let the negative stuff in. Resilience is key.
I also think that striving for the ‘likeability factor’ is a huge issue, particularly among women. We need to let go of the desire to be popular with everyone, especially if it gets in the way of making progress or getting the job done.
When it comes to business – and life for that matter – there are far more important things to focus on than ‘likes’!
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