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On International Women’s Day 2021, Shopify Plus asked 12 of its most inspiring female entrepreneurs to explain what this year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge means to them and their families as they pursue their dreams.
Alex McCabe, Founder, Kip & Co
Homewares, bedding and apparel entrepreneur Alex says #ChooseToChallenge is about having tough conversations with others and yourself to make the world more inclusive and therefore better.
In her view, there are many reasons why women are underrepresented in start-ups including a lack of network and mentors, limited access to capital, the challenges of juggling motherhood and careers, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women.
“And yet, there’s an explosion of female creativity, ambition and energy in our world. We need to collectively and individually focus on each of these challenges and figure out practical solutions.”
She stresses the importance of being able to multitask, take risks, and have a sense of humour when it comes to being a successful mum and entrepreneur (or ‘mumpreneur’).
“I appreciate that the ideal is to be completely present in each moment, but there are many times during the day when I am trying to fill both the mum role and the business owner role – and the ability to do both simultaneously is key.”
Nikki Clarke, CEO and Founder, Cadenshae
Maternity activewear mogul Nikki chooses to challenge the idea that women have to decide between being successful and being a good mother.
“For so long women, and in particular mothers, haven’t ‘belonged’ in so many leadership spaces, because traditionally, the senior roles have been dished out to men.”
She explains that, although this has changed in the last 50 years, top jobs should go to women and especially mothers.
“Just because a woman has children does not mean she can’t perform at the top level. In fact, quite the opposite, the old saying ‘if you want something done, then ask a busy person to do it’ could never ring more true than to a working mum. It’s high time working mothers are recognised, celebrated, and rewarded.”
Nikki advocates for a cultural shift in society that not only supports working mothers but gives them scope to grow and flourish.
“Raising children shouldn’t always fall back on the mother. Fathers need to step up and assume a more 50/50 role too, and women need to allow them to do this. We need a cultural shift in the workplace that allows men to be free to be dads, without any stigma.”
Leah Betts, Co-Founder Cachia
For sleepwear and loungewear innovator Leah, #ChooseToChallenge means standing up, taking risks, and calling out inequality to set a new precedent for her daughters’ futures.
“Working for myself gives me the flexibility to set my own hours. It allows me to do the two things I love best in life – being a mum and running my businesses.
“Because I love what I do, my girls see a woman who is driven and works towards our family’s future success. I love work and I hope by being a positive role model I can inspire my girls to find the thing they love and a career that supports it.”
She says women should receive support both at work and when they go home.
“Partners need to share the mental burden that comes with trying to run a household. The stereotype regarding women’s duties in the house has been in existence for a very long time. Society has come a long way with regards to workplace equality but this must flow into households. Equality should not disappear the moment we step foot outside our workplaces.”
Sophie Cachia, Co-Founder, Cachia
Cachia’s other half Sophie says that #ChooseToChallenge is about living life in an authentic way that sets the best example for her children by challenging and eradicating society’s set narratives. She wants them to live authentically and encourages them to chase every opportunity without the limiting beliefs set by society and gender roles.
“My children are raised with an independent mother who has challenged narratives her entire life – someone who leads by example to work hard and who shows my daughter you don’t need someone to ‘look after you’ as a female. You, in fact, can build your career and your family simultaneously whilst looking after yourself.
“One thing we always see now is ‘women supporting women’ – yet, from what I see, women are often our own worst enemy, our biggest critics, and our harshest competitors. If we are going to see the theme of ‘female empowerment’ continue, then let’s live it!”
Sam B, Co-Founder, Naked Sundays
Skincare entrepreneur Sam chooses to challenge herself every day, whether it be learning new skills or writing a book, and strives to set a good example for her daughter.
“I love seeing my daughter’s excitement when she comes with me to work or sees a project come to fruition I’ve been working on.”
She feels society should not always need men to give legal advice or be business partners to women, and that women should be taken far more seriously on their own.
“I think having two female CEOs, a female accountant, lawyer or business mentor is the way forward to changing the status quo. I think society should start treating women in low and high positions as capable of so much more than we give them credit for.”
Stevie Angel, Founder, Active Truth
For activewear visionary Stevie, #ChooseToChallenge is about standing up to harmful social norms, biases and stereotypes that limit expectations of what women can or should do, or what they should look like.
“These barriers discriminate against women and girls. We are bombarded with them everywhere, everyday and they are deeply ingrained in our society.”
Active Truth’s mission is to forge positivity and visibility for all women and to challenge the stereotypes and biases around body image.
“We want every woman to look to Active Truth and see someone like her – happy, active, looking and feeling amazing in her activewear – because you can’t be what you can’t see.”
She urges society to support women’s efforts and motivations to lead and says we need to improve their chances of being recognised for their contributions.
“Businesses like ours can change consumer behaviour and challenge social norms. That means changing the images we see, and the words we use, so we reflect the real aspirations, achievements and interests of women.”
Sophie Kovic, Founder, Seed & Sprout
For eco-friendly brand innovator Sophie, #ChooseToChallenge is about reducing social stigmas around gender stereotypes as well as challenging ourselves and recognising our innate and unique power. She says there needs to be stronger support and more mentoring programs for female entrepreneurs.
“Men have so many peers across multiple industries. We need more support! My entire management team is female, including the CEO. Hire women. Promote women. Educate and reward women. Let them get the skills and experience to be confident in what they do.”
If Sophie could go back in time, she would tell her younger self that nothing external will ever make her happy – “so make sure that you prioritise your relationship with yourself and those around you, as well as your professional pursuits.”
Alex Fevola, Founder, Runway Room
Cosmetics and beauty guru Alex sees #ChooseToChallenge as standing in solidarity with all women and calling out bias instead of being too polite or embarrassed to say anything. It is about raising her daughters to believe they can do or be anything they choose without limitations.
“Being a Mum and having my own business has been amazing. Challenging in some ways, but the flexibility of being my own boss has been invaluable. I think being passionate and fulfilled in my professional life has helped me be a better Mum and good role model for my daughters.”
She says that women having careers, rather than just being caregivers or taking care of the household, should be normalised. She hopes the question ‘can women have it all?’ will one day be asked of parents and caregivers – and not women specifically.
“It is such a sexist view to assume that women do all the caregiving, housework etc. I think if you’re in an equal relationship and you and your partner share the household duties and childcare equally, then you can both have a career also. You can have a family and career as long as you have support from your partner and share the responsibilities evenly.”
Zoe Salmen, Founder, Little & Loved
Children’s retail brand entrepreneur Zoe says #ChooseToChallenge is about being part of communities, especially in the online world, where diversity and culture is celebrated.
For Zoe, being a working mum means sharing her journey with her children, inspiring them to work hard and chase their dreams, and choosing terms that work for her and her family.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt along the way is to stop chasing the ‘balance’. In business there will always be something more to do.
“Learn to switch off and put yourself first, say no when it feels right, and ask for help – you’ll need all the support you can get!”
Esmé Pfaff, Owner, Littlelamb
For environmentally-conscious Esmé, the words ‘choose to challenge’ inspires a desire to challenge the establishment – but to do this, she says it is important for her to challenge herself.
“Over the past 30 years, I have seen the establishment change, and now I have learned that to move forwards, I need to challenge myself. Ironically, it is not the establishment preventing me from starting my next project, it is a lack of belief in my abilities.
“So when picking that fight, look inside and see what needs challenging and learn to overcome that. It doesn’t have to be a herculean world-changing task – rather it can be a dream, a goal, a desire.
“Break that down into achievable steps, with documented progress deadlines that propel you towards that goal. In time, you will see the kind of results that women have used to topple the establishment and pave the way for women to become entrepreneurs today.”
Phoebe Bell, Owner, Sage x Clare
Homewares, apparel and accessories pioneer Phoebe says #ChooseToChallenge is about calling out others and being conscious of her own biases. She hopes her openness will encourage others to reflect on their own assumptions and lead to a more inclusive workplace and community.
While Phoebe agrees that women can ‘have it all,’ there needs to be a significant re-framing of what ‘all’ means.
“When I first became a mum, I wanted to work like I didn’t have a baby and parent like I didn’t work. I felt a great pressure to be everything all the time – but the continuous striving to be a superwoman ultimately led me to fall in a heap.
“I now have significant help in running the house, a wonderful team who can take the reins if I’m not around, a husband who fully supports equality in raising our children, and my weeks are now scheduled to include at least one work day off with my kids.”
Phoebe has had many conversations with her family, and especially her husband, about how they could achieve this version of ‘having it all.’
“It took a lot of introspection and honesty from me to first admit that if I wanted it all, I couldn’t be doing it all.”
Hayley Worley, Founder, The Sheet Society
Bed sheet creator Hayley says #ChooseToChallenge invites us to have open conversations about equality and what it means. It is about challenging the actions of others as well as our own thoughts so we can make collective change on a peer-to-peer level.
She reflects on three rewarding aspects of being a mumpreneur: perspective, variety, and humility.
“Perspective – Coming home to kids makes you realise that most things you’ve spent the day stressing out over just really don’t matter in the bigger picture. Yeah a delivery might have been late, or a marketing campaign didn’t perform like expected, but as long as you’re happy and healthy that’s all that matters.
“Variety – Going from operating plan forecasting to ‘Mr Men’ books before bed, I’ve found that switching to a completely different way of life at home as opposed to when I’m in the office really helps me switch off and recharge. You’re not your best when you work 24/7, so being forced to switch off helps me better feel refreshed to tackle the next day.
“Humility – My toddler certainly doesn’t care that I’m running a business as he stares me down and throws his dinner on the floor!”
For Hayley, ‘having it all’ as a woman depends on the definition of ‘all’ and requires realistic expectations. Rather than being ‘all mum’ or ‘all entrepreneur,’ the two add up to make her own version of ‘all.’
“I think we need to normalise working Mums, and especially entrepreneurs. I was lucky enough at the time of having my first child my business was profitable enough to have my husband quit his full time job to take over from me, but there needs to be some government support for solo Mum entrepreneurs to have extra assistance in running their businesses whilst on maternity leave. As women, we shouldn’t have to make a choice between family or work, we should be able to have both.”