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Focus, fight and flexibility: How women in business are smashing bias

“Uneducated”, “dole-bludgers”, “thugs” and “oppressed” are some of the stereotypes that I have heard about migrants.

It’s sad to place any group into “boxes”, and may damage the ability of that group to prosper and make a positive contribution to society.

Recently, I organised a Small Business online forum as a celebration of International Women’s day, and as an approved collaboration with the NSW Government Small Business month. The funds raised were donated to the Harman Foundation Her House (which provides accommodation to women & their children escaping domestic and family violence, especially women of Indian origin).

The guest speakers, Sheba Nandkeolyar CEO Multiconnexions, and Esha Oberoi, the CEO Afea, migrated to Australia and successfully set up their own businesses. As successful, intelligent and articulate women, they demonstrate the falsehood of a stereotype that migrants are illiterate and a burden on the Australia. In fact, they both overcame various obstacles to establish multi-award winning businesses, and employ numerous staff in NSW.

As the daughter of Indian-origin migrants, I’ve seen firsthand the struggles that migrants endure. My parents migrated to Australia around 40 years ago with my brother who was less than 2 years old. I was born a few years later, and they juggled the challenges of a new country, a young family and setting up their own medical practices and working in the south west, and in the inner west. My husband grew up in the south west, and I’ve also learned the difficulties that my in-laws faced when they worked in that area around 40 years ago.

The UN theme of International Women’s day in 2022 was Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. It is crucial to world prosperity draw such a direct link between treating women equally “today”, as it will lead to a better “tomorrow”. There’s research that indicates that an educated female population increases a country’s productivity and fuels economic growth. Some countries lose more than $1 billion a year by failing to educate girls to the same level as boys.

There are numerous gender disparities in Australia and around the world – ranging from the rate of pay to the representation of women in board rooms, politics & leadership positions.

Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is still around 14%. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, between November 2020 and November 2021, the gender pay gap increased in categories such as wholesale trade and retail trade, but decreased in categories such as Financial and Insurance Services and Education and Training.

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly affected businesswomen in Australia. At the Forum, the speakers referred to challenges such as staff illness, losing clients and reduction in revenue. Mental health problems also increased during this time. Some businesses haven’t survived & had to close down.

Oberoi explained how she experienced crippling mental health challenges and struggled to find purpose during the earlier stages of her career, until she began work as a carer in 2007. The experience inspired her to launch Afea, which now supports more than 1,000 families every week, a business that later saw her named the emerging leader in health at the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards in 2021.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, and these migrant businesswomen success stories highlight how there can be a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

From my personal experience of setting up a small business, I overcame challenges through courage, perseverance, self-belief and developing support networks. And never give up – as it’s said “failure is a stepping stone to success”.

During the Forum, both Nandkeolyar and Oberoi shared their top tips for those starting or running a small business.

These tips included: flexibility (to adapt your business, your ways of working and mindset), focus (to keep your eye on the end game and the ability to innovate constantly), fight (to keep on going even when things look tough), the need to know your customer clearly, the significance of having a clear vision, and knowing your strengths.

Migrants who work hard and cohesively integrate into Australia, break biases and contribute positively to Australia as a whole. For any woman who has ambition and the passion to achieve her goal, I see no “glass ceiling”, only a sky with no limits.

Source: article by Pallavi Sinha, published on Women’s Agenda, April 2022

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