As women, we wear many hats. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that as you are reading this you are on the train to work, juggling your lunch, or also thinking about the long list of things that you have to do. When we balance our career pressure with looking after a family, and staying in touch with our friends, it can be easy to be overwhelmed.

With this in mind, it’s really no surprise that studies have shown that Australia is one of seven countries where the average age of women giving birth to their first child is above 30.

For our final interview of the year, we chatted toMikki Silverman, CEO of DiffuzeHR, on how she balances her successful career with the demands of a young family, with another baby on the way!

Mikki, tell us a bit about you. What’s your background?  

Before joining DiffuzeHR, I worked in the UK, Europe and Australia with leading Management Consulting firm, Bain & Company, did a 14-month secondment as the GM Strategy at GoodStart Early Learning ($700m turnover and 14,000 staff), and two years as Head of Strategy at Liquorland (a division of Coles).

Before starting work, I completed a Bachelor of Engineering at Monash University and a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Melbourne.

I come from a large family with 3 younger brothers. I have a 16 month old son and another baby due in December. 

Earlier this year, you left the corporate world and became the CEO of a cloud-based HR company. What was the motivation behind this change? 

I was presented with an opportunity to take a business that had real potential to the next level. Having a son and being pregnant, I decided that I had to really enjoy the hours I was spending at work and feel as though I was progressing my career. To me, running a small growing business was something I had always wanted to do, but hadn’t had the chance to do yet. I also knew it would provide me with a lot more flexibility than I’d had in previous roles. I didn’t actually actively go out seeking to move, but when I came across it I realised that it was too good to turn down.

What’s the biggest change that you have noticed in your professional and personal life since leaving the corporate world?

There are a lot of people counting on me – our Founder, our Board, our investors, our Team. I love this challenge but it also comes with deep responsibility and a feeling of not wanting to let others down.

How do you balance taking care of your son with the demands of being a CEO? What does a typical day look like for you?

I really couldn’t do it without my support network. I have a hands on husband who understands how important my career is to me. My mum is a saviour – Raph is her first grandson and they live around the corner. I do outsource – I have a nanny and sometimes a cleaner. A lot of women don’t like to “ask for help,” but luckily for me, I don’t mind. I also live about a 5 min drive from the office, which means I have the flexibility to come and go when I need.

Raph has been waking up early lately – so I spend:

6.30-7.30am playing with Raph – having breakfast and watching the wiggles in our PJs

7.30 – 8.00 I get ready while Raph’s dad looks after him. I’m at work around 8.30/9am

9 – 5.30 Raph is either at home with the Nanny, or at my mum’s house while I’m at work. If I need to leave to take Raph to a friend’s birthday party or another appointment, I can.

5.30 – 7.30 dinner and bath time with Raph. Sometimes Gid and I fit in a walk with him and the dog (usually Gid has done the food shopping or I go by my mums to pick up takeaway).

8-10 back online doing emails etc.

It’s fair to say that women wear a lot of hats! What are your tips for prioritising and also ensuring maximum efficiency when you are at work?

I’ve thought about this a lot – I write down the one thing I need to achieve in the day, and try do it really well. I picture myself in the monthly board meeting and what I will tell them I achieved for the month. They don’t want to know about all the small things, just the one or two things I did that month that moved the dial, or made an impact. This keeps me focused.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for working mothers is their working environment. How have you created a culture that encourages flexibility and family commitments?  

I’ve really tried not to set the expectation that my team need to be at work at certain hours. If I leave during the day – I am honest about where I am and what I’ve doing. I often turn up at 10am or leave early and this is very visible to the team.

The problem is that I have tendency to send emails at night and on weekends. I often try not to send until Monday morning, but I need to get better at doing this. Though, I do make it clear to the team that they don’t need to respond on the weekend.

What is the best part of your job?

At the moment I am really enjoying the marketing and sales side of things. We have some really great and experienced people in this area and I am enjoying learning from them and really trying to understand what our customers want and how we can make life a little easier for them.

How do you relax and recharge? Do you have a particular wellness routine that you work into your schedule? 

I haven’t been as good this pregnancy – but with the first I swam early morning 3 times a week with a really encouraging group of people. There was no way I’d be getting in the water at 6am if it weren’t for them! I also can’t live without my Pilates. This pregnancy I’ve become completely addicted to The Good Wife – I have watched all 6 seasons from start to end (you don’t want to count how many hours that is).

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I’d love to be running a successful midsize company that is helping and inspiring others.

From being served goose tongue in frog’s blood in Xiamen, China to being driven between quarries in Turkey at terrifying speeds on black ice, Angie Squires has a very interesting job.

As the Chief Stone Sales and Product Manager responsible for sourcing and importing Beaumont Tiles’s natural stone range, Angie knows a thing or two about working in a male-dominated industry. In fact, she is one of the first women many stone quarries in far flung countries have ever done business with.

I am often the first woman the quarries have done business with. I am a confident and friendly person and although there is often an initial reluctance it is soon overcome. Being a women often becomes an advantage as I am memorable being a blonde woman and knowledgeable.

We chatted with Angie to find out more about her diverse career, how she found herself in the stone industry and her tips for managing a busy schedule.

Angie, your job sounds fascinating! Can you tell us a bit more about your career? What was your first job?

My first full-time job after University (MSc) was as a Clinical Research Associate for a large Pharmaceutical company. I ran clinical trials around Australia for new drugs; assisted in submissions to the Health Department for registration of new drugs; trained the Sales force on the products.
After the Pharmaceutical industry I moved into Computing for fifteen years selling large mainframe devices to large corporations and then into personal computing where I managed the sales channels.

What attracted you to the stone industry? Tell us about your journey to your current role.

I had taken maternity leave from the computer industry and was approached by a colleague who had started up a stone importing business and wanted my help to establish a channel for the stone. I had done some geology units at University during my Master’s Degree in Science and had always been interested in geology so thought the opportunity could be a fun re-entry into the workforce. I have now worked in a number of stone roles and thoroughly enjoyed it. I love learning about the stones and how they are formed AND of course the countries where I source the stone.

Today I am the Chief Stone Sales and Product Manager responsible for sourcing, importing and ensuring a successful natural stone product range for Beaumont Tiles is available in their 100 plus stores nation-wide. Joining Beaumont Tiles in 2014, I travel overseas three or four times a year committed to bringing the world’s best and latest stone tiles to Beaumont Tile’s customers, builders and renovators.

I adore travel so this has been a great role for me and it is a very exciting time working for Beaumont Tiles, particularly in Stone. There is a real excitement and interest to renovate your home with beautiful Stone. Our new Stone range contains only first quality, premium grade stones from around the world in some exciting new formats such as our planks which can be laid in herringbone, as floorboards or mixed with other sizes.

What challenges and opportunities have you faced being in such a heavily male dominated industry?

Many suppliers have not dealt with women in this role before so it can be initially an issue. I found that if I had done my research on their country, customs and business then I was ahead of many of my male counterparts. You’d be surprised how many people never bother to even learn the basic words such as “please”, “thank you” and “hello” in that country’s language.

As soon as the suppliers realise you are competent and respectful they are more than happy to work with you. In fact it often works in your favour as being a female is memorable.
I have been taken into people’s homes and dined with their family which is just lovely and certainly helps cement a great working relationship.

We know that you travel extensively to source stone for tiles. What is your most memorable trip?

Hard to choose but will go with my trip to India the year before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. It seemed that every single road had been dug up to make way for new train lines, freeways or widening. The end result was unadulterated chaos – far worse than the usual traffic chaos.

My kind supplier decided I needed to see the Taj Mahal and offered to drive me there on the weekend with his wife. What should have been a four hour journey turned into 16 hours – elephants and camels were able to pass us. However I would never swap that excursion as the Taj Mahal is the most breathtaking vision. It is a must see. I also made very firm friends with that couple and we are still friends today.
Stone tiles I have sourced in my exotic travels includes:

  • Carrara marble from Italy
  • Porto Santo limestone from Portugal
  • Linnato limestone from China
  • Almond Milk, Almond Blend, Warm Ash and Vanilla Travertines from Turkey
  • Papyrus and Sandy Bay sandstones from India
  • Ebony and Grey Mist granites and Blue Moon basalt from China.

What have you learned working in remote locations?

Always check the local customs before you travel and respect them.

For instance in many parts of India it is impolite to show your legs so best to wear pants. Low cut tops in the countryside of Turkey aren’t advisable. It is very important for a woman to respect these customs to be taken seriously. And it is also important to keep a sense of humour for the inevitable gaff from either side.Being a female can really work in your favour as you are memorable.

With a busy schedule and global travel, how do you make time for yourself and your wellbeing?

VERY good question. I find work/home life balance a challenge. Having a large dog helps as she needs a good walk every day and I do ensure I take her. I also try never to work on a Sunday. I get up early and make the most of the day. I like to get outdoors for a long walk or a game of golf. Last resort is the gym.

I have a great group of friends who I see regularly and find a good laugh dissolves stress!

Where do you see yourself in twenty years?

RETIRED!!! I would like to spend three months of the year travelling and the other nine months playing golf, keeping fit outdoors, enjoying my wine collection and hopefully spending time with my children and grandchildren (fingers crossed).

Finally, what advice would you give to women starting their career in your industry or a male dominated industry?

Always strive to be competent, confident and stay away from the gossipers. If a new opportunity arises, go for it. Don’t hold back because you don’t have all the qualifications or you will never progress. You can learn as you go.

Are you passionate about what you do? Do you jump out of bed every morning feeling like you are 100% on purpose? Or perhaps you are feeling burnt out, and not satisfied by your career?

Describing herself as part sass, part sizzle and a whole lotta soul, after a high flying career in the corpoate world, Megan Dalla-Camina has worked out how to balance her passion and purpose. These days, Megan is an entrepreneurial powerhouse. We chatted to Megan about life, work, building confidence and how you can dream big and find your passion.

It’s time to make yourself comfortable and prepare to be inspired!

Megan, what was your first job?

My first job was working in a café. Actually it was more of a donut shop/burger/sandwich place. I was almost 15. I couldn’t get in there fast enough, I was so keen to earn my own money. I worked Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. I had a strong work ethic from a very young age, I think from watching my parents work hard.

These days, you are a business, creative and leadership strategist, an author, coach and speaker on women, leadership and wellbeing. Wow! Tell us more about your career journey.

I grew up as a creative; a dancer, actress, writer, poet, singer, music producer. I was always creating and performing, right through until I was in my early twenties. A car accident then changed my course, and I ended up in the corporate world, which saw me working for big global companies like GE, PwC and IBM for the best part of the next 20 years. I worked in marketing, business development, business strategy, gender diversity, organizational change and leadership development. Really senior roles, in Australia, Asia and the US. My last role was Head of Strategy for IBM, a 5 Billion dollar business. During that time I also completed two Masters degrees, one in Business Management and the other in Wellness with a major in Positive Psychology. And just before I made my first big Director role, I got pregnant with my son who is now nearly 15.

Whilst I loved and thrived for most of my corporate year, it was also pretty brutal. I was a workaholic for a lot of it, at my worst working up to 18 hours a day and living on a plane across multiple countries to do my job. And this led my to one of my pivotal moments, having a complete burnout at age 35 and realizing that this really wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. It was the first time in more than a decade that I actually stopped to consider what I wanted my life to look like, as the thought of doing that would never have crossed my mind – an issue I see in so many women.

At that point I took a few months off, and then went back into my company (IBM) in a newly created executive role, but in a flexible part time capacity four days a week. I stayed there for another 7 years, and I made it work for me. I went and did my yoga teaching training to deepen my spiritual practice, and I did the second Masters degree in Wellness with a major in Positive Psychology, to get into the science of thriving. It was then after much urging from women in my life, that I landed the book deal to write Getting Real About Having It All. And I started to build my exit strategy from corporate life, to step into my own business.

Now, I’m a thriving entrepreneur and love it. I’m a business, creative and leadership strategist, and a coach, speaker and author on women, leadership and wellbeing. I’ve also recently created The Career Toolkit, an incredible online program to help women with their own career journey, with all of the lessons, tools and strategies that they need to get clear, confident and lit up with the work they do in the world.

I’m also a single parent to the most amazing teenage boy who is the coolest person I know – he keeps things interesting in between running the business, writing my next book, setting up my second business which is a women’s leadership development company, traveling to Byron and New York whenever I can, coaching, speaking and doing my PhD researching women and feminine power.

Looking back, is there a defining point in your career?

There were many defining moments, as I think anyone who really reflects on their career will find. There are four major ones that had a profound impact on my career and life. The moment at 24, whilst recovering from a car accident, that I decided I wasn’t going to keep pursuing my passion in performing arts, and would instead take a job at GE, my first corporate role. Before the accident I had been trying to work out how I put my career together and was trying different roles in advertising and music publishing and mixing that with performing. But I knew there was a decision looming and that’s when I had the car accident. Making that decision to change direction was a huge moment for me that changed the trajectory of my life.

The second point was becoming the youngest Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers the day after I found out I was pregnant, and two days after starting my first Masters degree, definitely a defining moment (and an oh sh*t moment too!). Another significant one was when, two years after taking on the biggest role of my life as Director of Marketing at IBM, I completely burnt myself out and gave up that job, to take a few months off, get well and work out what I really wanted my life to look like. I write a lot about that in Getting Real About Having It All. And then of course, when I left my corporate career two and half years ago to start my own business. Huge, massive, defining moment that I am grateful for everyday.

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers?

Get clear on what you want. Know what you are passionate about. Think about what meaningful work would look like for you. Don’t be afraid to move around and try different things until you work out what really lights you up. Understand your strengths, those things that you like doing and are good at (take the free survey at And get crystal clear on your life vision. For so many of us when we are starting out we go hard on the career stuff, trying to make our mark, move up the ladder or create thriving businesses. But our life often suffers, sometimes drastically, as a result.

I encourage all of my clients and women I speak to, to do the work to create a vision for their life that excites and energises them, and then build their career into that, not the other way around.

We love that you are passionate about leadership having a heart and not being afraid to show it. How do you work with leaders ready to embrace this attitude?

Leadership is really changing, and bringing heart into, humanizing it, and giving people the tools they need to lead effectively and enable thriving, is incredibly important. The work I am doing in large organizations, and have done for the past decade, about individual and organizational thriving, is truly creating revolutions in how people show up, how businesses get the best out of people, and the bottom line impacts. I do a lot of work around Positive Leadership, taking the science from positive psychology, neuroscience, behavioural economics, and wellness and have now taught and developed thousands of people in these tools and techniques. When people really understand how to use their strengths, flex their mindsets, work with their energy and manage their wellbeing, the change in them and their work is incredible. And when we train leaders in organizations on the same principles, and that behavior change ripples through the business, not only is the culture changed, and the business results improved, but lives are changed for the better at work and at home. It’s incredibly powerful.

How can women leaders embrace their “feminine” traits at work, particularly in corporate environments? What advice would you give someone who is in a workplace where they feel like this attitude isn’t accepted?

This is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for women when we think about stepping into our feminine power. We are so socialised as women to be nice, to please and importantly, to conform to the power norms of the organisation or structure we are. Considering that most of our organisations are still patriarchal systems, designed by men for men and the ideal worker and leader model, women need to conform through adopting more masculine traits so that we fit in and can succeed at work.

As I have personally experienced, and witnessed through my work in gender diversity, women’s leadership and private coaching, this is an unsustainable and deeply unfulfilling strategy.

What is sustainable and meaningful is for women to give themselves permission to show up authentically and bring their whole selves to work. Traits like vulnerability, empathy, creativity, collaboration, intuition and kindness, are deemed by research to be feminine traits – whether they show up in men or women. For women to feel authentic at work, we have a deep need to show up with a balance of feminine and masculine traits. Unfortunately, when we get real about it, many of us are deeply attached to our masculine, and our feminine is left withering on the vine. This goes for men too, who have little to no permission to embrace their feminine traits, and also have a deep longing to. Women can look for ways to bring these traits into their everyday life, embracing them for what they are, and not being afraid to be real, authentic and balanced, no matter what their environment.

If women are in an environment where they cannot be themselves, where they can’t use their strengths, where they feel like they are an imposter because they are not showing up authentically, then I would suggest looking for a new manager, a new team or a new organisation where they can truly thrive. And for female entrepreneurs, it’s important to check in on this as well, as we often employ our masculine traits to drive our business forward, and it’s one of the key reasons we see so much burn out amongst business owners. You have to keep yourself balanced and in check for sustainable long term success, both personal and professional.

How can women be more confident at work?

Confidence is such an ambiguous term. What we know from research is that confidence is really the ability to turn your thoughts into action. There are three components to that; being able to show up authentically; thinking less; and taking action. For many women, the issues that impact confidence the most are the stories we tell ourselves, our beliefs and the incessant rumination that keeps us stuck. Learning to challenge the stories we tell, and reframe them positively so that we can do what we want to do, is the key. This simple three step process has proven to be life changing. Firstly, learn to catch your stories. What are the consistent stories you tell yourself that undermine your confidence? Catch them and write them down. Second, start to ask the question ‘Is that true?’ for every story you tell yourself. This ability to challenge will help you break down the stories into truths and untruths, instead of just taking every one of the 60-80,000 thoughts you have in any given day as gospel. And lastly, once you know what the truth is, you have the opportunity to reframe the story into one that will enable you to take action toward your goal. This is the key to building confidence, step by step, story by story.

There is an in-depth article on my blog on confidence for women that I recommend for more on this critical topic.

How can we dream big in our careers? What steps can we put in place when we are ready to take the next step?

Dream is the operative word. We have to bold enough to dream. So often we limit ourselves because we are scared of declaring what we truly want. Get creative and start a vision board. Journal about what is really in your heart. Focus on your strengths, your purpose, what meaningful work would truly look like. People always ask what would you do if you couldn’t fail. But I prefer to ask what would you do even if you failed? That is what you truly want. That is probably what your biggest dream is. That is your calling. Go dream, visualise, and create a plan around that. And watch what happens.

My free career planning pack has a great worksheet that helps guide women through this process. And The Career Toolkit goes deeply into life vision, purpose, career planning, feminine power and all the things that you need to support dreaming big and then building an all important action plan.

You have shared stories about dealing with “Sunday night dread” in previous jobs, which is common amongst a lot of women. How do you suggest we deal with these feelings and stress?

There are so many reasons why women get the dread and it can show up in different ways. It can be the stress that starts to seep in on Sunday around lunchtime, when you switch back into work mode and start playing out the week in your mind (or actually start working to get ahead of the curve). Or it can be the sense of misery and even depression that you can feel at the thought of another meaningless work week, where you can’t show up as you truly want to.

You can put a Band-Aid on those feelings, or you can get to the bottom of why you are feeling them. Really look at why you are so stressed or miserable. Is it that you aren’t using your strengths? That you are creatively stifled? That your work is just meaningless? That you are so over stretched and over committed that you are bordering on burn out? Many women don’t face the answers to these questions because if they do, they are scared they will have to face some unpleasant truths and create some changes. That’s true. But staying in this pattern of unhappiness is much worse, and can have dire long term consequences.

It may be hard to face in the short term, but the only way through it is to show up, get real about where you are at, and do the work required to create positive change.

Finally, we know you are very busy. How do you balance your own wellbeing amongst your busy schedule?

It can be challenging as I always have a lot going on, as most of us do. I manage myself by making my wellbeing and balance in my life a priority. It’s the only way. And I anchor my day through wellbeing practices that keep me grounded. I learnt the hard way what happens when you lose your health, and it’s just not something that I am prepared to compromise on ever again. It’s not always the easy road, for sure, but it’s the sustainable one.

The mornings are sacred for me and I try to keep them clear to ground my day. Once I have taken my son to the bus or to school for early morning basketball training (6am, oh joy!) I then head to the beach with my dog Billie for a long walk and a swim when it’s warm enough (about 9 months of the year). I then head home, picking up a green juice on the way or making a green smoothie at home after my yoga and meditation practice.

It helps that I work from my home and have created a space that I love being in. My office space is surrounded by vision boards, books and creative projects I am working on, and my desk is covered with things that inspire me and embed a sense of wellbeing (aromatherapy oils, a candle, inspiring quotes, the odd crystal or two). All of this keeps me feeling grounded and in touch with what is important while I am running my business; being on the phone with an executive coaching client in Melbourne, working on a business strategy with an entrepreneur in London, writing my book, doing PhD research, preparing a talk for a speaking gig, or driving my own business development and creative projects.

And then I have an evening ritual that helps me calm down and switch off at the end of the day. About 9.30pm I start to wind down, once my son is in bed and I have done what I need to around the house or with work. I will do some gentle yoga, have some relaxing tea (chamomile and lavender is my current favourite), read something about creativity, wellbeing or spirituality, put on some aromatherapy oils, meditate and sleep, generally no later than 10.30pm. This whole routine could be an hour, or it could be 15 minutes, especially if I’m traveling. But it always happens.

I get asked all of time about balance and how we can really create it. So I wrote 12 Rules For Balanced Women as I wanted women to have a real guide on what is essential to create balance in your life. Balance is not a myth, it’s what the sages from the ages taught us. But we have lost our way. I walk through the 12 things that are essential for you to focus on if you truly want a balanced life. It is possible. I learnt the hard way, but now even with everything that I do, I still have balance because I have followed these steps to create it for myself. It is my wish for everyone to find their version of what a balanced life looks like. The bundle includes a video, the beautifully designed ebook which has become somewhat of a bible as you say, and a workbook. And it’s totally free on my website.

Megan Dalla-Camina is a keynote speaker at Macquarie University’s 2015 Women, Management and Work Conference, 6th November in Sydney. She will discuss, “Shift to new leadership”. The conference will feature some of the most innovative ideas of leadership and progressive management concepts, presented by thought leaders in organisational management and diversity. Get your tickets here.

It’s not often that we hear the stories of inspiring women who are leading the way in modern agriculture.

Kate O’Callaghan, General Manager of Southern Cotton, is leading a team of six to create a burgeoning cotton industry in regional NSW that is being praised for its world-class production.

Southern Cotton was born from the frustration of local cotton growers, who questioned the necessity to travel 800km to gin their cotton. With this in mind, within three years the team’s vision has become a reality, now processing cotton from more than 100 growers and turning over more than $25 million annually.

There was a perception that the plan to build a gin wouldn’t work, but failure was never an option. When a team of like-minded people work together towards a common goal in challenging circumstances – what seems impossible can be achieved.

Widely acknowledged as improving the outlook of the regional economy, Southern Cotton was recently named the 2015 Australian Regional Business of the Year. We chatted to Kate to find out about her background, role and Southern Cotton and how their business is helping the local economy.

LiH: Tell us about your background, did you grow up in the bush? What was your early career?

I grew up in Sydney. Despite the fact that it was unusual for a young woman to have a passion for agriculture, few were surprised by my decision to enrol in the male-dominated Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree at the University of Sydney.

It was here that my passion for agriculture turned to action. I represented the agriculture student population on the Faculty of Agriculture Board and represented the Faculty of Agriculture on the university Academic Board.

After graduating from university as an agronomist in the mid-1980s, my drive to make a positive contribution to the agricultural industry shaped both my professional pathway and clarified for me that education is the best way to reach others and influence change.

Following leadership roles at the Department of Agriculture, Novogen (pharmaceutical company) and CopRice Stockfeeds, I have brought together the lessons from these experiences to my role as General Manager at Southern Cotton.

When I’m not working for Southern Cotton, I run fat lambs and grow rice and cereals with my husband Owen on the family farm at Yanco.

LiH: How did you get involved with Southern Cotton?

I was recruited by Southern Cotton in 2011. The directors gave me a ring and asked if I would be interested in an exciting new challenge and I immediately said yes! The brief was to nurture a new industry for the Murrumbidgee Valley community in southern NSW. Within a year, we transformed a paddock into a $26 million operation.

This year 36,000 hectares of cotton has been sown in the Murrumbidgee Valley, with more than 700,000 bales processed at the facility since 2012.

Through my role at Southern Cotton, I represent the Southern NSW cotton industry at Cotton Australia general meetings and on research panels. I am also currently the secretary of the new Southern Valley Cotton Growers’ Association and am the agricultural representative / treasurer on the Riverina Regional Tourism Board.

LiH: At the Telstra Business Awards, Southern Cotton was praised for its impact on the regional economy. Can you tell us more about this impact, and how important is it to you + the future of Southern Cotton?

This season, in the Murrumbidgee Valley, 36,000 hectares of cotton was sown with the average yield 11.5 bales/ha (400,000 bales). Southern Cotton processed more than 200,000 of these bales. With an average value of in excess of $500 per bale, this is returning close to $200 million to the region. Plus, associated growth in support industries, for example, agronomy, freight, and machinery sales.

Cottonseed sales returned an average $345/tonne to the region’s growers in 2015 ($15 million into the regional economy).

Over four years we have processed in excess of 700,000 bales with a value of over $300 million

We’re dedicated to doing the best job for our growers and showcasing the quality of the emerging cotton industry in Southern NSW.

LiH: What’s the biggest challenge that you have faced so far?

The overarching hurdle was the preconceived idea that cotton would not be a viable crop in the region. As such, funding for the project could not be secured through any of the banks. Backing their belief in the potential of the cotton industry, the Southern Cotton six directors took a risk and invested their own money to develop the ginning facility.

The financial challenges were matched with practical difficulties. Given the location of the gin was a greenfield site, electricity had to be upgraded 15km away and other office conveniences, such as phone and internet connection, were not straightforward.

There are two main lessons we learned from successfully overcoming these difficulties.

The first lesson is that persistence pays off. There was a general perception that the plan to build a gin wouldn’t work. Failure was never an option for the Southern Cotton team, despite the significant personal and financial sacrifices that have been made.

The second lesson is that when a team of like-minded people work together towards a common goal in challenging circumstances – what seems impossible can be achieved!

LiH: What are you most proud of?

Southern Cotton is a compelling winning-against-the-odds story. I’m most proud that I have helped transform a greenfield site into an operational gin, proactively educated local growers about the benefits of choosing cotton as a summer crop, and informed visitors to the region about the efficiency, sustainability and quality of the local irrigated industries.

LiH: How has being named the National Regional Business of the Year impacted your business?

To win the Telstra business awards has allowed us to share our enormous pride in not only our business and its achievements at every level but also the regional cotton industry, our growers and their excellence.

LiH: As a leader for women in agriculture, what advice do you have for other women in the industry?

I would like to share my experiences in effecting change. For me, there are three key lessons in effecting change. Firstly, change doesn’t happen in isolation. Influence is about getting the people around you to want to join you on the journey. Throughout my career, I have taken others on this journey to effect change in many industries.

Secondly, it is important to always stay true to your values – and treat others the way you want to be treated. That is why I have the support of Southern Cotton employees who have worked tirelessly alongside me to gin cotton at the highest quality and provide exceptional customer service.

Thirdly, effecting change can be all-consuming. Balancing these efforts with other interests gives you the stamina to keep going for the long haul. For me, that means spending time on the family farm, keeping up with the activities of my three sons, and catching up with friends and sometimes just having some time out (in my dreams ha!).

At Leaders in Heels, we love sharing the stories of brilliant women, who have worked hard to achieve success in business and life.

From women who have built their own businesses, through to game changing corporates and everyone in between, a common factor amongst these leaders is that they are humble, and prefer to work hard with little expectation of personal recognition for their achievements.

While it may be easy to think “why me?” when an opportunity to nominate for a business award comes up, the benefits of putting yourself forward are extensive.

From building confidence, right through to promoting your business, with the Telstra Women’s Business Awards just around the corner, now is a great time to take the next step. In case you need more convincing, we have shared some great insights from past winners to get you on the way.

1. Building confidence

It’s well known that many women often focus on getting the job done with as little fanfare as possible. While dedication is key, it’s also critical to build your confidence as an individual – and leader – of your business.

Having the confidence to “have a go”, can be easier said than done. Sharon Warburton, 2014 WA Business Woman of the Year, believes that confidence is the key for successful women; no matter what industry they are in.

I suspect many of you are familiar with the case studies that suggest that if a male can do 10% of a job description they’ll apply, whereas if a woman can’t do at least 90 per cent they won’t.

A leader in her industry, Sharon combined her experience with the confidence boost from the awards to start Steel Heels. Having the confidence to put herself forward as a leader has benefitted many women, particularly those working in male-dominated industries as Sharon shares her experiences freely to help other women.

2. Intimately knowing your value

Busy women are often put off by the time it takes to go through the entry process for many awards.

Life can be a delicate juggling act, particularly when you are juggling a busy work life with personal commitments – one extra task can feel like it will throw your entire routine out!

Don’t overlook this key stage, as the personal learnings can be incredibly valuable… no matter how far through the process you ultimately go.

Going through the entry requirements is much more than an administrative burden: it’s a great way to measure your career and personal growth, and forces you to take the time to reflect on how far you have come. Intimately knowing your value, and the value of your work, is a fantastic tool moving forward.

Skye Anderton, winner of the 2014 QLD Young Business Woman of the Year award and founder of Ruby Olive notes:

It suddenly occurred to me through this process, that business that I started in my living room only 4 years ago had in fact come along way and every little step on that journey had contributed to the huge amount I now realised I knew.

3. Great PR for your business

It’s a competitive market, and sometimes it feels impossible to cut through the noise, online and offline! Building an association between you and your business and well-known industry awards builds your profile, and is great PR for your business.

For Kate Morris, founder and CEO of Adore Beauty, entering the business awards also signified a change from working in the business, to working on the business. As CEO, she is able to add value to Adore Beauty and promote the brand by building her profile and focusing on key areas of the business where she can add significant value.

4. Networking

In addition to the personal benefits, putting yourself forward for awards opens significant doors. From making friends who understand the highs and lows of business, through to potential mentors and champions for your business, don’t overlook the power of growing your networks of like-minded women.

For Mia Klitsas, 2014 Victorian Young Businesswoman of the Year, this was a highlight of the awards process.

It’s not something that I thought about when I entered the awards, but being able to connect with other like-minded, passionate, driven and successful women has probably been my personal highlight of the entire process.

 5. Feedback from influential business leaders and the community

In addition to increasing your networks, entering awards provides your business and personal brand with credibility that attracts business leaders – providing you with further opportunities to grow and learn.

Mia further reflected that,

The opportunities and possibilities that result from participating in the awards are endless; you never know who you will meet and where opportunities will take you. Whether or not you are successful, each stage of the awards offers new learnings and experiences.

As your business moves forward, support networks from a cross-section of society and business are invaluable.

Entries for the Telstra Business Women Awards are open until midnight June 29. Entries and nominations can be made at or by calling 1800 817 536.

A Leader in Heels is a self-starter. Someone who dares to dream, and creates her own opportunities.

Jessica Wilson, founder of the fashion app Stashd, is a true example of a Leader in Heels. After being told by a careers counselor that she couldn’t make it in the cutthroat fashion industry, Jessica did more than prove her doubters wrong.

After a successful stint in fashion working in Australia and New York, Jessica was drawn to Silicon Valley to learn more about the tech industry. With her trademark determination, she wanted to learn how she could use her fashion industry knowledge to create her own space in an entirely different (and competitive!) industry.

Stashd is a “fashion discovery app”, which helps you discover and buy your next favourite piece. The app presents a single item at a time: if you love it simply swipe right to “Stash” it into your virtual wardrobe, or if its not for you, swipe left to “Trash” it. Your virtual wardrobe can be shared with friends, and also helps you purchase your favourite pieces directly from the store!

So how did this Gen Y leader go from a career in fashion to being a tech co-founder? Jessica chatted with Leaders in Heels to share her five tips on creating your dream company from scratch.

1. Look for ways to make your own experience

Jessica’s entrepreneurial drive was evident in her teens. After being told that her high school wasn’t having a formal after-party, at the age of 16 Jessica learned that “when someone says you can’t do something, it doesn’t actually mean that you can’t do it”.

Jessica took matters into her own hands and negotiated with her parents to have the party on their farm. This experience, from learning how to negotiate with her parents, DJs and suppliers, through to running events attended by more than 400 people, gave Jessica important leadership skills and the understanding that you can make your own opportunities out of nothing.

2. Take set-backs in your stride and always follow your gut

After her success in running events, Jessica was more than ready to take the next step into fashion. After researching a lot of schools, she found what she thought was “the best of the best”. However, things didn’t turn out as planned when she was told that she didn’t have what it takes to have a career in fashion.

There’s no doubt that this was a really difficult time for Jessica. After a period of self-reflection, she knew that it was time to leave.

“I decided to not take their perception of me to heart. They didn’t know me, and they had only met me for a few minutes. It was a matter of backing myself, trusting myself and hoping it would all turn out. They weren’t supporting me and what I wanted to do, so I had to leave.”

For Jessica, this was another important lesson early in her journey: trust your gut and never settle for second best.

3. Throw yourself outside your comfort zone

After the early set back, Jessica’s determination landed her a job doing seating charts for well-known designers such as Akira Isogawa and Bettina Liano. This was a huge learning curve, and it wasn’t long before Jessica was off to New York, producing shows for Australian designers before working with industry heavy weight Kelly Cutrone at People’s Revolution.

At this time, Jessica noticed “dots in the industry that started to connect”. After deciding she wanted to learn more about the tech industry, she immediately headed to Silicon Valley. At 21 years old, Jessica threw herself out of her comfort zone and spent a week heading to different events, meeting people from Google and Yahoo, who heard about her journey and took her around tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple. After learning everything she could in a week, Jessica knew that fashion technology is exactly where she wanted to be.

4. Look for people with skills that compliment yours

One of Jessica’s greatest skills is throwing herself into meeting and learning from people with the complimentary skills to her own. After returning from Silicon Valley, Jessica went straight to a tech co-working space, and surrounded herself with the people that had the skills she needed to create Stashd.

“If you have a genuine connection with someone, it will open more doors. You need to just put yourself out there”

5. Beware of “founders’ bipolar”

Jessica admits that life as a founder is not just the perks you see in the media. After living and breathing Stashd, she recognised the importance of looking after herself to ensure that she can make it through the good and bad times.

“You need to learn how to manage your state, how you are going to take on all of these challenges and how you will cope mentally.”

These days Jessica uses meditation to help stay grounded, and get her through the busy days and often long hours involved creating a game-changing app.


Thank you to Jessica for taking the time to chat and share her advice with Leaders in Heels. After a huge few months, which have included being the youngest Australian woman ever invited to attend the Forbes Under 30 Summit, and heading to Antarctica with a group of fellow entrepreneurs, we can’t wait to see what’s next for Jessica and her tech dream.