We’re proud to see so many women taking charge in industries that have previously been considered male-dominated. Hoping to dig a little deeper into this, Rajapack, a packaging company (themselves founded by two women in 1954), spoke to ten women currently working in male-dominated environments. Focussing on inspirational women from the construction, packaging, engineering and manufacturing industries, they wanted to find out what advice these women would have for others looking to get into. Check out these experiences from women working in male-dominated industries.

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This week, inspirational woman Khadija Gbla is sharing her passion and personal experiences with advocacy, gender and identity, peer education, leadership and female genital mutilation. Despite receiving death threats to her and her son, Khadija stands up and speaks up for what she believes in.

Resettling as a refugee in Australia, Khadija regularly experiences discrimination, ageism, racism, sexism and mountains of stigma. Rather than letting it slide, she became interested in human rights at 13. This led her to her work as a human rights activist, coordinating domestic violence prevention and child protection. Additionally, Khadija is Australia’s lead female genital mutilation campaigner and voice. She provides training, advocacy and support for survivors and girls at risk.

Khadija Gbla shares her views on leadership

When I speak up there’s power in saying this is not ok, I’m going to challenge that and make sure it doesn’t happen. I’m going to be a part of the solution. We wouldn’t have had revolutions, or have the right to vote if women of that time didn’t stand up. Those women had to fight.

The only thing I’m in control of is what I’m doing in my life and what I’m doing is making a change. Leadership comes at a cost, people don’t talk about it but it does.

Being a woman in leadership has challenges. It comes with attacks and judgement. Women go to award shows and people are talking about what they’re wearing. Being a woman of colour, I get it from every angle and it’s exhausting.

Leadership is serving and nurturing others potential. It’s not about the limelight. It’s about asking how am I serving, supporting and nurturing others so they reach their potential? As a leader I treat those I work with as equals, respecting what they bring to the table. The people I lead make my life easy, the ideas they come up with are limitless and it’s a team effort. The girls I work with should be the ones on TV, speaking, while I step aside.

Peer education and mentoring

Peer education is what led me to be the leader I am today. Through volunteering, I found a space to see beyond my experience and past my pain and anger into something positive. I found my voice and realised my story and experiences were not just unique to me, but the stories of others as well. From this, I learnt that the personal is political.

People find benefit and validation in speaking to someone who has a lived experience like them, and it’s important not to minimise their experience and knowledge.

Female genital mutilation

As a survivor of FGM myself, I have had this passion and need to ensure it doesn’t happen to another little girl in the world, especially in Australia, where I live and can have the greatest impact.

FGM is done to little girls because of their gender and is a form of gender-based violence. People assume FGM only happens in Africa and ‘we don’t do that in the west’. This is untrue as FGM is a global issue and it is happening in Australia.

What we need to remember when tackling these issues is that culture is fluid, it constantly changes and evolves.  We must have a human rights focus as there is no space for racism in our fight against FGM. All children, no matter their culture, race, religion etc deserve to be protected.

The power of sharing my truth is that even though everyone may know what is or isn’t between my legs, I have saved girls from FGM and supported survivors. I have led Australia in a conversation about FGM as child abuse, deserving of our attention and efforts. I have influenced the way we tackle FGM in Australia and trained workers to provide an appropriate response. This means that I am saving lives.

Gender and identity

As a woman of colour who has to deal with the challenges of sexism and racism, intersectionality is very important to me. Intersectionality is the recognition that I face numerous forms of oppression and the many ways they impact me.  For example, I have to worry about my accent or whether to change my name on a resume because of racism.

As an intersectional feminist I believe that while another woman’s oppression is different from mine, I can still support their fight for equality and justice. We, as women, must acknowledge that our challenges as women differ from one woman to the next. Whether you’re an Indigenous Australian, Muslim woman, a woman of colour, a woman with a disability, a sexually diverse woman etc.  However, it is important that we show up and fight for each other. Our struggles don’t have to be the same for us to truly come together. It shouldn’t matter that someone else’s oppression doesn’t look like yours for you to care. We must challenge and dismantle our privileges to truly create an equal world.

If we don’t show up for others it will hold us all down. We need to support all women to ensure our feminism is inclusive. Unless we’re all free, none of us is free.

Khadija Gbla’s focuses for 2019

I believe that every year you should be doing better than last year. As such, I have a long list of what I want and each year I have goals and intentions I set for myself. My main one is that I want to write a book about my life as a former refugee, surviour of child abuse, FGM and domestic violence survivor; intersectional advocacy, being a black single mum, my African Australian identity and race politics. I also want to have more overseas speaking engagements.

A myth to debunk…

We understand that we live in a world where there isn’t equality but there’s a view that those who are marginalised are asking for a handout or need saving. That grates on me as what we’re asking for is a level playing field, not a leg up, favour or extra stuff. The fight against inequality is not about wanting a handout, it’s one of equality. We need to stop the stereotype that when a marginalised group speak up, and fights for their rights, that they need to be saved. Nobody is asking to be saved. It’s about equality and human rights.

Khadija GblaAbout Khadija Gbla

Khadija Gbla is a very passionate and inspiring African Australian woman. She is an award-winning human rights activist, inspirational speaker, facilitator and consultant. She has displayed great courage and determination in achieving her aspirations of giving women, youth and minority groups a voice at a local, state and international level. Khadija utilises her powerful and inspired voice to advocate for equality.

Khadija Gbla has featured on ABC news, the Courier Mail, the Herald Sun and her Ted Talk has received over a million views. Find out more about Khadija’s work https://www.khadijagbla.com.au/


Megan Hess is one of the world’s most well-known fashion illustrators, having illustrated portraits for the New York Times, Italian Vogue, Vanity Fair, Prada, Cartier, Dior and FENDI. Not only is Megan a talented artist, but she has also written and illustrated seven best-selling books, is a mum, an artist in residence to multiple international venues and has built a global business. She is a leader who inspires!

Megan was kind enough to share her experiences in starting a business and her reflections on being a leader.

Megan Hess Drawing

How did you land your first client? Were they in fashion?

I studied Graphic Design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but I really always wanted to be an illustrator. I just never knew that it was a possible career choice! After working as an Art Director in Ad agencies for several years, I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist.

At this time, I was the Art Director for Liberty Department Store. While I loved art-directing fashion, I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this other art directors saw my work and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune, but I’d never been happier, and I knew I was going to do this forever.

As my clients got bigger and better, I was able to be a little more selective, and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006, I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller, and I met with Candace, and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of ‘Sex and The City’. Once ‘Sex and the City’ was released I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them.

Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman and Ladure. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off, I had my first baby!! It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!!

 

What was it like to go from working on your own to hiring staff and having to be the leader in your team?

At first, I was terrified of hiring staff because I had worked on my own for so long. But as soon as I had my first employee, I realised I should have hired someone years ago! My business dramatically grew, and I was suddenly able to get back to focusing on creating. It was the best business decision I ever made.

 

What do you look for in an employee about to join the Megan Hess team?

I always start with personality. I believe if someone has a great personality and is intelligent, they have the capability to do anything. My team is small, so it’s important that everyone gets along and respects one another.

It’s very important to me that everyone feels safe and loved. Even though it’s work, we all spend a lot of time together so everyone feeling good is so important. I’m so proud to say I work within a group of women that feel like family. I’m very lucky.

 

What achievement are you most proud of?

Getting paid to do what I love for a living and being a Mother. I see that as a huge luxury to be able to do both, and it’s something that I’m very grateful for every day. I’ve also been able to donate many pieces of my work for charities and causes all over the world, and in some small way, I feel proud that one of my drawings may have helped someone where.

As Creative Patron of Ovarian Cancer, I’ve also had the privilege of working with the most inspiring team of people trying to raise awareness and funds for the development of an early detection test for Ovarian Cancer.

Megan Hess Book

As your career has grown, you’ve worked with some incredible brands. How did you first initiate these client relationships?

I am very grateful to all the amazing brands that I have worked with. For me, it’s been years of building those relationships. Each new project attracts a new client, and I have been fortunate to have been commissioned by such diverse and creative companies all over the world.

 

What areas of leadership are you most confident in and are there aspects of it that you struggle with?

I’m a big picture person. I don’t like to micromanage. I’ve always believed in the theory that it is best to work with people who are faster, smarter and much better at certain things than me. I know my strengths, and I love to let my team manage and take ownership of their roles. I’ve learnt that autonomy is very important for people to grow and for a company to grow.

Megan Hess Desk

How do you find owning your own business and being a mum? Does your home, office etc always look as good as on Instagram?

Ha! Well, sadly no although I wish it did. Actually, my studio always looks pretty good because we all make an effort to keep it ready for both chic clients who drop by and last-minute photoshoots. My home is sometimes completely tidy and lovely, and other weeks I have piles of washing, dishes and school projects everywhere!! It’s a normal household full of lovely chaos!

 

You have such a diverse business including prints, commissions, books, homewares/styling and more. Can you describe your creative process?

I hand draw all my line work with a custom Montblanc pen and ink, then I either leave it black and white or add colour with gouache, watercolour and digital means. Some of my illustrations are very fast. I usually post a quick sketch on my Instagram account each morning (@meganhess_official) and I only ever give myself 10 minutes for that – because I have so many deadlines to get through! Most of my work can take anywhere from an hour to several days. It just depends on the complexity of the illustration.

If it’s for a client, it starts with a brief, and I always give myself a good amount of initial time to dream and get inspired about what I’m going to draw. Sometimes I’ll do initial sketches or create a mood board of concepts and ideas. Then I’ll discuss with my clients where my direction is heading. Then it’s to the physical drawing phase, and I’m usually in absolute joy creating the final image.

See the magical work of Megan Hess.

 

Anastasia BenvenisteAbout the author
Anastasia Benveniste loves anything digital or creative and is passionate about human rights. She gets enormous amounts of personal satisfaction through her work in digital communications, as it allows her to share people’s stories. She has a Masters in Design Communication, and her favourite academic experience was spending a semester studying at Yale University. Outside of work, she loves art history, painting and anything monogrammed! www.benvoa.com 


Are you looking for ways to maximise the hours in your day using tips for productivity? Trust me, as a busy mum of two, General Manager of a global beauty brand, strategic marketing consultant, household manager and studying my Master of Business (Marketing) – I understand the challenges that women face when it comes to the balancing act of life.

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I love being a part of the Leaders In Heels community as it offers the ability to network and meet inspiring women worldwide. Sarvin operates her self-titled international sustainable luxury clothing brand from the UK. Leading up to International Women’s Day, I wanted to include her interview about starting a sustainable fashion brand as a source of inspiration to those who are looking to start their own company. Whether it be in the fashion, food and beverage or tech, I have come to realise that entrepreneurs all have the same struggles and doubts, but possess similar qualities to succeed. 


Can you give a background on yourself and your business?

My name is Sarvin and I am the owner of Sarvin,  which I launched three years ago in the UK. It started as a hobby,  sketching in my flat while I worked a full-time job. I always loved dressing exclusively and the feeling of luxury fabric. I decided to work with a self-employed dressmaker, and once the garments were ready, I would upload a few images of myself wearing the samples either as a selfie in front of the mirror or attending various events.  I still remember it as if it was yesterday when I received my first few orders via email and Instagram. It was at this moment that I realised that this is what I love doing. As a result, I decided to create a brand focused on sustainable fashion made from high-quality fabrics and distinct attention to details.

Starting a sustainable fashion brand

What is sustainable fashion to you and why is it important?

Sustainable fashion focuses on reducing textile waste and environmental depletion while increasing ethical treatment of workers; the goal is to slow down the global production and consumption process to form an industry that will be more sustainable in the long run.

At Sarvin, sustainability is the core of our business. We aim to increase the message behind sustainability by providing quality garments and using eco-friendly material.

In our latest collection, we have used ethically sourced, eco-friendly fabrics to create extraordinary garments. All manufacturing methods are sustainably based, with 75% in the UK supporting local artisans.

We keep our supply chain local to the fibre origin to minimise transportation through the production process.

“We aim to increase the message behind sustainability by providing quality garments and using eco-friendly material.”

 

Were you always interested in entrepreneurship?

Yes, I always loved working for myself. I knew it would not be an easy journey and I was aware I would not be earning a steady income. However, this was a path that I knew would make me incredibly happy and excited to wake up to every day. I grew up in a family where both of my parents were self-employed and from a very young age my Dad would take me to his company and teach me important matters about his business.

What are the three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

  1. Patience – I have learned in the past three years that nothing comes easy. Nothing happens overnight and you have to stay on top of everything to make and see progress.
  2. Consistency & persistency – You have to stay consistent. Although the majority of time spent goes towards the business in the first couple of years, you’ll find that consistency and persistency pays off immensely.
  3. Faith – Never lose hope if you fall once or even a few times! There have been times in my business where I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, but once I made it through the difficult times, I became much stronger.

What does a regular work week look like for you?  

A regular day starts with exercise so I feel energetic all day. I work from home for a couple of hours and then head to my second part-time job in the afternoon.

I believe scheduling downtime is essential. In my spare time, you can find me experimenting with new recipes or hiking with my partner.

How was the process of gaining international popularity for you? 

The entire process was very organic and selling from different marketplaces helped me gain exposure.

I honestly never had a feeling of giving up completely, but there were times I would think that it would be much easier if I had a 9 to 5 job and a steady income. After experiencing such thoughts though, I would remember why I started in the first place and think about where I am now. It would only provide me with the courage to move forward and not look back.

I remember the first time I got an international order. I turned around and said to my partner, “Can you believe that there is someone on the other side of the world that loves my design?”. He just smiled and said, “let’s work hard and turn that one into many more”.

 

“Can you believe that there is someone on the other side of the world that loves my design?”. He just smiled and said, “let’s work hard and turn that one into many more.”

 

What has been your biggest hurdle in starting a sustainable fashion brand? 

Starting a sustainable fashion brand takes much longer than fast fashion garments; we take our supply chain process very seriously and test our garments many times before launching. Before creating a new line, we take action on a long-term strategy based on a sustainable environmental philosophy. We consider every aspect of our production process, from our handcrafted accessories to our finished garments. We make sure we are using quality sustainable materials and working with the right people. As a small business, this takes a lot of time and energy.

When you are starting a sustainable fashion brand with no background or knowledge in running a company, the lack of experience makes it much harder to find the right people to work with and that understand your vision. I have learned not to be too trusting with people you have just met and to be more diligent with background checks regarding their skills and reputation.

I think it is so important to monitor every aspect of your business and to often look from an outsider’s perspective to see what needs to be done to take your business to the next level.

What do you love most about your brand?

Focusing on quality rather than quantity. I don’t follow fast fashion and I do not follow trends. I love designing for women that love and appreciate the touch of luxury fabric and have a strong desire to look rare wherever she goes. I am also so excited that Sarvin will soon be launching our first ever print collection that is vegan, eco-friendly fabric.

By taking pride in being a sustainable-focused business, I am:

1.  reducing waste by choosing the right manufacturer and fabric companies;

2. one of the first few independent sustainable luxury labels that use vegan fabrics in their garments;

3. increasing productivity and working with like-minded businesses;

4. “doing good” for the planet and creating quality garments over quantity; 

5. spreading the message behind sustainability and caring about our planet’s future.

What is your advice to someone starting a sustainable fashion brand or business of their own?

Do thorough research in the months before launching your business. Take on internship roles for start-up companies because this will help you gain more experience and exposure in your field. If you feel like giving up, take a deep breath and remember why you started this journey. Take the time to celebrate how far you have come.

What do you love most about Leaders In Heels? Any last words for all the fellow inspiring female leaders reading this?

I personally love all the Leaders in Heels products, but my favourite has to be the Phenomenal Woman Planner. It helps me a lot with planning my daily tasks and keeping me on track with my schedules and appointments. What is great about this planner is that it gives you that kick every morning to make you feel like a phenomenal woman. For my fellow female leaders, you can do whatever you want in life as long as you work for it!

Starting a sustainable fashion brand

Follow Sarvin

See Sarvin’s most recent collection for yourself at www.sarvin.eu.