After the company I founded (JobCapital) reached $50 million in revenue, I went back to my primary and high schools in south-western Sydney to pay it forward.
I wanted to inspire students, girls especially, that entrepreneurship is an exciting, rewarding career open to them, but there was one glaring problem: almost no-one knew what an entrepreneur was. Those students who (thought they) did, answered: “a man with a shop”.
That was the turning point that led me to found Inspiring Rare Birds. For five years we made it our mission to empower women entrepreneurs. I’m proud to say that our mentoring programs, books, networking and education events contributed to their rise in confidence, and in numbers: in 2018-19, 46,600 females became business owner-managers, raising their representation to 35 per cent.
But significant obstacles remain in the way of full inclusivity. Women’s representation on boards in Australia has dropped to 28.7 per cent and global modelling suggests gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years.
I realised we need to tackle this at the organisational level to create lasting change, so this month - amid the global snowball of COVID-19 impacts and International Women’s Day events - I re-launched Inspiring Rare Birds.
Our new vision is to ensure future generations can clearly identify the organisations they want to work for, and build, because of their high commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I) - which is proven to drive greater innovation, commercial success and talent retention.
Schools are the perfect place to start
Parents and teachers are in the box seat to encourage involvement in innovative learning programs and challenge stereotypes around the natural strengths and abilities of different genders and backgrounds.
The leaky pipeline of diverse STEM qualified students with adaptable, entrepreneurial mindsets begins in schools, and profoundly impacts organisational D&I. Parents and teachers have a critical role in recognising this.
Entrepreneurship teaches students to ask questions and be inquisitive, try things, be prepared to fail, do what works and then reflect.
Every student in every school should learn this mindset because those who can adapt the quickest, will survive and thrive in business, and be sought after candidates for future jobs.
The greatest challenge in preventing the economic gender gap from closing is women’s under-representation in emerging roles. In cloud computing, just 12 per cent of professionals are women. Similarly, in engineering, and data and AI, the numbers are 15 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.
These are the technology-first professions where wage growth is the most pronounced. These are the industries at the forefront of innovation and commercial success, where entrepreneurs play and smart corporates are investing significant time and money.
Yet girls are underrepresented in ICT and DT subjects with only 26 per cent of year 12 girls enrolling in 2017 compared to 39 per cent of Year 12 boys. In Year 12, boys outnumber girls 3 to 1 in physics and almost 2 to 1 in advanced mathematics.
Students lacking in STEM skills and an entrepreneurial mindset will have fewer job opportunities in these emerging fields as traditional disciplines narrow or are replaced by AI. Australia needs a workforce with strong STEM skills to maintain economic growth and keep up with global competition.
The role of mentors
So, what can you do?
I firmly believe change starts with role models, and you’re never too young, or old, to have a mentor.
To prepare all students for a working life of innovation, disruption, creative problem-solving, collaboration and strategic thinking, find them a high-impact mentor, or become one yourself.
Mentoring creates long-term connection and alignment between students and educators, industry and community, and offers meaningful context for student learning with a clear vision of the opportunities available for life after school.
Include workplace visits, industry and school collaborations in school curriculums. Run unconscious bias training for teachers, parents, even students. Challenge ingrained stereotypes at the most critical point in a young person’s learning and career trajectory, before they make the decisions that will anchor and direct the rest of their career.
Understand the profound changes impacting the future of work and take action to equip future workers and leaders with the right skills to succeed.
To find out more about Inspiring Rare Birds programs, contact [email protected].