Business Chicks 2017, Sydney | What I Learned


Business Chicks is Australia’s largest and most influential community for women.

Just like you and I, Business Chicks doesn’t want to live in a world where “CEO” is a male-centric position; where women would need to work an additional 70 days a year just to earn the same amount as men; and where too many women are scared to ask for the pay rise they deserve. So this company’s aim is to give women the tools, connections and experiences they need to lead a bold life and make their business dreams come true. Pretty amazing right?

I came across the company on Instagram, they have a pretty huge following so it’s hard to miss them, and I saw that their annual “9 to Thrive” event was being held in Sydney in August so I bought a ticket, grabbed some cheap flights and put it in my diary. I thought I would, at the very least, benefit from hearing some famous Australian business babes share their knowledge about running a business or building an empire.

The event was incredible. It’s kind of hard to put into words the feeling of being there. You walk into this huge hall and are suddenly surrounded by only women. Women between the ages of 20 and 40, a lot from the fashion community, PR girls, bloggers, Instagrammers, mothers, mothers-to-be, CEOs, writers, publishers, girls from university, recent graduates – women from all walks of life who, like me, fizz for this kind of stuff.

The speakers throughout the day were so generous with their stories, honesty and humility, and I left feeling completely invigorated. So here are a few of my biggest takeaways, broken down into a few categories, from Aussie businesswomen I love so much.

Working Mummas & Putting Family First

Justine Cullen, the editor-in-chief of Elle Australia, was offered the role in 2013 and has since become renowned for being the brains behind some of the magazine’s most iconic covers featuring superstars like Chrissy Teigen, Lara Bingle and Margaret Zhang. On Instagram she always seemed so etheral, and in real life her hair was impossibly shiny, plus she works for a fashion magazine so I’m just obsessed. I was shocked when she said she was the mother of three boys aged 13, 10 and 4. Can you imagine? She said the reality of her life is “those down and dirty moments of parenting: bodily fluids and nits.” When asked how she copes as a working mother she said it’s important to establish what your “achilles heel” is, your non-negotabile. For her, it’s having dinner at home with her family every single night, and in order to achieve that it means sacrificing a few hours of sleep and starting her work day a few hours earlier than everybody else. She also said that working in the fashion industry means she spends a lot of time on social media “looking at perfect parents who are on their perfect holidays in Europe. And I have to remind myself constantly that it’s all smoke and mirrors”.

Jessica Rowe, a well-known broadcaster in Australia, is a mother of two and was candid about her experience with post-natal depression after both of her births. It was so serious that she said she was scared to tell her psychologist the thoughts she was having incase  someone took her children away from her. But instead she was told it was textbook post-natal depression and nothing to be ashamed of. She still takes anti-depressants today and said there is nothing wrong with that – we should think about it like having an iron deficiency.

I was so damn impressed by Suzy Nicoletti. She is the Managing Director of Twitter Australia. A real power player and mother of two kids under two year’s old (!!!). But despite having a high-profile job, she was incredibly calm and serene on stage. It was such a great reminder that you don’t need to be a Type A personality to be a great leader. In fact she spoke about the importance of EQ over IQ. Saying that it is a woman’s ability to be emotional that makes us such incredible leaders, and we shouldn’t ever try to diminish those qualities. Be emotional. Care about sh*t. She was also serious about putting effort into our relationships with our partners, she told a story of how her and her husband had a three hour meeting with their financial advisor to map out their future ambitions for their careers. At the end of the meeting the financial advisor said to them, “I’ve figured it out. If you really want to achieve all of these financial goals then the biggest investment you need to make this year is in your relationship. Because if your marriage doesn’t survive then all of this will be pointless.” So Suzy and her husband budgeted for high-quality nannies and daycare, spending more money than they would have liked, so that they could emotionally afford to invest in their relationship.

Building an Empire

Megan Hess, fashion illustrator for the likes of Dior, Louis Vuitton, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, gave us such a cool career story. About a decade ago she was freelance drawing and doing a lot of soul-destroying work like sketches for pizza companies where she would be told “the ham doesn’t look like ham and the cheese doesn’t look cheesy enough.” One particularly tedious job was drawing hundreds of horses for a horse catalogue and after working on it for eight months she was told the job wasn’t going ahead. She went to bed that night and decided she would give up her dream of fashion illustrations and go back to being a graphic designer, but in the middle of the night she got a phone call from an unknown number. It was an American accent who said they had an author who wanted Megan to sketch the covers for her next five books. The author was Candice Bushnell, the author of Sex And The City – and the rest is history! She was recently personally invited by Karl Lagerfeld to attend his Fendi Haute Couture show in Italy and”live illustrate” from the show. Those designs were then featured in the global Fendi campaign. Megan’s advice was that usually when you think things can’t get any worse, they will get a lot worse, and then the universe will dish you something incredible. Stick with it.

One of the more common themes from the self-made women at Business Chicks was about competition, almost all of them said they pay basically no attention to their competitors. There was a CEO of a world famous candle company who said she has literally never smelt another brand’s candle. She said she wants to be a game changer in her industry and be as authentic as possible, and in order to do that she can’t be influenced by other companies. Other speakers said that paying attention to your competitors only clouds your judgement and stops you making decisions based on your gut feeling, “No one will listen to us if we don’t first listen to ourselves.”

Instagram Insight

The following advice was directed towards those in the audience who use social media to aid or run their business, but I think it will also resonate with those who use Instagram for fun.

I don’t even know where to start with Celeste Barber. If it’s possible, she is even funnier in real life. She really is that person you see on Instagram in front of her 2.2 million followers, she says all the things you’re thinking but would never dare to say out loud. She is self-deprecating and quick witted and was so engaging with the audience. But she was also really insightful about Instagram, giving the following advice on what to post and when, “Worry more about how it feels rather than how it looks.” She said that your followers are far savvier than you give them credit for and if you post something off-brand because you feel like you’re overdue, or if you copy the style of a post from another Instagram user, or if you re-use an old joke, they will notice immediately. Worry less about the way your feed looks and worry more about how it makes you feel. Are you being authentic?

Taline Gabriel is the gorgeous soul behind Hippie Lane, the whole foods Instagram feed with half a million followers and some of the most attractive looking healthy treats you’ve ever seen. She said that there is no need to feel pressured about posting constantly, “If you’re followers genuinely love you then they won’t give a crap if you have a week between posts because you’ve had a stressful few days, or if you spend a few days offline to recharge mentally. And brands wanting to work with you won’t care either.”

Eleanor Pendleton was one of the women I was most excited to see live, I’ve always followed her closely and have found her career path so impressive, especially her risk in launching Gritty Pretty when there was nothing like it in the Australian market. Eleanor was the beauty editor for InStyle magazine for eight years before she decided to quit her corporate job; she felt like she had completely lost her creativity as a writer and could do her job in her sleep. She wasn’t being challenged. While she worked in magazines she had the Gritty Pretty website sitting “dormant”, she contractually wasn’t allowed to run it while working at InStyle because it would have been a conflict of interest. When she finally quit InStyle she took a leap of faith and launched Gritty Pretty publicly. The most important advice she gave us was “have a point of difference”. Eleanor said there are enough beauty blogs, fashion blogs and food blogs in the world – if you want to launch a business you need to fill a niche and do sh*t differently. Otherwise you will always be replaceable. If you want to break into an industry you have to bring something new to the table. For the Australian beauty industry, there wasn’t a dedicated online hub, and there was definitely nothing curated.

I feel like I could go on for hours about this event but the best thing I can say now is, YOU MUST GO! This is an annual event and I will most definitely be returning next year. How about we all book tickets and go together?


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club