It was a balmy Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. A perfect late summer’s day to do a little shopping on Collins Street or head down to St Kilda for a relaxed lunch and a civilized cocktail. Instead, I had decided to spend a few hours in a boardroom with a group of strangers. Crazy, I know.

But Kelly Stickel and the 16 or so other women (and two men) I spent three hours with in that boardroom made it all worthwhile. Kelly is the founder and CEO of Remodista, an organisation that connects problem solvers across the business world. Chicago-based Kelly started Remodista in 2010 after a successful consulting career at companies like Accenture and Acquity Group.

In founding her firm, she recognised the massive shifts taking place in business (and society), especially in her specialist areas of retail and finance, and that there was a role for people like herself in connecting talent, cultivating collaboration and finding innovative solutions. The transformational processes of digitalisation and globalisation have opened up all kinds of new possibilities for how we do business and Kelly is an expert at helping businesses recognise and maximise their potential.

One of the things Remodista does is hold workshops like ‘Born to Disrupt’, which is what I was attending on that lovely Saturday afternoon, hoping to glean some wisdom from Kelly.

She opened proceedings with a quote from Dan Millman: “Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” The workshop then went on to a four-part discussion around the topics of inspiration, friction, fear and success. We started with the perfunctory intros and soon dived deep.

Over the next couple of hours we heard some brilliant stories about how this incredibly talented group of female entrepreneurs were applying not only will, but also ingenuity, creativity and expertise to overcome apathy, doubt and fear. These women are running businesses across the spectrum of industries, from transport and logistics, through to eCommerce and retail, so it was instructive to hear how things are done in one industry compared to another. We can always learn so much when we step out of our little bubbles. It’s something we should all try to do more often.

Each one of these entrepreneurs had her own story of failure and success, of striving to achieve. The conversation was far-ranging and grounded in experience rather than rhetoric. This was the stuff that comes from furrowed brows, exasperated sighs and hearty laughs rather than fluffy quote memes shared on social media (though there’s a place for that too).

One of the women spoke about dealing with a big bank that continuously and arrogantly directed all correspondence to her husband, who didn’t even work in the business. She went into further detail about how that bank then tried to bully her into bankruptcy. She dug her heels in and lawyered up, which was not what the bank was expecting. They quickly realised she was not someone who was going to roll over and be pushed around.

Another told of the disdain she received from men in her industry when she talked about her disruptive business model. There was certainly none of that from any of the experienced business heads in the room when she outlined to us what she was doing, rather just admiration and inquiries about how we could invest!

Another common theme was the “bitch” issue, because almost every woman in that room (and almost every woman I know) gets that delightful epithet slung at them at some point or other. You walk a tiresome tightrope as a woman in business between being seen as too soft or too hard. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor when I asked him about the perils of being seen as a bitch was ‘outsource your bitch!’

This was certainly not a workshop about bashing men. There was plenty of gratitude and goodwill for the men who do respect and support women in business. However, as the workshop’s title ‘Born to Disrupt’ implies, women are a disruptive force in business, and friction comes with disruption. Women have to work bloody hard for success because in most cases we’re still playing by the rules set by men. Yes, the rules are changing. Slowly.

Needless to say, I came away feeling energised and inspired by Kelly Stickel and the other women in that room. So many of the burdens we carry as business owners get buried rather than shared and discussed. So many of the funny stories and little victories are ignored too. In hearing other entrepreneurs talk about their experiences, I learnt more about them, and I learnt more about myself.

It’s especially great to get together with my fellow female entrepreneurs and talk, not just about the hardships and battles we face, but also about the satisfaction and joy we get from what we all do.

When I left the workshop the weather was still beautiful and I was feeling positively uplifted — a perfect time to have that cocktail in one of Melbourne’s chic bars, and reflect on how far we have come as female entrepreneurs, and how exciting the journey ahead is.

Fi Bendall

Fi is Westpac / AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, described by CEO Magazine as the CEO's Secret Weapon she is one of Australia's most respected thought leaders in the digital space. As an expert and pioneer in digital strategy and with over 23 years experience in the digital / tech sector over three continents, Europe, USA and Oceania; Fi has a depth of understanding unique to Australia.

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