I was just 19 when I started working in our family vegetable business. I wasn’t very engaged in what I was doing at university and thought I might as well make some money.
In hindsight, I don’t think I made the decision taking into consideration where I wanted to end up or what outcomes this decision would create. I worked out of Werribee, a city outside Melbourne, until I was about 24 years old.
Then, due to a business restructure, I went from working in the Werribee facility to working in the markets at night. The vegetable wholesale markets are a dynamic environment but also quite ruthless, particularly due to the working hours.
After some time, the hours started taking their toll and I wasn’t really enjoying the direction of my career. So, when I was 29 years old, I decided to go back to university and study. I choose youth work for no particular reason other than my keen interest in social science subjects.
Just after my 30th birthday, my dad let me know he was getting ready to retire, so at the age of 31 years old, I bought the family business from my dad. Studying something completely unrelated really opened up my mindset and career options, which then allowed me to see value in some aspects of the horticulture industry and business I was working in.
Fast forward to 2021, and I’m the CEO of Velisha Farms, a successful multi-million dollar horticulture business in Victoria. It hasn’t been a walk in the park though — it’s been tough, I’ve encountered my fair share of critics and setbacks, but I like to think I’ve got some great insights to help women just like me pave their way to success.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Decisions
In my experience, women often find it really difficult to make decisions quickly and have confidence in their opinions and actions. Unfortunately, I think this is tied to societal structures and a culture that has encouraged women to be happy to stay in more ‘supporting roles’ in the workplace — and we have often felt judged and criticised for asserting ourselves when it comes to big decisions.
This is a workplace cultural problem, creating a space where women are often tentative to step forward and lead. To combat this feeling, you need to back yourself in, you can’t wait for others to give you the opportunity. Be confident, be brave in sharing your wisdom, take action, make decisions and trust in yourself to navigate the outcomes of your decisions.
Show Up Like a “Man”
Have you ever noticed how the most confident person in a business meeting is often a man? That’s because men show up with complete confidence in their abilities and back themselves in and they rarely apologise for their knowledge or their input.
Of course, I know it seems easy for me to say, as I can acknowledge I’m in a really privileged position in my career where I get to make the rules — but it really does pay to show up with confidence. And when you do, you’ll be surprised how your actions encourage others to show up with confidence. Great leaders create more leaders, not followers.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Just remember — how people treat you is a reflection of them, not you. If people are going to be rude, or give you a hard time, this says much more about them than it does you – don’t let them throw you off your path to success.
Instead, find whatever you can as a coping mechanism to help you manage things like anxiety and stress in your busy day-to-day routine. I like to use humour, interacting with the space I’m in, such as a boardroom. I always try to say to myself “what I’m trying to achieve is all about me, not someone else”.
Take Control of Your Own Financial Decisions
It’s so important to take responsibility for learning about stuff. You need to empower yourself to learn about things like shares, investments — don’t rely on someone else to do it for you. You’ve got to keep making brave decisions. Even if you’ve never had experience with these kinds of things, you need to push yourself to learn — even when you don’t feel empowered.
Remember, everyone has been a novice at one time or another, but to become an expert you just need to put in time and effort.
Create Your Own Support Group
What you need to recognise is that support won’t necessarily come to you so you can’t wait. There are fewer opportunities for women, so if we wait to feel empowered and ‘good enough’, the timing will never be right. Instead, use your networks to the best of your abilities.
Like with all of my tips; the cornerstone of my advice is the same — it’s up to you to reach out to people, ask for help and create your own support group. The further you push ahead, the more like-minded people you will meet along the way. People can’t follow what they can’t see, by you leading the way, other women can then follow. Fortune favours the brave.
Remove the Stress By Being Prepared
Different business meetings and environments all pose different challenges. You can’t control external factors, but you can control how you feel during an important meeting. I like to make sure I remove things that can distract me. Feeling well presented is an easy ‘hack’ to help take away the things that might make you feel stressed or lack confidence so you can put your best foot forward.
For example, wear your favourite pair of pants to a business presentation, or perhaps avoid wearing something that might lead you to feel self-conscious. Make sure your computer is charged, your phone is off. You are your own mentor and champion. Never forget that!