Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon and Shark Tank investor, is one of Australia’s most prominent entrepreneurs and business leaders. She sat down with create to talk about how to turn your passion into a career, how to get more women in leadership roles, and why everyone needs better work-life balance.
create: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who have a concept or dream that they would like to turn into a reality?
When you’re driven by passion, it doesn’t feel like work, but passion can actually be exhausting for other people. It is very important to work out what difference
you’re making to other human beings because when you really nail that, you can bring other people along with you on the journey. That journey creates purpose and purpose is how you’re making the world a better place — that is engaging.
create: How do you build a culture of diversity within a company?
We created our business from the ground up based on different opinions. I definitely didn’t want ‘mini mes’. I needed people to be adding value to my non strengths, that was really important to me. As leaders, we create a framework where people need to choose to participate.
Leaders set the vision, the north star, and create the values of the company. Then, we align people to the pillars of what we said we’re going to do, and when we do that, people want to be a part of something.
create: The 2018 International Women’s Day theme is #PressForProgress. What areas of gender diversity are most relevant today?
No matter the size of the organisation, you have to do an equal pay audit. If things are wrong, you just fix it. The biggest banks in the country have done this work. They’ve found that they have pay gaps and they do it every single year because the unconscious bias happens all the time. It is never set and forget.
The second thing to look at are the different characteristics of men and women in an organisation. Particularly in many engineering organisations where there’s often gender imbalance. In these environments, it is important to ensure leaders are listening for and nurturing the contribution of women.
I’ve sat on a whole bunch of boards and even on the set of Shark Tank, I have found myself, being a good girl, waiting for my turn to ask a question or contribute. As women, by nature we will sit, assess, make sure we’ve got all the facts, and then ask questions. Women can often feel the need for approval before they speak up, this needs to change.
create: Is the number of women in leadership positions also an issue?
It can be a lonely place as a woman in leadership. I was once part of a membership organisation and when I started there was only 13 per cent women. Then, I was made the membership chair and by the time I left that post, that number had increased to 35 per cent. Women benefit from having females in leadership to look to for guidance and to light the path ahead. As the number of these role models increase, the more women will feel an inner courage to follow their own ambitions.
On the set of Shark Tank, one of the things I love is that Janine and I never see eye to eye. If I was the only female on the panel, they’d say that I represent the view of all women — but I don’t represent 50 per cent of the population. No, that’s just my point of view! I just happen to be a woman.
create: How can both men and women achieve work-life balance?
Work-life balance is a label that can make people feel bad about their lives. Personally, I have no work-life balance but I have a wonderful life. I’ve got four beautiful children, a dog, great friends and family but I have no balance. When my children were little I made sure that I never had my mobile phone on me — I always put it away so that when I was with them, I was really with them. I also know that if I want to make RedBalloon hugely successful, I have to work hard.
It’s simply a matter of choice. Work-life balance is about being truly present in where you’ve chosen to spend your time because when you’re present, you can make a world of difference.
Naomi Simson will be a keynote speaker at the Engineers Australia International Women’s Day events in March. To learn more and to register, click here.