"I think men, if they don't know how to do something, they go, 'Oh, I'll just work it out later.'"
When entrepreneur Chiquita Searle was approached to lead a panel at Pause Fest 2016 — the Melbourne creative technology conference initiated by George Hedon taking place 8 — 14 Feb at Federation Square and surrounds — she jumped at the opportunity. The former General Manager of The League Of Extraordinary Women is "no expert" in tech. But, for Searle, that was the whole point.
This "big bad feminist" wants other women to develop more "self-belief" — and consider "taking that leap". "You've just got to put yourself into those situations where you have to learn — you have to get ahead of the game," Searle says.
"Women go, 'If I can't tick those ten boxes, and do all those things, then I'm not qualified — I can't do that job.' "
The vivacious Searle describes herself as "a risk-taker". She originally worked in recruitment in Queensland's mining industry before leaving to become a fashion designer, launching Chi The Label for stylish corporate attire. Along the way, she became involved in the League of Extraordinary Women — a national community of female entrepreneurs. She was promoted from Queensland "crusader" to GM. "I sort of segued into the entrepreneurial community." Today Searle's interest is just that — entrepreneurialism. The now Melbourne-based TEDx associate speaks and blogs.
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For her Pause Fest panel,The Top Women and Entrepreneurs In Tech, Searle has selected the likes of Julie Stevanja (co-founder of the activewear e-tailer Stylerunner), Bec Derrington (the PR/marketing strategist behind the media hub SourceBottle), and Danielle Lewis (who started Scrunch, geared to brands seeking influencers).
Searle is concerned that Australia hasn't fostered a digital culture, but hopes this changes under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership. "I think we are lagging," she says. "New Zealand actually has a better climate for start-ups than Australia." A wider problem is the gender disparity in both the worlds of business and tech. "A lot of it comes down to confidence. Women don't have that inherent sense of confidence that men do. I think men, if they don't know how to do something, they go, 'Oh, I'll just work it out later,' or they are a little bit delusional and they're like, 'I can do that' — but they can't! Whereas women go, 'If I can't tick those ten boxes, and do all those things, then I'm not qualified — I can't do that job.' We need to get used to putting our hand up a little bit more and saying 'Yes' to things when they come our way."
Searle admits that entrepreneurship is "not for the fainthearted." And women, who traditionally bear the burden of family life, tend to be risk-adverse. As such, Searle is proud of her activity with the League, which promotes empowerment through networking. "A lot of women who didn't have businesses but had an idea would come along and they were just looking for the inspiration and the support to start doing it. I think men, I don't know if they need it less, but they seem to be able to do it with less. Women want to talk about it. The community has often helped women launch their businesses just purely because they've got people to talk to about it. So, if they're struggling, they've got someone who knows what they're doing or has been there and done that and can speak from experience. They've got that support network of people who'll pick them up when they're having a really bad day or if they are feeling really scared — 'cause it's bloody scary!"