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Being a woman is about using my voice to empower others ... and hopefully inspire my daughters.

Balance For Better: 7 Local Women Who Inspire Us

March 08, 2019

 

Women have fought long and hard to get to where they are today. From inclusion in education, politics, business and more – the world now blossoms with more women than ever taking their rightful place. For a long time, women struggled and fought against laws, morals and misinformation that branded them as “property”, prone to “hysteria” and only assigned value by having a uterus. In fact, during the fight for women’s suffrage across the ditch in New Zealand, one resident wrote to his local newspaper saying that women were ‘recommended to go home, look after their children, cook their husbands’ dinners, empty the slops, and generally attend to the domestic affairs for which Nature designed them; giving up meddling in masculine concerns of which they are profoundly ignorant’.

Thankfully, these ancient and misguided opinions have crumbled away as we move on to an era where women are finally appreciated for their intellect, mental and physical stamina and emotional intelligence. These days, women are celebrated for the incredible achievements they make and the historical work they carried out to pave the way. People such as Maude Bonney, one of the first female aviators in Australia who learned to fly in secret before circumnavigating Australia by air in 1932. People like Beryl Nashar who became the first female Dean of Science in Australia in 1969. People like Kate Sheppard of New Zealand who campaigned tirelessly for women to be allowed to participate in government.

This year, to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th we reached out to the incredible women from our own local Gold Coast community who inspire us each day. From florists and athletes to fashion designers and photographers – we gathered together the stories of these women who are out in the community, actively bettering the balance. Find out how they have navigated the unique challenges and joys of being a woman, and discover all the ways that the world is still changing for the better. Stay tuned over the next week to hear all their stories!

Join the conversation!

Carly Brown - Photographer

Thanks for catching up! Can you tell us a little about yourself? 
My name is Carly, I am a full time fashion and lifestyle photographer based in Byron Bay. I love being salty, I’m not good at sitting still or sleeping much, I love coffee and feel pretty lucky to be doing what I kinda dreamed of doing - taking photos for a living.  
 
What’s your story?

Well my story is one of never really being settled. I love change, adventures and chasing whatever it is that makes you tick - I love giving different things a go no matter how early or late in life. I have always been on the road since I was a kid, I have had so many homes all up and down the East Coast from the Northern Rivers, Central Coast and Sydney which makes for great surf trips and roadies. I have been in Byron for the past 9 years now and it’s definitely where I feel most at home.  I was unsure on what I wanted to do when I left school so moved straight to Sydney. I bounced between the East and the Northern Beaches. I was working in hospitality which quickly led me into Event Management… I was in a suit each day, working huge hours, earning good money BUT not seeing much daylight, not surfing much - I wanted more and wanted to explore photography… So after 8 years, I decided to chase more. I quit my job and headed north to Byron (a place I always visited). I didn’t know anyone, I packed my car with the necessities, found a room in a share house with four random, really awesome girls (who are friends for life) and I have never looked back. I have always had a love for photography and taking photos on various digi point and shoots / disposables / film cameras while growing up. After being convinced out of studying photography from a random chat with a surfer in Byron (who is now still a friend), I invested in my first DSLR and just started playing a little more; I am completely self taught. I began shooting people, landscapes, surf and bands on the side outside of work hours. Professionally, I have been working full time for the past 5 years which still blows my mind - I’m constantly evolving and trying new mediums.
 
What does being a woman mean to you?

I love being a woman and am proud! I think it can be challenging, yet so rewarding! I love that we can wear so many hats and wear them so well! I love that we have a soft side and a strong side and come together when in need! I am not a mum yet, however I am looking forward to the day where I can experience the gift of giving life and creating rad little humans. 
 
Who did you look up to as a girl?

My mum - Leeanne. She is a legend and a nurse of almost 40 years! She’s the most hardworking, determined, intelligent, caring and inspiring woman I know… (and stubborn)! She raised my bother and I as a single mum, working full time while continuing to study her honours degree. Not only did she raise me to understand the importance of being a strong and independent woman, she taught me to be kind, opened minded, always have fun and she definitely contributed to helping me find my creativity! Love ya mum. 
 
How does being a woman give you an advantage in your industry/career?

I think we as women just ‘get’ women, so sometimes I feel like we have a leg up with the connection / creating a feeling / vibe perhaps, or just how we see things. We can be go getters and strong yet really have an understanding and empathetic nature which I feel is an advantage. I adore shooting women and the female form in so many different ways. Every woman is different and equally incredible in their own right. 
 
What do you love most about being a woman?

Women are rad and we are the masters of many trades! Personally, I love being able to throw on a dress and have my girly time with my besties then next minute, jump on a skatie and kick a football around ha. I love surrounding myself with / connecting with so many inspirational women succeeding at life in general or in their careers - keeps me inspired, pushes me further and I’d also be lost without other's support. 
 
What challenges (if any) have you noticed as a woman in your industry?

Personally, I haven’t had too many, although historically it has been a heavily male dominated industry… Most mag covers and ads are shot by men and only a small majority of women are represented by agencies. It’s nice to see this gradually change and see more women climbing to the top! 
 
What advice would you give to other women wanting to succeed in their industry?

Just be you and do your thing. Work hard, stay humble, stay true to yourself and always be kind. Keep creating and keep trying new things! Surround yourself with other positive women (and men) and work together with like minded people!  
 
Are you seeing positive change for women in your industry? If so, how?

I think it is across the board, slowly but surely - more and more women are being recognised for their hard work and equal pay seems to be creeping in which is amazing! 
 

ELLIE BROOKS - Professional Surfer

Ellie! Thanks for joining us, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey, my name is Ellie J Brooks. I'm 22, born and bred on the Gold Coast and a professional surfer competing on the World Qualifying Series in hopes of one day making the Championship Tour. I also study Business Management part-time at university and am also starting up a little honey business with my partner Harry. I love cooking/making raw healthy treats, travelling, being active and I have a huge passion for nutrition and just general wellbeing. As well as this I’m a rather adventurous gal who can’t sit still for too long… (but maybe that’s just the coffee haha).

What’s your story?
I’ve always been a sporty girl. When I was little I was into gymnastics, soccer, touch and Surf Life-Saving. I juggled all of them but I absolutely loved being in the ocean. I was probably around 9 when I first started surfing! My Dad had me paddling around on a board when I was younger but it wasn’t 'till I was a little older that he taught me the ins and the outs haha. He first put me in nippers (Surf Life-Saving) which I absolutely loved and was pretty competitive at. It was cool to start off doing nippers as it helped my ocean knowledge like crazy and gave me a bunch of confidence in the water. I did that 'till I was around 15/16 but as I grew older I couldn’t help but want to be out there surfing with him! If he was going, so was I and from there my love for surfing and all that came with it grew! I starting competing more and more, training harder, aligning myself with the right people and the things I believed in and here I am! 22 and happy with the woman I have been and am still growing into!

What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman is pretty damn incredible, I mean look at what we do! We are such strong individuals. We are independent, strong-minded yet sensitive and caring all at the same time. I am proud to be a woman and even prouder of how far equality has come.

Who did you look up to as a girl?
I looked up (still do) to Steph Gilmore and Carissa Moore. Whilst being successful surfers they also displayed good honest morals, determination and looked like they were constantly having fun at the same time which I loved. Carissa was so young when she qualified and I remember getting her signature. I was like 'wow, I want to be that good one day'. I also really looked up to my parents. They were constantly there for me, through everything. I got quite bullied at school so having them to lean on really helped me. I remember them saying “just wait El, in 5-8 years this will all be a distant memory and these girls will regret it." They’ve always had my back.

How does being a woman give you an advantage in your industry/career?
In the past, surfing has been a male-dominated sport so it hasn’t always been easy, but women have really taken leaps and bounds. We now have equal pay which is amazing and I feel as though women in surfing are very influential, especially to younger girls. I think promoting what I do and love through social media has given me an advantage and women being able to express themselves freely through social channels is very beneficial, especially in this industry.

What do you love most about being a woman?
I love that we can be feminine but have grit, strength and determination all at the same time. We have grace but deep down we have a burning hunger to succeed at the same time. We are so strong-minded and as a group, we have progressed so far. It’s becoming less and less that you hear “oh you did pretty well for a girl”!

What challenges (if any) have you noticed as a woman in your industry?
Battling with the men out in the line-up!! So often they see you paddling for a wave and just automatically assume you can’t surf because you are female… but all it takes is one wave to prove you got what it takes haha.

What advice would you give to other women wanting to succeed in their industry?
To have a good hard crack! To have a tone of fun whilst doing it and enjoy every single moment, the highs the lows and everything in between. Being a surfer /competitive surfer is such a unique experience and we are incredibly lucky. The highs always outweigh the lows and in my opinion is what makes it so addictive.

Are you seeing positive change for women in surfing? If so, how?
110%!! Equal pay in surfing was a huge step in the right direction. Even the amount of girls competing these days is insane! I am so proud to be a woman!!

NESS SCHARKIE - Small Business Owner

Hey Ness! Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Ness Scharkie. I am an online florist based on the Gold Coast + am the Owner / Operator of NESST.

Amazing! How did you end up working in your industry?
I have always loved and been around flowers. My grandfather was an incredible gardener/rose enthusiast and if it weren’t for him I don’t think my adoration for nature would be half as strong as it is and for that I will always be grateful. Out of school, I set out to be a professional Makeup Artist, which I loved and honestly thought I was going to be for the rest of my life. Little did I know how the direction would change. During this time I started creating artificial flower crowns (just for fun) and before I knew it my friends, family and brides that I was doing makeup for starting requesting them. Next thing I knew Nesst was being stocked at Dissh boutiques, my now husband was creating a website and I started to pull back with booking makeup clients and doing fewer hours at my part-time job at Apple. From there, the fresh flower crowns started, then I studied beginners floristry at TAFE, created my first paid wedding bouquet and the rest is a melting pot of history.

What does being a woman mean to you?
Embracing the feminine in every way! Being sensitive yet able to be strong. Caring but not taking anyone’s crap! Independent but capable of supporting each other genuinely! I love how women band together when someone is down or celebrate the ups with sincere love.

Who did you look up to as a girl?
I was always a Daddy's girl, I never left his side.. even to the point where I worked at two of the same jobs as him. We just got each other (drove each other mad too). He was the atypical big burly man with the sweetest of hearts and would do anything for everyone. My Nanny has always been a huge inspiration to me too and to this day I still feel the same. She overcame much adversity and still sought out each day like a new chance to do live life to the fullest.

How does being a woman give you an advantage in your industry/career?
Floristry tends to be a female dominant industry (but don’t get me wrong, there are some outstanding male florists out there) so I don’t know if we have an advantage per se. What I do appreciate is everyone is so different. So… maybe that's the advantage, that we all have our unique differences.

What do you love most about being a woman?
By no means am I a stick figure so I ‘try’ my hardest to appreciate my curves. As I am getting older, I feel way more comfortable in my skin (and my mind).

What challenges (if any) have you noticed as a woman in your industry?
I feel like in any creative field, it is always hard for people to respect your time/worth! Just because I enjoy doing what I do, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid for it. I don’t even think this is a female issue, it’s a creative industry issue. People so often ask for a complementary throw bouquet just because I am doing the rest of their Wedding flowers, I feel like saying (and sometimes have said) you don’t go to a dentist and ask for free anaesthetic just because you are paying for the root canal. I hope this changes in time.

What advice would you give to other women wanting to succeed in their industry?
If you are passionate or inquisitive about something, start learning, researching and creating! Who knows what path it will set you on. What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t start? Even if nothing happens from it then at least you are participating in something you love. Saying ‘No’ to anything that doesn’t light up your soul and saying a ‘hell yes’ to anything you feel aligns to you and your values. Also, try not to get on the comparison train. In a world full of social media “perfection” stay true to who you are, what you like and let that your inner voice guide you, not the screen.

Are you seeing positive change for women in your industry? If so, how?
Yes definitely! I am lucky enough to have some really beautiful florist friends who help each other. Whether it be sharing a funny story, asking for advice on how to tackle a tricky conversation, money queries or celebrating wins! It garners a positive community and stops that competitive feeling.

MARISSA BOWDEN - Co-founder of The Village Markets

Thanks so much for joining us Marissa! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I was born in Sydney but was lucky enough to grow up in Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast. I now live in Palm Beach with my husband Rick, our two girls Stevie (7) and Pepper (5) and our dog Tiger Rainbow. I am a co-founder of The Village Markets which is a boutique market and community for creative entrepreneurs held at Burleigh Heads and we have just launched a Brisbane event which will be held quarterly in Stones Corner.

Amazing! How did you get to where you are today?
I studied Business majoring in Marketing at university, and from there I moved into marketing roles for companies such as IMG working in motorsport, MFS Limited working on sponsorships such as Australian Open golf events, the GC17 bid team where I was employed by the AFL and then I moved into a marketing role at the Gold Coast SUNS. During my time working for the AFL I launched The Village Markets with my friend and former co-worker, Sarah (we were made redundant at the start of the GFC but had stayed in touch). We spoke about the lack of cultural events and cool markets on the Gold Coast and decided to do something about it! We wanted to give local creatives an avenue to launch their brands. TVM was born in October 2008 with just 9 stalls…. it’s crazy to think back to the beginning!

What does being a woman mean to you?
Women are amazing and I am so bloody proud to be one. Being a woman is inspiring and empowering. I love the way we support and encourage one another, the openness and connection… that sisterhood - it’s just something else! And to grow and birth a human, well that’s just something else too. As a mother of girls, I am trying my best to lead by example.

Who did you look up to as a girl?
I looked up to my mother, my grandmothers and my sister - I was lucky enough to have been raised by a tribe of fiercely loyal, intelligent and inspiring women (and incredible men too!) who taught me the importance of self-worth, kindness and passion.

How does being a woman give you an advantage in your industry/career?
I think women have the ability to be fierce, empower and inspire, yet empathise and communicate effectively and openly.

What do you love most about being a woman?
I love the connections I have been able to make with other women. And the ability to grow and birth my babies - the two biggest achievements in my life!

What advice would you give to other women wanting to succeed in their industry?
Work hard and be nice to people.

Are you seeing positive change for women in your industry?
I most certainly am!

SARAH SCHOELLER - Co-founder of The Village Markets

Thanks for catching up Sarah! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name’s Sarah - Wife, Mama and Co-founder of The Village Markets, Burleigh Heads & Stones Corner. I grew up in Northern NSW on a small farm with my sister and brother and went to school in Tweed Heads and now live at Tallebudgera.

How did you end up working in your industry?
I studied Business and Marketing at University and worked for Stella Resorts (now Mantra Resorts), as a Retail Marketing Manager for MFS Limited prior to being made redundant and starting The Village Markets with Marissa, who I met at MFS. We would often talk at work about the lack of a cultural community event on the Gold Coast and after being made redundant had some time to create and launch The Village Markets. Marissa and I both juggled full-time jobs for a couple of years (I was Marketing Manager at Zarraffa’s Coffee), before taking the leap and doing TVM full-time. We started super small (with just nine stalls) and today have 100+ at each event.

What does being a woman mean to you?
For me, being a woman is about using my voice to empower others and hopefully inspire my daughters as well as honouring being in a position to champion women and celebrate our achievements. I’m grateful for those who have paved the way before me and who have strived to have women recognised as equals, but for the role we play in society as givers and nurturers and protecting this. I’m proud to be a women raising young confident and strong little women.

Who did you look up to as a girl?
My Mum and Nan have always been the biggest female inspirations in my life. Mum studied later in life and worked exceptionally hard to start a career in early childhood education when she had three young children and my Nan left School as a teen to help raise her five sisters and was so supportive and proud of all of her grandchildren.

How does being a woman give you an advantage in your industry/career?
We’ve fostered an amazing community at The Village Markets, something I feel that comes naturally to women and it’s one of our greatest achievements, along with watching others go on to become successful in their own right. It’s what makes this job so rewarding. What do you love most about being a woman? That I am confident, hardworking, loving, proud, a mother, wife, sister, friend, aunty, niece and daughter. I cherish my female friendships greatly and I’m proud to have so many amazing and inspiring women in my life. There’s something to be said for the sisterhood!

What challenges (if any) have you noticed as a woman in your industry?
As with most industries, overcoming the stigma of being a woman in business is always at the forefront. I often get asked, ‘What do you actually do, outside of market day?’ as though my job just pertains to the event day itself. I feel as though a lot of women small business owners could relate to this! Having to explain yourself and outline your business functions, plus being a mama/household manager is not the easiest feat and I am often doubtful that a man in the same position would ever have these questions asked of him.

What advice would you give to other women wanting to succeed in their industry?
Anything is possible with a lot of hard work AND don’t take no for an answer… ever.

Are you seeing positive change for women in your industry?
If so, how? With more women running their own businesses than ever, I feel as though the camaraderie between women in business is growing stronger by the day. It makes me proud to see women supporting other women in business and in life.

RENAE HARRIS - Senior Womenswear Designer at SurfStitch

Thanks for chatting Renae! Can you tell us who you are and where you’re based?
I’m Renae and I’m the Senior Womenswear Designer at Surfstitch! I live on the Tweed Coast, it’s great and I love it.

Can you tell us a little about your story?
I’ve always been into fashion really, I was taught by my grandma to sew when I was young. I used to love buying old nanna dresses and taking them to her house, we would cut them up and turn them into something new! I grew up in far north Queensland and didn’t really know you could study fashion design so I did a degree in graphic design. This ended up being very handy because now fashion design is all computer-based! When I graduated I worked as a web designer for 6 months and well - hated it! So I went travelling. When I came back I moved to Brisbane and studied fashion and ended up working in Melbourne for a big brand house.

What does being a woman mean to you?
Following your heart and being connected to the universe, living life following your instinct and being creative daily.

Who did you look up to as a girl?
PJ Harvey, Shirley Manson, my Mum and my Grandma.

How does being a woman give you an advantage in your industry/career?
Since I work in womenswear, it’s an advantage understanding what women need and want to wear.

What do you love most about being a woman?
That’s easy - being a mother is the best and most incredible, humbling, exciting, craziest experience ever! This has to be the best thing about being a woman.

What challenges (if any) have you noticed as a woman in your industry?
Most companies I have worked for are male-dominated and have mostly male managers. The uphill battle that started long before our time is still going and I’m sure a part of many working women’s lives to this day, still in 2019.

What advice would you give to other women wanting to succeed in their industry?
Don’t do anything if it doesn’t bring you happiness! Surround yourself with women that lift you up, we all need good girlfriends. I’d be lost without mine.

Are you seeing positive change for women in your industry? If so, how?
There’re always positive things happening, it’s just taking a moment to recognise it.

Harriet Brown - Surf Ironwoman

Hey Harriet! Thanks for taking the time to chat, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Harriet Brown and I am a Surf Ironwoman. I compete in the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series as well as distance paddleboard races such as the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard World Champs where currently I hold the world record. I was Captain of the 2018 Australian Surf Life-Saving Team and work part-time as an Exercise Physiologist. I am passionate about living an active lifestyle filled with adventure and healthy food.

What is your story, how did you end up working in your industry?
I grew up in Geelong, Victoria which is a 30-minute drive from the beach. I was always an outdoorsy, sporty girl and competitive from an early age. I played many sports throughout school but Surf Life Saving was always my favourite. I used to beg my parents to drive me down to the beach for training, I couldn’t get enough. When I finished school I moved to the Gold Coast to study at Bond University and train at Northcliffe Surf Club. I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a professional Ironwoman.

What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman is being comfortable in your own skin and not apologising for who you are. Being a woman is being kind and compassionate yet strong and independent. The way the world is shifting there are more and more opportunities for women, which excites me so much!

Who did you look up to as a girl?
I have always looked up to the women I am surrounded by. I looked up to my sister in so many ways, not necessarily for her sporting achievements but for the way she applied herself to everything she did. She seems to achieve so much into her week yet still have time for those she cares about. In sport, I always looked up to the older girls in my surf club. I tried to match them in training even if they were annoyed with me. I was that younger girl who wouldn’t leave their side at training.

How does being a women give you an advantage in your industry?
In my sport, I really don’t see much difference between our genders as we are treated equally. I know this hasn’t always been the case. One advantage I do see for women in sport, in general, is that we will always have someone to chase at training. It is well known that men are generally stronger than us. Even if you’re the fastest girl in your club you there is always a guy to chase. I see this as a great advantage to women in sport to reach our potential.

What do you love the most about being a woman?
I love that I can be myself and be appreciated for exactly who I am. I am strong and determined yet sensitive and caring. I love having so many inspiring women around me and cherish my friends.

What advice would you give other women wanting to succeed in their industry?
Dream big and be patient. Hard work and dedication pays off but it may take time. I wasn’t always one of the best Ironwomen. It has taken me a long time to climb my way to the top. I have had so many doubts about whether I would make it or if it’s worth the effort. But if you love what you do, it will be always worth it in the end. Enjoy the journey and don’t always focus on the results.

Are you seeing positive change for women in your industry? If so, How?
I am one of the lucky ones. My sport of Surf Lifesaving has seen equal prize money since before I started racing and equal distances for the past few years. Guys and girls are treated as equals. This is exactly how it should be.