Lisa Sweeney is the CEO of Business in Heels, and her business works to fast track women to be successful. It works for both careers & business owners with services in mentoring, education, marketing & connection. She says that it’s a privilege and fun for her and every day opens with new possibilities.
Her vision is to create an unlimited future for women.
Mentoring is pivotal to achieving change and so she has a goal to mentor 1.0M women.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I was lucky enough to have a privileged life in Australia with a good education from a middle-class family. There were no grand hurdles for me to overcome.
My mother was very forward thinking for a woman of her generation. On reflection I think her time serving in World War 2 changed her. We believe she was an intelligence officer working on the war in the pacific. She believed that women could do anything and encouraged me to believe in myself.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
It wasn’t until I launched into my buying career that I realised how unequal women were in many countries. I travelled into China in the early 90’s when the country was still very communist. The locals only wore the “mao” uniform and rode bikes. It was at a factory visit outside of Guangzhou that I learned about the One child policy and how it impacted people. In China there is no superannuation, the only way people are supported in their old age is by their children. With the one child policy they had to think which sex was more likely to support them in their old age. Whilst everyone was employed the earning potential lay with men. Abortion & adoption were illegal and so many Chinese were choosing to abandon their girl children.
This was a pivotal discovery for me, and I was determined to make a difference. Although at this stage I had no idea how this would manifest.
About 10 years later my husband and I went on to adopt our daughter from China. Today she laughs at the fact she was “made in China“.
As a buyer I spent a lot of time travelling and so was able to meet people from many walks of life living in Cambodia, Bangladesh, India, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam to name a few. This has given me a unique perspective on some of the challenges faced and an understanding of the common approach for us all. Whilst culture, religion are all different, all people just want a chance to be successful, to have a family and to be valued.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”
The need was our motivator. Business in Heels International was started by me & business partner and long-time friend Jo Plummer. We had started together in buying 25 years earlier and felt that there was nothing really practical that existed to support women in careers & business. If they did exist, they were the odd networking group or more of an entertainment.
We came across the name Business in Heels was simply networking with a “sex in the city” feel. We loved the name but not the exclusionary values and so bought it and set about rebranding.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
There were plenty of challenges when we started. Both of us were experienced at running businesses. This is essentially what you do as a buyer. By the time I left my corporate career as a Buying Manager I was used to jugging up to 20 businesses at once.
The major challenges were the move into your own business and accepting that you cannot be an expert in everything. Learning what to outsource, insource and how to bring in collaborators has been a key to our success. Today we operate in a number of countries, with branch Directors in location, a small support team and an advisory board.
The advisory board is a critical part of our success. Once I had come to grips with the fact that I would never have all the skills to do everything we decided to assemble a team of experts with knowledge in areas we needed to help grow the business. They support the business on a regular basis with ideas and as mentors.
Timing is also essential and after a couple of years my partner was heading in a different direction with board roles and chose to move on. This could have been a major set back but with the Advisory Board in place it was easier to maintain our momentum.
Living your values is important and we have tried to bring this into our team. Our company could be argued as positively discriminatory as largely the team is female and many of them have come to us after DV or workplace bullying. We provide a safe, flexible and fun place to work.
Be careful who you get involved with. Initially we started with a third partner who was a lawyer and familiar with the original Business in Heels. Be very careful with taking on partners & shareholders and ensure your values are aligned. Not long after that we parted ways. Trust is essential in a business. It is key to solving problems, managing challenges and minimising stress.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
COVID was a very challenging time, we had just landed a conference for 120 businesswomen when suddenly all travel ceased and nearly all our future income was wiped out. Determined to move quickly to support our community of 160,000 we launched Coffee Connections weekly chats and mentor Mornings online. We then proceeded to chat with many of our community.
It became a lifeline for many giving them the feeling they weren’t alone, the perspective that it was not all aimed at them and the opportunity to process things. New collaborations were born and new businesses started. It was good for us all!
Then we got more proactive and launched our leadership Summits. It was a great chance to connect with industry segments where women are disadvantaged with Gender pay gaps in excess of 20%. We became excellent at delivering online conferences which have become and still are a key part of our business.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
We have been doing a lot as women helping women, but we know if we are going to achieve systemic change and gender equality then we need to have everyone involved. So before the last IWD we launched “Recalibrate”, the Gender Equity Awards for Australia. By the time we closed we had almost 100 nominations and from that we had 32 finalists and we ended with an amazing Awards night. The purpose was to find the processes and behaviours that are really making a difference. To broadcast a roadmap that would enable more people to adopt the same practises and make a difference. Stay tuned as we are just about to open the Awards for 2023.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
Surround yourself with others who understand the “fuggle” family life juggle because there is never just business.
Mentoring can really make a difference. Coaching is good but you will be limited by your experience. Gain access to ideas, experience & connections with a good mentor.
Get a good handle on money and work hard to maximise your cash flow.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
Business is an evolution, always changing, being open and trying new things constantly. If you are not failing regularly then you aren’t trying enough new things.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
Kindness, empathy & authenticity are driving the leaders of today. If you can find ways to appreciate what everyone contributes then they will find ways to elevate you.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
Dont be held back by perfection, give it a go and work on it as you go.