ARNA TALKS TO TEGAN GILCHRIST DIRECTOR OF ACADEMY OF ENTERPRISING GIRLS
Check out our interview with Tegan on ARNA TALKS!
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do? What's your purpose?
I am Tegan Gilchrist, the Director of the Academy of Enterprising Girls. The Academy for Enterprising Girls is an innovative youth entrepreneurship program that provides Australian girls and young women with the tools they need to become our next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and job makers.
Our mission is to build a national movement of female entrepreneurship by developing the mindset, skillset and toolset of Australian girls to create enterprising and innovative careers. Students across Australia can access our free online eLearning campus - a virtual Academy where students solve community problems by creating a business enterprise solution using the design thinking process Or through one of the more than 100 intensive face-to-face workshops we are running in schools across Australia with our entrepreneurial education partners Young Change Agents and Tech Girls Movement.
What are you really passionate about?
I’ve always been passionate about championing causes that promote equality for women, and ensuring young women, in particular, have opportunities, which led me to study politics at university. But before my current role I worked for a female-led startup for 5 years - and it was there I fell in love with the art of business - and making social progress through enterprise. Great businesses have the power not only to transform the lives of the founders, and the people who work in them, but to generate real social improvement and economic growth for all. Women have for too long been excluded from the economic calls of power in business, and then the social and political influence that comes from that. Right now, an 18-year-old highschool girl studying for her final school certificate in the year of COVID19 is going to have to wait until she is at least 50 for a chance of pay equity with her male peers. That’s simply not good enough, and we must give girls the mindset and skills to make an impact on that trajectory much earlier in their careers. When the opportunity to help build the Academy for Enterprising Girls came about it was something I jumped at because it was the ability to combine those passions for women’s equality and business in a really meaningful project.
What is something you've learned about yourself this year?
I think in the context of COVID it's been a really challenging year for everyone. And it's easy to look around at the negativity of some of the major local and global challenges, like the bushfires earlier in the year, and be pessimistic about the future. But the opportunity to work with these young women and watch their amazing creativity and problem solving gives me so much hope. They have amazing ideas - Like Nurture Bears - a voice technology teddy bear that allows emergency workers like firefighters and nurses to send messages home to their kids while they are working on the front line of disasters. Feasty Friends - a social enterprise that tackles isolation of nursing home residents by opening the dining hall as a public restaurant to provide company and social engagement to residents. Solar Powered Water Drones for the great barrier reef - an idea which students in Queensland spent months defining and refining for National Science Week which kicks off tomorrow, with the theme: Deep Blue. So I guess the lesson for me has been to stay focussed on the opportunity and not the problem. And also make more friends with kids. Their creativity and capacity for divergent thinking is mindblowing - and it’s a skill we need to help them harness and maintain into their professional working lives.
What do you love about yourself?
I once had a boss tell me I was “scrappy!” and immediately thought it wasn’t great feedback. The look of horror on his face, at my reaction, led him to explain that what he was meaning was that I was hands-on, and prepared to have a go at something even if I didn’t have the answer right in front of me. I prefer the term used by Business Chicks founder, Emma Issacs, ‘winging it’. I like having a crack, making an attempt and seeing how far I get. What I’ve learnt is, more often than not, with a bit of research and effort, you’ll find a way. You don’t have to be an expert or perfect at something to start, or contribute to the solution. Put your hand up and have a go. Don’t step back. I love when I get the chance to be at a workshop in person, to see the girls dive in and tackle something they didn’t think they could in the morning. The change in their mindset in just a day can be really powerful to witness.
When we do reach gender equality, what does this world look like to you?
Right now, women are the founders of just over one-third of all businesses, but makeup only 17% of the CEOs of large businesses here in Australia. In a large part, that’s because women only get access to about 4% of venture capital - because most investment groups aren’t diverse to appreciate the amazing business opportunities being brought forth by women. And this is despite research that says businesses with at least 1 female founder, outperform all male-led teams by 63%. Of the 500 largest companies in the world in 2020, only 13 have female CEOs. So - I imagine two things:
1. It looks like a world where women have as much access to economic opportunities as their male counterparts - so we have parity in the business and political spheres which leads to better diversity, inclusion and business outcomes.
2. I see the flow on from this creating more opportunities for the men in our lives to have better opportunities to be equal fathers and contributors to the social sphere. I am days away from giving birth to our second child, and in 2020 the professional pressure on my husband for wanting to take just 6 weeks off is enormous. If my son becomes a father, I don’t want him to experience that. And for my daughter - no matter who her partner is - I want her to have the opportunity to make those choices unencumbered by gender roles.
What do you believe are the behaviours that hold women back?
For the most part - I think what holds women back are structural challenges - and as a society, we have to work together to address that. Things like women’s limited access to venture capital. It's why it’s so important that we continue to invest in programs like the Academy for Enterprising Girls - because we know that the gender bias experienced by women in entrepreneurship and STEM takes root in girls as young as early high school. Which is why our mission is to tackle some of those structural barriers head-on, by developing the mindset, skillset and toolset of Australian girls so they can have enterprising and innovative careers. But while that important work is happening there are things we can do as individuals. Be informed about the structural barriers and be bold in challenging them. Go for the job even if you think you aren’t sure you have every skill. Ask for the pay rise. Be confident in putting your voice forward.
What has been your boldest move to date?
Knowing when to leave a job. Twice now I’ve left big jobs, not particularly sure of what I would do next, but confident the timing was right to try something new. It’s scary and daunting but ultimately pushes you on to new exciting opportunities to grow and develop your skills.
What's your call to action for women?