Sheree Rubinstein’s journey to the burgeoning world of women’s networking groups began while she was working at a corporate law firm and musing on gender inequality in the workplace “that I had no idea about until I started working full-time”.
“That sent me on a journey of inquiry and discovering that there was a very strong passion,” Sheree says. “I found my voice for championing women in business.”
Sheree, 28, last year offered her network of women in business a one-week escape to an Airbnb-listed mansion in St Kilda. “We said, ‘There are events every day, there’s meditation every morning, there are lunches, speakers, everything; you pay to attend, come and see what it’s about.’
“We had 400 people. That was when we knew there was a need and desire for a space and a community that really connected with women in business.”
Convinced women were seeking support and a different way of networking, 18 months ago Sheree launched One Roof, a co-working space that is dedicated to female entrepreneurs, as well as access to networking events.
One Roof, which has also launched in Los Angeles, now has 45 members who either rent a private office in the Southbank space or in the co-working area where they hot-desk.
“We’ve engaged with more than 10,000 female entrepreneurs across Australia and the US and hosted more than 300 educational workshops to support our members in growing their businesses.”
Sheree is one of many – often young – women driving a rapidly growing “community” of networking groups.
These groups cater to women hoping to “upskill”, move careers, run a business from home, or network with like-minded women.
“I meet so many women who have gone on maternity leave and don’t know what to do next and are looking to do something,” says Sheree. “I often meet these incredibly talented, skilled women but they don’t know how to run a business.
“With One Roof we are trying to build this eco-system that offers support to say, ‘We can help you with the basics of setting up a business or building a website, connect to the community’. The workplace is changing, people are moving to freelance and working in a remote, mobile way. That’s where the trend’s going.”
Sheryl Thai, who left a corporate career in IT to start her own business, Cupcake Central, co-founded The League of Extraordinary Women in 2011 with three like-minded businesswomen. She agrees that work pathways have changed.
“The rise of women-led businesses comes from the notion that now, more than ever, we have life choices other than the traditional corporate career path,” Sheryl says.
“We are able to dream bigger and turn our passions into profitable, successful and extraordinary companies.”
Sheryl cites 2015 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that state over the past two decades there has been a 46 per cent increase in the number of women business owners in Australia and more than a third of operators are women.
She says LEW has organised more than 200 events across Australia involving more than 10,000 women and its online community now numbers 95,000, “each looking for a community or place where they can make genuine connections and be inspired by one another”.
Steph Webster and Kara Jenkins co-founded the Melbourne-based Miss Collective in 2015, running events and workshops for women “looking for the next level of their careers, looking for the right skills or to change”.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to improve the female participation rate,” says Steph.
Sheree Rubinstein agrees. “It’s fantastic that it’s become the forefront of our conversation because we need to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship,” she says.
“We need to be creating substantial change. We need to be encouraging young girls to enter entrepreneurship, but encouragement is only one step. The next step is how do you teach them enterprising skills.”
Danielle Price, 38, runs the Footscray-based networking group She Will Shine. Since launching in 2014, 700 women have attended monthly events and many are moving from a team to working alone.
“Many female business owners have come from a corporate team environment and have left their jobs in search of career flexibility,” Danielle says. “Faced with working alone in their new business they feel isolated and crave connection with others who understand.
“Females often lack self-belief and confidence in the early stages of growing their business. By networking in women-only groups they feel comfortable enough to be involved and talk honestly without fear of feeling insecure or inexperienced.”
Sydney-based Gen George and Jane Lu launched Like-Minded Bitches Drinking Wine (LMBDW) last October. They now have 14,032 members with 250 women joining each day.
They have a presence in seven cities around the world and run monthly events in every major city and some regional centres across Australia.
There is a strong sense of community among the various groups with many partnering with each other.
“It’s all about connecting people to collaborate, learn from each other and help people grow their business,” says Gen, 25. “We encourage other groups to post what they’re about and what they’re doing because it means people will find what suits them and what makes them successful.”