LEAN (IN) ON ME

Women’s lib­er­a­tion paved the way for us four decades ago, but the mod­ern women’s move­ment has a feel­ing of a dif­fer­ent kind.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By So­phie Ted­man­son.

Women’s lib­er­a­tion paved the way for us four decades ago, but the mod­ern women’s move­ment has a feel­ing of a dif­fer­ent kind.

When the new women’s move­ment was rein­vig­o­rated around the world dur­ing the #wom­ensmarches in Jan­uary, it shone a light on the sex­ism, misog­yny and gen­der in­equal­ity that now faces Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and in turn the political agenda around the world. But it also shone a light of a dif­fer­ent kind: one of sol­i­dar­ity, of sis­ter­hood, of women sup­port­ing women. And men­tor­ing each other.

The no­tion of fe­males men­tor­ing each other – sup­port­ing through pass­ing on ex­pe­ri­ence and trusted ad­vice – is gain­ing pace around Aus­tralia. Some­times it is con­certed: many busi­nesses have for­mal men­tor­ing pro­grams; and some­times it is sim­ply learnt.

Like most women, busi­ness­woman Jea­nine Bri­bosia, the founder and di­rec­tor of The Cru agency, which spe­cialises in

high-end restau­rant and life­style brands, cites her mother as her “great­est guide”, but she has also re­ceived guid­ance in un­ex­pected ways. She be­came chron­i­cally ill with anorexia ner­vosa in her late teens and re­lied on “a few strong women” who had re­cov­ered from sim­i­lar ill­nesses, and some health pro­fes­sion­als. “In the ab­sence of clar­ity in my own mind, I de­cided that fol­low­ing their ad­vice and wis­dom was my great­est hope,” she says.

That ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired Bri­bosia to build a nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment in her busi­ness – “I re­ally set out to build a cul­ture where my em­ploy­ees would never be scared to ask me a ques­tion” – and also vol­un­teers with Raise, the youth men­tor­ing foun­da­tion.

Sup­port­ing women has re­cently been at the fore­front of cul­tural dis­cus­sions from Hol­ly­wood to lo­cal govern­ment bod­ies such as Screen Aus­tralia, which in­tro­duced the Gen­der Mat­ters pol­icy last year to ad­dress the gen­der im­bal­ance in the screen in­dus­try. Part of the pro­gram is ac­cess to men­tor­ship sup­port.

Ac­tress, writer and di­rec­tor Mir­rah Foulkes has al­ready ben­e­fit­ted from this, by work­ing with in­dus­try veter­ans Jane Cam­pion and Jan Chap­man, who have both be­come men­tors.

“When you’ve got those few peo­ple around you who are gen­er­ous with their time and their en­thu­si­asm, it’s re­ally won­der­ful,” Foulkes says. “This sense of giv­ing back to the in­dus­try cre­atively and sup­port­ively, it makes a world of dif­fer­ence.”

Some­times it is done more sur­rep­ti­tiously. Screen­writer and di­rec­tor Alethea Jones was re­cently in­vited to join the Alice Ini­tia­tive – a women’s club of anony­mous fe­male stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives and pro­duc­ers in Hol­ly­wood whose aim is to pro­mote mem­bers through­out the in­dus­try. “They told me they had been hav­ing din­ner for years, hang­ing out, swap­ping sto­ries, help­ing each other from all the dif­fer­ent stu­dios,” Jones says. “It’s re­ally great; they’re work­ing be­hind the scenes and I’m get­ting bet­ter scripts.”

Jones was one of the speak­ers at the Women in Film panel Vogue hosted dur­ing the Os­cars weekend in Fe­bru­ary, fea­tur­ing six Aus­tralians in­clud­ing pro­duc­ers Angie Fielder ( Lion), Polly Stan­i­ford and young ac­tress Danielle Macdon­ald ( Patti Cake$), all of whom es­poused the ben­e­fits of be­ing men­tored.

In music too, women are demon­strat­ing sol­i­dar­ity. When singer Tina Arena was in­ducted into the Aria Hall of Fame in 2015 and was asked to sing her hit Chains, she shared the mo­ment with young fe­male tal­ents Jess Mauboy and the Veron­i­cas twins.

“My work would never be what it was if it wasn’t for the other peo­ple that helped make it hap­pen and I know that and those girls were ab­so­lutely vi­tal to that per­for­mance,” says Arena. “It was pow­er­ful, us com­ing to­gether and sup­port­ing each other.”

The fash­ion in­dus­try has also long en­joyed an or­ganic nur­tur­ing of tal­ents who find each other through their like­minded cre­ativ­ity, but re­cently, or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Aus­tralian Fash­ion Cham­ber (AFC) aim to so­lid­ify these men­tor­ing re­la­tion­ships to help broaden the op­por­tu­ni­ties of new de­sign­ers who are grow­ing an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness.

Beth and Tessa MacGraw cite the AFC com­mu­nity, as well as their par­ents, as help­ing guide their rel­a­tively young epony­mous la­bel, which they formed in 2012.

“Our men­tors have given us con­fi­dence in busi­ness and also in our­selves and our abil­ity. You can never un­der­es­ti­mate hav­ing a good sound­ing board in those big de­ci­sion mo­ments,” says Beth.

Alice McCall was men­tored early in her ca­reer as a fash­ion de­signer by Heidi Mid­dle­ton, who taught her about “grace, in­tegrity, kind­ness, strength, per­sis­tence and de­ter­mi­na­tion”.

How­ever, she notes that men can lend a hand, and she now seeks ad­vice from David Briskin, for­mer CEO of Sass & Bide. “I was ready for that level of men­tor­ing … my ques­tions are al­ways con­cise and so are his an­swers. To the point and di­rect.”

West­pac CIO Anas­ta­sia Cam­maroto says she has ben­e­fit­ted from the wis­dom of many men, es­pe­cially work­ing in a male­dom­i­nated in­dus­try. “But I’ve al­ways tried to bal­ance the male and fe­male men­tors, be­cause they give a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.”

Alice McCall says that no mat­ter who your men­tor is, or what type of mentee you may be, ev­ery­one shares one com­mon trait: you can never stop learn­ing, even af­ter decades in busi­ness.

“To have teach­ers or guides, ad­vi­sors or men­tors along the way is worth its weight in gold. The best way to learn is to find men­tors that are do­ing what you want to do, that you grav­i­tate to, whether they are artists, de­sign­ers, busi­ness en­trepreneurs and the list goes on. Ex­pe­ri­ence is knowl­edge and knowl­edge is the key.”

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