In honour of Women’s History Month, I wanted to do something a little special. So, on International Women’s Day, I sat down with four fabulous women and hosted a “Women Talking Women in Business” Panel Discussion!
This talented panel of businesswomen come from a variety of industries including the arts, aesthetics, clothing, mental health, and operations management. I chatted with the amazing Julie Allen from Mary Rose NW Boutique, Margaret Walsh from Margaret Walsh Consulting, Vanessa Lawson from Vanessa Anne Operations Management, and Chelsi Bentham from In House Performing Arts Studio. This talk is celebratory and inspirational to all women and business owners alike, so let’s hear what these women had to say…
Let’s begin with introductions. Take it away, Chelsi!
Chelsi Bentham: I run a performance studio that primarily focuses on dance but also offers acting and singing classes. We serve both youth and adults and run classes in tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, modern, contemporary, musical theatre, voice acting, as well as an audition prep class for students wanting to pursue the performing arts industry after Grade 12. My mission statement for my dancers is ‘fueling passion and technical excellence in dance and performance.’
Vanessa Lawson: I partner with mindful visionary entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses with thoughtfulness, attention, and care in a way that creates greater ease and efficiency for them and allows them to experience joy in the work they’re doing. Being an entrepreneur can sometimes be hard and exhausting. Entrepreneurs can quickly find themselves feeling overwhelmed and left wondering what they got themselves into, and I don’t think it has to be that way. I believe we can experience balance in our business and in our lives. So, I love to be that right hand person in someone’s business who can help them continue toward their vision and make it a reality.
Margaret Walsh: I developed my own pathway after realizing that I am a value-based person. So, I chose an educational pathway. I did a degree in education and I taught for 10 years and was due for principalship but wasn’t given the opportunity because I am a woman. That’s when I went into beauty therapy. I have 40 years and counting in this beautiful industry and I’ve always mentored, been a leader, and been a strong believer in everyone’s inherent potential and ability to develop so they can own their success and play to their strengths. So, I went from education, to beauty therapy, where I continue to educate others.
Julie Allen: I am the CEO at Mary Rose Northwest Boutique. We’re size inclusive, or body positive, and our mission is about women empowering women. Women are just so hard on themselves, so our goal is to help all women dress in a way that makes them feel confident and beautiful and able to love themselves. I had anorexia bulimia for about 15 years growing up. Because of this, we also have a nonprofit that began two and a half years ago that helps fund treatment for those suffering with eating disorders. In this way, we work on both sides. I work on helping women dress in a positive way, and also help them try to work on breaking the diet culture stigmas, mental health, decreasing the stigma around mental health, and increasing awareness for eating disorders.
What are the unique challenges that women in business may face?
Vanessa Lawson: For me, the biggest challenge and what I see frequently, is this idea of being enough. I think women have a unique experience of feeling like in our business, in our life, in our marriage, and in our parenting, we need to be able to do everything, and we need to be able to do everything, all the time, perfectly. That’s a lot of pressure! Then, being an entrepreneur adds more pressure to what is already there for so many other aspects of our life.
I love what Margaret shared about values. One of the values I have in my business is the concept of “enough.” I don’t need to work 80 hours a week to prove my worth or my value to my clients or to the world. That exhaustion is not a badge of honor. There can be balance. A lot of it is learning to accept that we are enough; first as women, as individuals, and who we are. We can do what we need to do in our business and that’s good, that’s enough. There are going to be times of accelerated growth, and there may also be times of slowness. We need that ebb and flow of those seasons of life and one isn’t better than the other. It’s just all part of that cycle.
Chelsi Bentham: I really love what Vanessa said about being enough. That’s been a challenge for me when it comes to learning that what I bring to the table is awesome, and it is enough. I think one of the biggest challenges I face is juggling my kids, being a mom, running the business, instructing at the business, teaching my new managerial staff, and managing the 155 families that attend my studio. It was a challenge learning how to juggle many hats in the very beginning, and then eventually handing those hats off to others.
To answer your question, I think my biggest challenge as a woman in business was learning to trust myself and to follow my gut instinct and original vision. Also, learning how to shut off my computer on the weekends has been a big struggle for me. My husband also runs his own business and I’ve watched his journey and seen him set strong boundaries to shut off and be present when he’s at home, and to be present when he’s at the office. When you first start your business, it’s go, go, go, because you’re the one that has to do it all. Now being three years in, I’m learning how to shut off and letting that be okay. No one’s going to get mad that I didn’t respond to them on a Saturday evening. Overall, my challenge continues to be learning how to be present where I am.
Julie Allen: I love what the other women said. There are these internal factors that are challenges for women, but there are also external factors that are challenges, too.
Roughly a year ago, I was emailing the property manager of our brick-and-mortar space. My husband and I run this business together, and the property manager would never address me in the emails. He would only address my husband. That really upset me! There are still these instances where women are not seen as the primary person of a business even though it is our company.
On top of that, there is a lot of internal pressure that we put on ourselves that the other women mentioned. I want to do everything, I want to do it right now, and I want to do it perfectly. I really struggle with that. Two years into my business, I’m trying to learn the balance of delegating while still feeling like I’m running things. It’s a massive learning curve. It’s interesting thinking of the ebb and flow of ‘How much can I do? How much do I want to do? And, where can I delegate to other people?’ while also fighting that external patriarchal society.
Margaret Walsh: I also use the word “patriarchal” here in New Zealand, and I attribute it to the fact that when you set out on your pathway to run a business, there’s limited funding options because of where we’re coming from. Once we get that funding, it comes back to exactly what everyone has been saying about balancing responsibilities, the ebb and flow, and having that fear of failure that Vanessa talked about. We always have to operate from a place of confidence.
The other thing we often have is an adequate support system. My tip around that is to network like crazy. I’m an avid networker, so I make a point of listening, retaining, and sharing, and it’s always giver’s gain.
One of the other challenges is empowering with knowledge, both ourselves and who we’re serving, but it can be a challenge to find the time to get that reading done.
Finally, the last challenge I notice is something I call timidity. Quite often, we’re shy about our own accomplishments. We need to stand by our success, and we need to let people see it. We’ve earned this!
I am also a believer that there are great advantages that we as women have in business. What do you think those advantages are?
Chelsi Bentham: Women are very emotionally connected to others. I’m a sensitive person, and that can exist in both men and women, but sometimes I feel as though my power is to connect with people emotionally. Simultaneously, however, I sometimes feel as though this can make my job harder, because I get so emotionally connected to how others feel.
I know that my sensitivity and my emotion brings goodness to my communication with my dancers and their families. But, I also look at my husband and think, ‘I love your masculine, black and white energy and how you just get the job done.’ So this question is tricky, because sometimes I think our superpower as females is our ability to emotionally connect, but this can also present its challenges.
Vanessa Lawson: I really appreciate this question because I do feel like as women, we spend a lot of time discussing what makes it hard to be a woman and we don’t always spend enough time celebrating the goodness of what it means to be a woman. As much as I can feel that pressure of trying to hold the weight of all my responsibilities, when I’m fully present, aware, and connected to myself and to my world, being able to hold that amount of space is a real gift.
My husband is very singularly focused, whereas I feel I’m always holding many ideas, plans and relationships all in this space together. That is a real gift, because it broadens and expands who we are as people and how we think about, see, and interact with the world. As a woman, there is a huge capacity for expansion that I think is a real gift, both to ourselves and to those we serve.
Margaret Walsh: When a strong woman leads, everybody follows. That is such an advantage. We create communities of learning without even thinking about it. We entrepreneurial women are determined to stay on trend. We are always asking why.
Another advantage we have is that when we own our success and we’ve gotten over the timidity, it motivates ourselves to work harder. We inspire ourselves. We don’t necessarily look to others, we inspire ourselves. This creates a whirlwind of success, education, and values for us and for those around us.
Julie Allen: I love women. I think women are the most gorgeous, beautiful, life-giving, compassionate, courageous creatures. I love seeing when women say they love and accept themselves and can lift each other up. I believe that’s when the world is going to change, is when enough of us stand beside each other and lift each other up. We need to stop tearing one another down and lean into those strengths that we talked about. Like Chelsi, I’m very sensitive and at times it feels like a curse, and other times it feels like my superpower. The number of connections I’m able to build with people is amazing. When women learn to lean into that, it makes us who we are, and it makes us good leaders. We need to learn how to lean into that and lift each other up.
Rene Serbon: Throughout my childhood I’ve been a naturally competitive person, but when I grew into adulthood, I’ve had to focus on turning competitiveness into collaboration. Another factor is analysis paralysis. It is so crucial not to compare myself to others, and to trust my own story. This is my path, my journey is my journey. It’s not the same as anybody else’s, and we have to own that. When we’re able to do that, that is when we can really crush it.
What advice would you give to young women and women of wisdom thinking of becoming entrepreneurs? And, are there any female entrepreneurs that you look up to that inspired you?
Julie Allen: There will be times when you’re going to fail. The important thing is you get back up. For us, in 2020, we had a brick and mortar location close because of the pandemic, and I was seven months pregnant too. You’re going to fall down, figure it out, and get back up again. Don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you that you can’t do it. Keep your eye on your dream. On harder days, look at your mission and remind yourself why you’re in business. You have to keep going. Don’t be hard on yourself when you do have those hard times.
Rene Serbon: As a mom of two boys, I want to show them that women can succeed.They have a fabulous dad who’s successful, so I love that in modern society, they get to see us working as a team, even though we have separate businesses. That’s a superpower that we have as women, as well. Feel the fear and do it anyway, filter out the noise.
Chelsi Bentham: I always say, ‘if you love something, chase it, go after it, do it.’ If you’re passionate, you will succeed. I got rejected five million times, I got 10 shows out of the hundreds I auditioned for, yet there was also commitment and empowerment through that. I thought theater was my first love and I had this huge urge to perform. But now, after owning a studio, I’m recognizing my love is connection with people and encouraging them to be their best. Connection with dancers, journeying with them, empowering them, creating with them, having them be a part of the journey with me, sharing my gift and seeing what we can create together.
There’s a lot of amazing studios in the south Okanagan that have cheered me on as well. I really appreciate that, and I’m very inspired by them – how they run their studios, how they connect with their instructors, how they connect with their dancers, and how they show excellence in their choreography and their training. I feel very lucky to have transitioned out of theater and into the studio.
Vanessa Lawson: It’s hard to narrow down inspiration to one person because I think that especially as women, it is the collective whole. The community of women who are cheering for each other is really what is most inspirational to me.
As for advice, I would say that it’s okay to change course. If what you’re doing is no longer serving you, it’s okay to choose a different path. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. One of the things I have come to embrace is that if I was in a role that was not aligned with who I was anymore, I felt the freedom to step into something else. For a long time, I felt a level of shame about that. All of those different experiences were exactly what I needed to be able to start a business to serve clients in the capacity that I do.
Rene Serbon: I think it’s important to note that entrepreneurship is not for everybody. If you’re not a business owner yourself, you can be a leader and an inspiration in any position that you have. You are an important vessel for inspiration, encouragement, guidance and leadership, and not everybody has to be a business owner in order to be those things for others. Don’t be afraid to be an inspiration for somebody else, no matter where you are in your journey or what work you feel is ideal for you.
Margaret Walsh: My advice would be to hold your line. Be of value and be valued. You have to have extraordinary ability to hold your line. You need to have determination, courage, passion, commitment, and dedication. If you’re thinking you might like to go on an entrepreneurial pathway, get on the bus now and learn as much as you can, support your leader and grow with them and enjoy the team’s success. Share the joy and the accolades, and boost and build your team members up. Leaders fall down often and sometimes their spark goes out. If you’re that sort of person and can get up the next morning and brush it all off, that’s how you need to be.
It’s also not about being a control freak. We don’t want control freaks in this arena. We want leaders to share, to grow, to see the potential. It’s not just about you and focusing on your strengths. What isn’t your strength, have capable team members around you and share the accolades with them so they can grow. And always apologize if you’re wrong. That’s what it looks like in this arena of entrepreneurship!
I want to thank all of these talented women, Chelsi, Margaret, Vanessa, and Julie for the amazing work that you are doing. I greatly appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience, you guys are amazing. I appreciate you so deeply. Here’s to all the strong and inspirational women out there, don’t give up on your dreams!
To check out all the phenomenal work these women do, visit their websites or social media channels below.
Julie Allen – Visit her boutique’s website at https://maryrosenwboutique.com/, Facebook Page and Instagram. Be sure to also check out her wonderful nonprofit organization at https://maryrosefoundation.org/, Facebook Page and Instagram.
This blog was originally posted on reneserbon.com.