History of the Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network

In January 1992, Bebe Mawer gathered a group of women around her kitchen table with a solid aim in mind – to create a business-focused group for women.

With the assistance of Sheryl Wendt, June Phillips, June Passmore, Marilyn Manning and Marion McCormack, Women in the Workforce (WIW) was born.

They didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginnings of a network that would go on to support, inspire, mentor and educate thousands of women.

Inspired by the success of the Cairns Business Club Bebe had founded while living in North Queensland, they set about building up membership numbers by hosting regular luncheons at the Boolarong Hotel in Alexandra Headland.

Having moved to the Sunshine Coast to take on the role of marketing manager at the Kawana Shoppingworld, Bebe says she was looking for connection to other businesswomen outside of the shopping centre environment.

Their first meeting attracted nine women, their second saw 15 women show up and the growth continued as the word got around.

While recalling WIW’s formative months, Bebe says the focus was very much on getting women back into the workforce after taking time off to get married or start a family and helping them to develop new skills and learn from one another.

Sunshine Coast businesswomen were facing problems with access to and the cost of childcare, promotional pass-over due to sexism in the workplace, job stress and gaining access to training to upskill.

Personal management was at the forefront of the club, with guest speakers being brought in to share how they manage working, raising children and being supportive wives and mothers while also being successful in their employment or running their business.

Professional women and women who were looking to re-enter the workforce would receive newsletters in the post, each one of them photocopied, stamped and taken to the post office for delivery. Bebe recalls many enjoyable evenings when the committee would share the workload of photocopying, inserting newsletters into envelopes and addressing them to members over a bottle of wine at a kitchen table.

This process was by far the most costly for the committee, with each newsletter costing 55 cents to create and post. But they persevered through months where there was as little as $72 in the kitty, all in the name of creating solid foundations for the club.

 Members would get dressed up and revel at the chance to connect with other like-minded women, enjoy a delicious lunch (at the princely cost of $9) and hear enthralling talks by local heroines who were excelling in their chosen profession.

By March, these luncheons began to attract larger numbers of new members, prompting the committee to limit introductions to new members only. Such was the growth in popularity of the club that just two months later, new members were announced by the MC of the event and allowed to stand up and be acknowledged so as not to spend copious amounts of time going around the room.

The May 5, 1992 luncheon was held at Shimmers Restaurant in Maroochydore and the committee were ecstatic to have 63 women in attendance, including Mary Murray, the wife of then Maroochy Shire Council Mayor Fred Murray.

Even in these early stages, WIW was playing the long game. In March 1992, committee member Suzelie Connelly put forward a motion that the club write a letter to the Federal Minister for Education voicing support for a university to be built on the Sunshine Coast.

The club hosted its first guest speaker, Rosemary Allan, at the April 1992 luncheon and the first male guest speaker – Ashley Mac from the 4SS radio station – made an appearance at the July luncheon. The club was inclusive, with occasions where lunches would be opened up to partners who wanted to join their wives and girlfriends.

As time went on, WIW became a more professional organisation, with official meetings, agendas and mission statements, as well as linking in with local charities to support the community.

As they grew in membership, their presence began to be felt in the wider community and in 1993, Bebe recalls the excitement when they had $1500 in the bank. The committee were quick to invest this money into a project that supported education for women wanting to re-enter the workforce.

Bebe remained at the helm until 1994, when her work commitments led to her seeking “new blood” for the committee to take up the mantle.

Jan Revill was elected as president in 1994 and so began an evolution that would see a succession of nine remarkable women bringing their unique talents and vision to the head of the executive team to shape the successful network of today.

Members enjoyed speakers from not-for-profit organisations under the leadership of Leanne Cannon from 1995 to 1996, switching the regular meetings from luncheons to breakfasts so more women could attend without having to take leave from their workplace or businesses during the day.

Celena Ross stepped into the presidency the in 1998 and immediately began to source inspirational business speakers, inviting women from across all industries on the Sunshine Coast to attend the new format breakfast meetings.

 

Women in the Workforce became an incorporated association in March 1998, around the time the group launched the Business Woman of the Year Awards, which served to create even more buzz around the group.

These awards were part of the strategy to encourage more women to work by celebrating the outstanding achievements made by other women blazing the trail.

From 1998 to now, the awards have uncovered inspiring women who are excelling in a range of fields in business, many of which do this in addition to supporting the community and raising families.

After assisting Celena with the establishment of the SCBWN Awards, Michelle Hamer was at the helm just one month after WIW officially changed its name to Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network Inc. Michelle remained as president from March 2000 until February 2003, and stayed on as the award judging chair from 2003 to 2012.

Michelle says she is extremely proud of the history that has been created by every single member of the network, from the members and volunteer executive all the way through to the sponsors who have continually supported their mission.

By this stage, the SCBWN was considered a significant organisation in its own right as a professional and respected entity in the community.

Karen Neuendorf’s presidency from February 2003 to 2007 saw membership grow from around 100 to more than 400. Karen’s legacy is the SCBWN bursary, which supports four women studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast who have also shown a dedication to and involvement in, the wider community.

Sue Willis, who was president from 2008 to 2011, Michalle Faulkner, who served from 2012 to 2014, and Vickie Magic who led the SCBWN from 2015 to 2017, have all left their signature on the network and assisted in evolving it to the fine-tuned organisation it is today.

President Roz White is now at the helm and introduced an accelerated MBA program in partnership with the University of the Sunshine Coast for businesswomen looking to formalise their lived experience qualifications.  Under Roz’s leadership, members continue to enjoy a host of relevant and rewarding opportunities to network, socialise and upskill through numerous events every calendar year.

With such a rich history and strong foundations, there is no doubt the SCBWN will continue to thrive and expand to support the growing number of successful businesswomen who are kicking goals across the region.

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