This year the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network (SCBWN) is celebrating a momentous 25 YEARS since the incorporation of the network after its humble beginnings as Women in the Workforce.
To celebrate this great milestone we are recognising those that have put so much into the long-term sustainability of SCBWN. We are incredibly excited to share with you all the interviews of our devoted past presidents and share their stories of personal contribution and their legacy to SCBWN over the years!
Bebe Mawer is the driving force behind what is now known as the very successful Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network. Like many of our good ideas, she was sitting around a kitchen table with a bottle of red wine and two other women (Marilyn Manning and Sheryl Wendt), working out how to plan a women’s networking club. From here, Women in the Workforce was born in 1992.
Bebe, what was your drive for starting the network?
“There was a need for working women to network with other working women. It was about helping business women with their ideas to grow their business, achieve their goals, and focus individually and collectively on their strengths, hopes and dreams for the future rather than sit there and focus on their problems and weaknesses. We wanted to offer encouragement and support, give them purpose and build a community around connection and networking. We also wanted to encourage leadership in women and provide mentorship. In those days there weren't many women in leadership positions and there was no such thing as mentorship.”
What are your fondest memories?
“Definitely at the beginning when I was sitting around Marilyn Manning’s kitchen table with a bottle of red while we were working out how to plan a business women’s networking club and what our goals were. We had a couple of local speakers to kick it off, and I have to say having six people at that first meeting, we thought ‘wow we got 6 different women’ - it was quite a big deal. When it started to grow, I suppose the biggest coo of the time was getting Flo Bjelke-Peterson as a speaker who was very much into the development of women. Our second big speaker after that was Lisa Wilkinson, so we got a couple of big speakers one after the other then it grew from about 10 members to about 70 members.”
What did you want to achieve/your legacy/most proud moment within the network?
“What I wanted was to be successful. My message was lead by example, work hard and share the journey with other women. I like to foster talent, see opportunities and unlock those opportunities and give a helping hand. Through networking and mentoring we were able to inspire and encourage women by showing them that there are diverse opportunities beyond traditional roles like waitressing or working in retail stores. We wanted to show them there was an opportunity for them to run their own business or even be a CEO one day.”
What are your hopes for women in business now and into the future?
“I’d like to see a stronger representation of women in leadership roles. I know it’s growing but it’s still very much an issue. Women in leadership positions bring a unique set of skills and as women gain more power and influence in business, they bring with them fresh ideas and innovation, across a whole range of industries. I suppose women offer what they call a higher value of softer skills and emotional intelligence than men, so their competencies in those areas, statistically are much better at conflict management, teamwork, interacting with change, and fostering diversity. I’m hoping in the future to see more women dreaming big and aspiring to leadership positions. I was brought up with six brothers, I was the only girl and I’ve never thought of men and women, or boys and girls, I alway believed I was equal and knew that I had to play better football than my brothers and be quicker than my brothers and smarter than my brothers. Not because they were boys and I was a girl, it was just what I brought up to do, compete with them and make sure I was an equal with them. I pulled a lot of strength from my brothers.”
What was the greatest challenge as a woman in business when you were president?
“I think the greatest problem back then was navigating the harmful social norms and stereotypes that permeated society at the time. Challenging the status quo was not an easy task. Women were often perceived as ‘junior players’ and there was and underlying fear among men when confronted with successful women in their industries. If they weren’t completely ignorant, they would recognise that the woman had more to contribute rather than their appearance. One of the significant challenges I encountered was being the only female in the room during meetings with male counterparts. That can be really overwhelming. However, by exuding confidence and showing my strength and knowledge, I managed to rise above thise circumstances and gain acceptance from my male colleagues. So in the future I’m hoping that girls and women will embrtace self-confidence, pursue their ambitions, and acquire a deep understanding of their fields so that they can demonstrate their expertise - equal to or even surpassing their male counterparts. It is crucial for them to showcase their capabilities and be recognised for their competence in all areas traditionally dominated by men.”
What would you like to see the network do next?
“In my opinion it’s challenging to provide an informed perspective due to my limited involvement. However, I believe it’s time to foster gender integration within the network. Maintaining separate men’s and women’s clubs perpetuates outdated practices from the past. To cultivate respect and understanding we should aim for integrated networking that enables men and women to interact and appreciate each other’s unique strengths. Although this may be a significant shift, I firmly believe it is the direction we should embrace moving forward.”
What are your thoughts on business and economy on the Sunshine Coast now and looking over the next decade?
“I believe the Sunshine Coast offers a competitive business environment along with a high value economy. I think innovation and technology have emerged as strong drivers of growth in the region. The upcoming Olympics are expected to have a positive impact on property markets, job opportunities and the tourism sector which will likely continue to grow. However there is room for improvement in terms of implementing stricter practices in best tourist industry to enhance its overall quality. I think the Sunshine Coast has always lagged a little bit and they need to sharpen their tools. The region is attracrting a significant influx of immigrants, indicating a promising future for the Sunshine Coast for job opportunities, economic growth, and business prospects. While it may have taken some time for the Sunshine Coast to fully thrive, it is steadily progressing towards its potential.”
Do you have a message of encouragement for women in business today?
“I think it’s important to create an active work-life blend. Everyone talks about a healthy work life balance, but I think it’s about finding a blend that works for you. It’s essential to intergrate your work, family, and personal life in a way that promotes overall well-being. It may be challenging but with determination and effective time management, you can master your schedule. Today, we have the advantage of flexibility with options like remote work, office work, or part-time arrangements. By setting strategic and realistic goals for both your career and personal life, you can create a healthy lifestyle that harmonises your various responsibilities and aspirations. Remember, you have the power to shape your own path and find fulfillment in all aspects of your life.”
Bebe Mawer remained at the helm of Women in the Workforce up until 1994. She is currently the General Manager of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia - the national peak body that oversees all the states.