This year the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network (SCBWN) is celebrating a momentous 25 YEARS since the incorporation of the network under the name '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!
During her tenure as president for five years, Karen Neuendorf achieved remarkable success including substantial growth in membership numbers, establishing valuable mentoring program opportunities, and spearheading initiatives in financial and business literacy. Through Karen’s visionary leadership, the SCBWN flourished and left a lasting impact on countless women on the Sunshine Coast.
Karen, what was your fondest memory of the network?
“I think for me it was the first entrée into business on the Sunshine Coast because I was not from the Sunshine Coast and it was an opportunity to have that collegial involvement. When I joined the network I actually had previously been awarded the small business award with the Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network awards. That was the first foray into the awareness of the network, and Michelle was the president at the time, so I won the award and that opened doors. Then it occurred to me that I should be a part of this network. I became a member and not long after, Michelle tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I’d like you to consider taking over the presidency’. For me, that was a bit of a long stretch, so I said to her ‘let me be on the executive first, let me understand the history and what the network is all about’. So that’s what I did and then I subsequently became the president. The journey of finding myself within a world of businesswomen was very lonely. It became a great opportunity to have that collegial part of my life. It was very exciting.”
What did you want to achieve/your legacy/most proud moment within the network?
“The first thing was building the network. When I became president, it had been growing from strength to strength through Michelle’s time as president, but I think there was about a 90 person membership, and when I left it was roughly around 400. It was about growing the membership strategically to offer women the opportunity to be a part of the Business Women’s Network, at an elevated opportunity. Not at the shallow level of business, but to elevate their financial literacy, their business literacy and to give them all of those opportunities, particularly the mentoring programs that we ran with some federal grants.”
What are your hopes for women in business, both now and in the future?
“Huge question. It’s changed so dramatically. I remember when I first went into business and it was all sort of ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ (to do something difficult without the necessary skill or experience). I wasn’t really qualified, I had other qualifications and as the years went on, but in retrospect and reflecting, I wish I had more education around a whole raft of subjects to build on being a businesswoman. I think the Business Women’s Network gives those platforms to women, so despite your core discipline, they give these other educational opportunities. We also didn’t have the pressures of life today. I’ve got a 28-year-old daughter who became a lawyer a couple of years ago, and I see the enormous pressure on her to work far more hours than she has been paid for. The underpinning is the ambition to prove herself, and yes that’s all very admirable, but I also see the danger in not having a life-work balance. I think that’s one of the challenges of women in business. I think for women that want to have children, I see the childcare issue as being fundamental to success.”
Is there anything else that you think was a challenge when you were president/today?
“Getting back to core discipline, we always talked about ‘you could be the best hair dresser, you could be the best builder, you could be the best interior designer’, but that doesn’t mean you’re the best business person. I did interior design – I studied in America – and for me, I learnt a miniscule amount of business, and about how to run a business and how to have financial literacy. We always identified that as one of the major issues for women in business, and I think that, sadly, we don’t get taught politics or finance at school. Anything that revolves around personal finances and business finances, I think is still a struggle. I think that most people don’t know how to run a good set of books. I don’t think they understand any of that, and I think the Business Women’s Network maintains programs to teach that. It’s not about lacking intelligence, it’s unconscious incompetence.”
What would you like the network to do next?
“I just think they are doing the most extraordinary job at the moment. I’ve watched the presidents since my time and they’re just extraordinary women, with extraordinary leadership abilities, but they’ve also got this amazing team around them. I think that’s one of the things Michelle and I were very strict on ourselves about. We wanted to surround ourselves with good people, people who we could delegate to. We also had pretty good succession plans, not just for the presidency, but for the committee. I see the network as being in that place at the moment, so I think that doesn’t need to be tinkered with. I think that they really understand that and that’s why it’s one of the best organisations that I’ve been part of. It’s that whole procedure, compliance and governance. I think the awards don’t need tinkering with either. I think, personally, I would like to see more of an emphasis on finances, politics, the economy, than mindfulness. I think that’s an important part of the Business Women’s Network, but I personally think that when there’s a lot of motivational speakers in a year, that’s terrific, but I think we need other takeaways from monthly meetings as well.”
What are your thoughts on the business economy on the Sunshine Coast right now, and looking into the next decade?
“I truly despair, to be perfectly honest. I think, globally, we are in a precarious position. When we bring it down to a national level, we are lacking leadership in government, not specifically our current government, but politicians in general. I think that our democracy is certainly being eroded, so therefore that impacts on economies. That filters down to the Sunshine Coast. I think that the Sunshine Coast is somewhat sadly driven by state policy in terms of population. The infrastructure of the Sunshine Coast is terribly inadequate, it’s never going to keep up with population, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a strong enough emphasis on it. In a past business of ours, we were retailers, and we had consultants and sales people that had to go to people’s homes and businesses. That meant that we would coordinate a salesperson and let’s say they go to Noosa one day, they would do half a dozen trips for consulting, around one an hour, plus a bit of driving. Over the years, those consultancy appointments dropped back to five a day, four a day, three a day or two a day. So, if you’re only doing a couple of consultancies during a day based on traffic and lack of infrastructure, therefore your ability to make profit is gone. So, how can businesses, let alone tourists or anyone else, function on the Sunshine Coast? For me, that’s one of the biggest problems on the Sunshine Coast and I see this change of low density to medium density to high density, regardless of town planning policies. It just seems to all get material change of use, it goes to environmental courts. I’ve lived here for 35 years, and my husband’s been here for close to 68 years. Yes, we all understand change, and all the demographers will say we need population growth, but I don’t see how we can have population expansion when we don’t have all these other things. It’s not even a privileged lifestyle, it’s what we’ve had taken away from us and the impact it’s had on business."
Do you have a message of encouragement for women in business today?
“I think that, theoretically, anything is possible. I am a big advocate for investing in education and I think that it doesn’t matter what education you do, whether it’s formal or informal, it certainly can never be taken away from you. It gives you really good grounding, it makes you credible and if you’re wanting jobs and a career, it’s a very good thing to have on your CV. If you are a business owner, it also goes to that breadth of your knowledge. I think education is really critical. I’m finishing an undergraduate degree at the university and my goal is to graduate before I turn 70. For me it wasn’t pertinent to a job or income, but it was very pertinent to my critical thinking, my outlook and the way my brain works, and then my contribution to the community and how I am skilled to do that. So, education would be my one suggestion. Joining the Business Women’s Network would be second and the other tip I have for joining the Business Women’s Network is: participate. I’ve always believed that you can’t just turn up with a bulk of business cards telling people your email address and your Instagram. You can’t play business cards like a game of poker, you actually have to build relationships. That’s the other fundamental thing with business is to build relationships. I know in my instance, I see the relationships I’ve built and the loyalty I’ve been able to achieve, and how easy it is to do business, because I can pick up the phone or text and I get quite immediate answers on all sorts of things.”
What are you doing now?
“Well, I’m finishing an undergraduate degree. I’ll graduate in September, so I’m in the last part of that. I still sit on a couple of boards on the Sunshine Coast: the University foundation board and the Arts Foundation. Next week, I’m going to Government House to be the proud recipient of an order of Australia. I think the pivotal part of that was the response from my two daughters; their response to it was quite overwhelming. They take lessons from my philanthropic, my community, my career life, and the business side of my life to be better versions of themselves. So that was pretty overwhelming. I guess that’s what my parting words would be: I hope I’ve touched a lot of women and men on the Sunshine Coast to be a better version of themselves, to seek a better education and be better business people and better societal people.”