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!
Min Swan’s journey with the SCBWN, from a nervous first-time attendee in 2009 to becoming the president in 2021, reflects her commitment to inclusivity and empowerment. Her goal to leave a legacy of support and recognition for all members is evident in her leadership style, and she fiercely encourages women in business to trust in themselves, embrace life's adventures, and appreciate that it's okay not to have everything figured out. Min continues to lead the SCBWN, with a strong focus on empowering women and celebrating the 25th year of the organisation's journey.
Min, what brought you to the SCBWN?
“I moved to the Sunshine Coast when I was 16 and did my last two years of high school here. As most Sunshine Coasters of that generation did, I then left to go away to university. I also went to Sydney in my financial services career. When I moved back home to the Sunshine Coast when I was 33, I had disconnected from my previous life and the people that I was in business with, so I realised I had to meet new people. Despite my extroverted nature, meeting new people is not one of my favourite things to do, as I get nervous making small talk. I tried a couple of different organisations, but I just didn't feel that I gelled or they weren't overly welcoming. Then somehow I found the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network. I actually made a phone call because I had worked predominantly with men the majority of my career and I just really wanted to make sure it was an inclusive kind of network, and it just happened to be focused towards bringing women together.
So I went to my first event and I was terrified. I walked in, they had a new members' table – so at least it was very welcoming – and they'd obviously put a lot of effort into making you feel welcome. The new members introduced themselves to the room, which was a large leap outside their comfort zone, but it was a way of instantly getting into the community. Sue Willis was the president and she used to speak on stage for approximately two to five minutes at every single monthly breakfast which ended up being the two to five minutes that I would come to the monthly events for! Every single time Sue said something that inspired me for the next month and I got so much value. She was very real but obviously a very busy woman as she was the CEO of a print publication. I started coming every month and meeting people at those events. Over and above that I decided to join the SCBWN mentoring program and that's where I met Nikki Parkinson. Nikki was leaving her journalist career to start her own business called Styling You. She didn't really know exactly what that looked like and I had just started my events company White House Celebrations (now White House International). So I guess we were two very experienced people in new phases of our life. We did the SCBWN mentoring program together and there were maybe eight to 12 people there. We got closer to these 12 people which meant when we went to the monthly events, we had more people that we could just instantly walk in and say hello to.
The next year I became a mentor for the SCBWN leadership program, which was a two-day offsite that SCBWN was facilitating back then. The Network also had a marketing committee, an events committee, a couple of different committees, and there was a position available so I ended up volunteering on the marketing committee. Then I ended up on the events committee and it was there that Nikki introduced me to who is now one of my best friends, Deb Battaglini. Deb and I ended up on the events committee together, and together with Michelle Hamer, we moved the SCBWN Gala from a Tuesday to a Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Coolum and made it bigger than it ever was before. My business was very new, I was still working out what it was and I was finding incredible support from other people. I was finding who they were as well and being really open to sharing that together. So I found that the SCBWN wasn't a place that I went to get clients, the majority of my target market is time-poor professionals (mostly male), so the SCBWN was absolutely my support network.”
What are your fondest memories of the SCBWN?
“I would definitely say in those early days I can distinctly remember Sue Willis. I also have very fond memories from the first gala that Deb, myself and the events committee ran at the Hyatt. The feedback was that it really took that evening to a whole new level. I have the deepest respect for Michelle Hamer and what she brought to the judging chair role, so I’m proud we were able to pull off an event that was different to what she would traditionally do, but one that she was happy with the result. I would call myself a yo-yo because I've been in and out of the Network over the years and I also volunteered on one of Vickie Magic's committees as well. When Roz became the president, I was asked to come back into SCBWN to take on the events chair role. In that role, Roz let me express who I was and I would say one of my favourite memories was the committee giving me the permission to secure Rebecca Gibney as a keynote speaker. We filled Novotel Twin Waters with 500 people in the old Wandiny room for “International Women's Day with Rebecca Gibney”. On top of that, the Network actually let me interview Rebecca, which was a new thing for me. That obviously was an opportunity that not many other organisations would give you and it was very important to the Network and myself, so that was a really fond memory and a perfect example of who this network supports you to grow. I’ve got too many fond memories to name them all.”
What did you always want to achieve? What was your legacy?
“I think that I walked into the president role filling really big shoes in Roz White and the thing that Roz is so passionate about is that “You work out what legacy you want to leave”. When I was the vice president in the lead up to nominating for president, Roz did ask me that question probably more than any other handover has ever had before. I think the thing that I really want to achieve at the Network is that everyone can feel that this is a home where they can go to be supported. So whatever that means for you – if you want to take on the world and be the biggest corporate success story known to humankind, then you can do that at the SCBWN, we've got your back. But if you are lost and not sure what your next career move is, you can also find support at the SCBWN. So I think everything that I have been working on with the current committee has been around “How can we just have everybody's back?” and really looking at different markets and asking, "Well, what do they need?". Everyone needs something different, but you can group it all together. How can we be really inclusive? How can we make sure that anybody that wants to celebrate and empower women to achieve in business feels welcome and supported and part of the Network?
I've also really wanted to bring some recognition to those that have come before me. I want them to recognise how what they did 25 years ago has led to this ripple effect and now there’s 350 - 400 members that are still supporting each other because of what they did 25 years ago – standing beside fax machines and getting people to lunches and the like. All those women that have come before, and all those on the current and past committees that have donated copious amounts of hours, that's what's made this organisation so special. So if I can end my presidency knowing that people feel valued for who they are and what they've brought to the Network and life in general, then I'll be happy.”
What are your hopes for women in business, now and into the future?
“I hope that in the not too distant future, quotas become a thing of the past so that it's just not necessary to have to define, "Should it be a female in the role or not?" or, "Can a female do this or not do this?". I've got a six-year-old and a 10-year-old, and I've seen a really big shift. My six-year-old is in prep and five years ago it was always the mums, whether they were working or non-working, that were doing every drop off and pick up and the one or two token dads really stood out. Whereas this year, five years later, the dads are there and the mums are there and it's just whoever can get it done. So hopefully that indicates that we are closer to bridging the gap where we can have it all. I do however recognise that predominantly women still do the majority of the domestic duties as well, so the mental load is quite incredible and probably underestimated. Hopefully we can get to the point where gender actually isn't a thing and you just get to do what you get to do because you make life choices. Whether or not that's to stay home with your child or not, regardless of your gender, or to take on the corporate giants, doesn't really matter and we don't actually have to think about it. I think there is still some recognition that there's work to be done on that front, so therefore we have to have quotas and focus on pay gaps until the evolution is complete.”
What is the greatest challenge you believe faces women in business today?
“I still feel that there's a lot of judgement sitting in the women's space, whether or not it's to ourselves or to other women. I am not convinced that men judge us anywhere near as harshly as we judge ourselves, or women judge us, but I'm happy to be debated on that topic. I think that there's a lot of judgement and it would be fabulous if that just didn't exist anymore. So if you stay home with six kids, congratulations. If you choose not to have kids, congratulations. If you want to be in the corporate world, start your own business or whatever it is you want to do, we actually just get to be humans and there doesn't need to be a divide. I still think that a challenge we have at the moment is that while we can go after it all, we're still very much expected to be able to deliver it all. I think that we can work towards a balance where, maybe in the next generation, it's just far more normal that you choose your role and gender doesn't play as big a role in that. That's obviously being quite stereotypical and I'm sure there's dads out there that feel the total opposite, but I would say if we had to do the stats on it, the women still play that role of being the domestic provider.”
What would you like to see the Network do next?
“I think that 25 years gives us a really beautiful reflection period and then I think the next step for us would be to play a more vocal role in the groundswell of reducing that judgement divide. Maybe that's just more people starting to understand each other. As a generation, we're starting to be more open about our story. Once upon a time you didn't talk about things, so you just assumed that people that we're achieving were doing it easily, whereas now we're obviously more open. I would like to see us help, be more supportive and potentially make people feel that it's okay, you can do it anyway. That they always feel that in whatever they're doing, we've got their back. I think a fresh new energy can come to this 25 year period where it celebrates the past and now all of us together collectively can be part of what the future looks like. People can move forward feeling really empowered by that and that’s obviously what we stand for. Whether you're the president from 25 years ago, or you're me, or you're the next president, we're all in this together so it's maybe more of a ‘together movement’ forward in year 26.”
What are your thoughts on business and the economy in the Sunshine Coast now and over the next decade?
“I think we’re in a really exciting time. Obviously there's all sorts of talk out there about the economic climate and the uncertainty behind it but I am also an individual who fully believes you create your own reality. I don't buy into a lot of what I see or read, and I believe I will work out how I can succeed anyway. I actually think it's really exciting. We're obviously leading into the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2032, which creates an exciting time for the Sunshine Coast. I think there's some work to be done in the next two to three years to get us all on the same page so that we actually don't end up destroying our beautiful community through lack of collective thinking. We need to identify how we can actually grow in a sustainable, enjoyable way that protects our lifestyle. Some people can't even wrap their heads around what it's going to be like in 2032 and what it will be like if we don't act now. So I believe the SCBWN has a role to play in some advocacy. We can tend to be pigeonholed into gender specific topics only, but I actually believe we care about lots of things that are non-gender specific that we could be having more of a voice on. We could actually be finding the people within our Network that have the skills and capability to share their educated voices. SCBWN has got a role to play in advocacy and as females we are genuinely collaborative individuals, I believe the SCBWN can be the secret to actually helping this next 10 years be a really collaborative time for the betterment of all.”
Do you have a message of encouragement for women in business today?
“I would really encourage them to feel, sooner in their careers, like they've got it all going on. We all have self-doubt, however I am a firm believer that if you actually sit and listen to yourself above anyone else, you probably know the answers. I know all of this other stuff comes in, whether it's self-judgement, judgement of others, opinions, etc that clouds your knowledge. I know that you get to your 40s, 50s, 60s, and you kind of look back at the younger generation and go, "Wow, if I knew that at 20." I actually think you do know it at 20 but then you listen to others and then you back track. I don't think there's any mistakes that you can make. I don't think life ever turns out the way you thought it was going to and I also think all of that is perfectly okay. So if we all thought earlier, "That's perfectly okay. Life is just one big adventure” and we just took all the judgement off that and how life should look, then we would be in a really good space.
What are you up to now?
“I'm here, leading the extraordinary group of individuals at the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network, and so humbled to have been supported. Being president was something that I wasn't sure I was up for, but Roz assured me that I wouldn't fill her shoes, I would find my own. This is just another fabulous example of what this Network is all about. “Don't be Roz, be Min”, she said. She even warned me that some people will leave, that more will be associated with Roz, and other people will join that more associate with me, and that's perfectly okay. So that comes down to what I was saying before about thinking “It's all perfectly okay”. You find your people and then they follow you, or you stick with them. So what I'm doing now is leading my own organisation with an extraordinary team, and I’m also really humbled to be the current president of the SCBWN – especially in the 25th year of celebration.”