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!
Back in 1998, Michelle Hamer was asked if she would like to be involved with facilitating the Sunshine Coast Business Women’s Network Awards. Little did she know, that saying yes to this opportunity would not only contribute to her being elected as President of the network two years later, be awarded a lifetime membership in 2007 for her contribution to the Awards, but in 2023 year celebrate 14 years as the chair of the Awards. Michelle has been an integral part of SCBWN for over two decades and continues to be a fierce supporter of women in business on the Sunshine Coast.
Michelle, what brought you to the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network and why did you get involved?
“My first interaction with the SCBWN was in 1998 when Celena Ross as President asked me to facilitate the launch of the Business Women’s Awards, as I was involved in the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) awards. Subsequently Sally Scott (then deputy chair of the Network) nominated me to become president. I had never considered being a president, it just wasn’t on my radar. When it happened, I was surprised but thought ‘let’s do this’. So, I resigned my AIM chair role and joined the Business Women’s Network as President in 2000.”
What are your fondest memories of the network?
“That’s an interesting question because there are so many… and fond memories continue to. My biggest surprise was when Karen Neuendorf awarded me life membership for my contribution to the Business Women’s Awards in 2007 on the Awards night. It was really special. We were up at Twin Waters and about halfway through the night the host Catherine O’Sullivan went off script, and I thought ‘Oh, what is happening?’. Karen was invited to the stage and she gave a beautiful speech as she always does, and announced the Network was awarding me life membership. My life membership is for my contribution to the Awards, it’s not about being a president as if often the case. If I had known it was coming, I would have sat there and listened properly, but I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh, we’re off script!’ - that would be my personal fondest memory.”
What did you want to achieve/your legacy/most proud moment within the network?
“My legacy is not about things we achieved while I was president, it’s about the Awards. It’s about celebrating the success of women. I’ve been so fortunate that my mother, as a businesswoman, was a leader in real estate, and she was the first female REIQ president. The awards to me are what I hope people associate me most with… and while the Network is celebrating its 25th year anniversary, I am celebrating 14 years as the chair of the Awards.”
That’s just incredible isn’t it?
“It is. I have had the pleasure to listen to various women talking about being involved in the awards and what it has given to them. Many people say it has changed their lives!”
What are your hopes for women in business, both now and in the future?
“I think Kellie Simkin, our 2022 Micro-Small Business Woman of the Year, nailed this. She talks about backing yourself. My hope for women in business now and in the future, is that they learn to back themselves. Sure, it’s critical to identify the risks, put boundaries around the financial risks but don’t let paralysis by analysis overtake what you are doing. If you’ve analysed the risks and you understand what the downside is, work out how to back yourself and just do it. ‘What’s the worst thing someone can say to you?’ It’s NO, and that’s not actually too bad.”
What was your greatest challenge as a woman in business when you were president and what do you think the greatest challenge that businesswomen face today?
“Often women don’t believe they are in a business. Often, they consider what they are doing is a hobby, rather than a business. The other side is, they are often all doing the hard yards and they put somebody else in front. That person is often their husband or their life partner, and they just don’t recognise themselves as businesswomen. And I still find that with businesswomen today. When they get their nomination letter and I call them to say congratulations, they then often come back and say, ‘but I’m not a businesswoman.’ And I say, ‘what do you mean?’
I think this comeback is particularly relevant in the health industry, even more than in other industries, because there are a lot of women in the health industry. I read in 2022-2023, Australia spent $150 billion in the health industry. That’s 16.8% of the Australian Government budget. The predominant gender in the health industry is female, and they’re often not considering themselves as being in business, and I say, ‘but you are!’ I think one of the greatest challenges facing women, is often not recognising that they are businesswomen and learning to stand up and go ‘yes I am’.
I also consider the women in my age demographic are probably being challenged balancing their family, their parents, and their businesses. You sort of think that when you are approaching my age, that you are actually going to enjoy the last period of your business, but then you are managing your family life again.”
What would you like to see the network do next?
“I recognise that there are so many activities grabbing women’s time. One of the things I see the Network doing really well at the moment is offering three different outlets for women in business.
There are the primary events, which we’ve been offering since conception, but I hear so many women talking about the coffee catch-ups and the sunset sessions. I would love to see these 2 styles of events continue. I think that most women like having that time to be with like-minded people, it’s not a huge time commitment, and it suits their timetable.
I encourage the network to continue with that model going forward.”
What are your thoughts on business and the economy on the Sunshine Coast now and looking forward to the next decade?
“As a young girl growing up on the Coast from the age of six, the Coast's economy was built around tourism and service industries. With mum in real estate, I remember collecting trays of fruit, and delivering these to the different blocks of units that were rented out for the summer. When you look today, you see the coast becoming a leader in many industries. For example, in agriculture. Roz White did an interview recently and spoke of over 200 local providers. That’s a huge industry in itself. Another is the health and science industries. SCUH becoming the first digital hospital in Queensland and there’s the Thompson Institute which is all about mind and brain. The Aviation industry; with Bonza turning up. I also see the clean technology sector growing on the Sunshine Coast. We’ve diversified from being a tourist destination and I think there are so many industries that we don’t even realise are happening here. I believe the local economy has a hidden strength and with the promotion around buying locally, we are actually supporting ourselves and we will continue to grow.”
Michelle, what are you up to now?
“Right now, I have just wrapped up the 2023 Awards program. This is nearly a full-time role for the duration of the Awards in supporting the over 160 women who were nominated. The process is about encouraging the women to feel comfortable and confident to actually put their submissions forward, and that’s going back to backing yourself.
But in business, last year I made a conscious decision to step back from my successful training and consulting business and to share my 30 years of Microsoft knowledge through my new site smartlearning.com.au. This business is starting to reap rewards. Learning to go back and set up a business again is quite interesting at 60. I’m really excited about the business, and I’m still working with a government client every Wednesday. So, while the next season of life is approaching, I’m enjoying the give back and working with only a couple of clients, rather than a lot of clients!”
Do you have a message of encouragement for women in business today?
“This totally relates back to what I said before: back yourself and build a tight network around you to encourage you to keep going. There are great days, there are good days and there are some that need a bit of sparkle, so build your network and they will help you.”