It’s a pretty powerful time to be a woman. Now, more than ever, there’s a global call to action, demanding progress and gender parity and bringing together friends, colleagues and communities so that female voices can be heard; in schools, film studios and the boardroom. Interestingly, ‘feminism’ was Merriam-Webster online dictionary’s most looked up word in 2017 which will be undoubtedly due to the increase in news coverage related to women’s rights and the momentum gathering in this movement.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day – a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – it’s only fitting that we turn to our own backyard and showcase the remarkable women and role models that we have here at Abundant Natural Health.
So, we talked to our very own CEO and fearless leader Shanan Birkin to see what she has to say about her role as a female leader in business; to find out who she admires and her advice to those that will follow in her footsteps.
Which women do you admire and why?
I admire strong women in body and soul. Anna Wintour – the Editor-In-Chief at Vogue - has been at the helm since 1988; it’s a cutthroat business and she’s maintained grace and strength the whole time. On a more personal level, my sister Kylie Gray; she’s been thrown a massive curve ball in life with her MS diagnosis, but she gets up every day no matter what’s thrown at her and she strives to live a healthy and normal life.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of being a woman in an executive role? Do the glass ceiling and gender gap still exist?
I do believe that it exists in some industries. I’ve worked in large companies where I’ve seen the “Boys Club” and felt that there were no opportunities for progression for women. However, after moving to small/medium sized companies I’ve noticed that there are more opportunities for females; they have a larger voice. There is always the pay gap though – you have to fight hard for it.
How do you balance your roles as a CEO and a mum?
It’s hard at times with sick kids or kids needing your time – that’s a constant juggle. Since taking on this role - and due to the hours and travel demands - we’ve had to engage a nanny. The kids are happy and have built a strong relationship with her which allows my husband and I, after work and at the weekends, to spend quality time with them.
What unique strengths do you think women bring to leadership roles?
A woman’s point of view, which can be broader in some respects. I’m only speaking for myself, but I think that when you’re a working mum there’s a lot of guilt generated about where you should be spending your time but I think that this inner guilt drives me to achieve higher goals. I’ve always believed that if I work hard and achieve my goals that I can shape a life where I will have the freedom and flexibility to spend more time with my kids.
Tell us a little about your career trajectory?
Starting off in admin I’ve always worked hard to climb the corporate ladder, so to speak. Each company I’ve worked with has promoted me and given me amazing opportunities which I’ve grabbed, and I’ve always pushed for more. I’ve shown that I can run a company and now my ambition is to build an incredible, highly profitable business creating products that I truly believe in.
Tell us about your team. You have mainly woman working for you; was that a conscious choice?
Not a conscious choice at all; I interviewed a wide variety of candidates for all roles and hired who I believed was the best fit and the right person for the position at the time. Strangely it’s ended up mostly women, so I have the pleasure of working with talented and highly experienced women in our Sales & Marketing, Research and Operations teams on a daily basis!
If you could go back in time to when you were starting out in your career, what's the one piece of advice that you wish that you'd been given?
Work even harder earlier, don’t doubt yourself, give everything a go!
Finally, what's your one piece of advice that you would give to somebody starting out in their career with aspirations of running a business and becoming a CEO one day?
Work hard, follow your gut, stand up for yourself and take responsibility for everything that you put out there.