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Why women create great places to work

MECCA Brands CEO Jo Horgan image

MECCA Brands CEO Jo Horgan … When it comes to orchestrating a great place to work, women are punching well above their weight. Photo: Scott Barbour

Jo Horgan turns to a sporting analogy to describe her role as founder and chief executive of cosmetics company MECCA Brands. “I seriously consider myself the slave of everybody else in the organisation,” Horgan says. “And my job? You know in curling [there’s] the person who madly shines the ice, to make sure the puck glides straight through? I literally think my job is to do that all the time.”

As a female chief executive, Horgan is in the small minority – only 5 per cent of companies in the ASX 100 have a female CEO. But when it comes to orchestrating a great place to work, women are punching well above their weight. It seems it pays to have a female boss.

Seven of this year’s top 22 places to work are run by management teams dominated by women executives. That include companies with a female-dominated workforces, such as cosmetics brands Estée Lauder and MECCA, and stationery retail chain kikki.K, but also media companies OMD and Mindshare as well as charity Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Anyone looking for big differences between the management style of men and women could be disappointed: the companies with a higher proportion of female executives did not score consistently better on any one aspect of the Best Places to Work survey.

In Horgan’s case, it was her path as an entrepreneur, rather than her gender, which has defined her management style, she insists.

She founded MECCA in her 20s after working for L’Oréal and has always taken a long-term view of the company. Horgan says there have been times in the history of the business where this has led to counter-intuitive choices.

“In 1999 the dollar really plummeted . . . the knee-jerk reaction was to cut staffing,” Horgan says. “Our model is we invest more in staff than any other retailer, any other cosmetic house, any other concept.

“We invest nearly 3 per cent of our entire turnover just on education, which is unheard of. I said [at the time] I do not care if I do not eat, we will not reduce staffing.”

Gender balance affects company culture

But if gender in the executive ranks makes little difference, gender in the staff ranks has a bigger impact. The survey suggests gender balance affects company culture at a deep level, with men and women perceiving the company differently.

Female employees tended to agree more than men that management hires people who fit in well, management has a clear view of where the organisation is going and how to get there, management would lay people off only as a last resort and that people avoid politics and backstabbing as ways to get things done.

Male employees agree more than females that they receive a fair share of the profits made by the organisation and people are paid fairly for the work they do.

Gender also affects the more superficial side of being a great place to work – the perks of the job. For example, while IT companies are famous for office foosball tables and free beer, Estée Lauder offers free monthly massages.

Magda Lategan, the vice-president of human resources for Australia, New Zealand and South Africa at Estée Lauder, says the company is female-dominated and in Australia it is 87 per cent women, in headquarters as well as on the retail floor.

“We don’t go out looking for females but more females would respond to ads because of what it is,” Lategan says. “We see people as equal. We are more female and so some of our practices are biased towards females but if a male came along and asked for [comparable] things, he would receive it as well.”

For example, Estée Lauder offers six weeks of paid parental leave on top of government legislated leave, and both men and women have taken this up.

Flexible working hours

Lategan says the company does not publish flexible hours but in reality, they exist – for example, one of her team members works from home one day a week because of the cost of childcare.

It is a similar story at stationery chain kikki.K. Chief executive Russell Parker says the company is 85 per cent female, with an average age of 25, but that is not planned.

Kikki.K offers flexible hours for working parents who need to drop off and pick up kids, and allows people to work remotely. He believes both the male and female employees want similar things.

Kikki.K does not have a long list of perks – though the company does offer a paid day of leave on the employee’s birthday – and relies more on intrinsic motivation and the culture set by co-founder Kristina Karlsson.

“They want to do something they’re passionate about, they want to do something fulfilling, they want personal growth, they want to be surrounded by a great team that are equally as passionate about their job, they want to be challenged, and they want to have their contributions recognised fairly,” he says.

“Kikki.K was founded on Kristina’s dream of wanting to do something that made her happy to drive to work on a Monday morning – this is really part of our cultural DNA now.”

An example of that culture in practice is the “Above and Beyond” concept. At the end of each day, the retail stores email a report to the general manager of retail to summarise their day. Part of the report requires them to provide an example of when a team member has gone above and beyond for a customer or a colleague. The best examples are published and shared internally.

Women suffer most when things are lacking

While practices like paid parental leave and flexible working hours may be offered to both men and women, there is ample evidence that women suffer most when these things are lacking.

Retail brands tend to have a young workforce, but gender balance is important at senior management level as well. MECCA has a female chief executive and five out of seven senior manager positions are filled by women. Young women may not have families yet, but Leah Mahon, talent acquisition specialist at MECCA, says they are looking for role models who do.

“If you’re a young woman, it’s really inspiring to see other women achieving, having children and returning to work and having fulfilling careers that are influential and make a real difference to the business,” Mahon says.


Henry Sapiecha

The barriers need to be broken before girls across the world achieve their true potential.

Breaking down barriers for girls across the world …

All over the world today millions of people are celebrating the first International Day of the Girl Child. But many others will likely question why we need a day that focuses just on girls – don’t we already have an International Women’s Day, a strong feminist movement, and countless policies and programs designed to fight gender inequality?


The reality is that the world is only now starting to realise that tens of millions of girls face daily discrimination, poverty and violence, simply because they were born female.

One in three girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence.

Girls have been explicitly mentioned in annual themes for International Women’s Day just three times in the past 100 years. The combination of their gender and age renders them almost invisible.

Girls are especially vulnerable due to their age and often complete lack of power or control over their lives. This means a different, and perhaps more urgent, response is required if we are to harness their potential to create a better life for themselves and their children, a more prosperous, peaceful community and a healthier workforce.

That’s why Plan International lobbied the UN to declare October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child.

Of course, girls and boys have the same entitlements to human rights, but they face different challenges in accessing them – girls are less likely to complete school, have less opportunity for meaningful work, are more likely to be living with HIV and AIDS, and are more likely to experience rape or other forms of sexual violence.

Each year, more than 10 million girls are forced to marry as children, which usually means an end to their education, and a life of ill-health and poverty.

Dealing with the specific needs and rights of girls is key to breaking cycles of poverty with benefits for everyone – boys and girls, men and women. For example, as a country’s primary school enrolment rate for girls increases, so does its gross domestic product per head.

In fact, education is one of the best ways to help girls to move from poverty to opportunity. An educated girl will be more likely to marry later in life and have fewer, healthier children, who will be three to 10 times more likely to survive.

For every extra year of high school, a girl’s future income increases by 15 to 25 per cent. With the opportunity to earn a living, she will pull herself out of poverty and bring her children along with her. She will invest what she earns in them – in their health, education and futures.

But one of the most pressing challenges facing girls is access to quality education. One in three girls around the world is denied an education by the daily realities of poverty, discrimination and violence. That’s 75 million girls out of school.

Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as enrolling more girls in school. What they learn, and the conditions they learn in, are crucial factors. In Australia, we often hear complaints of children leaving school unable to read or write properly. In schools around the world, millions of girls are learning that they are inferior, and that their main purpose in life is to have children. And for too many girls, school is a place where they suffer bullying, violence and even sexual abuse.

Girls and boys need an education that provides them the skills they need for life, including the confidence and capabilities they need to be active, equal citizens, and to have positive relationships with others. If we can achieve this, everyone benefits.

Plan’s newest State of the World’s Girls report, called Learning for Life, highlights the fact that adolescent girls are particularly at risk of missing out on their education. It shows that there has been great progress in increasing primary enrolment for girls, but when they reach adolescence, the pressure of poverty and expectations of their reproductive and domestic roles results in a significant increase in the numbers of girls dropping out of school.

The ”Because I am a Girl” campaign, being launched on this first International Day of the Girl Child, aims to break down the barriers to ensure that all girls, as well as boys, receive at least nine years of quality education.

As we approach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the world will be debating what should be included in the new road map for global development and sustainability.

There is no better place to start than making quality education for girls an urgent priority.

Ian Wishart is chief executive of Plan International Australia.


Over the past decade New York psychotherapist Dr Sonya Rhodes noticed a pattern in the women coming to her practice. All were “self-confident, accomplished, sexual” but there was something missing — they complained about being “unhappy and frustrated by their lack of success in relationships” she writes in her new book The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match. How Today’s Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling.

alpha-female image

Dr Rhodes, a relationship expert with  30 years’ experience, considered why these “new Alpha women”, were failing to find someome to share their lives with. She concluded that instead of looking for a man as successful as themselves, they should reject an Alpha man in favour of their “dependable, responsible, and supportive” Beta opposite — a man who “might just make the best fit” she says.

A typical Alpha woman is self-reliant, can explore her sexuality and make her own life choices, says Dr Rhodes and she is on the rise in education and the professions. But all too often she thinks her perfect partner is someone like her. However a partnership of two Alphas is a recipe for disaster, according to Dr Rhodes. “Clinical experience has shown me that this partnership is at the greatest risk for divorce, because two Alphas will tend to compete for power and dominance” she writes. You only have to think of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin to see how two Alphas might clash.

The type of man she should be looking for is not afraid of strong women she says. “He is cooperative but not compliant, accomplished but not a workaholic, assertive but not confrontational. He is the man many contemporary women have been waiting for, but he is not adequately appreciated in a culture where the Alpha male has reigned supreme.”

Her relationship advice couldn’t be more timely. Australian women are increasingly out-earning men. According to research commissioned by the National Australia Bank (NAB) they have reported being the main breadwinner in 39.5 per cent of households. This is an increase of 10.7 per cent since 2008, when 28.8 per cent of women identified themselves as the main household income earner.

But why does choosing a Beta man sound like opting for second best?

Dr Rhodes says she is not suggesting that women marry beneath them. “The Beta male is a ‘catch’ because he is programmed for partnership” Dr Rhodes tells Life & Style. “He is highly desirable to women who want to share the responsibilities of having a family and working with a supportive, caring man. The Beta male is so secure he is not threatened by the Alpha woman. He will support and respect his partner and care about what is important to her. I think this is pretty terrific.”

Karen Chaston from Sydney says she has been the Alpha female for most of her 36-year marriage. She says her husband was very happy to let her follow her career ambitions which saw her rise to the position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a publicly listed company. “He is very secure within himself. He never felt less of man with me earning more money than him” she says. “It worked well in our family with my husband bringing up our sons. He is very close and has a special relationship with his sons.”

Dr Rhodes points out there is a big difference between a Beta man and an Omega man. The Omega “is the ultimate narcissist, feeling entitled to live off anyone who will support him and make little, if any, contribution to the household. He may play video games all day, drink an excessive amount of beer, surf the net, and generally enshrine his adolescence. He has no job with which to self-identify and looks down on working stiffs. Do not—ever—confuse the Beta darling with the Omega leech. They are quite different.”

But what if you are already married to an Alpha male? Is your relationship doomed? No, says Dr Rhodes. “If you are married to an Alpha it is important to identify your own goals and to present them confidently to your partner. You need to have a strong ego so that you share power and are not dominated by a strong male. There should be room in all relationships for two people to pursue their dreams.”

Henry Sapiecha

The basic bitch is evolving

What makes a bitch a bitch?

judge woman image

Bitch has contained multitudes since at least circa 1997 when Meredith Brooks wailed with all the Alanis-inspired passion she could muster, “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I do not feel ashamed”. (Side note: Is the single cover not the most nineties thing you’ve ever laid eyes on? Sunflowers AND slip dresses.) The ever-flexible ‘bitch’ has functioned as hurtful slur, reclaimed title of feminine power and somewhat bizarre bonding term (alongside terms like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ as Tina Fey so cleverly highlighted in Mean Girls).

The latest era of bitchery has taken things a step further – it’s now all about the ‘basic bitch’. (And I apologise in advance, if you play a drinking game where you take a shot every time I say ‘basic’ or ‘bitch’, you will wind up in ER within roughly the next 600 words). So who is this mysterious basic bitch and from whence did she spring forth? This insult popped up around 2009 according to the modern etymological ground zero of Urban Dictionary, where it was defined as ‘one who has no personality; dull and irrelevant’.

The term has since slowly grown to meme-worthy levels of popularity. Kreayshawn brought it to the public consciousness in her 2011 single Gucci Gucciproclaiming her derision for luxury labels with the statement, “Basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother”. In 2012, teen Youtube star Lohanthony released a nine-second viral video titled Calling All the Basic Bitches.

This year the concept has reached critical mass, going from relatively underground label to pop culture phenomenon with a full taxonomy emerging. Comedy website College Humor released a skit on how to tell if you’re a basic bitch including symptoms like enjoying scented candles, taking Zumba classes and owning a picture frame that says ‘family’ on it. Discussions trying to define her have popped up and you can even do a quiz to find out if the dreaded label applies.

Emma Stone, just your average bland, basic bitch image

So what exactly is a basic bitch? It’s a woman whose taste is obvious or clichéd, she prefers fitting in to standing out. The basic bitch’s biggest misdeed is liking girly things and being a bit late to the party on trends – Shoshanna from Girls is probably the best pop culture example. Her polar opposite is the ‘bad bitch’. (You thought it might not involve being a bitch at all? Sorry to disappoint.)

At first glance ‘basic bitch’ seems potentially subversive. It’s praises (albeit through disparaging the opposite) women not conforming and reinforces the idea that female and femininity are not synonymous. But scrape the surface a little and you’ll realise it’s still a verbal cage that says don’t be a certain sort of woman. The message is if you happen to like stereotypically girly things or products squarely aimed at girls and women, you’ll be put down as ‘basic’ and lacking in discernment. The other issue is that it seems to be used as a term designed to engender competitiveness amongst women, the subtext when it’s used being ‘She’s a basic bitch, but I’m not’. Like Gillian Flynn’s much quoted ‘cool girls’ passage from the best-selling soon to be a movie Gone Girl it just sets up further us and them divisions.

Emma Stone (an unabashed Spice Girls fan) had probably the classiest response to the term. Stone told Vogue when she Googled herself she found someone had described her as a ‘bland basic bitch’. She found the term so hilarious she embraced the insult and started using it in reference to herself. Touché, Ms Stone.

If we were all completely honest we’d probably admit to having at least one ‘basic bitch’ thing we love. (I shamelessly enjoy Starbucks dark chocolate Frappuccinos and find myself glued to the couch all zombie-like mumbling ‘She’s like the wind through the trees’ when Dirty Dancing turns up on television.) And that’s fine, the reason things are labelled as feel-good is because they feel good – it’s not a crime to be passé. Anyway, if basic bitches are so terrible, what is the alternative? To forego Love Actually, leggings and Audrey Hepburn posters for cooler pastures? But then you might be equally derided as… hipster. Could the solution be to simply hate everything? How terribly dreary.

Starbucks is the preferred beverage of basic bitches image

There is a middle path though. Drink a cold drip while listening to Katy Perry. Put a Joan Didion quote on your Pinterest board. Wear your double buckle slides with a star tattoo proudly displayed on your ankle. Watch Friends repeats while eating Korean Mexican fusion. Like what you like – basically.

Henry Sapiecha


Henry Sapiecha



bitchy group of women photo

Many girls and women think being a “mean girl” is a sign of empowerment. Picture: Thinkstock Source: Supplied

BROUGHT to the forefront of popular culture with the 2004 Lindsay Lohan film, Mean Girls, what was once fiction – the hateful manner of certain girls – has become a reality.

Celebrating a decade of Mean Girls , there’s a jewellery line being launched in the USA with friendship necklaces inscribed with lines from the movie such as “best bitches” and “you can’t sit with us”.

The “mean girl”, a term created by Queen Bees and Wannabes author, Rosalind Wiseman, is defined as someone who uses “girl aggression” – nasty comments, trickery, deceit, the spreading of rumours, and stealing boyfriends – to manipulate other girls.

Populating classrooms, social media, mothers’ groups and workplaces, the “mean girl” is flourishing. So much so, psychologist, Meredith Fuller, wrote a book Working with Mean Girls , offering advice on how to deal with destructive workplace relationships cultivated by bitchy, insecure women whose manipulative manner towards their female peers and the damage done often flies under the radar.

Social media has allowed mean girl conduct to both boom and be displayed. Able to shoot off a few nasty words or spiteful lines on various platforms, cyberspace is a breeding ground for bitches, bullies and their victims.

What about ladette culture, born of pre-loading, binge drinking and a desire to emulate a tiny element of male culture? Young women, fuelled by too much alcohol let their meanness find physical and other expression, abusing and fighting girls and sometimes videoing and sharing their anti-social actions for others to ogle.

What was once hidden is now broadcast, shared like a trophy.

With the media latching on to these activities to condemn them, there’s also a degree of defiant notoriety in the (negative) publicity they attract and thus kudos in being caught. Wilfully ignorant parents who refuse to see they have raised a “mean girl” don’t help either.

Afraid of being the next person in the mean girls’ sights, those around them (Wiseman calls them “wannabes”) will often support rather than censure the dominant girl and so rewards for being mean accrue and faux popularity governed by fear dominate.

Another sign of the insidious acceptance of “meanness” as an admired characteristic can be seen in the mass circulation of a well-known Marilyn Monroe quote on Facebook, Twitter and as a meme. Appearing in variations like: “If you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best,” it pops up regularly.

Functioning as an affirmation of the (female) self, deemed empowering by the mostly adult women who post it, it announces a refusal to change. It’s an in-your-face-stance to prospective friends and partners and declares, take me as I am or p-ss off.

It’s a problematic relationship test.

But what an entitled, narcissistic, selfish statement! It infers that any bad behaviour (from the postee) must be accepted unconditionally.

Any relationship with a person that insightless has failed before it’s even begun.

A successful relationship is when people (be they lovers, peers or friends) bring out the best in each other. It’s never about tolerating behaviours and attitudes that are mean, unattractive and highly dysfunctional.

Somewhere along the line, meanness has been construed as acceptable and/or inevitable. It’s regarded as an entertaining if not attractive trait to cultivate – especially if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Reality TV, where competitions create opportunities for mean-girl behaviour, is where this conduct thrives.

Shows like My Kitchen Rules actively foster this. “Keep the contestants mean, keep the audiences’ keen” is the new mantra. The latest stereotypical “mean girls” are the well-travelled Western Australian friends, Kelly and Chloe, whose snide comments, bitchy asides and judgmental looks (cast mainly towards the “two heads, one brain” twins, Helena and Vikki), polarise people.

With ratings in the millions, meanness – especially when delivered by female participants – has become a recipe for success.

The RTV show, Vanderpump Rules, starring 25-year-old Stassi Schroeder, is another program that relies on the “mean girl” status for its global recognition. Described as “outrageous”, “catty”, “feisty”, “she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants” – Stassi’s the “woman audiences love to hate” and is unapologetic.

Being malicious, let alone staggeringly drunk and violent in public, used to be regarded as disgraceful. It made you a social pariah. Meant to feel remorse, not glee, apologies followed. Nowadays, young women appear to relish the infamy the “mean” tag and its consequences carry. Whether it’s false bravado on their part or genuine is sometimes hard to tell, but sorry, they ain’t.

“Mean” should never be confused with strength, honesty or feistiness, which are all wonderful traits. Nor should it be wielded as a cowardly weapon to control or strike down those perceived as “weak”.

While we’re all capable of being mean occasionally, I’m tired of it being misrepresented as a form of feminine power.

Being mean is not powerful or normal and nor should it be consistently in the spotlight or regarded as aspirational. Women, even mean ones, are the sum of many parts. But until our best traits are also celebrated, “mean” will set the scene.


Dr Karen Brooks is an associate professor at the UQ Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies.


Henry Sapiecha