WiNG, Women’s Networking Group

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This month FOCUS introduces the Armidale Business Chamber’s reimagined Women’s Networking Group, WiNG. Our interview today is with Deborah Hunter, a member of the Chamber’s Management Committee and the WiNG program leader. 

What is WiNG?

We’ve built on the foundations of the former New England Enterprising Women’s Breakfast (NEEW) to create WiNG, which will be focused on women’s professional interests and issues, as well as providing opportunities for professional development. 

The idea underpinning WiNG is to empower women to take flight. The i in WiNG also stands for inspiring, insightful, informative, and interesting, representing both our membership and the intended calibre of our guest speakers.

We are starting with a bi-monthly breakfast, and in the near future we will be developing and executing a survey to engage our existing membership, identify future program direction and great speakers. 

The former NEEW group has been in abeyance for a while; why did the Chamber bring it back?

Ever since the former breakfasts ceased to be on the agenda, we have been approached by women asking when it was coming back. So many women told us that the only reason they had originally joined the Chamber was for the breakfasts. That was certainly the case for me. 

What that really showed us is that the need for a networking group focused on women’s issues still had its place. With Meralli Solar as a sponsor waiting in the wings, 2019 has been the ideal time for us to relaunch.

Why does the Armidale region need a women’s networking group?

WiNG is intended to connect women, providing support, opportunity and the ability to find role models and mentors in each other, as well as create shared experiences in an environment with a uniquely female focus. 

There is still gender inequality in all aspects of life – and especially in business. For women, we still operate in a world where a qualified doctor expressing concern over their exhaustion and after being on call for 180 continuous hours was labelled an “emotional female”. It’s fair to say younger women today experience less “ism” in their professional lives, but if and when you have children, then the juggle begins. 

We still have a long way to go.

Ultimately, it’s about representation and creating safe places for women to discuss their issues. 

Aren’t women already adequately represented?

Despite “achieving” equality, a significant gender pay gap in Australia remains. Women find themselves over-represented in insecure work, part-time and casual work, or find themselves no longer on a promotion trajectory. Access to affordable childcare continues to affect workforce participation, and this impacts on our financial security as we get older. Increasingly, due to that financial insecurity, coupled with divorce, or death of a partner, middle class older women are becoming the face of homelessness.

There is a significant lack of females represented in parliament – something all political parties need to be working towards improving. The formation of the lobby group “WomenVote”, formed by three Sydney based women solicitors, underpins and articulates the deep concerns women have regarding the gender gap.  

And, it’s women starting businesses in the search for the fulfilment and flexibility they may not be able to find in the traditional workplace.   

In this environment women still need spaces that focus on their issues – safe spaces where their lived experience is understood. And through our shared experiences, we can support and empower each other in our endeavours. 

Why does female participation in the workforce matter?

In the simplest terms, our local, regional and national economy benefits significantly from active participation from our whole population. In a report prepared for the Office For Women, the ABS suggests that women’s under-representation in the economy costs Australia billions of dollars in unrealised productivity potential. 

How’s it going so far?

Our first 2019 breakfast in February featured the amazing Lucy MacKenzie of U Goose; it sold out, so we are off to a flying start! 

How does it fit in with the Chamber’s purpose?

The Chamber’s focus in 2018 was on increasing our voice in support of our businesses’ issues, helping to celebrate Armidale’s business achievements through the Awards, and the open networking evening each month. The WiNG program is being launched in the context of a whole range of activities for our business community. We have developed a draft strategy, which we will be consulting with our membership about and have planned what is intended to be a series of Leadership Events with high calibre speakers on highly topical subjects. 

One of these events will feature the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Dr Philip Lowe, at a dinner on 19th September 2019; Anthony Fox is developing this program. We also intend to pilot a small business mentoring program to be led by Monty Maguire.

Who will be presenting at the next breakfast?

We are very excited to announce that the next breakfast will feature the founders of WomenVote. WomenVote is a non-partisan lobby group that will scrutinise parties for their record on, and offerings for, women. They are keen to hear the rural and regional perspective on the issues that matter for women. 

The breakfast will be held on Thursday 11th April. Mark your diaries now!

Thanks Deborah.

Photo, L – R: WiNG organising committee members – Emalene Gemmell, Shona Eichorn, Deborah Hunter, Ingrid Rothe, Aileen MacDonald.

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