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Women’s Health Australia featuring Jane Morrell
CEO and founder of Carer Solutions, Jane Morrell details her experience feeling pressured to project a 'masculine energy' in order to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world of business.News
“I Wanted A Seat At The Table, So I Learned To Act Like A Man”
As a female entrepreneur, I’ve been acutely aware of being the only woman in the room more times than I can count. I’ve watched with relief over the years as the push towards workplace gender equality has led to more women on company boards and a push towards pay equity.
But despite these baby steps, I can’t help but feel that a crucial part of the conversation is being lost among the numbers and statistics.
For a long time, the only way I could gain a seat at the table was to dig deep and embody the same ‘male energy’ as the group of men already sitting there.
When I was first trying to get my business off the ground, I experienced this pressure every time I met with peers and other businesses within the disability sector. I was 31 years old and had spent a year researching and designing an innovative service model that would transform the way people could employ disability support workers within Australia.
I was passionate and confident that it would change the game, despite change not always being embraced within the sector. My idea was seen as far-fetched, so as I walked into every meeting, I would prepare myself to match the strong, dominant energy that I knew would be in the room. I acted unphased when told ‘you’re dreaming – this is too hard’ or ‘this is never going to work’. I would drive away, meeting after meeting, feeling anxious about how I’d been perceived. Not because of my performance, but because I hadn’t been myself.
Whether we want to admit it or not, many entrepreneurs feel this way. The pressure to put aside our authentic qualities to be taken seriously is often the only way forward in the competitive, often cut-throat business world. We walk into boardrooms reminding ourselves to show no sign of weakness or vulnerability. Sure, some people may find this comes naturally to them. For me, though, it went against my natural instinct. My authenticity, empathy, and passion – all the things that make my business so successful now in hindsight – were put on the back burner.
A decade later, this is still an experience that intrigues me. As I’ve opened up about my own journey – to friends, colleagues, and fellow entrepreneurs – the more I’ve discovered that this is something that resonates with many – women, members of marginalised communities and… men.
Gender aside, my questions are – why can’t we be encouraged to lean into our own, unique energy? Why are we spending so much time worrying about who we think we need to be, to make the best impression? And why aren’t authenticity, empathy, and trust valued on the same level as our business acumen?
I have a feeling that we’d all find ourselves being better leaders, better business partners, and more successful entrepreneurs if we simply embraced the qualities that naturally came to us.
As the conversation around workplace gender equality continues, my hope is that we’re all encouraged to challenge assumptions and learn that there is no one way of being that ensures success. At every turn, we should be encouraged to lean into our true energy.
Making physical space for women and marginalised groups in business isn’t enough – we need to make space for all the valuable, authentic qualities they bring with them, too.
By Jane Morrell
Published in Australian Women’s Health | MAR 7, 2023