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Rare Birds flock together

Beatrice Smith

Have you ever received career advice that changed your life?

Perhaps you needed that second opinion to reassure you, or maybe you were told you something you needed to hear but didn’t want to.

For me, it was my grandfather telling me to pursue an Arts Degree when I was set on something more ‘practical’. “You don’t go to university to get a job,” he told me sternly. “You go to university to broaden your horizons.”

As you leave university, however, and transition into the ‘real world’, advice from those who have forged the path before you is sometimes hard to seek out.

For Stefanee Lovett, Managing Director of Barton based consultancy group Capital Hill Advisory, advice from mentors has been paramount when seeking to take her career to the next level.

“The right people at the right time have crossed my path and have been able to help me through the next phase,” she explains.

“Graham Samuel [former head of the ACCC] is a mentor of mine and I remember speaking with him and saying, ‘I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and he just said, ‘Why? Why would you think you couldn’t do this? We’ve entrusted you to do [so much] before, why doubt yourself now?”.

“When someone else can point out the qualities they see and your ability, you take a step back and think ‘maybe I could’.”

For Stefanee, the advice she received gave her the boost she needed in a career spanning government, the private sector and even the Prime Minister’s office.

“When the Coalition was elected to government in 2013, I became Chief of Staff to the Minister for Small Business before I was asked to move into the Prime Minister’s office,” explains Stefanee.

Advising Prime Minister Tony Abbott was, understandably, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Really interesting, really exciting and no two days were ever the same.”

Stefanee Lovett

Stefanee Lovett

After the change in leadership in late 2015, Stefanee was offered a job in consultancy before becoming the Managing Director of Capital Hill Advisory. It was during this impressive career that Stefanee met founder of Australia wide networking organisation Rare Birds, Jo Burston (pictured in feature image). Stefanee attended a roundtable discussion as a ministerial advisor where business owners and entrepreneurs were invited to comment on recent changes to business infrastructure. She remembers Jo clearly.

“Jo stood out for me because she was the only one who said ‘I don’t want anything’,” remembers Stefanee.

Stefanee explains that Jo used the discussion to argue against the creation of more laws and regulations to the infrastructure, which piqued her interest in Jo’s business acumen.

“She had all of these ideas and I thought ‘that is someone who is worth getting to know a little bit more’. So from that point on, Jo and I were in contact.”

Jo’s business acumen itself is actually simple. ‘Grow, create, achieve’ could be three words to summarise her impressive journey to date. For Jo, the key to a successful career is the advice and support given by a close network of like-minded women.

Because of this, Jo has created an empire from the simplest idea – that women need to lead by example to inspire the next generation.

When I speak to her she’s just returned from a trip to Fiji – not for the diving expedition she had originally planned, but on a philanthropic mission to bring aid to those affected by Cyclone Winston.

In total, Jo collected 700 cartons of books, pens, pencils and aid from Australia for school children and their families affected by the cyclone in two months, so it’s no surprise that Rare Birds first began as the solution to a problem.

“Rare Birds was established 26 months ago off the back of my career as a serial entrepreneur – usually the only chick in the room and only woman at the boardroom table,” she says.

After the lack of female entrepreneurs in the technology space piqued Jo’s interested, she took a film crew to her old public primary school in South West Sydney and interviewed around 70 girls between the ages of 8 and 17.

“We discussed ambition and all the things they were thinking of becoming and I asked them about entrepreneurship,” explains Jo. “When I asked them what they thought an entrepreneur was, they thought it was a man.”

Jo’s work was cut out for her.

“That was the ‘a-ha!’ moment,” she says. “I went home crying because I have two nieces and I felt that entrepreneurship really should be an opportunity presented to anyone in Australia or globally, especially women because they have such an incredible social and economic impact on the world.”

Fast forward two years and there are over 35,000 women in the Rare Birds community with almost 40 ambassadors globally, including Stefanee Lovett, HerCanberra’s founder Amanda Whitley and local success story, Mick Spencer (who just happens to be a man).

Diversity and inclusion are paramount for Jo.

“I’ve always said we’re not a women’s organisations we’re an organisation that supports women and that support comes from diversity.”

Education, mentoring, resources and events and money and funding are the four pillars that create the Rare Birds community, with the goal of connecting, educating, supporting and encouraging women from around the world.

It’s this encouragement that Jo says is so important for the league of budding female leaders. Many successful women are dogged by imposter syndrome that whispers in their ear that they’re not worthy of their current career trajectory. For this, Stefanee says that reflecting on how far you’ve come is a great tool to combat any feelings of inadequacy.

“A lot of women go through stages where they think ‘I’m not qualified’ for this. I remember sitting in the PM’s car, crossing the harbour bridge, [discussing] a speech he was about to give and I remember thinking ‘I never in a million years would have thought I’d be sitting in the back of the PM’s car…advising him. It was probably one of the memories that will stay with me for a really long time.”

For Amanda Whitley, founder of HerCanberra, it’s about reaching out to the right people.

“As an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ I knew nothing about running a business when I started HerCanberra. I had passion and professional savvy, but could not have grown HC into a thriving media organisation without guidance from other Canberra business people,” she explains.

“Rare Birds will make it so much easier for aspiring business owners to access essential tools and tap into the knowledge of those who’ve already travelled that road.”

As for the piece of advice that changed her life?

“I don’t know if it’s advice, but a reflection by Alisa Camplin when I heard her speak a few years ago. She spoke of working four jobs while training for the Winter Olympics (at which she would eventually win Gold) and crying herself to sleep every night.”

Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley

“She said something like ‘it’s what you do during those quiet years, when no one is watching and no one cares, that will define you as a businesswoman’. That has stayed with me, because I had been working two jobs for nearly three years before HerCanberra really gained momentum—those years are such a slog and it’s hard to keep going—but if you do, then the rewards of entrepreneurialism are incredibly rich. The chance to make your own rules, forge your own path, be as agile and creative as you dream to be – there’s nothing like it.”

Find out more about the Rare Birds community at their website, www.inspiringrarebirds.com.


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author

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