The founder of baby clothing retail giant Aden + Anais says women who’ve had success in the business world are duty-bound to pass their knowledge and experience on to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Vital Voices Global Partnership and Bank of America have held an intensive mentoring program for women business leaders in Sydney this week, and Raegan Moya-Jones jumped on board. She has never had a formal mentoring relationship throughout the 10 years spent building her $65 million global business.
The program comes at a time when young business leaders across disciplines are taking networking seriously and many have pointed out just how hard it has been in the past to find another woman to give insights on business strategy.
“I had people I came across who were instrumental in becoming a better leader. In the classic sense, I didn’t really have any [mentors],” Moya-Jones told SmartCompany.
That fact led to her passion for getting involved in a formal program – and she believes that those in her position have an incredibly important responsibility to pay it forward.
“It really is our duty as women who have been fortunate enough to run a business to pass it on,” she says.
Moya-Jones’ mentee is Codeswitch chief executive Kia Dowell, who’d been on the lookout for a professional development program like this for the past three years.
The Codeswitch operation is a Perth-based consultancy that provides business strategy and community engagement initiatives for corporate clients, with a focus on closing economic and social disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Codeswitch is at “a tipping point” when it comes to accelerated growth and Dowell says she was on the lookout for someone to help discuss that transition.
“I was looking for someone who was not part of my world,” she says.
“The questions Raegan has asked this week have encouraged us to think more broadly.”
Moya-Jones says the program has drawn together women from very different corners of business.
“I make baby blankets, Kia is a strategic consultant focusing on big business – on the surface, there is no synergy there,” says Moya-Jones.
“But in terms of building a healthy business, there are a lot of similarities. That’s how Kia and I have worked.”
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The hope is that these programs speed up growth through entrepreneurs meeting other business owners and gaining new perspectives.
“The biggest thing is the people that the mentor introduces you to – then that expertise that happens much more quickly,” says Moya-Jones.
“What I will now do for Kia beyond this week is surround her with people who are experts at what they do.”
But for all the enthusiasm about formal mentorship arrangements, several business owners have recently told SmartCompany they’ve either never had a mentor, or there have only been men available in their professional spheres to offer advice.
The business leaders involved in this week’s Vital Voices program have been wondering for some time exactly why there are so few females available for mentorship roles.
“It’s a great question and one that I’ve asked myself – and what I’ve found is that it takes a lot of time [to find someone],” says Dowell.
“You’re trying to grow a business, so to seek someone out who is aligned with your business– it takes so much time that it almost becomes impossible, I’ve been looking for something that would be a good fit.”
Moya-Jones, who has built a cult following for Aden + Anais with the likes of the Duchess of Cambridge and Beyonce spotted using the brand’s baby swaddles, grew her business while parenting four children.
“I have four daughters and it makes me crazy when I hear statistics about the pay between genders,” she says.
“We owe it to other women to make the effort to help other people avoid the pitfalls [in business].”
Another major benefit of structured networking is that businesses can connect across borders, leading to deep relationships that can speed up growth.
“I’ve already spoken to a number of women [this week] about visiting places like Vietnam – we’re really focusing on expansion,” says Dowell.
So what are the biggest lessons Moya-Jones wants to impart to her mentee? One is to understand that the world of business is marked with one challenge after another.
“Take them head on and know you’ll always come out of it in the end,” she says.
Forming relationships on the basis of these continued challenges is one thing – using the connections for tangible action is another.
“The first step is maintaining the investment that each and every one of us has made to take a week out [for the program] – and take those learnings and continue to nourish them,” says Dowell.
“I don’t think there’s any risk of [losing] this anyway, because of the depth of the relationships that have been formed.”