Did you know that globally in 2020, female-led startups received just 2.3% of venture capital funding (Harvard Business Review, 2021)? Despite this, for every $1 of capital raised, women-owned startups generate double the revenue than male-led startups. We chatted with our very own, Alexandra Schischov about being a female founder in the start-up world.
Can you tell us a little about how you’ve gotten to where you currently are?
After finishing secondary school, I went on to study Economics at university, while working three jobs in hospitality and retail. The recession at the time made it virtually impossible to get a graduate position, so I went back to uni to study commerce and moved into a management role at David Jones.
I have the fondest memories of my 10 years working at David Jones and made many lifelong friends. Those years were some of the most valuable, allowing me to put my studies into practice, and hone my business kills which I still use today at Shop Monde.
Wanting to spread my wings, I joined Australia’s largest wholesaler of fashion jewellery and helped them with their venture into retail. Heading up their retail division, I was responsible for the entire store operations, buying, human resources, store ideation and design, plus the distribution of inventory to the store network. It was an amazing job which involved a lot of travel, both international and domestically.
But I always had that entrepreneurial spirit bubbling under the surface, and it wasn’t until I had my daughter that I realised that what I needed to do was take the leap of faith and start my own business. With a gentle push from my husband, I launched my first start-up, Stylizen, and in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, we launched Shop Monde.
Shop Monde is the perfect vehicle for me to apply all the knowledge I have accumulated through my studies and the skills and I’ve developed working in the retail industry.
What does inclusion mean to you?
Inclusion means that we are always working towards providing opportunities and equal access to jobs to people who might be marginalised.
In the context of women, it’s critical that we continue to think about the barriers that might exist for women in the workplace and cultivating an environment where our people can flourish. Things like flexibility around working hours, being able to work from home, or sensitivity to female-specific health matters can make a big difference to the happiness of the team.
How does it feel to be a female start-up CEO in a predominately male dominated space?
I’m not going to lie – it can be challenging, especially because I come from a non-technical background, and this area has been largely male-dominated. I don’t pretend to know technology intimately, but I do try to be as well versed in the technical aspects as I can when dealing with our engineers.
In terms of driving the business forward, it helps to have a clear vision and it’s my role as the founder to communicate that to the team. I’ve learnt that I do not need to be the expert in every area, and that’s why I always try to surround myself with those who can apply their domain expertise to help achieve our objectives.
What are some examples of barriers you’ve experienced being a female in your career thus far?
In my opinion, the term ‘glass ceiling’ is limited as it doesn’t adequately describe the many barriers women face or experience in their careers. I prefer to call them ‘invisible roadblocks’, as they tend appear and disappear at different stages of your career.
One of the biggest roadblocks I encountered happened towards the end of my pregnancy before I went on parental leave, when I was compelled to advise my boss of the exact date I was going to be returning to work and I was told in no uncertain terms that there was no option to work part-time.
That made the next few months quite nerve-wracking, so I went back to work earlier than I would’ve liked as I was worried about losing my job, and when I couldn’t get full-time childcare. They eventually agreed for me to return on 3-days a week, albeit reluctantly, but the pressure to work full-time was definitely there.
Because the working environment was challenging for women with young children, I ended up leaving that role and starting my own business so I could work but still be around for my daughter. The sad thing was that over 80% of the workforce at that company was female, yet it was inhospitable to women.
But there is a silver lining to this story, which I did not see at the time. As uncomfortable as that experience was, it did shine a light on my skills and amplified my strengths. I finally realised what I was really very capable and set out to do my own thing.
If there was one piece of advice you would give to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?
The are so many things I wish I knew or was prepared for when I was younger. These nuggest of advice would’ve been life-changing when I was starting out:
- Start building your skills as soon as you can.
- Find a mentor while you are still at school.
- Your skills will take you further than your passion.
- You can still work hard and set boundaries.
- Opportunities don’t come to you, you need to seek them out.
- The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
- Be curious and always seek to grow intellectually, socially, and professionally.
- Stay in your lane and don’t worry about what your colleagues are doing.
- Define what success means to you and acknowledge that this will change over time.
- Don’t be ashamed to celebrating your successes.
What changes would you like to see in the start-up/tech world that would ensure women are provided equal opportunities?
One of the ways we can open up opportunities for women in the tech space is to get back to basics and start with education. The only way to increase participation is by encouraging young girls to think about study pathways that traditionally have had lower female participation levels, such as computer science, and not be scared to follow that path.
Women are still underrepresented in STEM courses across the country, and it’s reported that less than a quarter of students studying in these areas are women. The numbers are even more concerning for First Nations women and women of colour, and those experiencing socio-economic barriers to education.
The second step is ensuring that businesses are more hospitable to women. Participation often drops when women have children, and finding employers who have a willingness to be flexible. In terms of working hours and location, this is still a challenge for many.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your career or Shop Monde?
It’s hard not to get bogged down in the day-to-day demands of running a start-up, and the feeling of never being quite on top of things due to the fast-paced nature of the industry can be taxing. But when we get feedback from shoppers and retail partners about how much me they love using our discovery platform and reading our content, it really makes it all worthwhile.
People from far and wide take the time to tell us how much they value what we do, and that means a lot. Most importantly, I am so proud of our team. We would not be where we are today if it weren’t for the most awesome group of super-talented people and their belief in the vision.