I own and run a business. A reasonably sized business, with a multi-million dollar turnover with more than 20 employees. To some it may sound impressive, but I’m essentially just a regular person – a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Someone that you wouldn’t look at twice in the supermarket (unless that someone is taking slow calming breaths while asking her children not to sit on bread in the trolley!).
My husband and I founded our solar energy business Suntrix more than seven years ago and since then, the business has gone through massive growth but like many small businesses, it has also experienced hard times.
In our second year, we grew from $250,000 turnover to $7.3 million and continued growing for the next three years. Challenges relating to rapid growth such as cashflow and work culture were tough and brought about the demise of many solar companies during this period. After we survived the growth years, and just when we thought we knew everything, we faced our biggest challenge ever – in 2014, an unexpected disruption in the solar industry led to 18-months of uncertainty and a massive downturn in revenue and profits.
It was during this period that I realised you can accomplish almost anything if you truly put your mind to it. Some days, I didn’t think we were going to make it and the only thing that kept me going was sheer force of will.
A recent personal achievement was winning the 2016 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award. According to a recent survey that was conducted of the 2016 winners and finalists, more than half of these business women (56 per cent), myself being one of them, are working in traditionally male-dominated industries.
When I first started in the solar industry, I was very conscious of being an inexperienced young woman entering the male-dominated electrical industry. When I attended a conference or went to a business meeting, I felt I needed to prove myself before I was taken seriously, whereas a male would more likely be accepted without question. I was also very careful to keep my family life out of work, and would never talk about my children or parental duties with business colleagues. Now, I make no apology for my dual role as mother and business owner.
Nearly the whole cohort of women that I celebrated with at this year’s Telstra Business Women’s Awards, 90 per cent to be exact, said that they have experienced some form of self-doubt in their career.
I have suffered from “imposter syndrome” on many occasions and while rationally, I know that I have earned my title of Managing Director and have the right to play with the “big boys” in the solar industry, there is still a good dose of self-doubt that surfaces during my working and personal life. How do I handle this? I share these doubts with those closest to me – my husband, friends and work colleagues – and to the rest of the world, I show confidence and no fear!
Looking after young children, running a business and working in a male-dominated industry isn’t an easy juggle and sure it can be hard, but that’s why you find the right people to help you. Yes, there are barriers, so break them down. These things take time and I’m not suggesting it will happen overnight, I’m still working on those barriers myself. But I feel we have an opportunity and a responsibility to lead the way and make it easier for every generation of women and men who follow us.
Jenny Paradiso, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Suntrix