The trend toward women in leadership positions appears to be on the rise, as more renowned firms are appointing female CEOs. In fact, there are now more women running Fortune 500 companies than at any point in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500. Women pride themselves on being powerful innovators. The opportunities provided by female entrepreneurs, particularly in emerging nations, contribute to market expansion and improved employment prospects.
Also, they can boost their nation’s economy by being encouraged to work in sectors that men traditionally dominate. This will alter the thinking of financial lenders and provide women entrepreneurs with new possibilities to study, develop, and establish their own businesses.
Meet Selena Griffith, the CEO of Enactus Australia, who is an inspirational, successful businesswoman who has worked across sectors and is now preparing the next generation leaders for the future. She graduated from UNSW Sydney with a Bachelor of Industrial Design (Hons) and also attended AGSM and AICD. She is a Fellow of the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, and the European Academy of Design.
As an enthusiastic generalist and life-long learner, she always pushes herself to acquire and apply new skills each year. This includes training in permaculture, Lego Serious Play, glass blowing, nautical navigation, stellar navigation, sailing, alpine rescue, mountaineering, kite surfing instruction, first aid, and fabrication, among other things. She is a keen hiker and photographer.
Besides this, Selena is self-taught in programming and built a “she shed” with a full set of tools for prototyping and building, including 3d printers, laser cutters, and CNC mills. She also reads widely and looks for opportunities to work with others to expand her knowledge and understanding of everything.
The fervent leader stated when asked where she gets her motivation from by saying, “I was raised by an artist and an engineer, so it follows that I have a strong sense of social purpose with a passion to preserve the beauty that our natural world affords. This motivates me to help develop our next generation of leaders enabled to deliver the sustainable future we would all want to live in. I love nothing more than helping others learn to ‘see’ how the world can work.”
Wearing Multiple Hats
Today, as the CEO of Enactus Australia, Selena works with university students from all over Australia to identify local social and environmental challenges and address them in multidisciplinary teams via entrepreneurial action. Through this engaged, and active, learning process, they acquire real-world skills for creating positive outcomes that will stay with them across their careers.
Every Enactus team functions as a start-up incubator and requires support with sustainable team development, governance, entrepreneurship, collaboration, mentoring, as well as community, academic, and industry engagement. Being a Not For Profit organization, Enactus Australia significantly relies on grants, partnerships, and philanthropy. This means that a significant portion of her time is spent looking for financing sources, creating grant applications, and working with partners to ensure the sustainability of their programs.
“My path to this point traverses roles in design, product development, procurement, production management, sales and marketing, design management, consultancy, academia, facilitation, and entrepreneurship both local and international,” says Selena. She further adds, “It has been enriched through a creative art and design practice, curatorial work, the publication of several text, theory, edited, and kids’books, various board roles, and election to serve a four-year term in local government.”
In her capacity as an academic, the creative leader specialized in sustainability, social impact, design, design thinking, strategic design, innovation, and entrepreneurship. She has worked in Australia, Singapore, the UK, and Central Asia at various universities, in faculties of Design, Social Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Law. Private collectors, institutions, and large-scale public exhibitions like Sculpture by the Sea and Vivid have purchased and shown her artwork.
An Experiential Learning And Impact-Incubator
The world’s largest platform for experiential learning and impact incubation is Enactus. It supports university students to develop entrepreneurship, leadership, innovation, collaboration, and impact delivery skills via developing social enterprises. While delivering positive outcomes in their local areas, participants can build a worldwide network at an early age.
Enactus was first established as SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise) in the United States in 1975. It is committed to improving the world while nurturing the upcoming generation of business leaders and social innovators. The Enactus network of international business, academic, and student leaders now spans 35 nations and more than 1600 universities. They are bound together by the shared goal of creating a better, more sustainable world.
Facing Challenges Head-on
“In industry it was juggling the needs of all my stakeholders. This led me to human centred design and systems design for solutions,” states Selena. Being at the forefront of a new disciplinary practice in academia made it more challenging to validate research methods. Persistence and consistency are the crucial two factors that helped her overcome this challenge.
Another challenge she faced was discrimination due to coming from industry and not having completed a Ph.D. However, Selena believes that to be a good educator or researcher, you do not need a Ph.D. It’s a lazily applied artificial barrier restricting the entire sector and is a better measure of social and economic privilege than capacity, ability or intelligence.
“In NFP, my challenge is staying positive when dealing with philanthropists and grant evaluators,” says the fervent leader. Their funding parameters may be rigid and prescriptive, which limits the creativity and flexibility necessary to have real impact. There is often a will to fund a project but not the associated organizational costs. In a commercial context, this wouldn’t take place. “Pro Bono services and restrictive funding are of limited use if you cannot cover operating costs. Knockbacks should not be taken; personally, they reflect the limitations of the imagination of the organization you are seeking support from, rather than the value of your project,” opines Selena.
Gained A Worldwide Perspective
As a female entrepreneur, Selena has gained a worldwide perspective on numerous issues and developed insights into social, cultural, economic, environmental, and geopolitical parallels and differences thanks to the opportunity to travel globally with her work. She states, “Every experience you have provides an opportunity for self-reflection and learning. Setting goals and reaching them is a way of continual development.”
Challenges Faced By Women In The Corporate World
Building a professional life in a field where men predominate can be a challenge for women. On top of that, they must overcome numerous difficulties they encounter. According to Selena, the challenges faced by her can be categorized into three broad:
1) Assumption that a woman cannot do the work as well as a man. The dynamic leader believes that the best way to overcome this problem is by demonstrating the opposite.
2) Sexual harassment: Her male supervisor made unwelcome approaches to Selena at every meeting, which led her to give up her Ph.D. There was no other option than to get out of an insecure situation.
3) Women who restrict you. Female co-workers can be wonderful supporters, but counterintuitively, some women deliberately and persistently hold other women back. Selena says ask HR for a copy of your file if you suspect this is taking place. Be kind to yourself; they are the ones at fault. Lead a change by making an effort to mentor and uplift other women and foster a positive environment.
At this point in her career, Selena wants to concentrate on the NFP sector and continue to work with young people to help them improve their skills so they can contribute to a better future. The best platform for this is Enactus. Besides this, she loves her position as the board chair of the African Stem Education Initiative (ASEI) and would like to work to further their ambitions to scale. She also enjoys her position as a board director at Eramboo, an art space near where she lives. The dedicated leader wants to provide them with more tools so they can do more to benefit the artistic community. Selena is open to paid board roles.
Words of Wisdom
Selena states, “Develop a strong sense of self and remain true to it. Be open to opportunity. Seek development opportunities. Lift others up where you can. Mentors can be found in all sorts of places so don’t just look up.”