Q&A with Janine Lum, founder of European Women in Business
She has a warm smile, curious blue eyes and she walks as though she's gliding gently over the floor. Years have passed since she was last on a catwalk, but it seems that hers is a gait you never lose.
Janine Lum met me one warm summer afternoon, at a caféopposite her office in Port Melbourne. She offered me a glass of refreshingwhite wine and we talked about the most exciting of her endeavours. Janine isthe founder and director of European Women in Business, an association uniting overa thousand women in business, bonded by a love of Europe.
The association began as a collaboration with the EuropeanChambers in Melbourne in 2010, but started operating in 2012.
What was yourinspiration, your vision?
Well, I realised thatall the events I was attending were mainly designed for men. I thought thatmost women wouldn't feel comfortable in that kind of environment andatmosphere; they might like to feel part of something more naturally designedfor them. So, I envisioned a sophisticated combination of glamorous, stylish,but still informative events.
Why European?What do you think European women have in common?
European countries,like France and Italy, are so culturally enriching with their cultures,fantastic food and wine, architecture, and fashion. Women want to be part of itin some way and we find value in that. In fact, we organise events where womencan meet other women that feel the same about Europe. They either talk businessor end up becoming friends.
"“Successful -resourceful - engaging - ambitious - confident"
These are the adjectivesyou wrote in the landing page of your website, does it explain how your membersare, or how they can become thanks to the association?
Whether they identifywith these words, or they strive to embody them, this is the commondenominator: Women that want to be sophisticated and do business effectively atthe same time.
To promote business, personaldevelopment and focus on issues that affect today's working women; topromote health, work/life balance, enrich and inspire women to advancepersonally and professionally. This is theMission statement from your website. Has anything changed since 2012?
Not substantially. Theaim is to offer luxury, style, that wow effect and creative ideas that can makean event a successful one; where, in a sophisticated atmosphere, women can feelat ease and create important business connections whilst taking advantage ofunique networking opportunities.
Since 2012,have any competitors appeared offering women in business something similar?
Yes, there are otherwomen associations, but they don't share the same attention to detail, liketable preparation, decoration, and other aspects that make you feel special assoon as you walk in. This is what we excel in.
Has the focusever shifted towards a more social ground or is the business perspective isstill the most important part?
The focus is to facilitateconnections between likeminded individuals. We have been asked to further developthe mentoring side included in our events to support women in the developmentof their business. It's something that we are still working on. If I dosomething, I want to do it properly, but considering that our target is amature audience this might not be the current primary need which I believe ismore social and artistic.
Do you believethat women trust other women more than men?
Maybe, and certainly,dealing woman to woman avoids misunderstandings that can happen with men, but it'snot a matter of sex. To me the worst attribute in a person is being a liar anda deceiver. When I look for a speaker, I look for a genuine and honest person,someone that can speak from the heart and someone I can trust. Our members arewomen in their late thirties, forties and fifties, and grew up with a differentrole model, this is why we can become a sort of guide to younger women that arelosing focus on substance, we can help them to cope with aging and assist themin finding a way to offer something more substantial to the world.
We don't want to deny anywoman the pleasure of beauty, but we believe in a deeper approach, We must deliverto the world something from within, something we want the world to know about.
What's youropinion about women's rights in the business environment in Australia? Do we stillneed to fight this battle, or can we consider parity achieved?
We have come a longway. There still is a way to go, there is no doubt.
Women certainly feelmore empowered these days and they know that they have the skills, the powerand the knowledge to back that up. As a woman in business, I don't usually feeldisadvantaged because I've learnt the way to put myself forward in a maledominated environment.
The other day, I heardan interview with Germaine Greer, who is considered the ultimate feminist, andshe brought up that women must speak up and defend themselves. They have theright to let the world know as soon as something wrong happens. And I agree. Idon't need to be overprotected, not even to change my ladylike nature oremasculate my femininity. I know my rights and value, and how to be respectedfor that. At the end, it's more about self-confidence and the ability to behaveand relate to others correctly rather than about being a man or a woman. You needto know how to manage yourself if you want to be successful and respected forwho you are.
Janine is a very moderate and calm woman, who is certainlyclear about what she wants, and how to get it. It was a pleasant hour spentwith her and I would have liked to have more lines to fill with her words: shehas an illuminating vision of women being as powerful as they are beautiful.