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 café opposite her office in Port Melbourne. She offered me a glass of refreshing white wine and we talked about the most exciting of her endeavours. Janine is the founder and director of European Women in Business, an association uniting over a thousand women in business, bonded by a love of Europe.
The association began as a collaboration with the European Chambers in Melbourne in 2010, but started operating in 2012.
What was your inspiration, your vision?
Well, I realised that all the events I was attending were mainly designed for men. I thought that most women wouldn’t feel comfortable in that kind of environment and atmosphere; they might like to feel part of something more naturally designed for 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 it in some way and we find value in that. In fact, we organise events where women can meet other women that feel the same about Europe. They either talk business or end up becoming friends.
“Successful – resourceful – engaging – ambitious – confident”
These are the adjectives you wrote in the landing page of your website, does it explain how your members are, or how they can become thanks to the association?
Whether they identify with these words, or they strive to embody them, this is the common denominator: Women that want to be sophisticated and do business effectively at the same time.
To promote business, personal development and focus on issues that affect today’s working women; to promote health, work/life balance, enrich and inspire women to advance personally and professionally. This is the Mission statement from your website. Has anything changed since 2012?
Not substantially. The aim is to offer luxury, style, that wow effect and creative ideas that can make an event a successful one; where, in a sophisticated atmosphere, women can feel at ease and create important business connections whilst taking advantage of unique networking opportunities.
Since 2012, have any competitors appeared offering women in business something similar?
Yes, there are other women associations, but they don’t share the same attention to detail, like table preparation, decoration, and other aspects that make you feel special as soon as you walk in. This is what we excel in.
Has the focus ever shifted towards a more social ground or is the business perspective is still the most important part?
The focus is to facilitate connections between likeminded individuals. We have been asked to further develop the mentoring side included in our events to support women in the development of their business. It’s something that we are still working on. If I do something, I want to do it properly, but considering that our target is a mature audience this might not be the current primary need which I believe is more social and artistic.
Do you believe that women trust other women more than men?
Maybe, and certainly, dealing woman to woman avoids misunderstandings that can happen with men, but it’s not a matter of sex. To me the worst attribute in a person is being a liar and a 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 are women in their late thirties, forties and fifties, and grew up with a different role model, this is why we can become a sort of guide to younger women that are losing focus on substance, we can help them to cope with aging and assist them in finding a way to offer something more substantial to the world.
We don’t want to deny any woman the pleasure of beauty, but we believe in a deeper approach, We must deliver to the world something from within, something we want the world to know about.
What’s your opinion about women’s rights in the business environment in Australia? Do we still need to fight this battle, or can we consider parity achieved?
We have come a long way. There still is a way to go, there is no doubt.
Women certainly feel more empowered these days and they know that they have the skills, the power and the knowledge to back that up. As a woman in business, I don’t usually feel disadvantaged because I’ve learnt the way to put myself forward in a male dominated environment.
The other day, I heard an interview with Germaine Greer, who is considered the ultimate feminist, and she brought up that women must speak up and defend themselves. They have the right to let the world know as soon as something wrong happens. And I agree. I don’t need to be overprotected, not even to change my ladylike nature or emasculate my femininity. I know my rights and value, and how to be respected for that. At the end, it’s more about self-confidence and the ability to behave and relate to others correctly rather than about being a man or a woman. You need to know how to manage yourself if you want to be successful and respected for who you are.
Janine is a very moderate and calm woman, who is certainly clear about what she wants, and how to get it. It was a pleasant hour spent with her and I would have liked to have more lines to fill with her words: she has an illuminating vision of women being as powerful as they are beautiful.