Paying the cost to be the boss

Pauline Jones has enjoyed being her own boss. Photo by Mel Davis.
Some Geelong women are running their own businesses as discrimination eases a little, reports Melissa Davis.

Jodie Bliss couldn’t believe how rife sexism is until she started work in the real estate industry a few years ago. 

The former police officer alleges she has been verbally abused many times in the three years she has owned her own agency and knows of at least one potential customer being told she was incapable of selling a house because she is a woman. 

They hate me, but that drives me even further,” Bliss says.

“The last place I worked as a policewoman was Footscray, where I was the only female at the station,” she says.

“I was respected and if there was harassment my colleagues would stamp down on it pretty quick…”

Bliss left the force due to an injury, then worked as a private investigator. She turned to real estate, and set up her agency, after selling properties at other firms.

I thought to myself, I can do way better than them,” she says.

Some women find being their own boss is preferable. Pauline Jones owns a homewares and florist store in Geelong, where 13 businesswomen last year collaborated on a book called 13 Wise Women “to inspire and empower women to take up the challenge of living their dreams”.

“Understand that things don’t always play out as expected and that challenges are simply walls to be scaled to achieve growth,” they told readers. “Ordinary people really are capable of extraordinary things.”

Jones worked in corporate retail in the Target offices for 20 years before opening Town House Living. She says she spent some time when she was younger simply trying to prove herself.

“I was the first female auditor appointed after 25 years and I was young too, so I was working with men and some couldn’t understand why they would hire a women.” She says this is important to point out because “you spend about 60 percentage of your time trying to prove that you are capable.”

Mrs Jones says large organisations can get very focused on sales, and sometimes they overlook customer service.

“When sales go down the first cuts are staff, but then you don’t have that customer interaction,” she says.

Jones says customer service is very important and comes more naturally to women. “It comes with the nurturing aspect of our personalities…If people don’t have a good time, they won’t come back.”

Tanya Smith also believes a touch of femininity is a good mix with customer service. Smith owns the Batesford Hotel and has recently redone a rundown heritage milk bar into the successful Botanical Café in Geelong. Smith says hospitality is a good business for women.

After 13 years of stage management in theatres, and some university lecturing, Smith decided she wanted to try breathing life back into the tired Batesford Hotel.

It was a very steep learning curve… Hospitality day to day is like putting on a show. Dealing with lots of things at once, which I think women are really good at.”

You’ve got to have a really big personality to run a business,”she says.

Smith says she believes running a business is about being hands on, “you can’t expect someone to do something that you wouldn’t want to yourself.”

Jodie Bliss has found in her personal experience that when women run a business they put their heart and soul into it, whereas she thinks men like to shift off work to others, “they end up like the lion sitting up top…”

Neither Jones nor Smith say they are competitive with similar businesses around them. Ms Jones says she checks with Provincial Home living just nearby to see if they stock things she can’t, in order to help customers. Smith says she and her partner often visit other cafes to observe and talk to owners.

They are among several women running businesses in Geelong.

Jones says 20 years ago, all the managers she knew were male who then reported to male bosses. She had to work hard to get people to take her seriously just because she was a woman. Bliss says at the time you wouldn’t have even seen women in the real estate industry but that’s changing dramatically now.

Bliss says she is hopeful for the future, and was encouraged when her 10 year-old son told her about an incident, in which a boy at school told a girl she couldn’t do something because she was a girl.

“That was very odd mum,” her son said.