Long before the term “glass ceiling” existed, women all over the world faced many barriers to achieving professional and career success outside their homes. Now, over 200 million women around the world are entrepreneurs.
And that number is growing.
Read on to learn about how six female entrepreneurs who are breaking social barriers in their industries.
Claire Van Vuuren, Head Chef, and Owner of Bloodwood Restaurant
Claire Van Vuuren started out her career as an artist while waitressing on the side to help pay the bills. But being immersed in the hospitality environment grew her passion for the industry and eventually led to a career change at 25 when she retrained as a chef.
Starting out as a young chef, Claire sought out legends in the industry that she admired, like Christine Mansfield, to study their careers, examine how they did things in their business, and pick up valuable lessons.
In an industry that relies heavily on connections to get the job, it was early on that Claire realized the benefits of having a mentor. Apart from the opportunity to gain experience from hospitality veterans, and find out more about the realities of the industry, the opportunity to build a network through mentorship is a pivotal way to progress and “find a clearer path.”
It was for this reason that Claire became a founding member of Women in Hospitality — and, in particular, the founder of their mentorship program.
“[Women are] not represented enough, especially in senior roles. So the whole aim of Women in Hospitality is to see females represented, especially in the senior positions, and try and make sure that junior chefs have a springboard to assist them in furthering their careers,” says Claire.
Whitney Dettmer, CEO, Owner, Vet at Kentucky Paws Animal Hospital
Whitney Dettmer can vividly remember one of her first interview experiences when she first came out of veterinary school. A male interviewer told her “he didn’t like to hire women because women like to eventually become moms and their work ethic changes, and then they just like to work part-time.”
She recalls that interview was like “taking a knife and stabbing it into her gut.” She turned down that opportunity and from that moment on, she never let it deter her. Instead, she continued to break barriers to get where she is today.
Whiney is now a CEO, Owner, and Veterinarian of Kentucky Paws Animal Hospital. She runs a full-service veterinary hospital that specializes in caring for small animals. The hospital provides everything from wellness visits, sick visits, urgent care, dentistry, and surgery.
“Being a female business owner in veterinary care is empowering and fulfilling,” Whitney shares. And that’s not the only role she has. In addition to working full-time and owning her own business, Whitney is also a mom to young toddlers and a wife. She has a strong passion for interior design, party planning, and taking on DIY projects.
Emma Jane (EJ) Tinkler, Head of Programmes at HC-ONE
EJ is part of the UK’s largest care home provider with 318 care homes and nursing homes providing 17,000 residents with positive, personalized care and support. Kindness is at the heart of everything they do.
As the Head of Programmes for People, EJ leads all of the change that people encounter, like new software in the business, and is responsible for delivering that change. She’s had a number of different roles since she started at HC-ONE five years ago. She started off as a project manager within Operations and now works within the Support Centre — and has just delivered their new time and attendance system.
“It’s really interesting to see how times have changed. Since I’ve grown up and matured in my career, how women are seen and treated is a lot different to how it was when I first started. HC-One is made up of 84% women across the business, so it’s a great opportunity to show how we promote women here. We still have some way to go but as an indicator of the progress we’ve made, we have six Managing Directors and five of them are women,” EJ says.
“I feel privileged to be part of a team that I can support to reach their goals. I had someone reach out to me the other day and she said she’d just become a qualified project manager, and she said it was down to my encouragement and support. Follow what you want to do and you can become anything you want to be at any stage in life. Don’t feel stuck — there should always be something you’re striving for.”
Sarah Park, Project Manager at HC-ONE
Sarah started as a Project Administrator at HC-ONE and was promoted to Project Manager last year.
“I would like to think that at HC-One my knowledge is valued. I empower change and sometimes change is not wanted because people are scared of what the result could be. A recent change that I worked on has now been accepted and I can see value from it. I love that I have played a part in that journey,” Sarah says.
Sarah likes to think she’s at the start of her career. Many years ago, she would have been looked down on or even told she couldn’t have the job she does now. She is the first woman in her family to go to college and have a career.
Sarah’s seen numerous women be internally promoted and celebrated within HC-ONE. She sees it as inspiring and exciting to be supported by a company that really wants to encourage her potential. Recently, HC-One supported her by putting her through the Prince2 Agile program. She believes in the potential the organization sees in her.
Bianca Welsh, Co-owner and Restaurateur of Stillwater Restaurant, Seven Rooms, and Black Cow Bistro
In the early days of owning and running her restaurants Stillwater and Black Cow, Bianca Welsh recalls first experiencing dealing with some ‘really full-on’ mental health issues in her workplace.
At a time when common practice would be for staff to be ‘written off the rosters’, she went a different direction to ensure that valuable staff wasn’t lost just because there wasn’t an understanding of what they were going through at the time.
Some years and a psychology degree later, Bianca is just as passionate about closing the education gap on mental health in the hospitality industry. Here’s her top tip for employers:
“A good starting point is to have some basic understanding and empathy, as well as taking the time to educate yourself through accessing the many free resources available... just chipping away at a little bit of knowledge can go so far,” says Bianca.
Jackie Middleton, Head Food Nerd and Director at EARL Canteen and Dame
Jackie is the Co-Founder (with her husband) of Earl Canteen, a business that has become a Melbourne staple in the CBD hospitality landscape. Having cut their teeth in the restaurant scene, Jackie and her partner knew that there was a big opportunity being missed in bringing simple, honest, and everyday eats into the cafe setting.
Specializing in great coffee and wholesome food from the finest, locally sourced produce, Earl Canteen now has six stores across the Melbourne CBD.
Throughout the 6 lockdowns Melbourne endured throughout 2020-21, Jackie prioritized keeping her staff connected to the business — even if that meant having a staff member come on-site and read a book throughout their shift.
In 2022, Jackie opened a sister venue to Earl Canteen, Dame, as a more luxurious alternative to her Earl Canteen venues.
Break the mold
Times are continuing to change to make industries and entrepreneurship more accessible to everyone. Want to meet more women who are taking on the world? Read this article and discover how six women are tackling some of the most complex issues in business.