To mark International Women's Day, Jane Phare talks to six women about their experiences in business and in life, about building confidence, speaking out and battling with imposter syndrome.
What struck me about these six high-achieving women was how candid they were, and how willing they were to pass on advice that might help and inspire younger generations of women coming through. Most admitted to hearing that inner voice that says, "Really? Do you think you're up to it?"
All of them have become adept at juggling - careers, business start-ups, often children and elderly parents at the same time. Yet all have found time and energy to give back, to contribute their wisdom, experience and hard graft to community projects or to sit on advisory boards to help make the world a better place.
Here's what they shared.
Dr Lee Mathias, ONZM
Entrepreneur, founded Birthcare and co-founded Labtests, director of diagnostics company Pictor; chair of online medical company Tend's clinical advisory committee, past chair of Counties Manukau DHB and past board member of various health organisations. Involved in Global Women and the Co.OfWomen organisations.
Lee Mathias gets straight to the point. Get on with it, don't waste time, be brave.
Too many women are hesitant, she says: it's a feminine trait.
"Don't let the boys walk all over you."
Mathias thinks back to the mid 90s when she needed finance to fit out the new Birthcare facility in Auckland. She remembers the "two boys" in the bank meeting deferring to the other man in the room, who would eventually become Mathias' business partner.
The bank boys talked to him and he in turn asked Mathias. In the end, she suggested the meeting might progress more quickly if they simply talked to her directly.
Mathias knew her stuff. Which brings her to the next piece of advice.
"Be the best prepared and know ed gable person in the room. Women tend to know much more about their business than the average guy does."
And get ready for knock backs, for things to get rough - particularly if the proposed business is a disruptor, moving into a competitor's commercial space. A thick skin helps.
"You do have to brave because you will get knocked down."
Mathias' business life got rough in 2006 when Labtests won the northern regional contract for pathology services. There was pushback from the company that lost the contract and Mathias, seeing her investment being eaten up by legal challenges, sold her share two years later.
Mathias warns that leaving a business behind - she sold her share of Birthcare in 2006 - often causes a period of grieving.
"As much as you tried to change the world by doing what you did, you have to just walk away and that's really hard to do."
Having enough capital to expand a business at the right pace is another must, she says. Mathias has been a director and shareholder of biotech company Pictor Ltd for 11 years. Growth was initially slow because the company was under capitalised.
"I had to go out and try and sell a very complex blood testing system to investors. I used to watch their eyes glazing over."
Now it's a substantial company with a $10m turnover and a new high-tech laboratory being built in Auckland.
"Could we have done that earlier? Yes, because we would have had capital to do it."
Mathias, like the other women in this series, wants to see more women in governance positions. Although the public sector has improved, board representation in private and public companies still has a long way to go, she says.
"We still have public companies that don't have women on them (the board). And we have real stars coming through. Many women don't want to go on a public company board if there is not another woman there so we haven't changed the culture."
Moana Tamaariki-Pohe, MNZM
Business consultant, managing director of P3, conservationist.
Moana Tamaariki-Pohe learned early on that numbers were "not my passion," so in the early days she hired someone to help her.
Play to your strengths, she says, and let the experts do the parts you're not good at.
"I learned those lessons the hard way."
She started her business consulting company in 2007 and one of her first contracts was to write the Maori Women's Business Development programme HineBoss to support Maori women in business.
The biggest barrier is self belief, she says.
"Maori women often come through school not speaking the same language, and I'm not talking about English."
Apart from the fundamentals, like how to write a business plan, the programme tackled the psychological barriers to growing wealth and being successful, overcoming negative attitudes to money.
Personal wealth and success is sometimes difficult to deal with or accept in Maori and Pacific communities. Tamaariki-Pohe speaks from first-hand experience. In her early days running P3, she felt undeserving of the money she received and as a result struggled to invoice.
"If I could go back and invoice for all those jobs that I didn't invoice for I could stop working today."
In the end she set up a separate accounts email for her company.
"When I was flicking off that email I could hide behind the guise of 'it's not really me invoicing someone, it's my accounts team.'"
Nowadays she consults mostly on a one-on-one basis including working with rangatahi, the younger generation. She delights in the progress of two of her protégées, teenagers Twilight Edwards whose Taonga by Twilight jewellery sells all over the world, and Takaimaania Ngata-Henare whose company Mau Designz produces te reo Maori-inspired gift wrap, to fund her table tennis championships.
"Both are doing such amazing mahi (work) so I love the thought that I can watch those two grow."
Former chair and now director of Villa Maria Estate; on the board of the Auckland Theatre Company, NZ Food Innovation Auckland (The Food Bowl), a member of Global Women.
Karen Fistonich starts with a challenge to other women. "If you want to affect change, you have to step up to lead and take responsibility."
As a young woman she didn't see herself as a natural leader; she was the quiet one in the room listening, rather than speaking.
"But then I found myself in situations where no-one else put their hand up, so I did."
Fistonich eventually realised that she didn't need to be the most vocal one at a meeting.
"It's about listening and being able to absorb information, having a more balanced view and being able to act on what you've heard."
Looking back she knows she lacked confidence. "Sometimes I'd be thinking "why me, then I'd think "well why not? I definitely had imposter syndrome at times. "
Get on top of that inner critic, she says. Be kind to yourself. Forget the post-mortems after meetings.
Now, years later, Fistonich realises that even the most confident career businesswoman has probably had self doubts at some time.
Fistonich was pursuing a career in banking when her father, Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich, asked her to join the board 28 years ago at a time when female board members were scarce. She chaired the board for 12 years and kept up the directorship during her years as stay-at-home mum raising two young children.
Fistonich advises women who at home not to discount the value of the experience and networks built up through voluntary roles - sports clubs, the PTA, charitable organisations and community work.
Although Fistonich thinks women are now better represented at corporate level - she remembers walking into conference rooms full of "black and grey" (men in suits) and not another woman in sight - but says there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Ranjna Patel, ONZM and QSM
Co-founder and director of Tamaki Health; sits on a number of boards including the Mental Health Foundation, Global Women, Diversity Works, the Middlemore Foundation; is on the advisory board for the New Zealand Police national ethnic forum; established residential facilities for the perpetrators of family violence to help them not to reoffend.
When a young Ranana Patel and her husband Kanti opened a medical clinic in Otara she had no clue as to what lay ahead. She was 21, had been married to a doctor – through an arranged marriage – for three years and knew little about running a practice.
"I was the cleaner the receptionist, the typist, the accounts manager, HR."
More than 40 years later Patel is co-founder and director of a major group, Tamaki Health, which includes more than 50 clinics, 260,000 registered patients and more than 1000 staff. The group includes Whitecross and Local Doctors health practices, and online virtual health service Bettr.
With that experience behind her, Patel has wisdom to share. "Listen to what people say and don't judge," she'll tell her seven grandchildren, who are fifth-generation Kiwis.
She's well aware of what it feels like to be judged, to be a third-generation New Zealander walking into a roomful of strangers and seeing the "fresh off the boat" reaction.
If she had her time again, she says, she wouldn't wait so long to "say it out aloud," that women of colour face double jeopardy in terms of discrimination.
It was paying attention to how people lived their lives that was behind the success of the Patels as they grew Tamaki Health.
"We put the patient first. We listened to what the patient needed." Having a clinic open for normal working hours in those days didn't work in Otara. So they opened earlier and closed later. Now they have clinics that stay open until 8pm, one that closes at 11pm and two 24/7 clinics.
In 1984 they bought a computer for $40,000 and put in air conditioning for the dot matrix printer to keep track of patients' clinical records.
"You could buy a house for that," Patel recalls.
For younger women starting out in business or a career, her advice is don't expect to know everything, to have all the answers. "You can't do everything. Everyone has limitations, everyone has strengths."
And yes, she's suffered from imposter syndrome, startled each time she was singled out for yet another award. Patel says she couldn't have achieved what she has without help in the home, something her husband encouraged as Tamaki Health expanded.
"Not many people will do that. I always say 'if you want to succeed, everybody needs a wife.' And we don't all have that luxury as women."
Theresa Gattung, CNZM
Telecom's first woman CEO (1999-2007), co-founded My Food Bag, professional director, started the World Women Charitable Trust, introduced SheEO to New Zealand, chair of Tend. Funds the annual $25,000 Theresa Gattung Female Arts Practitioners Award through Creative New Zealand.
Theresa Gattung gets straight into it when asked for her best advice. Life is a really long time, she says, so don't rush it; it's a marathon, not a sprint; a setback can turn into an opportunity.
Gattung is speaking from experience. She admits to being impatient in her 20s. Slow down, she says.
"You don't have to do everything between morning tea and lunch."
Figure out what you're good at and hire smart people.
"If you don't do that the outcome will diminish as those people in turn hire people who are not as good, not as smart. Never be afraid to make other people successful and create something great together."
She encourages women who haven't done a business degree to at least do some business studies.
"Because even if you're an artist or a creative in some way, ultimately the economic reality is that you have to be able to earn a living with that. Understanding of basic business principles and making good commercial decisions is something that is everybody's birthright in New Zealand."
Dame Pieter Stewart, DNZM
Founder and owner of New Zealand Fashion Week, has owned a promotions company and modelling agency, and served on various boards including an independent school and charities.
Dame Pieter Stewart is used to setbacks in her business career. Major setback number one: she was about to launch the first New Zealand Fashion Week in October 2001, after two years of hard slog, when two aircraft flew into the World Trade Centre the month before.
The 911 terrorist attack meant the international buyers and fashion visitors could not come and Stewart doubted the show would go ahead. But designer Liz Mitchell urged her to go for it.
Major setback two: Covid-19 struck and Stewart was forced to cancel last year's Fashion Week, an event she not only founded by owns, leaving her without income. This year's Fashion Week in August is still a Covid wait-and-see game.
Stewart admits she's been through stressful times and she credits learning to meditate with helping to keep calm and to think clearly.
In her 30s, then a farmer's wife and mother of four children living in Hororata in Canterbury, she unexpectedly took over a modelling agency from her friend Paula Ryan.
That led to her organising televised fashion shows but when the shows and the Smokefree Fashion Design Awards were canned, Kiwi designers had nowhere to show their work.
After four New Zealand designers were invited to show at Sydney and London fashion weeks more than 20 years ago, the idea for a New Zealand Fashion Week was mooted.
Now a massive event that goes on for days, Fashion Week is a "huge risk personally" to Stewart.
"Some years are good and some years are not."
And yes, she's doubted herself.
"I've felt like that all the time, every time I've been asked to do something."