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Brave Feminine Leadership - join us!

October 05, 2021 32 min read

Brave Feminine Leadership - join us!

I was recently invited to join a series of important conversations with 24 amazing leaders. Conversations about the barriers, conscious and unconscious, that get in our way. 

Barriers that have stalled progress on gender diversity in leadership globally and might be holding you back. We explore how reflecting on who you are ‘being’ as a leader may be the key to unlocking your potential.

I would love you to join the conversation hereThe inspiration for the series comes from Melissa Hamilton. Melissa‘s passion is supporting leaders to fulfil their ultimate potential. 

Melissa spent 25 years in the corporate sector and loved her time as CEO of a large privately owned Australian company with over 4,000 employees globally. She led a company regularly awarded and recognised for building a transparent, high performance and fun culture. Today, as a Company Director and Executive Mentor, she hears so many stories of leaders feeling alone and plagued by feelings of self-doubt. 

This passion to support women everywhere inspired Melissa to record conversations that she believes will inspire you to make a change, connect with your true passion and unleash your potential.

Diversity in all forms remains an important conversation today. A 2019 United Nations report highlights that Women held 28% of managerial positions globally. This figure has barely changed in the last quarter of a century. No country has achieved gender equality and the COVID-19 crisis is threatening this further.

This sensational series will explore some of the structural and conditioning barriers that translate to a mindset that holds us back.  

Are you ready to come on a journey and be inspired by others' stories?

Don’t miss this. Register here to join us now.

 

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TRANSCRIPT below:

Melissa Hamilton:
Welcome to our interview series on Brave Feminine Leadership. I'm very excited today to introduce Kate Dillon. Hello, Kate.

Kate Dillon:
Hi. How are you?

Melissa Hamilton:
I'm very well. Kate, let me just step through very briefly a little bit about you, and then we'll get right into this conversation. So for our listeners, Kate Dillon is the founder and creative director of luxury work handbag E-tailer She Lion bags. Kate is also the national transformation lawyer at Gilbert + Tobin.

Kate's very serious and intentional about her portfolio career and divides her time between legal and entrepreneurial pursuits and is anchored by a belief that in today's business environment, success and leadership is only limited by your imagination.

Kate recently pivoted She Lion, and I'd love to explore some of that when we get into the conversation. But firstly, welcome.

Kate Dillon:
Thank you.

Melissa Hamilton:
And to the audience, for anyone who hasn't come across you before, Kate, I would just love us to jump right into your journey and to tell us about why you are who you are.

Kate Dillon:
Gosh, that's a big question. Why I am who I am. Well, I suppose I should probably tell you, I am a self-proclaimed extrovert and I'm absolutely a closet creative lawyer, as most lawyers are unsurprisingly, maybe surprisingly for people who aren't lawyers. But most lawyers have some incredible creative skills that they're hiding under their desk or wherever.

Kate Dillon:
And I didn't ever aspire to be a lawyer, I must say. I was a very, very keen dramatic thespian person going all through [inaudible 00:02:01]. And it was very much my parents that encouraged me to look at law as something that was equivalent to acting. I don't know that it actually is. But having said that, I did do a drama major in my arts degree with my legal degree.

Kate Dillon:
Completing a legal degree was absolutely a fantastic thing to do. Not exactly like being an actor, but still fantastic. Oh, the public speaking side of it is fantastic.

Melissa Hamilton:
Absolutely.

Kate Dillon:
And then I think through that journey, I've always loved exploring things like fashion because it was another creative outlet. Pulling pieces together and looks together was always something that energized me and made me feel great.

Kate Dillon:
And when I was on exchange during law school, I met someone who told me about fashion law, which was a thing in New York. And I thought, "Oh my God. This is what I need to do." So I came back and studied for the bar exam to go and be qualified in America. And it was 220 hours of online lectures.

Melissa Hamilton:
Wow.

Kate Dillon:
And they send you these textbooks and past exams that honestly came taller than me, like phone books, like yellow phone book style books of past exams. And you hide in a room for like four months. My poor husband who was just my boyfriend at the time would bring me Slurpees and things as I was studying in the front room of my parents' house a very long time ago.

Kate Dillon:
And yeah, it was the year before I started work as an article clerk. That gives away my age because you don't call junior lawyers article clerks anymore. And I remember waiting. So I did all the studying and then I flew over to America to do the exam. Actually, it's over two days. I think you do six hours the first day and six hours the second day for memory, it was very long.

Kate Dillon:
And somebody pulled the fire alarm in the hotel we were staying, so they evacuated everybody at 3:00 in the morning between the two exams. And apparently, it happens most years because it's like a psych tactic to freak people out. Yeah.

Kate Dillon:
And there were so many people that were having panic attacks in the room and everything. Very hectic. But anyway, it was the best thing I think I've ever done, the experience anyway. And coming back, I'd obviously told everybody because passing the bar exam was a big ego thing, "I'm a New York attorney" type of thing.

Kate Dillon:
And so I was sitting there on the day that you get the results, refreshing the computer screen waiting for that to come through, and I failed. Oh my God. You know when your stomach just drops out of your body and you're just like, "Oh my. I have told so many people and everybody is just expecting this to go well. Oh my goodness. I just want the floor to swallow me up and take me away."

Kate Dillon:
And so, very upset. I told my family and told my then boyfriend, husband now. And my mother matter-of-factly said, "Yeah. That's disappointing, Kate, but just do it again." And I was like, "Okay." So that's what happened.

Kate Dillon:
And I think that's been a massive part of what's shaped me today. I think suffering that very public failure, and then that complete fire in my belly to make sure that I pass the next time, and then the sheer determination to get up before work and study and then go to work full-time and then study after work. Obviously, having an incredibly supportive partner and family around me, and firm, dogged to passing the next time. And I did.

Melissa Hamilton:
So the first time, Kate, you didn't miss out by much, did you?

Kate Dillon:
I always say it was 1%, but I actually was thinking about it. It was 0.1% because you needed 665 to pass and I got 655, so it was 10 marks off what you needed. And you needed to get, effectively, a 65% on each of the 32 subjects. So it wasn't like an average high credit. It was on each one.

Kate Dillon:
And yeah. Essentially, I think it was nerves because 10 marks is nothing. It's 0.01%. Yeah. So that made it worse, obviously. But then doing it the second time, I passed by a long way. But I feel like having had that experience now, I've done the public failure thing, I know what to expect. And now I'm happy to embrace that feeling again.

Kate Dillon:
So I'm much more open to leaning into fear and taking risks much more so than I would've been prior to that because I've walked that, unintentionally. But I have absolutely felt that viscerally that I feel like that was a huge gift.

Melissa Hamilton:
Is that your mum?

Kate Dillon:
It's both mum and dad. But it's my grandfather's mantra that he used to say all the time; anything's possible with a bit of guts and determination. And I don't think there's anything more true than that, than living that experience.

Kate Dillon:
And yeah, I feel like that's ingrained in my values from the way my parents have brought me up to the fact that my mother very empathetically, but matter-of-factly turned around and said, "This is disappointing. Just do it again."

Melissa Hamilton:
Without knowing your mother, I can picture that.

Kate Dillon:
Yeah. Gosh, she's the most loving, wonderful maternal person ever, but she's also very business-savvy, powerhouse, strong, resilient, amazing role model of a mother as well.

Melissa Hamilton:
Obviously they love Law & Order. I'm just looking for where the drama-

Kate Dillon:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My father actually flew over with me to New York the first time I did the bar as support, to cook meals for me, which was so lovely. And he religiously watched Law & Order while we were there. And I'm like, "It's really not the same, dad." But anyway.

Melissa Hamilton:
So did you ever look back towards acting? That was obviously a real passion for you at a certain point.

Kate Dillon:
It was. It was. I even tried out for NIDA at one point and completely ruined a Scottish accent that I was trying to do in the solo piece.

Melissa Hamilton:
Another go now.

Kate Dillon:
No. Yeah, the thing was that you couldn't postpone, you couldn't put your law degree on hold for more than three years, and NIDA was three years so it was kind of like, "I think I'll just finish this first and then maybe I'll go back."

Kate Dillon:
And then I got carried away with the fashion law piece and then swept up into the whole articles and doing a master's because understanding the fashion law piece, I went over and met the head of Fordham University Fashion Law Master's, Susan Scafidi, who was this amazing woman who was the head attorney on all those spectacular New York cases that are mainly IP like Louboutin with the colour trade mark and so many other amazing cases.

Kate Dillon:
Anyway, she was the head of fashion law. And so I wanted to go and meet with her and find out how I could get into this because you have to basically do a master's in America to specialise.

Melissa Hamilton:
Yeah.

Kate Dillon:
And had gone over there. It was GFC time anyway when we went, so we had our backs against the wall anyway. But I had encouraged my husband that it was very important that I buy this very expensive pair of Hunter Boots because they were all the rage at the moment. I had to look on-trend when I was meeting this woman who was head of fashion law.

Kate Dillon:
And it was torrential rain in New York at the time. And I remember going to meet her. I would've looked like a drowned rat, but I did have my Hunter Boots on. She greeted me and I was just like, "Oh my gosh." She was head to toe in couture, matching everything, a spectacular tailored suit that had bits that came off and fishnets with multiple layers of stockings. It looked super cool. And knee-high lace-up boots.

Kate Dillon:
I was just like, "Oh my God, I'm going to throw my Hunter Boots out the window. This is just ridiculous." I had wet hair everywhere. I was like, "I want to do fashion law."

Melissa Hamilton:
So the advice is not to turn up to an interview in your Hunter gumboots.

Kate Dillon:
Probably not. No. No. No, probably not. And probably buy one of those massive golf umbrellas too because a standard umbrella just doesn't cut it with the rain in New York.

Kate Dillon:
She was the most beautiful woman too. So many women have lifted me up in my journey, but she was really frank and said, "It's GFC. International is first people out at the moment. It's not the right time to pursue this. You'd have to live here to do this course. It's a couple of hundred K (American) to do. You can't do it by correspondence."

Kate Dillon:
"If I was you, I would go back to Australia and do a master's in IP and then come back once the GFC recovers. And talk to me then because a master's in IP is very similar."

Kate Dillon:
And so that's what I did. I came home and started doing a master's at Melbourne and actually did a master's in commercial law because I wanted to have one subject in construction because my husband's a builder, but all the rest are in IP. And moved from a financial services corporate team into an IP team once I had finished the master's.

Kate Dillon:
And then having worked there for a few years, realized that I probably actually wanted to start my own fashion business rather than just do law for fashion clients. So, stepped out in, I think it was September 2014 and left. Scary thing to do, I mean on an eyelash, not like... It was really a scary thing to do.

Kate Dillon:
And started She Lion because I had seen this opportunity, it was a creative outlet I wanted to explore. It was something that my husband supported. And yeah, I spent the back end of 2014 doing all of the courses at RMIT and night school in clutch bag, gusset bag, tote bag, handbag construction, leather appreciation, actually doing the pattern-making, understanding all the processes behind it.

Kate Dillon:
And then doing all of the Illustrator and Photoshop courses three times. First time to learn the skills and the second and third time to network like a crazy, strange, creepy person because everybody in there was someone from a big brand that was trying to upskill their expertise to a digital level.

Kate Dillon:
And they were willing to share where I should go to source leather and who I would get involved to make sure things were ethical and responsible, and which different countries specialised in which different types of techniques. And who were the logistics providers that dealt with really small businesses and what was a reasonable price to pay for X or Y? And what's the ethics around negotiating on this point?

Kate Dillon:
And do you do that in Australia? And do you do that overseas? And should I work with people in Turkey or Italy or China or Romania, or all these places I had no idea specialised in these different areas. And where do you buy zips from? Yeah. Where do you get things tested?

Kate Dillon:
All these questions that I didn't... I mean, you don't know what you don't know when you step into a new space. And I think that is absolutely a gift and a threat at the same time. It's the gift because you bring that beginner's mindset so you absolutely ask the questions that the people that live in that space don't ask and don't think about because it's not fresh to them.

Kate Dillon:
So you bring a really fresh perspective, which I think was lucky for me because I think people found it endearing that I would ask these questions that were so off the wall because I wasn't formally trained in any of these areas. And I didn't know what was the right way to behave from an industry perspective. I would just flat-out ask.

Kate Dillon:
And then having had a law background, I was quite direct. I like to think of myself as a very friendly person, but I think the feedback has been that I'm quite direct with what I ask. And yeah, sometimes people would just be like, "Who do you think you are?" But other times they were like, "Oh, that's hilarious that you're asking that." Yes, have you thought of this? Have you thought of that?

Kate Dillon:
And I think throughout the process and also with this new project I've been working on, I just can't explain the magic behind people who barely know you going out of their way to help you if you're willing to say, "I don't know the answer and I'd really appreciate your help."

Kate Dillon:
I've formed really strong friendships with these people after the fact, but people that are a very loose acquaintance or someone that I've possibly never met that I've cold-called have done things that have just changed the whole course of the business, saved me huge amounts of money, given me insight into ways to conduct myself that have changed outcomes.

Melissa Hamilton:
I want to get right into that. There's so many things that I think anyone in any industry or role can take out in terms of their way of approaching networking or any kind of situation. And one of the things that I'm not surprised at all to hear you say is how generous people are when you ask. Most people I think are really, really prepared to go out of their way and help.

Melissa Hamilton:
Kate, can I take you back then? You and I could probably talk handbags all day because I love a good handbag, and She Lion bags are lovely. So go and have a look at them if you're not aware of them. But at a certain point, so you stepped out to start She Lion, but then went back in with a balance between the two. Tell us about that.

Kate Dillon:
So I stepped out completely because I really wanted to understand the nuts and bolts of what I was doing. I think that's the legal training behind, and the fact that I am always wanting to know the how and the why, rather than just the what. And I didn't feel comfortable being quite that vulnerable just outsourcing everything.

Kate Dillon:
I wanted to be able to talk with some level of sophistication about what I wanted and also not be taken advantage of because I needed to know what it is I needed and didn't need.

Kate Dillon:
But yeah, with any startup, you're not going to make any money to begin with. And yeah, I needed to contribute, I think as well. So six months into really networking and trying to pull the business together that hadn't launched yet, there was this role that popped up at Gilbert + Tobin that was a maternity cover position that was for drafting boilerplates and contract law, kind of specialist role.

Kate Dillon:
In the knowledge team, that was a flexible arrangement on three days a week. And I thought, "Oh, that's pretty good." It was great pay and three days in a law firm, in a fabulous law firm that's very prestigious. That's okay. I didn't have any children at that point.

Kate Dillon:
And so I was doing three days on the business and three days in the firm. And much like anybody who knows, when you run your own business, you don't really stop doing your business and you're always thinking about your business. But yeah, that was fabulous.

Kate Dillon:
And that very organically turned into this. Well, as I'm sure you're getting the vibe from if you're listening to this. I draw energy from other people and I draw energy from having come conversations and connecting. And I was not that person in the corner drafting the boilerplates.

Kate Dillon:
I was absolutely walking around and talking to people and writing firm-wide updates about things and then connecting people and saying, "Oh. So-and-so is working on this. Did you know that? Because you could probably leverage that with what you're doing." And, "Oh, is that really irritating you, that process? Gosh, because there's actually this app that does that you should look into because that'll save you time."

Kate Dillon:
And then that's very organically turned into this sort of connector role where I was moved into more of an innovation space and called an innovation lawyer and then called an innovation strategy lawyer. And then all of a sudden, we started growing an innovation team and then I was national transformation lawyer.

Kate Dillon:
And then we started having people that were lawyers and non-lawyers involved in this team that had grown from just a knowledge space because knowledge lawyers act like that anyway if they're social and want to engage with the lawyers, which most of them are.

Kate Dillon:
Yeah. So that was just a very natural progression. And then I think the two were mutually reinforcing because the ability to be able to connect more with lawyers because you're operating on an in-house counsel type basis where you're receiving queries from lawyers to help find examples on the system that are relevant to them quickly, or to advise on whether or not they know you're aware of other people working on similar things or that have certain expertise or that they can go and talk to about things.

Kate Dillon:
But then it turned into also advising clients on this critical thinking and process improvement and business design piece that I'm really passionate about. Which so much of it has been where She Lion has come from because not only is it the fashion piece that I really wanted and the creativity and the design and the playing with all the handbags and the different leathers and textures and finishes.

Kate Dillon:
But it's also about understanding a problem that needs to be solved and coming up with a solution that meets that need and making sure that you do have the right problem and then you have the right solution that is meeting that user's problem and adapting that. And being aware that things change and things have a shelf life.

Kate Dillon:
And of always putting out different fires when you're running your business, because it's just constantly problem-solving. And I think I am a bit addicted to that feeling when you find the solution to something or you help someone else come to a solution and you see them have that aha moment. That's beautiful.

Melissa Hamilton:
Kate, you have always continued to invest in yourself. I know you've done a lot of different studies from time to time, and I want to ask you about one of them in particular. But it's just interesting. I spoke the other day to Tony Johnson, who was the CEO of EY until recently.

Melissa Hamilton:
And he was given advice early in his career that said, "Update your CV every six months." And really what that was about was making sure you were learning a new skill every six months. Have you been intentional about that or what-

Kate Dillon:
Absolutely. I think you should update your CV every week because particularly as a woman, you do so many projects and you do so many things and you often have so many other things on in the background that you don't remember all of the projects that you've run put together the wins.

Kate Dillon:
So it's almost like you should have a to-do list that is essentially your list of wins that you've achieved that month, even that month, so that you make sure that you are capturing all that amazing goodness on your CV because when it comes to the time when you actually have to update your CV, you can't remember any of those things that you've done. And for sure as God made little apples, there will be a million things that you have done that are fantastic.

Kate Dillon:
And to be able to have just a tally of things that you're working on that you're proud of, that you don't necessarily have to add to your CV but that you can visualize and see and build on, I think is great for building your own ability to be able to talk about what you've done in a confident way that doesn't feel bolshy, that doesn't feel arrogant.

Kate Dillon:
That is just matter-of-fact and I'm proud that I've done that, but also helps you capture that into your CV. But yes, I absolutely love learning. I think the process of learning is something that I really enjoy. And I'm a very curious person and I feel like the more you know, the more you don't know. And I think that just drives the need to want to learn more.

Melissa Hamilton:
So if we move our conversation then into women in leadership and your experiences as a female navigating your career. I wanted to kick off by asking you, you've been incredibly to complete the executive program in women's leadership at Stanford.

Kate Dillon:
Yes. Yeah. That was amazing.

Melissa Hamilton:
And I was going to do it last year before COVID started. So tell me more about it. Tell me, what do you think were the key... Maybe three things that you took away from doing that program?

Kate Dillon:
I don't know that I could just give you three. There was just so many amazing things that came out of that program. There were all these really practical skills about navigating power dynamics that nobody teaches you in any setting really. There were all these skills around the different way men and women communicate and how to leverage those things and how to navigate and communicate with power and with purpose and to hold that and feel comfortable in that.

Kate Dillon:
There were so many gems about different leadership styles and you being able to find one that suits you and feels authentic to you. And only being able to really reach a potential when you feel that it's authentic, and it is who you are. And so there was a lot of work on all of the participants actually getting to know who they were if they didn't already feel comfortable with who they were as well.

Kate Dillon:
It was the most amazing course. I would highly recommend you doing it as soon as you're able to travel to California. Yeah.

Melissa Hamilton:
I did do... So Berkeley have one as well.

Kate Dillon:
Yes.

Melissa Hamilton:
And in this series, the professor at Berkeley who coordinates that is actually joining us, so I'll be interviewing her.

Kate Dillon:
Amazing.

Melissa Hamilton:
It was also fabulous. But I'd love to do the Stanford one in person as well. So let's come to your career then. So there's a point where you're at Gilbert + Tobin, you're doing three days a week there, and then you've got time outside focused on your own business that you're growing. People assumed that you were doing something else at the time though, right?

Kate Dillon:
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So as soon as you say that you work part-time, I should caveat that I have a wonderful coach actually, who is male. And he said, "You should never ever say you work part-time. You don't work part-time, Kate. You work 0.6. You work flexibly."

Kate Dillon:
"And you don't tell anyone you work part-time because as soon as you say you work... And you don't work part-time. You work two jobs. But as soon as you say you work part-time, people will assume that you have children or that you've got maternal duties, or you run the risk of people assuming that you don't take your career seriously, that you've got your mindset somewhere else."

Kate Dillon:
Which I thought was really interesting at the time that he said that to me, but gosh, it has been powerful. Because you do have people flippantly say, "Oh, yes. She works part-time just in knowledge originally."

Kate Dillon:
And it didn't bother me to begin with because I was like, "Oh, this is just some money coming in because I want to be able to build my business." And then as it morphed into this more, I'm really passionate about change and transformation and creating value and improving processes and connecting people and this innovation space, such a buzzword now, why can't you be respected as a woman working on a flexible arrangement? And why can't you have leadership potential and partnership potential on a 0.6? And why can there not be job sharing in this sort of position?

Kate Dillon:
And surely it's all around communication and being able to share the role and cover the full-time capacity. What is the obstacle to that? And then having boundaries, like why can't I run a successful business on a lean model, and then also be respected and have aspirations to be a leader in my 0.6 arrangement?

Kate Dillon:
And I think that's where the fire grew again. And yeah, I've become really passionate about proving that that's possible. I think a big part of that is about working for a firm that is progressive and willing to support you in that, but also about you advocating for what you want and making people aware of what you want to achieve so that they can help put the steps in place to get you there. Because people can't read your mind and it's a no until you've asked. So yeah.

Melissa Hamilton:
Brilliant advice. I would love your perspective, and you might be able to comment more on the law than other areas, but another thing I'm curious about, and it seems to be a problem that we haven't yet cracked the solution to.

Melissa Hamilton:
But if I look at the ASX 200 as an example, there's a lot of focus on women in leadership roles. At the board level, we've cracked over the 30%, which was a target that was set some time ago. So that's some reason to celebrate. There's been movement there. But at the executive level, there really hasn't been movement.

Melissa Hamilton:
And in the last two years, 50 CEO appointments, three of them were female, three or six. Small number regardless. What's going on? From your perspective or point of view, why are we not seeing more movement?

Kate Dillon:
I think from my perspective at least, that time period where you become the senior person, or you start that level of mastery in wherever area you are in whichever business often coincides with a time when you're also thinking about family, whether that is just finding a life partner.

Kate Dillon:
Because you've been so career-focused, there hasn't been the opportunity to find that life partner and/or you found the life partner but you haven't had any opportunity to think about having children. And all of a sudden, you're worried that it's going to pass you by. And so you've got to get cracking, so to speak, if that's what's on your agenda.

Kate Dillon:
And there seems to be almost a penalty for doing that. Nobody holds space at the moment. Well, very few companies hold space for women to be able to properly step out and have children if that's what they want to do, and then re-enter in a way that supports them in that lifestyle for that time period until the children go to school.

Kate Dillon:
And I think a lot of people find that... A lot of women. I mean, I can't talk for everybody and I'm definitely not talking for all businesses, because I know there are some that are incredibly supportive. But it's very difficult to juggle small children at home and a high-powered career, definitely not on five days a week for most people, which is usually what's expected at an executive level.

Kate Dillon:
To be able to be there for your children and be there for your role or your team is a difficult juggle. And there's expectation that women should have it all type thing, or women can do it all. And I don't think it's reasonable.

Kate Dillon:
I think we can have it all at different times, but if we're going to have it all at once, then there needs to be some give and take from the employer as well. That's why so many women seem to step out at this stage and start their own businesses and create the flexibility and profitable businesses in these amazing business models that are very different to what's out there in the norm that suit them and their family and their lifestyle.

Kate Dillon:
And then they can step back into a traditional executive CEO or corporate flying career again once they have some more flexibility. But when the children are older or maybe not because... I only have little children at the moment. I have not experienced older children. I understand it's quite involved again when they're in teenage-hood.

Kate Dillon:
But yeah, I don't think we've worked it out properly yet. I think there are some amazing women in senior positions that are advocating for it. But I think there are a lot of minds that need to change.

Kate Dillon:
And I think we've come a really long way in the last 50 years, but I think we've got still a long way to go. And there needs to be a lot more focus on equality and there needs to be a lot more focus on there being no penalty for stepping out to have a child if that's the case, or just stepping out to have a break or whatever it may be because not everybody wants to have children.

Kate Dillon:
But I think more awareness around life choices, particularly those that affect women and not being penalised for that because where do people think men come from? They were all born as well. Yeah. I don't know. I'm a bit fiery about it. Probably not podcast-appropriate.

Melissa Hamilton:
Not at all.

Kate Dillon:
Yeah.

Melissa Hamilton:
What I wanted to ask was people will watch this, and you're a self-proclaimed extrovert, you've got this wonderful motto in your family background about anything's achievable with guts and determination and that sort of stuff, do you have moments of self-doubt?

Kate Dillon:
All the time. All the time. Yeah. All the time. Massive imposter syndrome often. Yeah. All the time. And half the time it's about acknowledge... I think you have to feel that and acknowledge it and then push through it. And it's like, feel it till you become it, I think.

Kate Dillon:
It's like those power poses that Amy Cuddy talks about this. I use them all the time. And that's why I think "feel it till you become it" is the thing rather than "fake it till you make it."

Melissa Hamilton:
Yeah.

Kate Dillon:
Because a three-minute power pose automatically lets your body physiologically create more testosterone that creates more confidence and scientifically will help you feel more powerful and perform better.

Kate Dillon:
And I think channeling that into an imposter syndrome situation... Because most of the time you can absolutely do whatever it is that you think that you can't. It's about showing up and tricking your body into feeling like you can do it, and saying no to that voice that is saying, "You haven't been working for a year and a half, so you're totally out of the loop."

Kate Dillon:
Or "You only have three of the things on the job description rather than 10, and so you shouldn't apply for this." Or "This person's going to definitely say no to you, so you shouldn't even bother asking." All those things, you just throw them out the window.

Kate Dillon:
And I think you just tell yourself, "I only live once. And if I don't do this, I think I would regret it." And you don't want to live with any regrets, so go for it.

Melissa Hamilton:
So you power pose.

Kate Dillon:
All the time. I am such a big power poser. Yeah. Yeah. I am a very big power poser. And you can do it subtly. You don't have to do the full superwoman pose, but even just standing there, creating space, it's all about creating space.

Kate Dillon:
So putting your hands on your hips and your feet firmly planted on the ground is a really good one. If ever you're in a conversation or a meeting where you're standing up and you need a boost, or you're dealing with a difficult conversation.

Kate Dillon:
Or even when you're in a meeting, sitting and making sure that your bottom is really firmly planted in the seat and your shoulders are back and you've got your hands calmly resting on your legs and you can feel your feet planted on the ground. That also is a power pose as well.

Kate Dillon:
It doesn't have to be that traditional hands behind your head, feet up on the desk type thing. But yeah, no, it's so powerful. I use them all the time, and mantras. Mantras are the other thing that I swear by. Yeah. Walking through rooms saying, "Actually, I can. I can do this. I can do this."

Melissa Hamilton:
Beautiful segue.

Kate Dillon:
That is where it's come from. It is absolutely where it's come from. Visualising that you can do something, telling yourself that you can do something. That's how athletes train. I don't see why that's not something that you could use in everyday life. And it absolutely helps.

Melissa Hamilton:
And there's a lot of science about that, that if you actually really clearly visualise something, your brain can't tell the difference.

Kate Dillon:
It's not quite like The Secret, but it's close.

Melissa Hamilton:
That never worked for me.

Kate Dillon:
No. No. No.

Melissa Hamilton:
Let's move on then to this wonderful story. You pivoted. Well, COVID arrived.

Kate Dillon:
Yeah. Where did that come from? Oh my goodness. Yeah. Talk about a carpet being pulled from underneath you for the whole of the world. Yeah. I had my second child in December 2019 and She Lion was doing really well in 2019. And I'd just invested a whole lot more in inventory than we do normally to prepare for a growth year in 2020.

Kate Dillon:
And we were really pumped about that. And we'd done forecasting around it, and we'd done trend analysis. People were really wanting to get this exclusive range that there's only limited pieces, and this really beautiful statement out there, leathers. So that was all designed and curated and manufactured and paid for and shipped and arrived late January and early February.

Kate Dillon:
And COVID happened in March and there was no... Consumer confidence just dropped through the floor. The problem that my product was serving is essentially commuting, and so people weren't doing that. As lovely as my customers are, buying handbags to transport things from the kitchen to the home office is not a necessity.

Melissa Hamilton:
Has not become a thing yet.

Kate Dillon:
No. Yeah, no. Yeah. I have the most amazingly loyal customer base. But yeah, I really needed to think about what I was doing. Sales dropped by more than 40%. Freight and logistics and material and supply all increased by more than 30%.

Kate Dillon:
I was at home with two little boys. We were staying in regional Victoria for that year because it was much easier having an outdoor area than in Carlton, I was in a very privileged position to be able to use a house that my parents weren't staying at and my husband was commuting to Melbourne.

Kate Dillon:
So I was having three nights at home alone with the boys until I was very fortunate to have my mother there for, I think, six or eight weeks of one of the lockdowns, which was an absolute godsend.

Kate Dillon:
But yeah, I had a child who was really sick with reflux. And so there wasn't much sleep happening. I had postnatal depression as well because I was just juggling so much stuff. And I had this child that I couldn't console and that was incredibly upsetting. I had a very active three-year-old. And I had this business that was dying.

Kate Dillon:
And I was just so upset that so many other businesses were also suffering and I wanted to do something, anything that could make some sort of difference. And it didn't matter how small it was. I needed to do something for me personally to feel better about the situation.

Kate Dillon:
And I posted a top. I'm a massive fan of slogan tops from Forever. And I purchased this superhero top actually with a friend in California while I was on the women's executive leadership training program called Superhero, and another one that says No Pain, No Champagne.

Kate Dillon:
I was wearing this... I put the superhero one on. I'd had a really terrible night with the boys. I was home alone in regional with no one around and said, "Women are superheroes, we can do anything." Pep-talked to myself, my personal Instagram, not the She Lion Instagram.

Kate Dillon:
And I had so many people identify with the messaging, direct message me from the post, all family and friends, obviously, not a public thing. And they had said, "Gosh, you should make a top that says 'Walk fearlessly.' That's your tagline. I would buy something like that."

Kate Dillon:
And then that's where it started. I thought, "Gosh, something..." Because it hasn't been possible to manufacture the handbags here as much as I would've loved. I really tried to do that and explore it here, but to be able to produce something under a thousand dollars with that much leather, the construction sophistication and at that scale was just really too difficult.

Kate Dillon:
But a sweatshirt, I thought that's something that I could gather as many other small businesses as possible together and produce something with a slogan that is not necessarily anything to do with my brand, but more about this group of people coming together to do something that's positive, that's feel-good, that benefits all of them, and that showcases the skills we have here in Australia.

Kate Dillon:
I am by no means the first person to produce something Australian-made. But I think I'm representative of the average person that doesn't know a whole lot about garment manufacturing and was completely shocked about the insight that I found. And then have become so incredibly passionate about shining a light on it.

Kate Dillon:
And then the aligned messaging, obviously, is supporting local businesses. Obviously, so incredible. It's important. It's the lifeblood of our community. It's the social fabric of our community. It's what makes our towns and suburbs have their unique feel. It's those places that know you by name. It's your friends and your family businesses.

Kate Dillon:
And I think we all need to play a part in their survival. And the only way we can do that is if we come together, and actually, we can. And that was the point. Yeah.

Melissa Hamilton:
You've produced these gorgeous [inaudible 00:43:14]. And as soon as I saw... And we didn't know each other at this point. As soon as I saw the story, I purchased mine.

Kate Dillon:
Thank you.

Melissa Hamilton:
And I'll make sure that... For people watching the interview, we'll make sure that they can access a link to go and see the video that was made about how you produced them and all of the people that you pulled together to do that.

Kate Dillon:
It's all about the people. Yeah. And I didn't really pull them all together. They all were so willing to come on board. And it was, again, that generosity of spirit. I'm indebted to them. They were absolutely picking me up.

Kate Dillon:
And just the time, giving their intel and their guidance and their skill on how best to pull this project together because they were equally passionate about it being every element Australian because that is actually quite unique. And I didn't realize that that was as unique as it was until doing that process.

Kate Dillon:
And I think it was absolutely a passion project that turned into something that's going to be a staple part of She Lion. And it was something that brought me a lot of joy in a time where I was finding everything really difficult.

Kate Dillon:
And having all these really positive conversations where I was learning new things and having adult conversations that weren't with babies, not that my babies aren't beautiful, and doing something that was business for good.

Kate Dillon:
If I was going to be killed, I was going to go out all flames of glory, and hopefully creating some awareness and picking up some other people and giving them some marketing and PR and hopefully some money as well, and ideally saving the business.

Melissa Hamilton:
Congratulations, because I know it's been very successful. I did want to flag with you, and I flagged it before that it was interesting to me because I did buy one straight away, but I did hear feedback from some people around, "Well, I'm not going to pay that for a [inaudible 00:45:22]." How do you respond to that?

Kate Dillon:
I completely understand the comment, but I think that's why the campaign is so incredibly important and that's why I was so... It was absolutely critical that I made a professional video. Originally, I had gone around to all of the makers and videoed them on my phone and I have all of this spectacular footage about their stories and how manufacturing was all in Australia 20-30 years ago, and how so much of it has gone overseas when the world opened up with the internet and everything became so accessible.

Kate Dillon:
And now, how COVID is bringing to the fore that we need to be less reliant on offshore and we need to be able to be doing things here and that actually, we have these amazing artisans and skills here. But if we want to keep them here, we need to make some choices about that.

Kate Dillon:
And I think people have got used to being able to buy things for a certain amount because they have not necessarily understanding what's been involved in the process of them being created and where they've been created and how they've been created and by whom they have been created.

Kate Dillon:
I had no idea that so many hands touched a garment and how many things were involved in something that I thought was relatively straightforward, that isn't. I'm sure if you spoke to anyone in the fashion industry, they would laugh and be like, "Of course, I understand that and I know all of this. And yes, we've been talking about this for ages."

Kate Dillon:
But I think that's why it's even more important that I'm yelling it from the rooftop because I am very representative of the person that doesn't know that I think should.

Kate Dillon:
And if we don't do something about it, we will lose the skills and we'll lose the ability to able to do it all here. And it is such an opportunity to create so many jobs and to bring the wealth back here and to support Australians.

Kate Dillon:
So essentially, an answer to that question, you just explain. I'm a small business, I don't have the buying power of a much bigger business. So I don't have the ability to negotiate margins at all like a really big business on quantity. I'm also buying premium 100% Australian everything. And as part of that, Australian people are paid Australian fair work wages and they all work in places that are ethically responsible and sustainable.

Kate Dillon:
And as part of that, you're benefiting so many people's jobs and roles and livelihoods. And in fact, it's a really reasonable price for the top. And you should have a spring in your step because you're supporting 22 businesses when you buy something from us because each of those businesses is part of the supply chain and contributes to the end product.

Melissa Hamilton:
And there's no doubt that that was the element of the story that got me to buy it. Yeah. It's very emotional.

Kate Dillon:
I think it's the human part of owning a business. And I think that needs to be talked about more. I think that there's this weird thing about business has to be cutthroat and it has to be really non-emotional and at arm's length. It's all very macho. I don't know. To me anyway.

Kate Dillon:
And I felt like there is so much more strength in revealing the human side and the struggle and the love and the connection and the magic of community and how people come together and offer support and lift you up, and how all of these people are supporting all of the other people in the process. Everybody's supporting one another.

Kate Dillon:
It was just so lovely and it was something that needed to be shared beyond the fact that it also needed to be shared so that people can understand what is involved and have more appreciation of manufacturing in Australia around garments anyway.

Melissa Hamilton:
And how are you now? Just to check in with you.

Kate Dillon:
Oh, I'm good. I'm good. I just feel like we need to be more open about talking about that. There shouldn't be stigma around it. I think we should be open to talking about miscarriages and we should be open to be talking about depression, and we should be open to be talking about postnatal because it's hard. All those things.

Kate Dillon:
I think there needs to be more conversations around hard things and more real talk so that people can actually grow and understand that it's okay if they've experienced that too and not feel like they're alone. It's like going to one of those career things and you have this insanely amazing woman stand up and they say, "I've achieved all of this." And you're like, "Gosh, I really want to do that." And they don't tell you about any of the hard stuff.

Kate Dillon:
I feel like we need to share the hard stuff because I think it's the hard stuff that normalizes the fact that it is hard work to get there and it doesn't just happen. Yeah, it's about guts and determination most of the time, unfortunately. And people need to normalize that.

Kate Dillon:
And I think that's the only way we're going to change the mindset of big business as well, around how they can better support women because it is hard. It's not, "Oh, I just got here and it was..." Obviously, they've got there because they've worked tooth and nail to get there. And people need to understand that it shouldn't be like that because it's not necessarily the same journey for men.

Melissa Hamilton:
Kate, the final question that I ask everybody is, from your perspective, what does brave feminine leadership look like and does it need to change?

Kate Dillon:
Does it need to change? I don't know. Brave feminine leadership is like my mother in a nutshell. She is brave and strongly feminine and an amazing leader. And I feel like she encapsulates that statement, absolutely.

Kate Dillon:
I think there are a lot of really brave feminine leaders that we have currently in our world, but we need more. And I think the only way we can get that is if everybody talks about it more and there's a lot more open, honest, uncomfortable conversations around it.

Kate Dillon:
Absolutely like the One Roof conference recently. There needs to be a lot more conversations that are about the unspoken. But they need to not just be with women, they need to be with men in the room, and they need to be with men coming with an ear open as well.

Kate Dillon:
And I think there needs to be a stronger focus on soft skills and empathy. And I think soft skills need to be lifted up again. I think sharp skills or technical skills are very important, but I think leaders need really highly-developed soft skills. And I think women quite intuitively seem to have that in spades, and we need more of that.

Melissa Hamilton:
Kate, thank you so much for being so generous with your time and with joining the conversation.

Kate Dillon:
Oh, no, it's the other way around. Thank you so much for having me.

Melissa Hamilton:
Fantastic to have you here, so thank you so much.

Kate Dillon:
Thank you.



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