Q. Leanne, this year the theme of International Women’s Day is ‘break the bias’. You work in heavily male-dominated industries; have you experienced any bias towards you?
You’d assume so, given the time I’ve spent in the building services industry, but no, not really. I think if people can clearly see your worth and value, and the experience you’re bringing, they don’t care if you’re male or female.
When we entered building services I’d already built a strong property business from the ground up along with my husband Graeme, so I’m often the most experienced person in the room when it comes to acquisitions. Graeme and I lead The Carling Group and United Capital as an absolute partnership; we each know what strengths we bring, and we push each other to keep learning and growing.
Do you think people see you in a certain light, and how do you break that bias?
I think people see others on LinkedIn and Instagram, and assume they know all about your life, when you’re really giving them the edited highlights. Yes, my life probably look glamorous to an outsider, but it’s not all handbags and charity balls. I’m a self-employed mother of two, running a number of international businesses; there’s a ton of responsibility on my shoulders! Luckily I’m motivated by the challenge, and I’m happiest when I’m busy and juggling tasks.
I think what makes me strong is that I’m not sure I particularly care how people see me! Those who matter know what I’m all about, and that’s family and hard work. What strangers think of me doesn’t really figure in my thinking.
Do you think there’s a bias towards entrepreneurs or self-employed people?
Absolutely! The perception is that self-employed people don’t work the same 9-5 that employees do, and that’s true – Graeme and I work harder now than we ever have! Because there are no ‘office hours’ we’re essentially always working, and that’s common for entrepreneurs like us. You won’t make the next big deal or seize the next opportunity by switching the laptop off at 5pm.
Others don’t see the years of graft that go into building a business or a property portfolio, or think about the decisions we have to take while holding the livelihoods of more than 500 people in our hands.
We absolutely love what we do, which is why we’ve built our lives around it, but nobody should look to be their own boss unless they’re willing to do the same. I look around our group of companies and see dozens of woman who are leaders, juggling their careers and personal lives, and I admire them all. We all have to find a way of working that suits the lives we want to lead, whether that’s as an employee or someone who likes to fly solo.
As a parent of teens, what do you teach them about breaking biases?
Graeme and I talk to our kids a lot about having an entrepreneurial mindset, and we role model that for them too. We are always focused on doing what’s right for us our family, and our companies, and they learn a lot of lessons by watching us stretch ourselves and our ambitions.
We all encounter people in life who hold their own biases, but we don’t have to pay them any attention! Set yourself huge goals, never stop learning, always be focused on the next big project or achievement – those are the most important things in life. If you’re winning you’re breaking biases without even trying.