It was just another day on the job for Larissa Waters that happened to end in internationally breaking news: The senator was the first member of Australian parliament to breastfeed (an act that occurs 8 to 12 times a day by the millions of new mothers around the world) while in session--and it became viral.
Waters took to Twitter to react to the media's response, saying, “we need family-friendly and flexible workplaces for all so this isn't news anymore." Waters, who takes is also co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, is working to equalize rights across the board for all new parents, both in Australia and beyond.
Larissa Waters. Photo courtesy of ABC
As effective as Waters' breastfeeding image was at generating social buzz, it is also a reminder of the type of trending news that falls by the wayside just as quickly as it peaks--making it more difficult for these practices to stay relevant, in order to be implemented.
As is showcased in the cases of past headliners, Spain's Carolina Bescansa and Italy's Licia Ronzulli, who brought their newborn's to parliament, and Iceland's Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir who made history last year, when she breastfed her baby during a debate. Each had her five minutes of fame, while the larger conversation was avoided.
It may have been Waters who resurfaced the discussion this week, but the conversation will once again revert to behind-closed-doors until the next issue surrounding the topic of mothers at work, and the overall treatment of parents in the workforce.
So, in order to keep the discussions relevant. SWAAY was curious about who Larissa Waters was outside the headlines. We wanted to what she stands for
Waters is the first Greens senator for Queensland. She stands behind The Greens' strong beliefs of representing women throughout Australia. Since her 2011 election to senate, and 2016 reelection, Waters has dedicated her time to achieving equality for all, through “creating a fairer society and achieving gender equality."
Along with The Greens' group beliefs, Waters' personal beliefs have been a lead factor in stimulating action for women in the workforce, particularly around equal pay and family-friendly workplaces. She played a large role in the Australian Parliament's 'family friendly' rule changes last year, most notably the passing of law that permits female politicians to nurse in the chamber--influencing the law and being the first to act on it, seemingly brought her work full circle. In leading up to the rule change, Waters said, “If we want more young women in Parliament, we must make the rules more family friendly to allow new mothers and new fathers to balance their parliamentary and parental duties."
Waters also firmly stands behind The Greens' message of inclusivity. “There is no place for gender discrimination in our society," she has said. "We will continue to fight it in all its forms and stand up for gender equality against outdated conservative attitudes." Waters reinforced her support on this stance when she posted on Instagram to recognize her daughter's birth, which incidentally coincided with International Women's Day.
A snippet from her post reads,
“I'll be having a few more weeks off but will soon be back in parliament with this little one in tow. She is even more inspiration for continuing our work to address gender inequality and stem dangerous climate change. (And yes, if she's hungry, she will be breastfed in the Senate chamber). Happy International Women's Day to everyone working for a more equal future! #IWD2017"
To further her support of women's rights, Waters has also been a prominent force in addressing Australia's domestic violence crisis, where according to The Greens' site, “more than one woman per week is dying at the hands of a current or former partner." With underfunded front line services, Waters took action to establish a Senate inquiry on domestic violence, which overturned existing funding cuts to these critical shelters and protective services.
Aside from her campaigns surrounding women and parents, Waters and her co-deputy, Scott Ludlam, are also taking action for Australia's tourism, mining and resources, environment and biodiversity, as well as gambling reform.
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.