Women to Watch: Olivia Brown

Women to Watch: Olivia Brown

By: Erin Acevedo, CMO

Technology and ease of travel have made us more global-minded than any other point in our history. The value we place on multiculturalism and cross-cultural experiences is closely tied to the way we view and value maturity, compassion, wisdom, and emotional intelligence. And these “soft skills” are earning a place alongside more traditional business skills like negotiation, financial analysis, etc.; we’re learning that a blend and balance between them is essential to create and support modern businesses. 

But what are we missing? As we continue to build digital lives alongside our physical reality, many of us have lost (or have never had) a local community network of friends, family, and acquaintances with shared interests to whom we can turn for support, advice, and encouragement.

Olivia Brown is the Cofounder and COO of Global Village Women, a community for women, by women. Olivia and I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends at a women’s leadership event at Dreamforce in 2016, and it was an honor to interview her about her current work supporting female leaders and entrepreneurs.

Through Global Village Women, Olivia and her team are capitalizing on our ability to connect with each other across cities, countries, and continents; they’re determined to fill the community gap by offering digital and real-life opportunities to share information, inspiration, and experiences, no matter where you are in the world. And as more and more women are demanding seats at the table, they couldn’t have chosen a better time to begin.

What is Global Village Women? Where did the idea come from and how did you become involved?  

In a world made smaller by technology, women are feeling increasingly disconnected and stressed. We crave honest conversation and trusted support. We are craving a modern village. Our solution is Global Village Women. 

Our vision is to become the world's most trusted destination for women to share knowledge and feel safe and supported. Operating with a purposeful business model, with the existence of the Global Village Foundation, we can invest back into the community and selected NGOs, creating opportunities for women across the world.

The idea came about from a powerhouse of a woman called Natalie Mogford. I met Natalie almost six years ago as we were both coming to terms with our new role as mothers. Motherhood is a time when you stop and question your purpose because life as you know it completely flips on its head. I came on board as an advisor in 2017 shortly after Natalie shared her vision. It’s impossible not to be part of this once you talk to her!

You were previously with Mercedes-Benz Australia. Why did you decide to start a business rather than continuing your career with them? What advice would you offer women considering a similar move into entrepreneurship? 

I started working at Mercedes-Benz in 2002 while I was still at university. They have been the most wonderful employer and my desire to change direction was borne from a gut feeling that I simply needed a change after so many years. There wasn’t much rationality about it at all. My ‘survival mind’ kept me up many nights questioning the decision: “why leave the safety of Mercedes, why give up your company car, why leave a high performing team, why leave when you are on track for career advancement” . . . and on it went night after night. 

But what I did know is calm seas don't make a good sailor, so I decided to inject some chaos and uncertainty into my career. I have been invited to stay with Mercedes on a part-time basis as I transition into the world of entrepreneurship (see, I told you they were wonderful!).  

The advice I’d give to other women wanting to move into entrepreneurship is: trust your inner voice. By all means, respectfully listen to advice from others but always reference your own compass. Only you know what you are capable of and only you have your ideas. You're here for a reason, and the world needs your ideas and creativity to solve new problems. 

When you think of women’s business advocacy, what is the first thing that comes to mind? 

Flying a flag for women in business. Holding that flag high, so girls and young women look up and see that men and women equally have amazing things to contribute to business.

The #MeToo movement in the US has been gaining global traction. Have you seen any rippling effects in Australia? What’s the landscape currently look like regarding women’s equality in the workplace? 

#MeToo is inundating my social media feeds. Aussies love it! I remember listening to Oprah’s Golden Globes speech right before I walked into the office and wiping away tears and feeling like we're on the cusp of a massive social shift for good. 

As for the state of play in Australia, there are more CEOs named ‘Andrew’ leading our top 200 organizations, than women CEOs. Women also tend to fill support functions still, holding 70% of HR executive roles and 46% of general counsel positions — while men hold 90% of business unit roles. But it’s not all bad news:

Female representation on Australian company boards is at its highest ever rate of 26.6%.
Australian companies with female CEOs had revenue increases above the market average.

What’s your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for Global Village Women in the next year? Five years?  

We love an HBAG - Huge Beautiful Audacious Goal! By this time next year, we’ll have raised over a million dollars of funding and by 2023 will be improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of women across the world; if they aren’t using the platform, they’ll know of a community benefiting from it.

At another women’s event a few years ago, you said you didn’t believe in work-life balance, and I found your reasons interesting and compelling. Can you share your viewpoint behind that here? 

I love you remember that. I think this might need to be an entirely new post! Here’s my blinkist version.  

Visualize a set of scales. Scales beautifully balanced there with life on one side and work on the other. Then imagine your life. Does it look like that? I know mine doesn’t! It's IMPOSSIBLE, and anytime I think of it and compare my reality to that I do not relate at all. 

I prefer the analogy of leaning. Some moments, days, hours, weeks you lean into work, sometimes you lean more into other aspects of your life. It’s a constant struggle, and I believe there are grey zones - work can integrate so easily into life with technology. This comes with new challenges but I think if managed well can deliver efficiency and freedom. 

I remember taking work conference calls many times while walking my then 1-year-old to sleep in the pram while working at home for the day. Was I working or was I living? I was integrating both. So if I could re-imagine the ideal, it would be work-life integration with regular doses of leaning into the important things in life.

How does that position inform how you’re positioning and defining Global Village Women?  

Global Village women is a place women can visit to ask a question, share knowledge, or connect regarding any aspect of their life and gain real-time support for the challenges they face. Especially the taboo challenges. We believe women are multidimensional and the idea of opening up to their many aspects of ‘self’ will be available on the platform.  

What’s next for Global Village Women? How can people start getting involved and what do they have to look forward to in the next six to twelve months?

We are about to invite selected investors to be a part of Global Village. Once we have a product built, we’ll be able to test with a small market then take it to the women who need it. Anyone who instantly connects with what we are doing can contact us at we@globalvillagewomen.com.  Women can sign up to be the first to know when we are live. In the next 12 months, we hope to be live so we can start connecting women all over the world!

What women are you watching right now for inspiration? 

An acquaintance of mine, Danielle Walls, who amongst other things, just published a book called Working Mums: Stories by Real Women on how They Manage Children, Work, and Life. I LOVE she co-wrote this book over Skype in between her young kids’ naps. Hello, work-life integration!

Interested in joining Global Village Women? Sign up here.

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