36. Madeleine

I had the privilege of working with Madeleine during my time in the Industry Engagement team at RMIT. With her sharp thinking, tenacity and ability to connect people, Madeleine was an ideal Innovation Ecosystem Lead at Telstra. I was immediately in awe, and not at all surprised to learn that Madeleine was not only the human API of Telstra, but also the Co-Founder of a fast-growing startup, mum of four, speaker, facilitator and board member. Despite neither of us remaining in the roles that led to us crossing paths, I was itching to stay connected – Madeleine was someone I could learn from! Despite her mind-bogglingly busy schedule, she was kind enough to carve out some time to chat to me about her incredible start-up, Girledworld. I feel chuffed to share her journey!


“While running my own creative agency, I became interested in social entrepreneurship and started looking at social enterprise models that aligned purpose and profit.

After beginning a Masters in Strategic Philanthropy and Grant Making, I quickly became disillusioned with traditional philanthropic models. I then heard about a new Master of Entrepreneurship at the University of Melbourne – and it was during this course that I met Edwina Kolomanski, my Cofounder at Girledworld.

During the Masters, Edwina and I undertook a primary thesis which examined the present and future workforce cross-sectorally and how the gender gap was widening when extrapolated to jobs, core capabilities, leadership roles and talent pipelines in emerging industries. We noticed a pattern and drilled down on the career pipeline, in particular, women’s global attrition out of the workforce, leadership roles and critical future-facing industries including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

Research shows STEM will fuel 75% of jobs of the future. With global chronic underrepresentation of women (and girls) in these disciplines and in the STEM job market, we saw that unless there was a critical intervention, women (and the girls after them) would continue to be left behind.

Girledworld was our solution.

It’s really difficult for young people to get an understanding of the realities of the world of work and the pathways into those. Girledworld gives secondary school girls around Australia (and soon to be other markets with the launch of our virtual learning platform) 21st Century skills, role models and an understanding of the future world of work. We work to bridge the gap between education and industry, giving students access to real world learning.  

My four daughters and their peers provide a really critical window for me – and that helps me with my work. But this business is not about the world according to my lounge room. If it were, it would be serving no one – least of all my daughters!

This is about equipping a whole generation of girls with what they need to not just survive, but thrive in their future careers.

Girls can’t be what they can’t see, and there is nowhere near enough representation of female role models across the engineering and tech sectors. Even when girls enter these fields, the dropout rate is high. The start-up community has a bro culture that needs to be hacked apart to create environments that are not just diverse, but inclusive.

Everybody is trying to solve for diversity and while there’s a lot of politicking going on, there’s not much action.

Diversity needs to occur at a granular level – moving beyond the gender split to incorporate people from diverse backgrounds and experiences who will challenge the status quo. Through their difference, they can bring new perspectives, innovative solutions and shared solves for some of the biggest global challenges the world is facing.  

We’re living in the knowledge economy- the digital age. We have drones, clones and the internet of things – but STEM is only part of a broader shift toward a new world of work. At Girledworld we recognise that cultivating the innovation generation also requires skills in leadership, entrepreneurship, self-determination and self-actualisation.

Some girls come to Girledworld because their school has partnered with us. Some girls are self-selecting. Some are sponsored by industry or government because they are geographically or demographically disadvantaged. Education is the glut of the rich a lot of the time and so we democratise access to the critical points of knowledge that girls need to better shape their choices.

We engage with girls in a range of ways: through our large-scale conference events, workshops and industry masterclasses, and our content platform.

Our World of Work Summits connect high school girls with industry leaders across three core themes: world-shaping, future-facing and work-ready. Next year we are delivering Summits in Sydney, Geelong, the USA and Melbourne, and our Future of Work masterclasses are being delivered in schools right across Australia.

Our new program, CMeO, is launching in 2019 on International Women’s Day and will see women in all sorts of roles across business, startup and government giving high school girls the opportunity to shadow them for a day, offering a real-world window into the workplace so they can see what they can be. For the mentees, CMeO will be a powerful knowledge swap, mentorship experience, opportunity to  give back, cultivate their own leadership capability, and have a positive impact on the life, and hopefully future career pathways, of a young person. There is so much untapped potential that young people have, and could bring, to our workplaces. We can’t wait to see the impact of this program.

We’re also currently running a global storytelling project, which is calling for submissions of poetry or writing under the theme ‘You are not your face’. We’re keen to help combat the visualised culture girls are now exposed to through social media, and help them tap into their intrinsic worth and value. It’s a complex area, because so much of popular culture celebrates the exterior. We want to demonstrate that the riches you build in your head and heart will equip you far longer than learning about the Kardashians’ latest facial contouring brush.

We’ve been blown away by the response, and have had hundreds of submissions from all over the world – from Pakistan to the US to tiny country towns in Australia. We have groups of students working with us to collate the content, and this will be designed into a book next year to celebrate the wisdom, wit and worldliness of the extraordinary young people we work with.

Our big project at the moment, which has been in stealth for the past eight months, is a World of Work platform to enable students to plan their career pathways. To get it right, we’re working with lots of students, careers counsellors and UX designers. While there is a gender lens applied to everything we do at Girledworld, this platform will be open to all students.

It’s amazing to think that two years ago all these projects were ideas on a whiteboard. There have been learnings along the way, but we’ve got really fantastic anchoring in the wicked, multigenerational, multifactorial problem we’re trying to solve. And we’ve got an incredible, and growing, team. It’s really exciting.

The magnitude of the problem and the opportunity of the solution has been eye-opening. I’ve been blown away by how generous people have been with their time and their knowledge. We can’t solve this alone – we need the whole village to do this with us – and we’ve got so many amazing supporters and mentors.

Running a start-up is a series of peaks and troughs – you are the engine that keeps the business moving. But it’s also energising. If you find something you really give a shit about, it keeps you up at night (in a really good way). I think when you land on a problem that is complex and doesn’t have an easy solve, you’re on a constant quest to understand it better.

The best part is I get to meet amazing humans on an amazing planet doing amazing stuff. And when we do our workshops and events and you can see light bulbs go off in the real for the young people you exist for, you feel like you’re changing lives a little bit. I get to see those extraordinary and emerging young people shifting their perception of what they thought was possible for them, and that potential unfurling is a pretty awesome privilege.”

Featured image: Edwina Kolomanski

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