Every woman needs a little black dress. But Janine Garner is showing there are other ways to find support in all the right places.
Few would deny that a confident woman in a little black dress is a sight to behold. A dozen or more women looking LBD-sharp? Now that’s a force to be reckoned with.
Add some fine food and wine, intelligent conversation and what guests describe as an invigorating and inspiring exchange of ideas, and you’ve got yourself a sensational night out. What’s more, you’ve just turned the typically blokey world of networking on its head.
Dinners such as the one just described are the forum of choice for a growing number of Australian businesswomen, who are finding their voice through the Little Black Dress Group network.
“The Little Black Dress Group is about trusting, acknowledging and accepting feminine leadership,” says founder Janine Garner. “It’s about sending the message that women can embrace their femininity in positions of seniority, not feel they need to adopt masculine traits to be successful.”
This statement is more than wishful thinking on Janine’s part. Having spent 18 years climbing the corporate ladder in Europe and Australia, she reached the top of her game developing world-renowned brands including Jaeger, Citizen watches and Oroton.
Executive life had its benefits – travelling the world overseeing photo shoots, for instance. But it also had its drawbacks. The higher Janine progressed up the ladder, the lonelier she became. She grew increasingly discouraged by the backstabbing that can accompany corporate life, and by what she refers to as ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’ – the idea that women see other women as competitors rather than allies.
As a mother of three, finding the time to network was difficult. When she did find the time, it left her feeling deflated and empty. Having built up a great deal of experience in her field, she found a burning desire to share her knowledge.
“I wanted to connect with like-minded women, to continue to learn and grow. But at every networking event I felt frustrated. I wasn’t meeting people I could learn from and have a conversation with.”
Things came to a head one Sunday night while Janine was sitting on the couch at her home in Sydney. Pre-work blues had reached a debilitating level. Despite having reached her career goal, something was still missing. She was grateful for her children and her husband, yet raising a family presented its own set of challenges. With her and her husband both working full time, life was planned to the ‘nth degree. If a child was sick, things fell apart.
“I realised I’d stopped thinking about myself,” Janine reflects on that time. “It’s almost like at age 40 you get put in a box where people say ‘What more do you want?’”
She organised a dinner and invited a small group of women she respected and admired. If nothing more, it would provide the chance for the type of connection she yearned for; some inspiring conversation and sharing of views.
Little did she know it would prompt interest from other women who wanted the same sorts of things. It struck Janine that she wasn’t as alone in her thinking as she first felt.
The LBD Group was officially launched in June, 2010. It has since attracted women across sectors as diverse as finance, marketing, property, law and communications. Entrepreneurs in everything from cosmetics to graphic design have joined up to pool their resources and enhance each other’s strengths.
Business intelligence is shared through newsletters, industry forums and think tanks with leading professionals, while dinners held in Australian capital cities offer the chance for groups to meet and swap business cards.
World champion surfer and Aim for the Stars charity founder Layne Beachley is a member and testifies to the power of the LBD community to drive success, change and personal growth. “Janine has created an amazing resource and support group for women across the globe,” she says. “Committed, passionate, inspirational and positive, Janine is focused on empowering women and supporting their efforts to achieve their dreams.”
With an ethos that is as much about helping others as helping yourself, it’s a refreshing take on what men have been doing to foster working relationships for decades. LBD is a sign that women are ready to do it their way. The formula is proving so successful that Janine often fields queries about when she’s starting a group for men.
Such comments may be made in jest, but Janine is quick to point out that men are an important inclusion in the LBD Group philosophy, especially when it comes to issues such as supporting mothers in the workforce.
Having been made redundant after taking two months off to have her first child, Janine is a strong advocate for working mothers. But far from harbouring an ‘us versus them’ mentality, she insists men have a crucial role to play in changing the landscape.
“We work with men and businesses that ‘get it’,” she explains. “At the end of the day, women are the ones who have the child and we need men in business to support us through things like maternity leave. This is not about one size fits all or men-bashing.”
Perhaps above all, it’s about teaching women everywhere that it doesn’t have to be such a lonely journey to the top.
For more information visit littleblackdressgroup.com.au
Words Chelsea Roffey