12 female business owners on the most offensive things people have said about their company.

In a recent No Filter interview, Holly Wainwright turned the tables on Mamamia's co-founder Mia Freedman and asked her questions about all things business. 

It was a fascinating insight into how Mia built Australia's largest women's media company – but there was one thing that I couldn't stop thinking about afterwards. Despite Mia's unbelievable business success, she talked about her frustration (still, in 2022) with the way she's perceived as a woman in business

She's not alone. Women still experience outdated assumptions about their businesses daily. And I'm one of them. 

For me, there's one question I get which grates more than any other. 

"How is your little business going?"

My business Daily Orders, Australia’s leading creator of family wall planners, turns over $1 million in revenue per year and we employ three people full-time with remote part-time staff around the country. That's not 'little' in my books. 

There is this assumption that because I'm a woman, it must be small or in some people's eyes, even a hobby! It's wrong and we need to challenge these assumptions. Most people wouldn't even realise they're doing it and probably think they are being friendly by asking, however it perpetuates this limiting belief that women's businesses are small and it downplays our achievements. 

Listen to Mia Freedman share her story of being an entrepreneur on No Filter. Post continues after audio.

If we want to see more women in leadership positions and being recognised for their business successes, we need to stop making these assumptions. 


My female friends/business peers also experience the same thing. These women are creating jobs, innovating new products, generating export dollars and making a significant contribution to our economy. The multiplier effect of women in business is huge and we need to start supporting and celebrating them more!

Did I also mention, they're shouldering the lion's share of domestic responsibilities as well? I feel tired just thinking about it. 

To start the conversation around challenging these assumptions, I recently asked women in business to share the one thing they wish people would stop saying to them about business. 

The response was overwhelming to say the least. 

1. "Dear Sir" - Lisa Ormenyessy, founder of OMGhee.

"I continuously receive emails beginning with 'Dear Sir'. We're in the process of setting up a manufacturing plant and interacting with large engineering firms. The number of times I have been addressed as 'sir' despite signing off my emails as Lisa is truly mind-boggling. It happens with approaches to us for export too. Large companies email us telling me they've looked at our website, are impressed by what we're doing and then proceed to call me Sir. The disrespect is real."

2. "Is there much demand for your kind of work where you live?" - Leanne Hasting, Leanna J Consulting.

"I'm lucky to live in a regional area, yes, but my physical remoteness doesn't mean that I don't have access to work with businesses beyond my postcode. When I explain I work with people all over Australia – including large businesses and nonprofits, people raise their eyebrows with surprise and they usually follow it up with, 'I didn't realise you could work with people from all over the place!' 

"Women run hugely successful businesses from anywhere in the world. It shouldn't be assumed that just because someone doesn't live in a big city, they're not capable or qualified enough to work with people from all over. It takes work and uncomfortable networking at times, but this is how my business continues to grow outside of my region and beyond our state borders too."


3. "You have your children in childcare five days a week, you will miss seeing them grow up" - Lizzie Robinson, Elizabeth Jean Branding.

"As a CEO and mum of two young children (a five-year-old and a two-year-old), I have experienced a lot of comments on motherhood and running a business. Whether it's, 'Oh you went back to work after two weeks' or reflections about how many days my kids are in childcare, it seems there is always something to say! But the most frustrating thing for me is the fact people ask me about my husband's business as though my business is non-existent. What's with that?"

Watch: Dr Ginni Mansberg's philosophy on parenting. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

4. "You must run this hobby from home" - Asako Ito, DivineLashes.

"As the owner of a beauty salon, people sometimes make the assumption that I run a small operation from home. This couldn't be further from the truth! We have a large team of passionate artists, and we work out of a professional space. We now operate four different locations – I don't think people would have the same assumptions about a man in my position. I think if I was a man they would immediately see my business as a professional operation and not just a hobby that I run from home."


5. "How does your husband feel about you spending so much time on your business?" - Anita Aherne, Living on the Spectrum.

"I have a successful business in a niche field called, Living on the Spectrum. We are Australia's first and only independent Autism directory and neurodiversity hub. I often get comments about how busy I must be trying to run a business and manage the house. I have even had questions regarding how my husband feels about how much time I spend on the business and if it is worth it. 

"It is implied that as a woman, it is my job to provide all domestic chores and child care. While my family will always come first, I could never imagine a man being asked how his wife feels about his full-time job and how he juggles things. It also implies that it is a hobby rather than a successful money-earning business."

6. "If you don't do [insert expectation], people won't take you seriously as a business person" - Stephanie Scheller, Grow Disrupt.

"This comment is typically directed at me about clothing, how I styled my hair, make-up, whether I wore jewellery that they thought was appropriate or not. How I look has LITTLE to do with how well my business is performing. How I show up is everything and that has almost nothing to do with my external appearance. If I choose to wear jeans, or add vibrant colours to my hair, it has little impact on how well I'm able to perform as a business owner or how well my business is doing."

7. "Boss babe and fempreneur" - Brenda Moore, Happen Consulting.

"I have real issues with terms like 'boss babe' 'fempreneur' etc. There is absolutely no need to feminise these terms. These sorts of terms are irrelevant at best and often demeaning. I am a boss, an entrepreneur, a manager, and a consultant – my gender is irrelevant and I don't believe highlighting it is helpful to either me or to the perception of women in business."

8. "Are you still doing that Airbnb stuff?" and other assumptions about the size of our impact - Jen Clark, Hosting With Heart.

"Right now, I'm trying to set up the first website in the world to showcase the properties of purpose-driven holiday property hosts. The aim is to divert money away from the big accommodation players and get more money into the pockets of hosts who are doing the right thing for people and the planet. However, if I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me, 'How's all that Airbnb stuff you're doing going?’, I'd never need to work a day in my life again.


"I'm NOT just doing 'Airbnb stuff'. Assumptions about the impact of our work persist and often result in our work being underestimated or misunderstood. I won't give up until the short-term accommodation sector is a force for good, not just profit."

9. "How do you make money from that?" - Louise Poole, Welcome Change Media.

"I co-own a podcast and content production business. The most common questions I get asked are some variation of, 'but how do you make money from that?' The answer is the same way every other business does. Be skilled at what you do, find clients who benefit from and value your skill. I don't know if this question is because of gender bias or the perception that you can't make money doing creative work, or both. But it is common."

10. "Your husband must have a really good job for you to be available to your kids all the time/for you to be able to afford your travel" - Kylie Travers, and

"No. I have been a single mother most of my kids' lives and when I was partnered, they were out of work for a while and I covered all our expenses for us to continue to progress in life. My career provides the lifestyle, not his. One of my pet peeves has been when people dismissed my work as 'mummy blogging' or refer to me as a 'mumpreneur'. 

"We don't call men 'dadpreneurs', they're just entrepreneurs. I've won national and international awards for my work, been featured in a variety of media and do consulting for national and international governments and companies, founded, bought and sold various businesses, not to mention raised over $30,000,000 through my work to end homelessness and domestic violence. That makes me a multiple international award-winning entrepreneur. Not a mumpreneur."


11. "Why don't you offer more sales?" - Krys Charalambous, Modella Clothing.

"I am a small business owner of a Brisbane-based online fashion boutique. Exceptional customer service is at the centre of my business. And I add a lot of value with every purchase that most other stores charge extra for. This includes free express shipping for $50 orders, bonus surprise gifts, and gorgeous gift wrapping. So, I hate it when people only ask about huge sales. As a small business, I don't add huge margins to my online range. I like to focus on quality products for great prices and with added value."

12. "Are you working today?" - Amanda Goodfellow, Agile Minds.

"When I worked in corporate roles, nobody ever asked me that question. It was assumed that during the day, I was working. But now, running my own business, I often get asked what I'm up to and if I'd like to go for coffee, do pilates, meet for lunch, or if I'm available to pick up someone else's kids. There's a perception that I have so much leisure time now I work for myself when I'm busier than I have ever been building the business."

This list, and the avalanche of responses to my question, just goes to show that there are a huge number of things people still say to women in business that are unhelpful, outdated, and often diminish our achievements – even if they weren't intended to. 

So, next time you're asking a woman in business how her business is going – try to avoid making any assumptions and instead assume she's rocking it. Because chances are, she is.

Feature Image: Welcome Change Media, Divine Lashes and OMGhee.

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