Breaking the Bias - Kate Austin

In Australia, only 22.3% of founders are women. However, Fabiola Campbell, Kate Austin and Silvia Wanigatunga defied the odds in order to launch successful businesses and non-profits respectively.

In recognition of International Women’s Day, we were honoured to host a panel led by these 3 incredible women to talk about breaking the bias to our team. Now, we’d like to share some of their insights and advice with you to inspire women to keep breaking the bias beyond International Women’s Day.

Meet Kate Austin

Kate Austin

Kate is the Founder and CEO of Pinchapoo, Kate Austin’s cheeky start-up was founded on the premise of pinching hotel toiletries for those in need. After experiencing an unsafe home environment as a teenager, Kate’s mission is to provide hygiene products to the countless Australians experiencing hygiene poverty. Since its founding in 2009, Pinchapoo has proudly supplied over half a million products to men, women and children.

Today, you’re the founder of a successful non-profit that helps thousands of Australians every year. What are some challenges you’ve overcome and life lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Where do I start! 13 years of hurdles but everyone has reinforced my strength in my purpose, taught me something, pushed me outside my comfort zone and added character (and a few grey hairs!!) We have a choice as to how we perceive challenges in life.

The greatest lesson anyone can learn at any point in life I believe is to get over the word NO. We let the potential of hearing those two tiny letters define how high we fly far too often. I learnt that hard hitting lesson early on when we finally had enough product donated to reach out to a local shelter and offer our first organisation our service, and guess what…….they said “no thanks”! I came crashing down from the highest of highs, questioned everything and contemplated walking away from something I believed so deeply in. All over those two letters NO. As it turns out, I got over that NO and now service over 850 national organisations but just imagine if I had given that word the power I thought it had!

It's ok to have an adult tantrum!! (I do regularly!!) What defines you is when you get back up in the morning, put your big girls pants on and strap yourself back in for the ride!

In Australia, only 22.3% of founders are women. What is the story behind the founding of Pinchapoo, and why should companies invest in female-led start-ups?

Pinchapoo was born when I was 15 and had to flee my family home after a near death domestic violence incident. I had only a few moments to leave all I had ever known behind and chose instinctively to grab my toothbrush only and run. The next decade of my life escalated into a relentless blur of PTSD and everyday was filled with severe anxiety, depression, OCD, disassociation psychosis, self-harming and suicide attempts. Every waking moment was a struggle beyond words. It was on one of my darkest days that I aimlessly washed my hair with a hotel shampoo I had recently ‘pinched’ on a weekend away when my lightning bolt moment occurred and my purpose in life was born, as was Pinchapoo. From providing 1 local organisation to over 850 with a holistic personal hygiene service and over 10 MILLION products redistributed- Pinchapoo is now the largest NFP supplier of personal care items nationally.

Women have forever been doing it all but now know they can have it all too!! We have sadly more to prove and will work harder to do that. Start-ups in particular require a leader able to wear many hats, genetically we designed for this life and when job opportunities don’t present those desired roles- we will go and create them ourselves!

What can Australians do to help address the issue of hygiene poverty, and particularly the hygiene poverty faced by women?

Listen!!! The hardest part of my role is raising awareness of one of the greatest social issues facing Australians and it's one we as a society don’t want to acknowledge or deem a trendy topic. Listen to our voice as an organisation, speak of the issue to friends and family and take the time to understand the devastating short and long term effects on as many as 1 in 3 men, women and children when they don’t have access to personal hygiene essentials. Involve yourself with our mission to end #hygienepoverty.

What would your advice be to other women who intend on starting their own organisations in the future?

Don’t think about being a female founder, focus on being a founder. When is the last time you read “male founder”? You haven’t! Removing labels of any kind brings us a step closer to being seen and treated equally.

Advice for starting a Not for profit is DON’T! In business you create a competitor, in not for profit- you recreate a wheel and that only puts strain on the industry and weakens the voices of those leaders creating real impact. If you are passionate about a particular issue in this space- add value to it! Reach out, offer your service, knowledge and ideas. We are stronger together.

My advice to future business founders is to have your own idea of success. It might be fast red cars and holiday houses, or it might be helping others. Whatever it is- don’t compare your success to anyone else’s!

How would you go about creating a more equal society?

We must retrain our brains to remove judgment from our thought processes- of any kind. Sounds easy but challenge yourself to do it for just one day- you will be truly astounded at how much we do this subconsciously daily. Catch yourself up for even the little internal thoughts- “id never wear my hair like that”, “I would never let my kids do that”. Judging people isn’t just the big hits, it’s about stopping even the smallest. Equally as important is calling out judgment being made around you. It's so built into our thought processes that we are often unaware!

If you would like to learn more about hygiene poverty and the work that Kate is doing at Pinchapoo, please visit their website.