Lauren Shuttleworth

About Lauren Shuttleworth

Founder and Director of Words With Heart. Passionate about conservation, women's and girls' education, and really good gelato.

The Last Thing We Need Are Companies Specifically Designed To Exclude Women

Version of this article appeared on Junkee – 4/11/2016

The day before Junkee broke the story of plans to start a male-only co-working space in Brisbane, I had written a Facebook post expressing my frustration about being a woman in the start-up world. It went pretty much as follows:

Friday night: Go to a business awards night (where every award winner is a man) and am seated next to a total douche who keeps touching my arms, shoulder and leg when he speaks to me. Discover that Mr D  actually has a new baby at home and, thus, presumable partner that he never mentioned.

Monday morning: Go into the office and am told that aforementioned douche and his all-male team are moving in until January. Aaaand because they need extra space, we have been moved to another location. Without being asked or consulted, I might add. Up until about a week ago we have been the only woman-led start up working out of this space. When I challenge the decision and ask why it happened, I am told that it is because ‘I am nice’.

While this situation mostly focuses on this particular douche, it speaks to much bigger issues. It is so fucking hard being a woman in the start-up space sometimes.

I am always outnumbered. I am tired of having to fight for space. I am tired of being the only woman on a panel or in a room. I am tired of having to explain WHY this is a problem. I am tired of having to constantly worry about how to approach these issues in a way that gets my point across but is also not too threatening/aggressive/argumentative/bossy – and potentially harmful to my business. I am tired of having to figure out if a man is asking to have coffee with me because he wants to do business or because he wants to have sex.

You get it – I am tired. After posting this on Facebook on Tuesday, I received so many messages and emails – mainly from women also in the start-up space – saying ‘Thank you – I am tired too’. So I am sharing this because I know a lot of other women are tired as well.

To give you some background, I run a Brisbane-based startup called Words With Heart. It’s a sustainable print and stationery company that funds education projects for women and girls. I launched the social enterprise on my own almost two years ago and now have a team of five talented women working alongside me. We count Macquarie Group, ING Direct and Hudson as clients, and we partner with some of Australia’s leading NGOs empowering women and girls in CARE Australia, One Girl and The Global Women’s Project.  I’m proud of the success we’ve had so far but, at times, finding the energy to keep going in this male-dominated sphere is incredibly hard.

Basically, the start-up ecosystem is well and truly driven by testosterone. 75 per cent of start-ups in Australia are founded by men, and when you get into the big leagues, only 4 per cent of Australian high growth technology start-up founders are women. Far and away, the vast majority of investors are dudes, and so perhaps it is unsurprising to learn that less than 15 per cent of female founders are successful in seeking venture capital. Spotting another woman at a networking event amidst a sea of suits is often the easiest game of ‘Where’s Wendy’ you can imagine. (Case in point – see the image above taken by a colleague just last night). And, as was the case at that fateful awards evening, it’s not unusual to be the only woman at a table.

One of the (many) problems with all-male work environments is that they perpetuate the gender discrimination that already exists. When women are not visible in a start-up space – to the point that they are actually barred from entry – they are not viewed as equal peers. It reinforces the existing entrepreneur stereotypes of the bold [white, straight] male risk taker – the likes of Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates. It subconsciously implies the false notion that women don’t have the skills – or to quote Donald Trump – the stamina to be leaders. When you’re quoting Donald Trump, you know things are bad, right?! White male privilege becomes even more entrenched in the status quo. The already predominately male investors connect directly with the already predominately male start-ups. The work being done to enable women founders to be seen and to break down the barriers in access to capital, media coverage and recognition completely fall away.

I can only really see a male-only co-working space contributing to the predatory, hyper-masculine and toxic behaviour that already exists. For the record, it’s this kind of male entitlement that causes violence against women, not depression or a lack of male-only spaces.

Just about every female founder I know has a story, if not multiple stories, of sexual harassment. The senior executive that commented ‘Don’t you have a sexy voice!’ following the completion of a pitch. The venture capitalist that set up a meeting with a friend over Linked In, only to greet her with a lingering hug. The developer that sent another friend lewd texts and photos. The frat-house like culture of male saturated tech start-ups is well documented, and it frightens me to think how that might escalate if women are intentionally removed from that environment altogether. In reality, an all-male co-working space and the businesses it hosts are going to have interactions with women at some point. And it seems unlikely that there’ll be accommodations made for any solid sexual harassment training alongside the gym, physiotherapist and barber shop.

But perhaps the most distressing thing about the gender gap in the start-up space that is sitting with me right now is that it’s difficult for us as women to talk about. I was nervous to write this article, I am nervous about the response to it, and I genuinely worry that it will affect my business. I’m often wary of calling out every instance of sexism I experience, because if I’m seen to be ‘too difficult’ or ‘too aggressive’, or god forbid ‘too feminist’, I might alienate investors, partners or collaborators. And because my business funds education for women and girls, I feel an added weight of responsibility. My success means their success. If only all men in the start-up space thought the same way.

5 Must Watch TED Talks for Women Entrepreneurs

I am SUCH a TED Talk addict. If I need a quick 20 minute inspiration boost it’s the first place I turn. TED talks have taught me so much – about social change, technology, happiness. But they have been especially valuable to me in my journey as an entrepreneur. Being able to directly and easily connect with women who have gone before me and created great, incredible companies is so very inspiring and motivating. Especially when they talk about how they started, the huge challenges they surmounted, and the things that got them through the lows.

So – I thought I’d share my top 5 favourite TED talks for women budding entrepreneurs.

1) Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Women Entrepreneurs, Example Not Exception


I love this – ‘we do not invest in victims, we invest in survivors’. Women make strong, powerful entrepreneurs, not just ‘mum-preneurs’, or micro-financed business owners – entrepreneurs.


2) Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius


A beautiful, uplifting talk – especially good for times you’re feeling a bit lost or anxious or helpless in the direction of your business. You really need to watch this one – trust me!


3) Jessica Jackley: Poverty, Money—and Love


Kiva is an amazing story, and it started out as just an idea. But the ripple of change it has created across the world is phenomenal. Jessica has a moment of emotion as well, and its powerful to see the true passion she has for her cause.


4) Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders


I’m such a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. If you’ve read her book ‘Lean In’ you will love this – she has three powerful pieces of advice for women aiming high.


5) Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls


This one is my favourite. This one will move you and stir your passion to change the world – I promise.


Did I miss some great ones? Share your fav TED talks below!

How to Find Your Life’s Purpose (from someone who did!)

One question I’m often asked by interviewers and supporters is ‘How did you know that the idea for Words With Heart was ‘it’ for you?’ I suppose it’s the kinda question that we’re all looking for the answer to at some point in our lives – what are we passionate enough about to invest all of our time and energy and resources in for decades and decades to come? Or, in it’s simplest form – ‘How do I find my life’s purpose?’.


Awesome Women – Interview with Carmen Hawker, General Manager of The Global Women’s Project

In light of the tragedy unfolding in Nepal at the moment, we’ve got a special post in the Awesome Women Series for you. Carmen Hawker, General Manager of The Global Women’s Project, had actually been kind enough to agree to this interview a few weeks ago, but we wanted to get it up as soon as possible to share her incredible story with you, along with the amazing work she is currently undertaking as part of The Global Women’s Project emergency response in Nepal. She is one amazing woman, and sure to inspire.
What’s your story? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My story. Wow. Well, I’m hoping it’s only a quarter of my story so far at the ripe old age of 26, but that was very nearly not the case last year! I had been passionately working away for a few years in the women’s health sector in family violence service coordination and prevention of violence against women with a BA and a Masters of International Relations (Gender) under my belt – and I could feel myself starting to burn out. I’d been privileged enough to travel a lot as a kid so didn’t feel the same urge to travel in my late teens or early 20s as many of my friends but at 25 I decided to take off and travel around Southeast Asia for three months.
My plan was to do a bit of solo travel to get out of my comfort zone and also to spend time travelling with my lifelong friend Alice and my beautiful partner Sam. Two and a half months into my trip I was starting to flag after having an incredible, but rather hectic, time travelling through Burma, Laos, Thailand and working with The Global Women’s Project’s grassroots partner Stung Treng Women’s Development Centre in Cambodia. I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, at midnight on March 13 for the final leg of my trip. On the agenda was some work with our amazing partner, the Women’s Foundation Nepal, and a trek in Pokhara. Well, let’s just say the universe had other plans. I had a splitting headache when I arrived and after attempting to brush it off for 36 hours, it wouldn’t budge and was getting a whole lot worse. So my gorgeous, and now life-saving, friend Alice packed up my things and threw me in the back of a taxi and asked the driver to take us to a hospital.
As it turned out I didn’t have an ordinary headache. I had two gigantic blood clots almost completely blocking the two central veins in my brain. The next three and a half weeks were a blur. I spent almost a month in ICU there in a pitch black isolation room where it looked, for all intents and purposes, that I was going to die from a stroke or be severely impaired. Luckily, my body responded like a boss. I survived, luckily. I was then medically evacuated back to Australia to begin a very, very long recovery process! So I guess that’s not a little about myself, but that’s my ‘story,’ thus far in a nutshell.
What made you want to start up The Global Women’s Project?
Well it was actually started by two incredible women, Kate Williams and Briony Mackenzie, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time! That time and place was queuing for chais at Seven Sisters Festival. I was practically recruited on the spot and joined the team alongside another absolute superstar called Lauren (there’s obviously something about Laurens – they tend to be amazing!). It was a magical moment and one I’ll never forget. I met my soul sisters that day and the rest is history, as they say.
What has been your biggest success and biggest challenge?
One of my biggest challenges has been to find sustainability and balance in my approach to work. I like to work hard, I like to feel like I’m achieving something and I like to be all things to all people. This just isn’t possible and I’ve had to learn that the hard way. I burnt out, went travelling to regenerate and nearly found myself not here to tell the tale.
Ironically, nearly dying was the best thing that ever happened to me. My experience in Nepal last year forced me to re-evaluate my entire life. I know all too well that everything can be taken away from you in an instant. So ‘If not now, when?’ became my (wo)mantra and I’ve had to make some very difficult decisions and major changes. One of those was giving up my paid work, which I enjoyed and at an organisation that I loved, to focus solely on The Global Women’s Project and my recovery. This decision, although extremely difficult, was incredibly liberating and has unleashed an energy and decisiveness that I’ve not had before. I feel as if I’ve finally been able to step into my own power.
So here I am, the General Manager Australia of The Global Women’s Project, working almost seven days a week for free! That’s a pretty damn big success out of a major challenge!
Any advice for women wanting to start up their own charity?
Do it. Don’t be afraid. Be part of something bigger than yourself.

Carmen’s inspirational workspace with her Words With Heart notebook.

Who inspires you?
A line of damn strong women in my family who are resilient and compassionate beyond belief. And, of course, the people I have the honour of working alongside, the women we work with in Nepal and Cambodia and all of the badass trailblazers who’ve come before me.
Do have some ‘words with heart’ to leave us with?
There is nothing like the solidarity of the sisterhood. There just isn’t.
Where can we go to find out more about The Global Women’s Project?
Well, as we know, there was a devastating Earthquake in Nepal on Saturday that has left thousands dead, many more thousands injured and millions displaced in need of urgent assistance. Our fearless Director Briony lives and works alongside the Women’s Foundation Nepal and was in Kathmandu as disaster struck. We were actually talking at the time. Briony just sprung into action and with the team here in Australia, we started a Nepal Emergency Appeal to provide women and their families with urgent assistance & supplies in the critical days following the quake. We have been overwhelmed by the response to our Appeal and by the incredible generosity of people wanting to donate and support our efforts on the ground.
We have developed a targeted response to the specific needs of women, who are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, and are providing a gendered lens to relief and recovery efforts across Nepal. With WFN, we are doing everything we can to support women and their families through this horrendous time by using our donations and injecting them into the local economy to buy supplies and facilitate community and women-led solutions to relief and recovery.
The GWP relief response to the Nepal earthquake.

The GWP relief response to the Nepal earthquake.

A lot is often written and said about women’s vulnerability during natural disasters but that overlooks the crucial role women play in disaster management and risk reduction and how incredibly resilient they are. Women are amazing and we have never been so convinced of this having overseen what has happened across Nepal in this past week.
While the funds raised through our Appeal will go towards meeting the immediate needs of women and their families in the wake of this disaster, let us assure you – we are there for the long haul. We are a sustainable development organisation that focuses on long-term grassroots partnerships and we ain’t going anywhere! For more information about the Appeal, please visit our website:

Awesome Women – Interview with Celia Boyd, Co-founder of SHE Investments

Following on from our Q&A last year with Young Australian of the Year nominee Madeline Price, we’re kicking off a new Awesome Women Interview series. I’m pretty excited to be bringing you the inspiring stories, humble lessons learned and excellent advice from a bunch of incredible ladies who are out there changing the world.
So today we’re featuring the hugely accomplished Celia Boyd – she has a pretty impressive list of achievements in the not-for-profit and social enterprise sectors. Holding a Masters of Community and International Development from Deakin University, Celia has worked for NGOs like the Oaktree Foundation and World Youth International, and has held a coveted place as a Young Social Pioneer with the Foundation of Young Australians. In 2014 Celia co-founded the social enterprise SHE Investments – a start-up focused on empowering women in Cambodia through small business and training and development. She’s definitely a woman to watch.
What made you want to start up SHE Investments?
I had been working in the field of international and community development for a few years, and my partner James had started becoming really interested in business, after he started his own small business with a partner in 2012.  He wanted to learn more about impact investing, and whether this was used as a tool for social and economic change in developing countries, and he gradually convinced me that it was a pretty cool idea too.  I am really passionate about gender equality and feminism, and believe that to make the deepest impact possible, investment needs to be made into women.
After spending a lot of time researching, we discovered that yes, impact investing was happening in South East Asia, but these investments were typically quite large, and there wasn’t a lot happening at the SME level.  We learned that there were little or no support structures in place for women entrepreneurs to start or scale their businesses to become profitable and sustainable SMEs, and so we realised that we could fill a gap, in a place where there was a lot of need but also a lot of opportunity.  So that’s how SHE was born.
Panha presenting her vision board
I think ultimately the reason that we started SHE was because it excited both of us and we became really passionate about it – so passionate that we decided it was worth trying, worth leaving our home for, worth selling a business (as well as everything else we own!) for, and really committing ourselves to.  When you’re that excited and passionate about something you need to see it through!
What does gender equality mean to you?
To me it means that people of all genders, whether they identify as male, female, transgender, or other, are considered equal within all aspects of society – economic, social, civil, political… everything.  That all people have access to the same rights and opportunities, regardless of their gender.
Tina & child in front of her micro business (solar battery charging station)
Any advice for women wanting to start up their own project or business?
Back yourself, and other people will back you.  I don’t have the best self confidence, and I’m constantly working on it, but if you back yourself – even if you’re just faking it ’till you make it (which I do all the time) – then you’ll be surprised by how many people will want to back you too.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
So many people!  My parents and my sisters, and my partner James, who has risked a lot to follow what he is passionate about and believes in.  My amazing feminist friends, Jess and Elyse, among others.  Inspirational, powerful and passionate women such as Jan Owen, everyone I’ve met through the Young Social Pioneers program (a Foundation for Young Australians initiative), and the School for Social Entrepreneurs.  And obviously Beyonce.
Do have some ‘words with heart’ to leave us with?
If something excites and motivates you beyond anything else, then you have to follow it.  You don’t have to want to “change the world”, you just need to do what makes you feel excited about life.
Where can we go to find out more about SHE Investments?
Our crowdfunding campaign page!
And our website:

We’ve got some BIG news…

So – we’ve got pretty big announcement to make. Something we’ve been working on behind the scenes here at Words With Heart for quite a while. A huge, exciting change that’s going to ensure our impact for women’s and girl’s education is bigger and better than we orginially imagined. OK – enough build up – here we go!

As many of you would know, when we launched Words With Heart as part of the ING Direct Dreamstarter campaign back in September last year, we did so with the idea that we would donate 50% of net profits to our partner charities working to empower women and girls through education. The 50% model is one that I have seen work well for other social enterprises before, and when planning the business model for Words With Heart it was the one that I thought would work best, too. But – after the successful launch of our campaign, a few things happened that made us reassess this and evolve into something shiny and new.

The first thing that happened was that we had a big, big retail partner approach us. When I first got the call, I was overwhelmed with excitement and terror. I hadn’t planned for this in the immediate future for Words With Heart! I thought it was waaaayyy down the track for us. I was (and continue to be!) dizzy at the thought of what this opportunity could do for the women’s and girls education projects we support.

We started to crunch the numbers and look at the required stock volumes, and one thing became obvious – when working with big retail partners, they command a much larger portion of your profits. And considering the kind of volumes they offer and the platform they bring, that’s totally understandable. But – it meant that the impact a customer would have every time they purchased a Words With Heart product would be considerably less than we’d imagined. 50% of that net profit would also be much less than what we would generate through sales via our online store, and so it would be really difficult for us to measure in an honest, transparent way exactly how much education each stationery sale would fund.

Secondly, after our launch campaign ended, we did some extensive market research with our customers and supporters (you guys!). We began talking widely to many of you and asking your thoughts on Words With Heart – what is it that you love about us, and what could we do better? And the answer came back a few times – ‘I’d love to know just what sort of impact I’m having every time I purchase a Words With Heart  stationery product.’

So, we made the decision to move to a new and improved model. Its what we call an ‘Impact Model’ – every product we sell now funds a set number of education days for women and girls across the world. And in collaboration with our first charity partners – CARE Australia and One Girl (read about them here) – it’s our short-term goal to fund 500,000 education days by 2016.


We’ve repackaged some of our notebooks to reflect this, and you’ll notice by visiting our online store that it’s now easy to see exactly what kind of meaningful impact you’re making every time you make a purchase with Words With Heart, or one of our stockists.

I look forward to sending some more updates your way in the next few weeks (make sure you’ve signed up to our newsletter via the sign-up form on our footer below!), with more details about the projects we’re supporting with CARE Australia and One Girl, as well as special collaborations and news about new stockists and retail partners.

As always, enormous thanks for your support! Your purchases with us, especially at this early stage, have such a big impact, and are enabling us to not only have an immediate impact for women and girls, but to grow and scale and create big visions of the change we want to create. So we’d love you to check out the online store and stock up on stationery for home, work, Mothers Day, or just-because presents!

Have the happiest of Easters!


Lauren and the Words With Heart team x