Revolving door of opportunities
Halinka Panzera and Denise Daffara are both mothers, but it’s not what defines them. Intelligent and savvy, they were introduced through the Inspiring Women to Work program, where Halinka, a successful serial entrepreneur is mentoring Denise to launch her business and forge her own path.
“My kids often say, ‘Mum your job is to look after us,’ and I say, ‘Yes, but it’s not my only job, I need to look after me, and I need to look after the business in order for you to have food on the table, if I’m not doing those other jobs well I’m not being a great mum.’
“It’s about putting ourselves first and getting women to share those trials and tribulations, talk frankly about their experience and realise these challenges are not new. The new challenge is our isolation, which impacts our ability to get things done. To succeed, you need to build your own village and mentoring is an important first step in building a support network.”
Halinka Panzera has been a trailblazing woman her whole career, starting with an internship with Unilever in 1992; a time when she says there was a severe absence of women in decision-making roles in the workforce.
“I was quite surprised at the lack of women in senior management and I was the first one in Australia, in a company that employed over 3000 people. That was quite an interesting induction and my mentors were all men because there were no women,” she says.
With an innovative mind moving faster than the company could keep up with, in 1999 Halinka started her own research company in Melbourne, which has grown to service clients across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia.
“It’s been a way I can be productive; work as I need to, but also maintain work/life balance,” she says.
“I planned my career as if I was a man. Men have a huge support network, so I had to do the same, I had people who came to take my daughter around the block and feed her baby food when I was at meetings. I have always had a huge network of people around me and since moving to the Sunshine Coast I have had to build new networks here. It’s important to set yourself up.
“Successful women often have a huge network of family and friends, and when mums go back to work, often when the kids are at school, they bring in that network; you see them managing ‘logistics’ (what I call it), getting children to events, carpooling, all of that.”
While Halinka says running her own business afforded her the flexibility, she was still working horrendous hours, often responding to emails at all hours of the night, in between feeding. Now that her daughters are aged 12 and 16, she’s proud of the example she’s set for them, and continues to seek out strong female role models in their lives.
One of those is Denise Daffara, a local artist and mum who Halinka is mentoring through the Inspiring Women to Work program, which helps mothers re-enter the workforce.
“Women need to know how to understand their value,” Halinka says, of her reason to volunteer as a mentor with the program. “It’s so nice to see women flourishing and doing well, Denise went from looking for a job to starting her own business. It’s nice for me to be a little part of that.”
Denise, a mum-of-two aged 22 and 28, has been an artist for 18 years, starting when her youngest went to kindergarten, and she spent the subsequent decade selling paintings.
“When I saw the Inspiring Women to Work program advertised I felt very drawn to apply - knowing for some time I’ve not been unemployed but rather underemployed and I was running out of energy for my art being a sole income, because I’m not really business-minded, hence the idea of linking up with mentoring made sense.
“It can be scary trying to bridge the gap into communicating/working within the corporate world. The program has become about meeting an incredibly supportive team, led by Angela Bueti, who see the gifts I have that I wasn’t seeing for myself, or not having an awareness of. I can stay at home and create like crazy, but for me to extend out and make a difference in the world, I need help from those who have experience in that arena.”
From Halinka’s first meeting with Denise, she says she knew she would be easy to mentor to return to work, as she presents well, is articulate and smart, but simmering in the background was this creative passion and talent, which posed a more important question: how do we bring that out and create a business around something she loves?
On the back of a napkin, they created a business plan surrounding a character Denise had been drawing for the past three years, Little DD, and how that could tie into her other interest; psychology, women’s empowerment and wellness.
“The idea is she will have her drawings supportively illustrate articles talking about relevant life challenges with the view of a range of books and take-home products for families who are undergoing trauma and stress – How would Little DD cope with these issues?”
Denise first penned DD as a self portrait who really came into her awareness when she went home to be with her mum before she passed away.
“From the moment I left for that trip, I did a drawing of Little DD with a suitcase going home to see Mum. I documented the feelings/thoughts/insights over those 10 days and shared those on my social media. People were really moved by it and it was giving me a beautiful, gentle way to hold onto an intense time … I didn’t realise the power these little drawings could have. I haven’t stopped drawing her since,” she says.
As Denise pours another cup of tea and Halinka takes a sip of her coffee, the bond they share is immeasurable, bound by the utmost respect for each other not only as women, but as mothers and business women. It’s a powerful combination and one that should be replicated in all of us.
“My ultimate goal is that once Denise is mentored, she’s able to mentor others through her example, her case studies; teaching women how to find that confidence within – opening doors for her so she can open doors for others.”