Meet Colleen Callander, she is the Former Sportsgirl CEO and Founder of ‘Mentor Me Women’ and Author of ‘LEADER BY DESIGN’ and Business and Leadership Coach.

💬 Could you share with us a bit about your background and how you got started in your career in retail? And what drew you to the retail industry specifically?

Born and raised in Geelong, I was brought up in a hard-working business focused family where there was always a job to do. After working in family businesses from as young as she can remember, I had my first taste of retail at the age of 16 starting as a summer casual sales assistant at my local jeans store. I absolutely loved it from the minute I walk in the door. I loved serving customers, being surrounded by fashion and learning about the products. I worked all summer and at the end of that summer break they ask me to stay on with the Just Jeans team as a fulltime sales assistant…I was ecstatic! 

Unbeknown to me at the time, this summer job would be the start of a fashion retail career that would span over 30 years with 13 of those years at the helm of two of Australia’s iconic fashion brands. 

💬 What do you believe are the key leadership qualities that women need to succeed in the retail industry? Can you provide examples of how you have demonstrated these qualities in your own career, particularly as CEO of Sportsgirl?

The old era of leadership was about status, title, power, dictatorship, self-serving, and having people do what you say.

The new era of leadership, the one I have been living in for a very long time is one trust, compassion, authenticity, collaboration, and kindness. 

It’s a common misconception that being a kind leader makes you a weak leader. I believe that being a kind leader requires courage and strength and kind leaders are very capable of making good and strong business decisions – even tough decisions with kindness.

Kindness is one of my values and was right up there when it came to the way I led throughout my 13 years as a CEO. I always made time to get to know my people, understand how I could support them to reach their goals, and how I could create an environment where people thrived. Great leadership is about being a leader people choose to follow.

💬 How have you navigated challenges and obstacles in your career as a woman in the retail industry? Can you share any specific strategies or approaches as a CEO/leader that have helped you overcome these challenges?

My real challenge came in 2007. I was juggling three small children and a high-profile career, and I suffered burnout.  I nearly threw it all away: the job, the career, the leadership – before chance stepped in and I continued my road toward retail leadership. As women we are often people pleaser and put others before self. 

When I look back at that time in my life, I really think about my burnout as a gift. It makes me make challenges in my life that allowed me to show up as the best version of me…without burnout. 

I got myself a life coach, I learnt to prioritise what was important, I implemented boundaries, built self-care and structure into my life. These powerful yet simple tools allowed me to stay on top of my health, career, and life. What burnout really taught me was that I could only be good to others when I was first good to myself first. 

💬 How do you see the retail industry evolving in the next 5-10 years and what needs to happen? 

Now more than ever, it’s crucial for women to support each other. Together we can create change, bring about equality and help women flourish in all aspects of their lives – not just in their careers. 

As human beings, we’re inspired by other people’s stories of adversity, accomplishment, fear and failure. It is through these stories that we connect, learn and grow, which is why I  share my story in the hope that I inspire others. Lifting women up, giving them a voice, building confidence, and encouraging each other to reach our full potential is the way we will drive meaningful and lasting change. I also strongly believe the next generation of young women must have strong role models and mentors to look up to:  women who are supportive, nurturing, changemakers, and women who show them that it is possible to break through glass ceilings in their careers and everyday lives. Having positive, fierce, intelligent, kind women making change in the world sends a message of empowerment, paving the way for the next generation to believe their opportunities are limitless in both our careers and life. Women need to be the change they want to see.

What advice would you give to women who are looking to advance their careers in this field?

Self-belief is the beginning of your journey and will open endless possibilities – but it starts with you. There are many factors in life that will contribute to your success, but the biggest will be your self-belief. 

Believing in yourself as a women means having faith in your own abilities, trusting that you can do anything you put your mind to. It means that when you face challenges, hit road bumps, or fall over and have self-doubt, you will have the confidence to get back up and try again. It is not opportunities, intelligence or resources that allow you to chase your goals and dreams, it’s your belief in yourself that will give you the power to take that first step. 

There will be people in your life that will tell you your dreams are too crazy, your goals are too big, it been done before, you’re too young, too old, or you’re not ready. 

Don’t listen to them. You are amazing and can do and be anything you put your mind to if you’re willing to put in the work and believe in yourself.  Start right now. Start believing in you!