Mary Booth’s vitality certainly belies her age – something that could be down to the exceptional lifestyle where she lives in the Hunter Valley!
As the 76-year-old accepted her NRA Lifetime Achievement Award in Melbourne, Ms Booth shared the story of a long career devoted to retail, and how it led her to creating the eclectic, artisan-based Wine Glass Gallery, which showcases thousands of gifts and works from local artisans.
“People used to say to me ‘why would you want to work in retail?’. Well, why would you want to work anywhere else?” Ms Booth asked the 300+ throng of guests at the NRA’s awards gala dinner.
Ms Booth’s retail businesses have involved serving up chocolate and ice cream to world travellers; to meeting (and serving) Prince Andrew as well as Bill Clinton and his entourage; to taking a flailing British-themed store in Sydney’s The Rocks to new levels of success; to organising business luncheons and fundraisers ahead of the Sydney Olympics in her role as Secretary of The Rocks Chamber of Commerce; right through to taking care of tourists at her and her husband’s B&B in New South Wales wine country.
But this fascinating woman’s business journey has been far from easy, as she was met with opposition at almost every turn.
“Over the years I have experienced unhelpful bank managers and greedy landlords, with leases that were less than favourable to tenants. However, I remained effective, positive and overcame all of the challenges these executives (men) imposed on a woman in business,” she said proudly.
As the daughter and grand-daughter of women who forged their own retail businesses, I have seen first-hand some of the challenges those who went before us encountered, however we may never really know, nor understand, what it was really like to be a trailblazer in this field.
My fellow Generation X women, and Generation Y and Millennial women, have inherited a business environment that is filled with opportunity. We are the generations of self-made entrepreneurs, who’ve been able to harness digital tools, bottom-up marketing methods and direct retailing opportunities. We have access to anything and everything we could ever need or want. We are highly-educated, we have more resources at our fingertips than any other generation before us, and we are empowered by equal access to financing and business planning options.
And we are spoiled for choice on what we can do with our lives.
It’s an entirely different landscape to the one navigated by the Silent Generation and Baby Boomer women, when they were forging their paths. In a post-war world, very few unmarried women could even access contraception, let alone be considered for a business loan. It’s almost ridiculous to us, but back then, married women had to have permission from their husbands to even have a job!
Ms Booth remarked while accepting her speech, that one bank manager told her to focus on being a housewife – something none of us could imagine being told in this day and age.
In those days, occupational segregation was a normal part of a working woman’s life, alongside an incredibly disproportionate underrepresentation of women in management, decision-making and business positions.
Not to mention the marked distinction between what women and men could earn.
This Friday marks Equal Pay Day – and while the national gender pay gap has reached its lowest level in 20 years, at 14.6 per cent, it translates, in real terms, to 62 additional days’ work per year that women must work to earn the same amount as men.
We know we’ve come a long way but there’s a long way to go, and Equal Pay Day is an important reminder that even in 2018, women still face significant barriers in the workplace.
But it’s also a reminder for all of us to remember and appreciate the hard work of the pioneering retail women, like Ms Booth, who went before us, and who forged a new path for women in business.
With more than 60 years in the retail industry under her belt, Ms Booth’s advice to others is surprisingly simple, “I believe the best way to succeed in retail is to be tolerant and to enjoy the customers.”
On that note, I’d also like to take this moment to congratulate all our worthy winners from the National Retail Awards, who collectively, make up one of the most formidable, savvy and downright impressive bunch of retailers I’ve ever met!