Welcome to The Shout’s Industry Women Spotlight Series. In this series, we share the stories of women from across the industry, raising awareness for the challenges they face and passing on their advice for the next generation.
Through these regular profiles, we aim to hero the visibility and inspiration that is common on International Women’s Day, supporting the voices of women in different sectors of the liquor and hospitality industry. It’s important these conversations happen more frequently than just once a year.
This week we talked to Julia Campbell, Founder of Women in Hospitality (WOHO) and National Development Manager, Partnered Venues, at Lion, who shows the power of creating something you believe in.
Hospitality has always been something that Campbell wanted to do. At home growing up, she would create a ‘cafe’ at home for her parents and their friends, where she made menus and served them avocado sandwiches and drinks.
Originally, it was cooking that most interested Campbell, although she wasn’t too in love with the idea of being a chef. So when she finished high school, she decided to study something slightly different to give her relevant industry skills.
“I studied business and I majored in accounting, not because I necessarily wanted to be an accountant, but I just knew that at the heart of any business is the need to make a sustainable amount of money and good commercial decisions,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s career from here wasn’t a straight line though. In the coming years, she would have a range of different experiences, including going on exchange to work on organic farms in Bordeaux, with a chef who taught her valuable lessons about the farm to table process. Back in Australia, one of her first jobs (after cafe work in high school) was working as an assistant to hospitality industry legend, Lyndey Milan.
Over the years, Campbell said she embraced her spontaneity and took every interesting opportunity that came her way, which was how she found herself moving to the US to go and work in New York on about four weeks’ notice.
“In all of my roles, I really value having fun. In my 20s, I would get these ideas and just do them,” Campbell said.
While in the US, Campbell worked for industry publication Star Chefs, where she managed the organisation’s mentorship and awards program and got a lot of exposure to different areas of hospitality across the country. At this time, she also became part of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, an organisation that encourages education, recognition and connection for women in the US hospitality industry.
While in the US, Campbell continued to embrace the opportunities that came her way, which led her to help set up the New York office for Vittoria Coffee, then move back to Australia to work with Three Blue Ducks to help set up their Rosebery location, and head up Resy’s expansion into Australia.
“A big theme of my career has been by working with businesses that are in the startup phase or where there’s a lot of opportunity for change. So a lot of building processes and working out structure for accurate reporting so we can make decisions faster,” Campbell said.
It was after her time at Resy that Campbell had that moment that is common in everyone’s career journey, where you question if you’re in the right industry.
“I did a lot of soul searching and thought ‘do I move out of hospitality?’ I feel like everyone has a mid-life hospitality crisis… but then I found sort of the perfect role that combines my hospitality operations and commercial background, which is where I am at Lion,” Campbell said.
WOHO today is a great positive force for women in the hospitality industry, encompassing three states (with the ambition to go national), and featuring more than 700 members from all facets of the industry. With an intention to inspire and support women in the industry, WOHO gives members the opportunity to access a professional network that provides education, mentoring and forums to share information and experiences.
It all began when Campbell got back from the US to work for Three Blue Ducks, and realised she didn’t know many people in the Australian hospitality industry anymore. This initially didn’t trouble her, and she thought she would just seek out the equivalent of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR).
“WOHO started with me personally looking to find a group like WCR, but then when that didn’t exist, and I couldn’t find something that was as sustainable or accessible, I just decided to start it myself,” Campbell said.
From the start, Campbell used her operational experiences to build an organisation that would be scalable and enduring, to truly be a force for good for women in the industry long term.
“A lot of initiatives are volunteer run, which means they rely on the volunteers. If the volunteer running an organisation needs to step away for whatever reason, that organisation often just stops existing. What I wanted to do with WOHO was set up something with a long term structure, that had a board, and was something that could really serve the industry even if I had to move away from it,” Campbell said.
In setting up WOHO, Campbell sought legal advice to make sure the organisation was making the right legal and financial decisions from the early days, and gathered solid professional advice about the constitution and board. This board featured nine founding board members, who were all instrumental to the development of the organisation and its continuation today.
For Campbell, what she most loves about what she does at the moment is having the opportunity to continue growing.
“I’ve always needed to work for companies where I believe in their mission and their product. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just from a corporate social responsibility perspective, but also just the values the company has in terms of supporting career development for myself and my team,” Campbell explained.
“I love learning, I’m always looking to learn and I’m always curious. My dad has been my biggest mentor and he’s semi retired and still always curious and asking questions – I think I get it from him.
“Moving into a large company like Lion, learning their approach and structure and how that can be applied to the industry is something I really love. Then also in WOHO, I’m always learning from all the different types of women that I meet. In both instances, it’s really lovely to have it all come together under one mission.”
One of the top themes of everything Campbell has done in her professional life has been using her skillset and passion for the industry to help companies and people get set up for success. This theme is common across what she does at Lion and WOHO – learning from people to connect them to the solutions that will facilitate their end goals.
A defining moment for Campbell that sticks out along this journey was when she attended an international forum for women in the industry and saw this supportive essence on a world scale.
“There were groups similar to WOHO from almost every country that was there, and their representatives really affirmed and validated that a group like this is needed,” Campbell said.
Overcoming industry challenges
Of course, the need for a group like WOHO can be seen when you look at the challenges that women continue to face in the industry today. A key issue that Campbell pointed out was the lack of education, particularly in men who might think ‘we know there’s a problem but we don’t know what to do about it.’
“One of the focuses with WOHO is that men are welcome to our events, because the first step is having them hear our stories and have the opportunities to ask questions,” Campbell said.
“Then also we need to highlight practical examples of where we can say something is unacceptable [and what to do about that]. Men are the most dominant people in senior positions of the industry, so we need to open their eyes both to the problem and the practical application of solutions.
“We are getting there, and the more noise the better, because that’s when people realise they have to listen.”
Another challenge is with women not realising what they are entitled to, or not having the confidence to stand up for this. Campbell said having more examples of women in tenured and senior positions can help spread the awareness of this and foster that confidence that maybe hasn’t traditionally existed, often because of past fears about risking your reputation and employment to stand up about something.
Campbell’s advice for women in the industry who are lacking that confidence now is to find a way to speak to someone.
“No one knows what you’re going through unless you tell them… we’ve made a bit of noise now, there’s so many people you can find for support. Women make up 50 per cent of the industry now, and there’s some pretty amazing women out there,” Campbell said.
“I feel there’s much more of an alliance these days… don’t be afraid to get in touch with someone. Not everyone is great at networking, but we’re getting better – finding people to connect with at events is exactly the sort of thing we aim to do at WOHO, to raise awareness and help people connect with each other.”
Campbell’s advice for young women entering the industry is also to not be afraid to reach out, but not be afraid to try lots of different things to find your passion and build your skills.
“If you’re just starting out, and you think something sounds good, you have fun doing it and you’re learning, then go for it. That’s what my 20s were all about – doing all sorts of things, but ones that you feel passionate and happy about,” Campbell said.
“Life’s too short to stay in a position you don’t enjoy, simply to move up the ranks or obtain skills. There’s so many different businesses and ways to obtain a skill… I think its important to find people who are open to you being clear about what you want to learn and get out of a role, and almost upward managing to get that out of it.
“You also need to think about what your career values are, what skills you have, and what skills you want to fill. If you have that lens over all of your career and opportunities, you can make better decisions for you.”