In Her Shoes | With Entrepreneur & Restaurateur Mimi Gilmour Buckley
Welcome to our second instalment of In Her Shoes - a series motivated by driving positive change for women and all who identify as a women through conversations covering the landscape of gender biases.
La Tribe: Hello Mimi! We love watching your star rise as you navigate the business world by launching successful restaurant brands and achieving other entrepreneurial accomplishments along the way. Can you share with us a brief synopsis of your journey as an entrepreneur and business woman?
I was put to work quite early on! My first business was catering and styling dinner parties (my mother owned restaurants in the 80s & 90s, so food was always a thing!). I was never big on school but I loved art so after finishing high school, I went to Elam and majored in photography.
I then wound up in Sydney working in the hospitality industry, which eventually led me to co-founding District Dining Sydney in 2010. I was then asked to be the creative director of Taste of New Zealand, which took place in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup in 2011. I figured that was a good time to throw in a few more challenges, so we decided to open a restaurant in Auckland and launched District Dining Britomart.
The next year I co-founded the MEXICO restaurant group, then shimmied back to Sydney to launch a burger joint. Then I moved BACK to New Zealand, exited MEXICO, decided there was nowhere in Auckland to get a really delicious burger alongside a really cold beer, and opened Burger Burger.
A couple of years ago we siloed the creative team from Burger Burger so we could take on other clients, and launched MATES. MATES is a full service brand, design, and innovation agency.
I’m currently working on a new business, which truly feels like the most important thing I will ever do professionally, and it's very personal to me too. It is inspired by lots of things but most of all my four-year-old daughter, Olympia.
You set up your first hospitality business at the age of 16 catering and styling private dinner parties. While many of us were focused on less ambitious things at the same age, what drew you into the business world at such a young age?
I had two parents that were entrepreneurial in their own right so I had incredible examples, in very different ways, of how to take a business, inject your love and passion into it, and make new and exciting projects come to life. We also lived in a social household where we were included in stimulating conversations with our parents’ peers; this opened our minds to the opportunities the world had in front of us. I’m grateful to have grown up in a household where there were no limits to imagining what we were capable of.
The gender domination of males in business has been well documented. Can you share any experiences of gender bias in your career? Have you seen any shifts during your time in business (for better or worse)?
At almost every pivotal point in my career where I’ve taken on sizable responsibility I can think of at least one man who has openly questioned whether I’ll be able to handle it. That said, I am fortunate that internally every business I’ve ever worked in has been really supportive of women so my confidence hasn’t been the victim of gender bias as much as for many other women. I’ve been lucky enough to be so supported internally that I’ve been confident to put on my blinkers when it comes to getting shit done and just bypass any naysayers.
That said, I suffer from imposter syndrome from time to time like many other women and I’m always subconsciously keeping the home fires burning in a way that only women can whilst being super productive at work! I’ve also watched so many friends and peers who are profoundly affected by gender bias over the course of my career and although I haven’t seen the equity that we are all striving for achieved, there have been some positive changes in the right direction and more and more important conversations are being had.
As a successful woman in business, what advice would you have for anyone who identifies as a woman reading this and wondering how to navigate any gender biases they may experience within their industry.
It sounds super cliché and out of the ‘Lean In’ playbook, but remember what YOU can bring to the conversation and if you feel confident that it's worth being heard, say it loud and proud. And if they don’t listen, say it again. The other piece of advice is - if you see something, say something. You don’t have to be the one feeling the impact of gender bias to be the one calling it out.
Your very own mother Emerald, and younger sister Sophie, are also successful female entrepreneurs. Can you recall any chats around the dinner table concerning gender inequality within your respective businesses and any tangible ideas that were put into play to combat it?
My mother is a headstrong feminist so she always expressed her disapproval for gender inequality and followed it up with encouragement around our dinner table. This helped prepare me for the realities I knew were coming, and taught me to stand up and ensure that I was equally heard and considered. This was modeled to me also via my mother being part of the Air NZ crew that changed the rule that women had to quit when they were married back in the 70s.
I want to acknowledge what an immensely privileged position that is. I know I’m lucky to have been exposed to those realities and been given the self-confidence to stand up for myself. I know I now have a role to fight for people who weren’t.
You are the mother of two beautiful young girls. What message would you like to hear parents give their daughters in addressing the issues of gender inequality?
Have confidence, make good decisions, ask lots of questions and follow your gut. Most importantly, when you see something that isn’t fair, whether or not you’re being directly affected, it’s your responsibility to call it out. That’s the only way we are going to make change.
Your husband Stephen is also your business partner in Burger Burger. When it comes to gender inequalities in the workplace, how do you feel males can be part of the solution to support change?
In so many ways! Namely, by being our allies and pushing for change. Change won’t happen without them. I don’t think it should be our job to educate men to get them to fight in our corner but speaking frankly, it often winds up being that way. Take for example our office. The women frequently and passionately engage the guys in conversations about the prevalence of gender bias and discrimination for women, non-binary people and other minorities. At the risk of being broken records, we realllllllly hammer it home but these are important conversations to have around the workplace.
The result is that in our office the men know that these groups are being shortchanged and (we hope) it gives them pause for thought when they’re making decisions that could affect positive change, from giving someone a promotion to choosing to publicly call out someone’s good work.
I know that you are a champion within the workplace in breaking down barriers associated with discrimination. What changes, tools or practices have you implemented that could be viable for other business owners?
I’m going to be completely honest and admit that though we have practices in place, we could always be doing more. We strive to do more. And I think that’s a good thing, because this fight is not over, and the work is not done. Some of the simple but effective measures we have in place include a discrimination policy that’s made crystal clear to all who work on the team; multiple lines of communication so team members are not in a position where there is only one person they can go to with a complaint as that person may be apathetic to the problem or the problem itself; regular stock-takes on who we’re hiring and how the demographic of our workforce is made up; a solid maternity policy that helps to support women when they have children; and at Burger Burger we have standardised pay.
As a longtime friend of La Tribe, what do you love about the La Tribe brand?
Many, many things! I love that La Tribe is a female-founded company that uses its platform and community for good! I love the important conversations you have and the causes you support. I also love that it’s a brand that is really timeless but you still feel badass when you walk out the door wearing La Tribe. And let’s be honest, we all need a little bit of badass to start our day.
What pair of La Tribe sandals will you be reaching for this spring/summer?
Let it be known that I reach for La Tribe sandals at the very first glimpse of Spring and keep my feet firmly planted in them through the seasons until my toes start getting numb and it's winter again. I blame my love of La Tribe sandals for my pedicure bill. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I think I will be living in the Elke Braided Sandal this Summer - I LOVE them! I’m also VERY excited about the Satin Tie Sandal - they are SO CHIC.