The Report | Issue 102
Style Collective: Helen McCabe

Style Collective     Inspiring Women. Inspiring Fashion.

Helen McCabe wearing the Single Breasted Twill Blazer, Silk Scoop Neck Camisole and Houndstooth Pant

Leading from the Front with Helen McCabe

Helen McCabe understands all too well the trials and tribulations of making it to the top professionally having worked in the Canberra Press Gallery, at News Corp for 15 years before sitting at the helm of Australia’s Women’s Weekly as Editor-in-Chief.

An opportunity to truly give back and impart her invaluable advice, Helen’s latest business venture Future Women aims to foster growth, relationships as well as inspire and guide professional women.

The future of women is all the better, thanks to Helen McCabe’s contribution.

Helen McCabe wearing the Single Breasted Twill Blazer, Silk Scoop Neck Camisole and Houndstooth Pant
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Helen McCabe wearing the Single Breasted Twill Blazer, Silk Scoop Neck Camisole and Houndstooth Pant

Tell us how you got to where you are today in your career.

I work quite hard. I have always enjoyed my work and I have always found enormous satisfaction in being a working journalist, especially covering politics or helping to edit a newspaper or a magazine. I think not having the responsibilities of parenthood has also given me the luxury of extra time to put in long hours. But yes, I think working hard is the main reason, however it is quite easy when you enjoy the work.

Any hurdles you've overcome in your career?

Yes – I have faced quite a few challenges. For example, at times I was over-promoted and out of my depth, especially as a young television reporter in the highly competitive Canberra Press Gallery.

I also worked in some quite hostile work environments where colleagues openly questioned or opposed my appointment to a role. In more recent times, I have faced all the challenges associated with starting a business. This means a bunch of things went wrong and I sometimes hired badly or trusted the wrong person. So, all the usual stuff!

You’ve had an incredibly successful career to date, what are some of your career highlights?

I’ve loved almost everything in every role I’ve had even when there were big hurdles. If I had to choose:

  1. Being appointed Editor-in-Chief of The Australian Women’s Weekly.
  2. Being named Editor of the Year.
  3. Presenting the Andrew Olle Lecture in 2015.
  4. It might sound cheesy but having a small role in the development of a number of talented journalists across various platforms.
Helen McCabe desk
Helen McCabe wearing the Check Coat and Wool Blend Knit Tank
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What is the best piece of life or career advice you’ve received?

‘Do what’s hard’.
I was listening to former Australian of the Year; Professor of Quantum Physics, Michelle Simmons speak at the annual dinner of Chief Executive Women and she finished it by saying ‘do what’s hard’. This really appealed to me because it means you will never die wondering; failure is not so bad, and success is all the sweeter.

I also embraced (whoever it was who told me) to have the confidence to hire people who were more talented than I. The trick is to then get out of their way and let them do their jobs, this has always worked for me as I have always had talented staff. Some people have suggested, and not always favourably, this is the secret to whatever success I have experienced and to be fair, they are probably right.

What inspired you to create Future Women and what excites you about it the most?

I was inspired to answer the needs of professional women through a business model which could fit neatly into their new, mobile lead lives. I also watched the business models I knew (print and TV) start to falter at the same time as women began book clubs, walking groups, professional networking events, Facebook communities etc.

I wondered if there was an opportunity which brought the desire for events and networking together to inspire and inform women. The thing that excites me most, is that we were right. We have made changes along the way and fine-tuned the offering, but we have thousands of women who have signed on and hosted something like 80 events. We are helping connect women from a wide range of professions who through various channels, come to Future Women for advice, information and inspiration. As we develop the premium end of the business, we have started to fill the need for learning by offering conferences, workshops and quality panel discussions. It has been tough at times yet mostly very rewarding.

When do you feel most empowered and why?

I am at an age where I feel fairly empowered, full stop. It was not always the case – it is the small things such as learning how to give an off-cuff speech and almost enjoy it. This has taken years to develop as I am not a natural public speaker and I am an introvert. Everything improves with age and I feel empowered to do anything I want these days.

In terms of personal style, I am most empowered wearing great flats. I really admire a chic woman who looks comfortable in flats, a well-cut pair of pants and a blouse. I think it is because I have little time or patience for the inconvenience and the discomfort of heels. I also live in fear of falling up a set of stairs on the way to a microphone – it hasn’t happened – but wow, it’s been close and that is not empowering at all!

Helen McCabe wearing the Check Coat, Wool Blend Knit Tank and Belted Winter Pant
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Check Coat

What are your three most prized wardrobe possessions?

Anything which makes me feel effortlessly polished. I hate fuss and I wear very simple clothes, I like to feel polished even if this is not actually how I live when I am hanging out at home.

My top three prized possessions would be:

  1. My Cartier Tank Anglaise watch
  2. A black blazer
  3. Leather loafers

What is your core wear-to-work wardrobe?

This has changed a lot as we are very casual at Future Women. Prior to working on Future Women, it would’ve been a tailored pant, shirt, blazer, trench and depending on meetings, a mid-heel or flat. These days it is a white sneaker, jeans, cotton or silk shirt or maybe a T-shirt.

Any fashion regrets?

Ouch, yes especially from my days as a junior television reporter. I had terrible hair and almost zero interest in knowing what looked good on me let alone on television. Looking back, it is no wonder my TV career flamed out early! I also cut off all my hair which helped me get out of the house in the morning but looking back now, I wonder what on earth I was thinking!

It is true, you get a lot smarter as you get older. I think my [fashion] crimes were always the result of a lack of interest and or time. Once I worked out saving time and being comfortable were the things I most valued in clothes, it just became a lot easier to choose the right things to purchase. I was also helped at times during my days on The Weekly as I had access to amazingly stylish women who were always ready with advice. I picked up some tricks!

Helen McCabe wearing the Check Coat, Wool Blend Knit Tank and Belted Tapered Pant
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What can we expect from Helen McCabe in 2020?

I am planning on a very low-key year working to consolidate the business and spend time with our growing number of members by getting to as many events as possible.

I have had almost no time off in recent years so I would like to travel a bit more (Italy, New York, London). I would like to spend more time at home reading and watching Stan.

Hopefully, there won’t be that much from me at all!