George McEncroe is a teacher, radio presenter, comedian, CEO and successful entrepreneur. You can see her speak at B&T’s Changing the Ratio in Sydney on the 28th of May. A bold new initiative to continue B&T’s mission of making equality and inclusion the norm in Australia’s communications industry and beyond.
It was the disturbing stories her teenage daughter reported about catching transport at night that triggered a light bulb moment for comedian and former radio presenter, George McEncroe: “Why is there no option for women to travel together?”
Not long passed, before the concept of Shebah sprang to life—a ride sharing business operated by women for women, solely. George assembled a small team and set the wheels in motion; crowd-sourcing for the business and launching on International Women’s Day 2017.
Her drive was fuelled by a simple but powerful purpose: Women had the right to enjoy nights out without fearing their journey home afterwards.
Referring to a 2016 report conducted by Plan International Australia, ‘A Right to the Night’, in which a third of women said they weren’t prepared to go out at night at all, George says she examined this same wariness while teaching at TAFE. When the young men left the class at night, they did so without a care in the world while the young women would congregate together to walk home. “All this energy going into keeping themselves safe,” when really it should be “a universal human right to engage with the world in a way that feels safe,” she explains to us.
It was the same case for women drivers. After extensive research, George noted that “only four percent of cab drivers were female” in Australia whilst women comprised only 10 percent of Uber drivers. Given that the flexibility of ride-sharing income must appeal to women juggling competing priorities, it didn’t take long to deduce that “no one wanted to drive because of blokes in the backseat,” says George.
So Shebah set out to change the game—applying a female lens to an industry in desperate need of it. And, in just over a year, the business has made some significant strides. Today, drivers can be located across Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Geelong, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Canberra, Hobart and Adelaide—with Darwin close behind. Moreover, the response from women has been momentous.
“They love it,” says George. “People were actually desperate for the day we could launch. And you know, we just can’t get drivers on the road fast enough so it’s a huge relief to all sorts of people.” For the drivers, Shebah offers the flexibility of ride-sharing income without the fear of potentially volatile male passengers.
While legislation around ride-sharing apps is ever-changing, Shebah is weathering the storm with a close-knit and agile team.
“A lot of these changes in legislation have meant a lot of changes to the backend of the business,” George says. “So, we’ve brought our tech in house which has been terrific because we needed that agility to meet the reporting requirements as needed now by all the different governments.”
George admits the last couple of years have been chaotic, but it’s never been bad enough to throw her off course. “There are worse things than being tired,” she says simply. And for other budding female entrepreneurs she shares a similar sentiment.
“Be prepared to work hard. It’s definitely doable.” Just maintain a clear purpose, passion and vision. “I don’t think I would have been any good at just trying to turn one dollar into two, you know?” she says. “I think if that was my MO, I would have failed. You really need to see a gap that you feel passionate about; you see a problem that needs solving and you are dedicated to solving it.”
As for the business’s long-term goals?
“We’re national, you can get a Shebah in Canberra, Hobart, Perth, everywhere. The next step is for us to go international and that’s what we’re looking to next,” says George, further adding that her sights are set on New Zealand and parts of Asia.
“I think every woman in the world gets told from the time she is born to not get in the car with a strange man and then every woman finds that at some point she has no option.”
Shebah’s turned that on its head.
You can still buy tickets to B&T’s Changing the Ratio here. Don’t miss out!