Becoming an entrepreneur takes a lot of perseverance and a great passion for your idea. This is even more necessary as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated ecosystem. However, there are numerous examples of successful female business owners who have flourished despite an unsupportive culture. Luckily, I have had the great opportunity to dive into the subject of female entrepreneurship during my internship and organize a study visit for 9 amazing women with a business in the MENA region. The main lessons that I have learned from these women are the following:
- The importance of the subject and the positive effects that female entrepreneurs have in their work environment and in their general environment. The way these women were concerned with the well being of their employees gave me the impression they cared a lot about them and they created a positive atmosphere at work through their empathy. On top of that, most of these companies have a humanitarian side to them, which implies that these women contribute to society with their companies, so their environment gains a lot thanks to them.
- Focus on networks – many of the women I met told me that the support they give one another, combined with the sharing of their experience with other female entrepreneurs, means a lot to them. It helps them because they can share successes but also struggles they have and they recognised a lot of themselves in the stories of other women. They told me that they sometimes feel isolated in their work and that there aren’t enough role models around for them. This made them feel like taking on that role. One of them said “Both male and female role models have had a strong impact on my entrepreneurial journey. That being said, there is a real scarcity of female role models in my region, and more need to be created to serve as examples for entrepreneurial women”.
- Culture – “The Problem of female inequality starts at home. We need to teach our sons how to treat women with equal respect.” This is what one of the women said when asked if entrepreneurial women face more challenges than their male counterparts. She explained it is very important to involve men as early as possible in the process of the standardisation of female entrepreneurship, because the biggest resistance comes from men in her country. This idea was shared by many of the women, and they gave several examples:
a. After a private meeting concerning work with a man, one of the women was asked if she wanted to be the girlfriend/wife of the man. The fact that she was meeting with him alone and in a private setting was enough reason for him to believe she was interested in him romantically.
b. After an important meeting with many people one of the men present said jokingly “We finished just in time for you to go home and cook diner”.
c. A male costumer was looking for the CEO in the office of one of the female CEO’s. When she told him she was the CEO of the company he thought she was joking. After he realised she wasn’t kidding he left the building and never came back.
by Carol Nader