Hollywood actress and author Mirtha Michelle spoke with SWAAY this week, to discuss the launch of her new book "Letters, To Women Like Me." Mirtha's life in Hollywood has earned her a roster of figures for her books as she has also built up a significant circle of influence, including close friends like Selena Gomez and Zendaya. This third book, follows two very successful love poem compilations that have earned her considerable praise and respect amongst other contemporary poets. Below she discusses love, life, loss and how poetry has pervaded her entire life.
1. What drew you to write poetry?
Poetry has been a natural passion of mine since I was a child. It's part of my life, like a sport is to an athlete.
2. What are some of your childhood memories that inspire your writing?
Love is always a muse but my first inspirations came from missing my native country of Dominican Republic. I was born by the ocean, so my first works always had hints of the ocean.
3. Which of your current life moments keep inspiring your poetry?
Love, life and loss. Maybe, not the painful immigrant story but more like the loss of people in my life.
I am woman who believes and walks in love; a woman who continues to hope for a better future for myself and my family; a woman who dresses in strength and gets up after any failure.
4. Your new book is titled "Letters to Women Like Me" - How would you describe the woman "like you"? Who is the woman you are addressing?
I am a woman who turned a negative experience into a positive. I am woman who believes and walks in love; a woman who continues to hope for a better future for myself and my family; a woman who dresses in strength and gets up after any failure. I think there are many women who are like me, but sometimes need reminding. This book can serve as a reminder. It's a very relatable book.
5. What is your biggest goal with this new book? What is the overall message behind the Letters, to women like me?
My biggest goal with the book aside from empowering and uniting women is to provoke anyone who reads it to understand themselves. We take so much time getting to know other people that we don't always take the time to build a relationship with ourselves. In this book I share many questions that led me to get to know myself better. The moment I built a strong sense of self I was able to confidently pursue my dreams and happiness.
6. What has been your biggest career challenge thus far? How did you overcome it?
I think I've encountered many challenges but I've learned that my mind will always be the biggest challenge. Overcoming pessimistic thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts of myself has made a huge difference; and that takes work.
7. As a woman in Hollywood, how do you approach personal growth and self-development to always stay confident in your own skin?
I've never been afraid of making mistakes. I can't live passionately and expect not to make mistakes. I believe mistakes always teach me valuable lessons which help my growth. But overall you have to program your mind to think positive thoughts. That helps your confidence at all times.
8. What is the process of self-publishing? What's the advantage of being self-published vs. going through a publisher?
The advantage is the control you have and always owning the rights to your work. The disadvantage is the amount of work that goes in to a project. Being my own publisher I have to rely on free-lancers, word of mouth and my own marketing efforts.
9. What has been your most efficient strategy to market your books and build up such a loyal readership?
I'd say social media has been an essential help. I think it helps the word of mouth efforts because people can easily check your work out by clicking on a hashtag.
10. What are your top 3 advice pieces for the young women looking up to you and hoping to rise to the spotlight one day?
Firstly, I'd say to learn yourself and place yourself first. Especially when you're young, because so many times young people dedicate so much time to a significant other that their identity gets lost. Secondly, don't share your aspirations with everyone. Not everyone will be supportive of your dreams, listening to other peoples' opinions can cause confusion and lack of confidence.
Thirdly, be assertive and have genuine conviction. In a world in which people lack authenticity, stand up for the things you believe in and be proud of who you are, where you come from, and where you want to go.
Listen to the full interview with Mirtha on Entrepreneurs En Vogue Podcast.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.