My husband and I were married for seven years when we started Jonas Paul Eyewear in 2013. When we started our life together, we never imagined going down this path - growing together as wedding photographers to starting a business in the medical field without having any experience in optometry was a huge leap with no shortage of long nights and unwelcomed lessons learned.
I very clearly remember the first conversations with friends and family about our idea of launching Jonas Paul Eyewear. Of course, everyone thought we were in over our heads. Not only did it seem like a large undertaking, but we had just given birth to our son Jonas, who was born with a rare disorder that causes blindness. Needless to say, we had our hands full - constantly in and out of the hospital for 21 eye surgeries that helped Jonas achieve low vision - but amidst it all, we remained devoted to finding a way to make our dreams of launching this business together work.
While the thought of spending literally all your time together may be daunting to some, there are so many unique advantages to tackling business with your life partner that outweigh this silly fear. After all, you go into a marriage knowing you'll be each other's rock - the one who your partner will lean on and come to at life's most trying moments.
If you are able to conquer your days in this way, imagine the power you can harness when applied to your business! Ben and I take pride in our ability to balance our marriage with our business, and oftentimes find ourselves sharing our experiences with others looking to do the same.
Not a day goes by without learning something new, these are the ways we've been able to make loving, working, and living all work.
Define your roles and set boundaries.
Couples have a tendency to micromanage in marriages, so give each other ownership of certain roles from the start, and trust that you'll both do awesome. Early on in our working relationship we sat down and had a heart to heart as we knew we needed to define our roles and responsibilities, we would often find ourselves stepping on each other's toes and questioning one another's work. Once we did this and identified the areas that each of us are strong in, we could then confidently trust the other person and know that the jobs would be completed without having to micromanage one another.
Keep the communication lines open.
We know, this is the opposite of what most say - but it's okay to talk about business on date night! We used to keep it off-limits but it was inevitable, kind of like talking about your child. If you embrace it, you remove the stress of trying to avoid it. We are currently training for a half marathon and we've also found that on our runs we are having our business strategy meetings. An unexpected place and time to talk about business, but it has worked out well. We are exercising while getting work done at the same time. So now we know three mornings a week we have a dedicated time to training and getting some work done. It's a win-win in our book!
Compliments are key
Complementing one another regarding work can be a hard one, as it is easier to encourage our team and the work that they are doing rather than each other. But thankfully, we do try really hard to encourage one another on the work that they are doing as everyone likes to be praised in some way. I truly believe that encouraging your partner (whether at home or work) is extremely important. And for us, sometimes the best time of day to do this is when we get home from the office and are pouring a glass of wine and cooking dinner as our kids are running around the house.
It's OK to vent
Being able to vent to one another and know that you aren't going to upset the other person is really helpful when growing a business. This is unique because as business partners, you share the same stressors at work. It's helpful because you can actually relate to these joys and frustrations, whereas couples working in different industries may experience a disconnect. There is no one else that better understands what the other person is going through in our situation, and we've always looked at that as a good thing. Being able to relate on this level, while growing a business has brought us so much closer in our marriage.
So, who says married couples can't make a successful business team? Yes, having a happy marriage alone takes work from both sides - and starting a business together does add to that. It can be hard, it will be hard, but it is amazing what you can accomplish when you work towards a shared mission together. As you take a step back and reflect on the journey, the unparalleled joy you will share with your partner as you fulfill your dreams together will make it all worth it.
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.