More and more women have taken a risk in order to make their mark in the world and in turn, female entrepreneurs continue to dominate the fashion, tech, and beauty industries. Hundreds of stories are shared each day talking about failed business attempts, perseverance, breakthroughs, stubbornness and (of course) success, but what publications don't tell us is that 80 percent of what's written is carefully crafted to relay only what we want to hear – or rather what they think we want to hear.
For those who don't have first hand experience running their own business, the word “entrepreneur" is romanticized and promises long lunches, client meetings at five star restaurants and the freedom to make whatever schedule you want. But, as most of us know, entrepreneurship is no easy path. It's more or less like jumping off a cliff with no parachute, hitting every rock on the way down and somehow coming out alive at the bottom with only a few scratches and bruises. So, what happened to being candid and telling the whole and honest truth about running a business? Social media- that's what.
It's been said it takes 10 seconds to form a first impression but now with social media, it only takes 5 minutes to figure out someone's entire life history. You can see where they're from, what their style is, who they're friends with and what they've done over the past week, month or year. Though having this insight may make us feel like we know each person intimately, it's always a constant struggle trying to distinguish what content is honest and authentic and what pieces distort reality.
Whitney Wolfe Herd. Photo Courtesy of Racked
Most of us scroll through so many social media posts a day, that we become numb to the bullshit content that some people are posting -we accept it as the norm and continue on. When following an entrepreneur, we watch closely for wise words, tricks of the trade and to (hopefully) see the inner workings of the business, and though that's often times what we get, we're often sheltered from the harsh reality.
The moments of doubt, sleepless nights, home office nightmares and work/life balance lies all seem to be swept under the rug. But, through all background noise, there are a few incredible trailblazers that aren't afraid to stand out from the crowd and give an honest opinion every now and then.
These five female entrepreneurs are kicking ass, taking names and keeping it real on social media.
1. Whitney Wolfe Herd (@whitwolfeherd)
Founder of Bumble
Starting one of the most successful dating apps that put women in power of their left and right swipes is an amazing feat, but what's even more refreshing is the app's Founder, Whitney Wolfe on social media. She gives her followers an inside look at her life and whether it's a selfie with her friends, a picture of her dog or a funny text her mom sent we see it all – unfiltered. It will be imperative to follow along with this queen bee, especially now as she expands the Bumble empire out to business networking as well.
Linda Rodin. Photo Courtesy of Grey Magazine
2. Linda Rodin (@lindaandwinks)
Founder of RODIN olio lusso
Linda Rodin is known for breaking boundaries in the fashion and beauty industries and now she's breaking the internet. At a glance, her Instagram account looks like something straight out of Vogue. Her vibrant wardrobe, eclectic home décor, and her gorgeous poodle (yes, we're all suckers for any furry friends ) could all easily be in the next Anna Wintour-approved spread, but the powerhouse entrepreneur still manages to keep it real. She's never been one to hide her true self and it's helped her come out on top, not only in her career but in the digital world as well.
3. Christina Karin (@christinakarin)
Designer & Creative Director of Christina Karin
Life of a Fashion Designer may seem glamorous and most of what we see on social media validates that notion, but what we don't see is everything that happens behind the scenes. Thanks to Chicago based Designer and Creative Director, Christina Karin, that's about to change. As her self-named ready-to-wear label continues to grow and become more successful, she's not afraid to give a little insight on what it's like to run a business and a household. She often posts pictures of her clothing (naturally) but scattered throughout her feed you'll find any family vacations, truth bombs about mother-hood and downright honest captions about life.
Christina Karin. Photo Courtesy of Fashionista Chicago
4. Aurora James (@aurorajames)
Founder & Creative Director of Brother Vellies
Known for her cool-girl style, cultural influence and incredible accessory label, Brother Vellies, Aurora James is a true inspiration. Her first collection, launched in 2014, was created entirely by artisans in South Africa. Now expanded out to Kenya and Morocco, she has been able to provide multitudes of jobs for locals in what seemed to have been a dying art. Aside from her incredible company story, she's also honest about what running a business looks like and some of the challenges that come along with that (even if it can seem like she lives a charmed life). Inspirational captions, makeup-free selfies and peeks into her personal life at home are pretty common for this boss babe not to mention she takes airport style to a whole new level by making the most of her travel and those awful security buckets.
Moj Mahadra. Photo Courtesy of Smallz & Raskind/Getty Images
5. Moj Mahadra (@mojism)
CEO of Beauty Con
Running the entertainment strategy for Airstream at 25 was just the beginning for Moj Mahadra. With a Ted Talk, multiple articles out about influencer-driven engagement and being named CEO of Beautycon all under her belt, she's paving a path for all women in the digital media industry. This entrepreneur isn't afraid to share her personal feelings with the world either. Through her feeds she posts about politics, feminist movements, and behind-the-scenes footage of shoot days. She's unapologetically herself in every way - showing other women that they don't have to fit into society's standards of what a female entrepreneur should be.
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.