This past weekend, I drove up to Michigan with a car full of women for a daylong spiritual retreat. My entire car was filled with female startup entrepreneurs.
During the drive, all five of us shared stories about our “war wounds”—bad business partners, bad press, bad exits, going broke, not raising enough money, failed technologies, gossip behind our backs—the lists were endless.
Because the simple truth is this: No one knows how to perfectly run a company, and no one talks about that.
And seeing as today is International Women’s Day, and we are celebrating ways to #BeBoldForChange, I found myself wanting to start a new conversation, like the honest, raw talk we had in the car. Because our boldness comes not from our wins as women and entrepreneurs, but from our losses…and our perseverance despite them.
Because, whether we like it or not, when it comes to media coverage and scrutiny for what women do and how we do it, we have a target on our backs. And it often says: Double Standard.
Let me give you an example.
We had an opportunity last week while launching the Fear Paradox, to make the exciting announcement that Sophia Amoruso was speaking at the event. At the same time, this WSJ article hit the media, putting a negative light on Sophia. Our publicist told us we should wait to let the media storm calm down before announcing Sophia, because that’s what we do, right? We wait for the scandal or negative attention to pass.
While I love my publicist and appreciated her pragmatism, it made my blood boil. This article ripped apart a company, NastyGal, that Sophia had taken years to build. Nowhere did it mention her infinite successes and the grit it took to get there; instead, it highlighted the toxic culture, the poor management and bad business decisions. Which made me irate.
The Bold Truth: There are various men-owned companies that have similar situations the media doesn’t harp on. Look what happened to American Apparel: It shut down its brick and mortars due to poor sales and had a male CEO accused of constantly sexually harassing its underage employees. Did it receive endless scrutiny? No. Take a look at Uber, which is currently being exposed for the sexual harassment issues internally (not to mention its multiple cases of drivers assaulting female riders). Its CEO just released a statement last week saying, “Sorry, I need to do a better job being a leader.” And then, the media moves on.
Being bold for change means changing that conversation. It’s about changing the narrative around our failures and deciding that the word “failure” is an asset in business, not a detriment. It seems we revere only the success story, not everything it took to get there.
I don’t know about you, but I know I would feel much safer and more excited to leap into the unknown and take risks knowing that other women—women we respect and admire—have been through the shitter too, only to have gotten back up and keep trucking in spite of criticism or setbacks.
That’s being bold. That’s being brave.
We have this idea that, to follow our passions, means to go after something singular. I want to be a businessperson, an entrepreneur, an artist, a musician, a writer! We put all our time and energy into this one thing, narrowing our scope to get there, when there are infinite avenues to get from point A to point B.
There’s no one way to succeed in business, or in life. So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to land somewhere, instead of growing and changing and making mistakes?
Hear this, girlfriends:
Our first dream is not our last dream.
Our first idea is not our last idea.
Our first love is not our last. (Unless you married your high school sweetheart, in which case, that’s awesome.)
The next time you hear a huge success story or see someone get torn apart in the media, remember there’s a story you don’t know, a piece of the puzzle you haven’t heard.
Being bold really takes owning our stories—our entire stories—and using them to help empower those around us, as well as ourselves.
And we all have them. So let’s start telling those stories. Let’s start sharing those setbacks. Let’s take more risks. And fall harder. And celebrate the successes and failures. Let’s keep falling in love with what we do and realize there’s more than one way to complete the journey.
Above all else, let’s stay bold, even when we’re criticized, even when we’re scared.
Let’s keep the conversation real. It’s the boldest thing we can do.
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.