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How A Career Setback Helped Me Reconcile My American And Iranian Identity

Career

The rejections started out very deep, the source being the day/night difference between two countries, Iran and America. Having a love for both countries, but not being accepted in one, was extremely difficult. The rejection began by my being myself in Iran. I was rejected on a cultural, religious, and gendered level while living in Tehran, my whole identity and Western way of thinking as a Brooklyn teenager constantly questioned. I was fired from my Channel Six position as an anchor/reporter due to not following Islamic rules & regulations (e.g. wearing open-toed shoes, wearing perfume after a long Islamic HR interrogation process, etc.). The ultimate rejection of this kind was being escorted out of the building for simply being myself and leading a not-so-religious way of life.


"At 37, a sum of all the rejections, disapprovals, and failures have helped me understand who I am, open up, become vulnerable, and find the truth inside me" (Photo courtesy of shfarsi.com)

On top of the disapproval from my country and those around me, it even came from those I was most fond of: my parents. The complete disapproval from a cultural Iranian perspective for a girl to go out and explore was the hardest part. Eventually my parents accepted that I wanted to create something rather than just get a paycheck or pursue a medical profession—which was a family tradition and expectation. I was a complete black sheep with a strong mindset, blame it (or not) on growing up in Brooklyn, NY.

At this point, I was 22 and unsure of my identity, Iranian or American. Why had my parents brought me back to Iran when I was completely Brooklynized? Why did they think less of me for being a girl and not being able to make it? Things have changed now. My parents have changed, they have grown alongside my own personal growth.

After we returned to the U.S., things changed, perspectives shifted and all the rejections/ disapprovals had transformed into assets for a much bigger journey that was ahead of me while also helping me to understand my strengths. When going on a journey of self realization, one finds that within rejection, you start to re-evaluate and see what it’s trying to convey.

After deciding to start my own company, especially perfume (one that I wasn’t allowed to wear to work while being an anchor and was eventually written up for), now entrepreneur-type rejections were set in front of me. Though not a stranger to rejection, it’s never easy. Whether it’s from someone you once fell in love with, your own family members, society, or within the workforce, it’s just as difficult. Yes, there are different circumstances that can affect us in different ways but needless to say, rejection is rejection and should be taken into account in its entirety.

At this point, I had suffered from so many previous rejections that I had learned how to deal with it—to an extent. That said, I also received several rejections while trying to publish my book and get a viable agent. Rejection and disapproval have a changed meaning in my book, no longer making me question my path or feel sad and anxious; it now empowers me.

"After deciding to start my own company, especially perfume (one that I wasn’t allowed to wear to work while being an anchor and was eventually written up for), now entrepreneur-type rejections were set in front of me" (Photo courtesy of desert35.com)

At 37, a sum of all the rejections, disapprovals, and failures have helped me understand who I am, open up, become vulnerable, and find the truth inside me. A piece of advice I’d like to pass along is that your truth, openness, and constant persistence is how you can succeed in the face of rejection toward whatever goal/dream you have. Everyone has a goal/talent—it’s up to you to find it. So hustle.

Rejection is a detour towards a better direction—it’s redirection (I have that printed and framed in front of my work desk in case I forget it). For every perfume production company that didn’t believe in the Desert35 idea, for every book agent that didn’t believe in the book, that was only redirection towards a better production company and agent. On top of that, I didn’t sacrifice who I was in the face of keeping my job and trying to shift my identity. Look at where I am now.

Just like a break up, every rejection gets progressively easier. The first of any type will always be the most difficult. However, the process of recovery helps you evolve, understand you, move forward and help other people move forward. This final note is the best feeling in the world and gives meaning to everything else.

Rejection is shared by many entrepreneurs, but I’ve learned to embrace it, understand it, and allow it to motivate me. Ultimately, this process has made me into a better person, friend, business partner, entrepreneur, and it fuels me to move forward towards my passion with compassion and positivity and the openness to grow in every way.

If you have found yourself in a phase of rejection, know that it is just a redirection for better.

Rejection was truly an asset, even for someone like me who was stuck in between two completely different worlds. Rejection is good—especially in business. It’s healthy. Listen to it. Rejection is simply delay not defeat, and the key is your response to it. It has clarified my path and has helped me understand who I am, uncovered what I can and can’t do, helped me understand humility and gratitude, and has given me tough elephant skin in a world of people always trying to tear through it. Rejection has made me create the thought process of “what if?” and to always follow my curiosity and the questions that pop in my head (most of the good ones are unexpected and out of nowhere in the most unlikely situations). If needed, I am willing to ask for help and re-evaluate if necessary. Lastly, have gratitude and find the perspective that allows you to see obstacles and rejection as tools for growth.

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

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.