Elizabeth Galbut, 28
Managing Partner, SoGal Ventures
When she was just 26, Elizabeth Galbut started her first venture capital firm, which she did despite not fitting the typical “middle-aged white man VC ideal.” Moving forward with a “bullish” focus on diversity, Galbut is now Managing Partner of female-focused venture capital firm, SoGal Ventures. “Women are one of the few remaining investment arbitrage opportunities,” says Galbut, who has helped fund more than 45 innovative startups to date. “We are already on the path to be prolific investors of our generation.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
While I was in graduate school my father was diagnosed with cancer. In parallel, I was working with a student entrepreneur who was starting Proscia, a digital pathology company. After seeing how difficult it was for the startup to raise capital in Baltimore, and knowing how this technology could revolutionize an industry, I knew that if no one else would invest, then I had to figure out how I could invest myself. This led me to start my first venture capital firm, A-Level Capital.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I was told women's opinions don't matter and aren't respected in venture capital. I started my first venture capital firm when I was 26. Many doubted my ability to be a venture capital investor since I didn't graduate an Ivy League school, had no direct investing experience, hadn't built a multi-million dollar company previously, and didn't fit the typical VC profile of a middle-aged white man. Many thought what I was doing was stupid and would fail. Others told me I had no right to be an investor. Even when I had invested in over 30 companies alongside top brand name VC firms, men would classify what I was building as "cute".
Beyond doubts and criticism, I run up against consistent gender bias almost daily. The most vile and unacceptable behavior is the sexual harassment and abuse of power in the industry. I've been asked by a potential investor for sexual acts in exchange for investment. This is not ok.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
I am bullish on investing in diversity. So far, our funds have invested in 45 startups that are revolutionizing how the next generation lives, works, and stays healthy. Being able to support so many diverse founders who are each positively impacting our world, is something I'm incredibly proud of. Women are one of the few remaining investment arbitrage opportunities. By investing with this thesis, we are already on the path to be prolific investors of our generation.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
Investing in yourself is one of the best investments you can make, as it's one of the only investments you can truly control. Finding the strength within and confidence to pursue my own path was key to overcoming the negativity and doubts of others. It's quite simple-if anyone says you can't do something, they're really just saying that they can't.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Be the change you wish to see in the world. If you keep working at your dreams relentlessly and show up each day, the forward momentum you'll build will be unstoppable.
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.