Away for a wedding, I’m writing this piece in a really busy Cafe in Boulder, Colorado.
It’s 9 AM on Friday morning and the cafe (Snooze, on Pearl Street) is doing anything but snoozing. There’s not a seat open at the bar. The wait is about 25 minutes long. The espresso machine has made about five lattes and three caps since my last full stop. The mimosas are topped off with strawberries and the air smells like pancakes and syrup. The team of people behind the bar works like a well-oiled machine, tending to everything and everyone. This baby is not just walking, she’s dancing.
I’m done tackling my morning emails and have checked on Rose and Basil about four times already.
I’ve been away for three days, and it is about now that I get hit with the ‘first-time mom’ anxiety. My baby is 16 months old and well watched by the family of fairies I put together since her arrival, however, I still have a hard time being away from her.
Like most moms, I look around at all the other babies and smile when recognizing similarities, compare behaviors and learn from them. There is no doubt though that my baby is the best, regardless. A special and unique creation, the very thing that I’ve poured my heart and half my DNA in.
It hasn’t quite managed yet to learn to walk on her own: I stand there holding one or two fingers as the chubby legs move, still unsure. I document, like any loving mother, each move, each new word. We celebrate each moment and soothe every bump.
I sleep less since her arrival. I’m more anxious and somehow less independent, or at least less of what I thought independence to be like before she arrived. In fact, a lot of things have changed for me since her arrival. The world and all its possibilities expanded. Time earned another dimension and success another scale. Days sometimes seem weeks long and how well I did today is often based on how well she did today.
For someone that has been on their own for more than a decade, this new dependency aspect of living is new and to be quite frank, a little scary. As days go by and my baby grows and wonders at the world, I realize that I no longer have the option of taking off. I’m grounded now in a way that I’ve never been before. I’m attached. And the most surprising aspect of it all is that I like it. My creation, even though so young, has already started to change lives and that is to date my biggest and proudest accomplishment.
And as a ‘business mother’, there is nothing quite as fulfilling than seeing something you've made grow and positively affect this world. It humbles you and overwhelms you, but most of all, it gives your purpose and an understanding that there are no limits towards what you can achieve through them as your extension.
You rejoice, you worry about them, and you devote all that you are into making them the best that they can be.
Some days, you succeed: they shine and you, from the shadows, feel your eyes flood with tears and heart with joy.
Some days, you fail: they are lonely or sad, scolded by the world, and you are left to hurt for them, to struggle and to find in you - only you - the way to make them get up and chase another day.
There are books and other parents (including your own) full of advice and knowledge. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll do your best to try to absorb all they have to offer before she comes.
But it will feel like you know nothing and the first days when you are alone with her, she’ll be too helpless and too tiny and won’t stop crying no matter what you do. You’ll wonder what were you thinking when you decided to have her in the first place.
No book will save you but your own will to make her grow into something breathtaking. Your own desire to make her succeed.
You will doubt yourself often. You will want to run. You will want to give up.
You will have to be resourceful and extremely creative. It won’t be easy, but it will always be extraordinary.
With her there, you fight for two. You hurt for two. You cry and spend for two. (or ten if you’re anything like me!). Life as you know it changes and transforms and slowly you realize that so do you.
And in all that, life becomes more colorful, touched by all that was submerged in ignorance prior to her arrival.
You now see things - small microscopic things - you ignored in everyone else before. The first smile she steals, the first friend she makes, the first step she takes towards that dance you’re carefully preparing for.
Maybe she’ll take on to become a star child early on and surpass even your greatest expectations. Maybe she’ll drag you down to the park and introduce you to the love of your life or your best friend. Maybe she’ll force you to learn things about yourself you never thought were there.
You find joy and satisfaction in the joy she brings into the world. That realization is probably your most powerful superhero (mom) power because once that settles in, you become unstoppable.
You leave behind your innocence and become an adult, a parent.
I cannot tell you how to start your own business at 21 and be successful in any better way than to compare it to becoming a parent at 21.
Leaving behind days of chill, putting something else but yourself first and, at least until the baby is ready to go dancing, being okay with doing all of that all too soon. Is it worth it?
While sipping on a chai latte in Boulder, processing cake orders and considering what should be our next winter spiced frosting, I can assure you that yes, it is.
Because when the baby starts dancing, she is limitless.
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.