Women are constantly pushing boundaries, achieving milestones previously thought impossible for our gender in previously male-dominated fields. We know there are policies and laws in place around the world that are meant to recognize women and their achievements, but how many countries are actually able to execute this successfully? The Arab region ranks second-lowest in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, just ahead of South Asia (In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, the Arab region ranks second behind South Asia.). Our region scores poorly on indicators like health, education and participation, resulting in a gender gap that could take potentially more than 100 years to close. In today’s world, women have made strides at the workplace, but despite this progress, women- owned businesses remain in the minority in the region. Less than 5 percent of businesses are women-led in MENA compared to a global average of up to 26 percent.

Women in the MENA region

As an Arab woman, there is a stigma about what women’s ‘roles’ in society should be. The “good woman” works hard at making a home, having a happy family etc. However, whilst this is a perfectly respectable avenue to pursue, it is suddenly frowned upon when we choose to go down a different route.

Hailing from Saudi Arabia, there are assumptions about privilege that weren’t necessarily accurate when it came to my life and background. Though I may come from a privileged background, I was made to leave home at the age of 17 for refusing to be married off. I personally went through a divorce, misscarriage and other personal hardships, yet I was still able to maintain a successful business whilst also finding new love and happiness. At 24, I started my own public relations agency, Coffee Communications. I felt judged more by women than by men; women in the business thought this was just a part-time or an in-the- moment hobby, after which marriage or my interest would wear out.

We fit into many roles, whether it’s making a home, maintaining a successful career, both (or even none). That is the beauty of choice, after all. The paramount amount of pressure women are burdened with to manage professional and personal aspects of their life is overwhelming. Having access to all facilities, supporting partners, and other factors does not make up for the never ending-demands of society. I found my strength and continued to pursue my dream. Your ‘role’ is whatever you choose it to be!

What makes a successful ‘Fempreneur’?

With all the changes happening worldwide, it’s natural that as a collective, our mindsets are progressively changing. The impact of globalization, liberalization trends, and forward-thinking societies have started to seep in slowly. Today, we are seeing women entrepreneurs on the rise, converting their passion to businesses. A ‘Fempreneur’ is the one and probably the strongest person who can fight against stereotypes in the workplace. Personally, I think it’s more feasible now than ever to achieve your career dreams but still live a full life. The first step to success is allowing yourself to take a risk, whether in a male- dominated field or not.

Reports state that 33% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce is female, compared to 15% in Egypt, 24% in Lebanon, 25% in Kuwait, and 26% in Oman. The IFC suggests that, as the technology industry is still relatively new in the Arab world, there is no legacy of it being male-dominated. People are realizing what we as women bring to the table. There are studies proving that deformalizing age-old processes make it easier for employers and employees to work in tandem.

At Coffee Communications, we believe in open conversations and synergy. We have training programs in place where my team have chosen areas that hold interest to themselves, giving employees the opportunity to develop their own skillset. Daily, I strive to do my best to advise my teams using insights into my own experiences that can help individuals overcome their own crises, whether personal or professional. In my experience, what works the most is a display of complete trust by giving them total independence to make their own decisions but also letting them know I am available for help if things go south.

I like to lead by example, so even if I’m not physically sitting down and teaching you as a school teacher would, I’m present, and my team will think/act in a way that reflects all our best interests. This is always a testament to the environment you create, where employees feel a sense of loyalty and responsibility to the business rather than viewing it as means to an end. Recognition and rewards matter, too! A verbal “well done” goes a long way for the team to know that not only have their efforts been valued but also encourages them to continue the good work. This helps boost their self-esteem and respect. Happy team, happy business (and happy me).

As female entrepreneurs, we should push for and adopt cultural changes that support women’s ability to succeed both, professionally and personally, without sacrificing one for the other. In today’s time, work- life balance is prioritized by many companies, and we must be able to adhere to it for our own good. If at all, it looks difficult, we can also opt for therapy. It is considered somewhat of a taboo, but it helps unlock our full potential and process matters that could be holding us back, personally or professionally. I try not to think of “barriers” anymore, things that can hold me back or that I’m scared of – we really can achieve anything we set our minds to.

So, despite the generational stigma, female aspirants across the globe are raising the entrepreneurial benchmark every day. Ladies, take it from me, discover your inner workings, allow yourself to make mistakes, and drift into the seemingly dauntless on your own terms – yearn for independence, and be the bearer of your own mark, for there are nothing but opportunities ahead. If you are building a business, lead it the way you would have wanted to be led when you first started out. I’ll end on a quote from my grandma, one of the strongest women I know, that resonates with me to this day: “we are only here to sell our services, not our self-respect”.