The role of women in all aspects of the professional world has been on a steady, healthy rise. With names like Paula Yacoubian and Nayla Hayek becoming household names in their respective fields, it’s often easy to forget that female entrepreneurs and professionals have never had it easy.
AMEinfo spoke to female businesswoman Mariana Wehbe at this year’s TAKminds, a forum event held in conjunction with the TAKREEM Award Ceremony in Kuwait, regarding the difficulties women in the professional world face.
Gender roles are rapidly changing around the world, but the Middle East has not been as fast on the uptake. Given the primarily patriarchal society we live in, Arab women have had a tougher time catching up with their international counterparts.
Pay, for example, remains a major hurdle.
“The minute you walk into a place, the minute you own a company, the minute you basically try to integrate the same services another company with a man running it, they automatically think that you will be cheaper,” Wehbe revealed. “I mean, I have my own business and I know this. And that for me is one of the biggest issues we face and that I completely do not accept in terms of how we operate.”
“No matter where you are in the world – not just in the Middle East – we are still not equally paid in the same positions as men,” she continued.
Wehbe, who started her own PR agency four years ago, is the Middle East’s first NGO female auctioneer, and has successfully raised over $7 million in charity.
Women should find support from within…
In this challenging corporate world, women have realized that they have to support each other, first and foremost.
“I worked in corporate life for 16 years and I always thought the biggest problem was women within each other, supporting each other,” Wehbe said. “And you see a lot of that not happening in the corporate world.”
“It never used to happen. And now, what you’re seeing is a massive change around the world, in the past 5- 6 years, where women are putting their complexities aside and thinking more in a very motivational and empowering way towards each other and understanding that the more we support each other, the more successful we will all become,” she continued.
“I have a four-year-old business and till today, I go and I say ‘I need your help. I need your advice. What do you think about this? Can you link me with this person? I need to sit in front of them, I need to meet them. I have an idea to plan.’ And that, I would I have never been able to get to where I am if I did not get that support. And it was – the majority, believe it or not, women. Girlfriends, and friends that I know who have their own businesses and were like ‘yes, of course, I know this person. Come and meet them.’ And they’d go ‘hey, this is my friend Mariana. She has this idea.’ And it triggers from there. We need to continue that.”
Wehbe went on to illuminate a refreshing truth.
“The more we build onto each other, the more we will be able to build on the futures of our girls, and on the futures of our boys, because this is not about being feminist, about why women are important in the world of entrepreneurship. It’s about that we have so much to add, whether it’s in compassion … We are mothers, our nature is completely different.”
“It’s a ying-yang that we need to start adding on to attain the equality that is needed,” she said.
…but also find support from without
Yet, these entrepreneurs, like their male counterparts, require external support as well, be it governmental or from an organization like an incubator or accelerator. Funding, as well, is an obvious challenge.
“I think there need to be more opportunities in technology terms of funding these young entrepreneurs,” Wehbe said. “A lot of entrepreneurs do not make it due to the funding. Owning your own business, starting your own startup, is extremely difficult. Without the know-how, the knowledge, you can have an amazing idea. But, you need to have the right structures that are being built around you to help you not just build on your idea, but to also understand what it is to have a business. And in order to do that, you also need the financial support.”
“An idea is nothing without the means to make it happen. So, we need more foundations, more associations, more fund managers that are ready to sit and say ‘we are ready to fund you with small or big amounts depending on the idea.’ And it is happening. But definitely, I think, funding is a huge thing for young entrepreneurs.”
Female entrepreneurs, “follow your intuition”
In closing, Wehbe wanted to end on a positive note with advice for female entrepreneurs looking to venture out into the corporate world: “Follow your intuition. Most definitely follow your intuition.”
She continued: “I worked in corporate for 16 years – it was the best education I ever had. But, just out of the blue, I said I’m done with this. And I really followed my intuition and, you know, I will say one thing: Everything leads to something.”
“Make that step, because failure is part of that step. It is the truth. It is not a cliché sentence that people . Failure is part of it. Make that step. Follow your intuition. You will be surprised where it leads you.”