March is women’s month. It celebrates Mother’s Day, Teacher’s Day, and it honors women’s achievements through history. But in the business sector, women have struggled with sexism and other issues such as the glass ceiling effect, and the gender pay gap.We spoke to women of several business industries, to hear them out on challenges women face in their careers, and to unveil their motives and ambitions.
On their pathway to success women face several challenges; one of them is misjudgment based of false gender-related stereotypes. “Although women’s roles have recently grown to list of key positions, but you will notice that most of the General Managers or CEO’s in companies are men. Which is due to claiming that women are less knowledgeable, emotional and competitive with other women”, says Vera Hassan, head of marketing at Patchi.
Male dominance in key roles is a prominent issue. Even though societies have disregarded the superiority men have, women still feel underestimated or overlooked. Zeina Estwany Barakat, Levant area director at Product of the Year says, “Some tend to project a more ‘male’ approach towards business, to appear more aggressive and competitive, hence ‘deserving’ of higher positions”.
Myrna Abou Mrad el Khoury, founder and CEO The Full Circles believes that the real challenge for a woman is to gain the trust of her peers and show them that she is par with them. Abou Mrad’s advice is to accept the challenges and multitask.
Furthermore, working moms develop skills that help them excel through managing business and personal lives simultaneously. “It is really hard to be a successful business women and a present mom fully dedicated to her children”, says Nicole Karkour, group marketing manager at Exotica.
Hilda Maalouf Melki, head of digital media department at Bank of Beirut has a different opinion. She believes that women who have the right plan can achieve results and advance. “In today’s world, no excuses are allowed. Women can be ‘Motherpreneurs’, they can balance between family life and work.”, Maalouf adds.
Every business women has her own secrets and beliefs that make her the successful woman she is today.
With all these closed doors, determined women stop at nothing. Hassan goes by a saying by Napoleon “When you want something done, do it yourself”. She also explains that women’s success lies in the time she invests to update her skills to keep up with the changing world and its rising trends.
On another note, Karkour points out the importance of perseverance and attention to goals and details in specific. “[Women] are meticulous and seek accuracy when accomplishing a task”, she says.
Another secret that gives business women a competitive edge is “Their high Emotional Intelligence Quotient which allows them to create the balance between their work and their family, their pragmatism hidden behind a feminine touch, their power of persuasion while staying relevant, their constant juggle between heart and mind”, says Abou Mrad.
On encouragement, “If management gives strong support, women can excel and be of added value to any institution”, says Maalouf. But regardless of their achievements or education, women are not given the full opportunity to handle certain senior roles. “Societies do not see a women’s contribution to the labor market to be on the same level or importance as that of men”, says Hassan.
Which leads to another issue, the gender pay gap. According to The National, the gender pay gap in the Middle East and North Africa is estimated between 20%-40%. Women are thought to lose the balance between their personal lives and business careers. “Women do not raise the subject at the workplace as they fear their loyalty and commitment might be questioned which definitely will slow down their career”, says Karkour.
With the changing scene in the Middle East (such as Saudi Arabia), women are excelling further, but the opportunities are still limited and more work needs to be done.