I remember my days as an employee. I had grown up inspired by business role models, male and female, who had worked their way to the top through sheer grit and determination. I was fully committed to following a similar path as a driven and passionate young professional.
I was fortunate to be surrounded by some empowering colleagues. Some of my close male colleagues were very supportive and appreciative of female leadership in business. Their opinion gave me hope and had me believe that a world where women are treated equally and fairly in the workplace did exist. They seemed quite proud to be working alongside women who have succeeded in their careers. This provided fuel to my motivation and confidence.
I have had the opportunity to be guided by several business leaders on the island. It has been very encouraging to work with men who have challenged me positively to become better, to challenge my limits and not limit my challenges. They made sure I was independent and assisted me in believing in my abilities and myself.
I believe that such men-tors, if you allow me the pun, who inspire women to greater heights are those who believe in themselves first, are socially adept and have an experience of other cultures. They are approachable, open-minded and solution focused.
However, I have to share the cracks in the rose-tinted life which I relate. I have heard my fair share of humiliating and offensive comments, which attacked my professional integrity and ethics. I am a firm believer in hard work and hearing such comments have not been helpful. Sometimes you have to deal with them alone, sometimes you are thankful for the supportive network that you have around you. I am sure you can relate to comments such as ‘I wonder how she is so young and successful, she definitely has slept her way to the top”; “This old lady is such a pain in the a$$, probably she doesn’t have enough sex at home that’s why she’s so grumpy”; or “She’s so old now, it’s time for her to let the youngsters take over”; “I don’t understand why women are trying to be like men, God created you [woman] to provide emotional support to your husband and kids. You are worthier in the kitchen and taking care of the house”.
These comments only feed the typical gender stereotype, which does a disservice to the business community. I have made my peace with them, I now focus on the interior to draw my inspiration and worry less about the exterior which brings exasperation.
When I was about 8-12years old, I recall being taught in school, and made to memorise, this line: “At the workplace, everyone deserves an equal opportunity regardless of their race, gender and ethnicity.” However, no one told me that just like those annoying Mathematics formulas we are forced to learn, application in actual life is not often apparent. When you step out into the business word, the first thing you learn as an entrepreneur is to not expect anyone to open any doors for you, it’s up to you to break the door to get in. This is why it is important for you to focus on yourself first.
Filled with excitement and ready for adventure, I remember sharing the news of launching my start-up with my male colleagues whom I’ve known for ages and the response I received completely shook me: “To start, you are a young girl and, you look young”, they said. “Plus, you’re not even married. It makes you an easy prey for the men in higher positions who won’t hesitate before devouring you, especially since they will know you’ve just started and are eager for work.” So much for encouragement and support! However, I was glad that I had other more distant male colleagues who congratulated me and reminded me that I am capable of reaching my dreams and they were there if I need support. I cannot say that I did not anticipate this, but it was disheartening coming from people in my close circle.
I had heard about the male ego and male dominance in the business world. Living it was another story. On several occasions, I saw how male professionals would be happy to help their female colleagues as long as they could show their superiority and retain control. It was not everywhere, yet seeing it was difficult to digest. This was also the case in working couples too, and some of the stories shared with me only helped to reinforce the stereotypes I had been witnessing.
To be fair, I’ve also had the opportunity to witness some wonderful couples who work wonders as a team, who join forces to push each other to grow their business together and take pride in their joint success.
I have met some amazing female entrepreneurs in the construction industry, successful electricians and amazing carpenters. Those are all jobs that are traditionally labelled to be work for men. There are many female bus drivers, conductors, masons and others, yet, when these women are seen in their workplace, everyone stares at them. These great women should be appreciated and supported just like we women celebrate a man who is comfortable in the kitchen!
You have probably heard this or something along those lines before. I hope that my work will be able to challenge this mindset, if not start something which does. As we say, Rome was not built in one day and change starts with me, you and every single one of us.
There are hard working women who believe in their abilities. We demand an opportunity to be treated equally and fairly. Do not dare clip our wings. It is high time for people to understand that gender equality is a fact. We have to accept it.
In my point of view, there are little things we could start doing to support the female entrepreneurs in the business world:
1: Regardless of her age, gender or ethnicity, when a woman comes to you for business purposes (whether you are male or female), do not undervalue her, and make sure to grant her the fair opportunity she deserves.
2: Do not discredit women or blame their mistakes based on the fact that she has a vagina! Both genders are equally accountable for a professional error!
3: If you find yourself in a situation, or in a conversation where a woman is professionally belittled for her gender, please stand up and voice out against it. I’ve asked some of my guy friends why is it that when they’re in group, they don’t speak up when they hear things they know are not right, the response is often that you cannot change the mindset of a group or that their peers would mock them. You know it well. Change starts with you. Your voice can make a difference.
4: Leaders in practice should ensure that equality practices are strictly followed in terms of:
i: Equal Pay and Equal Job Opportunities!
ii: Create ground rules that apply to all genders and ensure everyone respects them.
iii: When a case is reported to you, act and make sure the woman feels safe in her work environment. Studies show that harassment is still one of the major issues a woman faces in her work place, do you think that is normal?
iv: Credit and reward women for their work – We deserve full recognition!
v: Stop asking women whether they are married, planning to get married or have plans for kids during a job interview. Are man asked these questions?
vi: Spread awareness and start advocating women’s rights in the work place.
Being an entrepreneur is a tough job already and such issues make it even more challenging. Women entrepreneurs have the same aspirations as their male counterpart, and such archaic attitudes are not helpful.
I believe we need more education in that sense and hope this article can contribute to this.
Women are already leading change, leading in high responsibility roles in companies worth billions. Join us in making this change sustainable and empower the next generation of women leaders who are ready to create a space for themselves in this world.