Entrepreneurship is becoming a term that is embraced by more and more young women in the MENA region. While previously most youth and women strayed away from it out of fear of failure or lack of encouragement, today more and more women are starting their own businesses.
It is not easy to be a woman in this part of the world, especially one that is an entrepreneur or aspiring to become one. We met with Kathy Shalhoub, author, personal development coach and lecturer at the American University of Beirut. Shalhoub, who teaches Engineering Entrepreneurship at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management, strongly believes in supporting and empowering those who aspire to innovate, create and build businesses.
She believes it all starts at home. The role that mothers (and fathers!) play in cultivating and encouraging entrepreneurial skills in their kids is critical. Parents need to provide support and encouragement to children with creative ideas or unusual projects and ambitions because this is the hallmark of independent thinkers. This is especially significant because the current education system in Lebanon is neither equipped, prepared nor geared towards developing children’s abilities to be creative or courageous when it comes to voicing their ideas and implementing new projects. The education structure today is rigid, old-fashioned and lends greater importance to grades than to innovation, creative thinking and critical problem solving. Parents need to understand that education is more about the sharing of knowledge and ideas, learning to cope with challenges and setbacks, developing life-critical skills and adding value .
Shalhoub believes that the more a woman is exposed to environments outside the home, the more knowledgeable she becomes. As such, more and more women should be encouraged to work, set up business or participate in community activities, as every new or challenging experience expands the mind. However, women have so much to overcome when it comes to the work environment. They are not empowered enough and they often face discrimination, evident in lack of women in leadership positions, unbalanced salary scales, restricted maternity leave and other family related concerns and constraints.
Women in general are expected to be submissive and accept what is offered. Employers tend to shy away from employing married women and this diminishes their chances of finding a rewarding career, unless they create their own path themselves – thus the rise of the ‘mompreneur’. Businesses believe that women who are married will be less committed to their jobs and as such, less productive.
According to Shalhoub, women who work and raise families never do achieve work-life balance – a term she finds misleading – they learn to be great managers instead. Working mothers have proven to be well capable of multi-tasking, efficient project management and juggling their personal and professional roles. They prioritize important/urgent responsibilities, are forward thinkers and efficient planners, compartmentalize worries, and take decisive action.
Kathy does admit that it will often be difficult for women to reach managerial levels and break the glass ceiling unless they are working for open-minded management or have compromised their personal life for their career. She states, “You can never balance both equally, so a good way to empower women is to encourage them to build their own businesses where time, salary and benefits may be more proportional to the effort put in.” One of the ways Kathy supports women is through coaching them to assert their role in the business sector, while maintaining their femininity.
When we asked Kathy what she perceives to be the most valuable skill for a female entrepreneur she replied, “self-belief”. When asked about leadership, Shalhoub noted that while it is essential, not everyone is cut out for leadership and leaders need followers after all.
In conclusion Shalhoub is adamant that whether you start a business or not, an entrepreneurial mindset should be developed in every one of us. This means developing grit and persistence, taking calculated risks, adapting to change, problem solving creatively and being observant and agile in a changing world.
“As for fear, there’s no overcoming it. It is a part of our impulse for self-preservation. The way to deal with it instead is to acknowledge its existence, then set it aside and move forward despite it. Fear stops you from trying new things to keep you ‘safe’. But trying new things, whether successful or not, helps you grow. In fact, failure helps you grow a lot more than success does. If you have not failed you have not really tried.”
“Personally I hate failure, who likes it? It hits your self-esteem and it hurts. But it’s necessary. I’ve failed a lot, in education, in jobs, in friendships, and in love, but out of all this failure I have learned so much; dedication, perseverance, self-understanding and what really matters to me in life. My life is so much richer and I am a much better person because of it.”
Meet Kathy at NAWF Women Entrepreneurs on February 23rd in Beirut. She’ll be happy to answer your questions and give you advice whether it’s about leadership, creating value or developing your skills. More Kathy at www.kathyshalhoub.com