Out of the main support structure that I have had access to was an incubator in the United Arab Emirates that I was a part of throughout my experience with my previous startup. This incubator provided me with a lot of advice, assistance and hand-holding when it came to legal matters. It also sometimes gave me a little bit of access to some VCs or angel investors. Specifically, I benefitted from a coworking space, a mentors’ network, some legal advice, an entrepreneurs ecosystem, event hosting, bank/financial advice, IP advice, and access to funding. Unfortunately, out of most support services I used, none targeted women specifically. In fact, I’d say that the communication of services to startups in the Middle Eastern entrepreneurship ecosystem and its capacity to target and reach out particularly to women is very weak. Furthermore, the time schedule of most proposed services to entrepreneurs in terms of work life balance was very inadequate with regards to women.
In my path to business creation I stumbled upon a lot of challenges as a women entrepreneur. The biggest challenges were getting encouragement and support from my environment (family, friends and society in general), having to deal with gender biased treatment, attracting and retaining talents since most of my work was online and I had to do all of my interviews and recruitment remotely, and finally identifying and securing access to credit and funding. I believe the gender biased treatment was due to several facts but mainly a lack of trust in women’s capability to take charge and run a company, a lack of faith in women’s capability and proficiency in the digital sector in particular and finally a stereotyping portraying women as more tender, sensitive and having less conflictual personalities.The following is a solid example of a gender biased action towards me as an entrepreneur that never fails to strike me. It has happened several times that I have gotten the following comment: “Why do you stress yourself so much. Just relax”? From my experience, it is normal for a new entrepreneur to stress about his/her startup and life in general in that specific phase of his/hers. Things are generally fragile when a person decides to quit his/her day-job and launch a startup. But when this is communicated to ME, mostly by other men and sometimes even working women, it is meant in the following way: “You, as a women, should not be stressing about work as a man otherwise would. You will one day be the caretaker of your household and thus should conserve your energy for more female-related activities”. Taking measures such as gender-targeted communication, women-to-women advice, free mentorships and partnerships with women’s networks could be very helpful in making support services to web entrepreneurs more suitable to meet women’s needs.I think some facilities need to be put in place allowing women entrepreneurs to better balance their work-life such as providing daycare facilities for women entrepreneurs. Moreover, more women should come up and speak about their experiences in the work life specifically in the entrepreneurship ecosystem as well, thus giving other aspiring women entrepreneurs hope and advice. Finally, more women should speak freely about the challenges that they have faced in starting up their own businesses and technology companies.
Image Credits: Barriers for women entrepreneurs