When Christine Sfeir was just 22 years old when she decided to acquire a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in Beirut. Given her age and her gender, many thought it seemed like a big risk to take.
But not to Sfeir, who saw passion, fearlessness and a clear vision as the determiners of her success – not gender. Today she oversees more than thirty Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Lebanon, manages an international chain of traditional Lebanese restaurants and is the CEO of Treats Holding.
Sfeir is just one of the many women defying commonly held views about Arab women in business. Many assume that female entrepreneurs in MENA mainly operate in the informal sector, with few employees and producing unsophisticated goods and services. The reality is very different: research shows that female-owned firms are just as established as those run by men and more than 35 percent employ at least 50 workers.
Any woman in MENA can set herself up for a successful career in business, just like Christine Sfeir. The key is to practice and embody leadership. And these three leadership skills for women are the perfect place to start:
1. Be able to articulate, defend and reflect your own purpose
When it comes to building a career in business, the barriers to entry are much higher for women than they are for men. Powerful gender norms, legal frameworks and lack of opportunity all make it harder for women to achieve success. This is true for women all over the world, but it’s especially true for women in MENA.
This is why it’s important to be able to articulate, defend and reflect your own purpose.
What does this mean? It means being able to state what you’re here to do, what you want to achieve and why you’re the best person for the job. It means fearlessly defending your abilities and your potential, particularly in the face of those who are not supportive of your ambitions.
At the root of this skill is confidence. Being confident in your capabilities will strengthen your credibility and show others that you mean business, and that you deserve the same opportunities as others.
Not all people will support you, and some will even question your abilities and your right to participate. Rise above these people, remind them of what you’re here to do and embody that ambition every day.
2. Build networks and support other women
Christine Sfeir contributes to many organisations such as the Young Presidents’ Organization because she knows the value of networking and community. Being surrounded by the right people is important, because nobody succeeds alone.
Focus on really engaging with people and building a network of supportive peers, mentors and colleagues that you can trust. Make an effort to form partnerships, friendships and business relationships – especially with other women – in order to extend your influence and find champions for your abilities. You’ll find exposure in the business community, but you’ll also learn about what other women are experiencing, and how you can help to champion them in return.
And remember: you don’t have to look outside your own workplace to build your network. Attend company events, put your hand up for big projects or volunteer to run mentoring programmes or seminars. Build relationships with your co-workers and make yourself a critical actor in the organisation. People will get to know you this way, and they’ll see what you’re capable of.
3. Inspire others with an open mind
You won’t find success overnight, nor will you inspire great change in just one job or one company. Success, change and growth happen organically. You’ll have to keep an open mind and focus on continually inspiring and influencing others.
Putting yourself ‘out there’, building networks, embracing opportunities and championing other women will help you do this. But above all, maintaining flexibility and understanding is important. It’s what will help you build the resilience you need to succeed.
Be a leader for yourself and others
In the past thirty years we’ve seen women’s participation in the workforce rise across the MENA region. While this increase has been moderate and remains well below the global average, more and more women are joining companies or starting their own businesses. They’re also becoming more educated, with rising numbers pursuing higher education. And as education levels rise among women, so does their participation in the workforce.
Women have taken their futures into their own hands and completed degrees, built companies and contributed to important work. They practice and embody key leadership skills every day, and you should too.
Find out more about the leadership skills for women training that Templar offers through our Middle East offices.