CONFERENCES on start-ups, the old joke goes, are the only events where there is never a queue for the ladies’ room. Only 10% of internet entrepreneurs across the world are women, according to Startup Compass, a firm that tracks such things.
Except in Amman and other Middle Eastern cities, it seems. There, the share of women entrepreneurs is said to average 35%—an estimate seemingly confirmed by the mix of the sexes at “Mix‘n’Mentor”, a recent gathering in the Jordanian capital organised by Wamda, an online publication for start-ups.
Reasons abound, and they are not always positive, says Nina Curley, Wamda’s editor. Although more than half of university graduates in many Middle Eastern countries (51% in Jordan) are women, the workforce is dominated by men (women provide only 21% of it overall, and a paltry 16% in Jordan). The internet, however, is a new space that is more meritocratic and not as heavily male. The technology also lets entrepreneurs work from home, making it easier to raise children.
Still, being a woman entrepreneur in the Middle East is tough, if a round table at the Wamda event is any guide. “It’s sometimes hard to get taken seriously,” said one panellist. “Try telling a male employee that he has made a mistake,” lamented another. And a third participant reported: “My mother always complains that I work too hard. ‘Why do you do this to yourself? When do you get married?’ she asks.”
Many firms run by women entrepreneurs deal with what are labelled female issues (weddings, parenting advice, recipes), but even in other types of firm, male colleagues agree that woman tend to trump them in management skills. “As a woman, you have to fight for everything here—which is a great preparation for being an entrepreneur,” argues Sarah Abu Alia, the founder of ArtMedium, a concert organiser which also runs an online video channel for alternative Arabic music.
The number of women entrepreneurs in the Middle East is likely to grow, including in the least likely places. “Well-educated women in Saudi Arabia want to work, but their family often objects,” explained an entrepreneur at the Wamda shindig. “Running an internet start-up from home is the perfect compromise.” Read more…
© The Economist/Business