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Female entrepreneurs in the Persian Gulf. Stereotypes of the East and Arab countries

Female entrepreneurs in the Persian Gulf. Stereotypes of the East and Arab countries

President of the foreign office of the Business Woman magazine in the Persian Gulf, an expert in business scaling, founder of the international business scaling agency BEWEIS, ambassador of female leadership and entrepreneurship, Kristina Sheihaitli, in the interview, discussed individual aspects of activities of the international agency BEWEIS, the image of a female leader and how to become one, the support of female leadership and entrepreneurship in the East.

Kristina, you are the expert in international business scaling and the founder of the international business scaling agency BEWEIS. What is your job, and what are the main activities of the agency?

BEWEIS Scaling Business Agency is an international boutique business scaling agency. The agency is currently 4.5 years old. But the team has more than 16 years of international practice. We are a unique agency that develops the direction of complex scaling. In the market, you will find ratings and lists of the franchise, investment, PR agencies but so far you will not find a list of agencies to scale business.

We have created and are developing this niche. We combine all the needed services for local and international scaling in one place – international scaling strategies, exports, franchising, investments, international communications and PR, collaborations and partnerships.

They come to us when companies feel empowered and ready to develop not only within their local market but also in other markets. Or when local activities are not enough to sustain and develop the business. Or when companies are already operating internationally and want to expand their geographic footprint. In such cases, we act as a reliable partner that supports the company at all stages of scaling, up to the moment when the targets are reached.

Currently, we operate in 50 countries and are deeply integrated into 20 countries having experience in 12 industries, with teams and offices in Ukraine, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon. Soon we are opening Kazakhstan. We work both with big international brands (such as Shell, Mastercard, Dessange) and local ones, which are often more flexible, bolder and faster in their decisions. This gives us the skills to work with different businesses and challenges.

You are an ambassador of women’s leadership and entrepreneurship. What are your main tasks and goals?

I totally believe in women. The topic of women’s entrepreneurship and leadership has always excited me. And since this year, I have also become a UN Women Mentor in the UAE for Women’s Entrepreneurship. It’s a great honor and an opportunity for me to help more women to achieve their goals, no matter what the circumstances.

Due to my international practice, I meet a lot of women and see the global and local blocks that are related to their entrepreneurship and leadership. But I don’t want to fight those blocks; I want to solve them. And to do that: create and attract opportunities for women’s entrepreneurship and leadership internationally and give women access to those opportunities – help to minimize the barriers to women’s professional development (both external and internal) – help women discover and strengthen their expertise by sharing experience, information, and creating mutual support in the women’s community. Once again, I believe in women!

Women in the Gulf countries are known to have certain restrictions on their rights by law and established traditions. I wonder if you have experienced feelings of discrimination at work, during negotiations, or simply in doing business in the Gulf countries.

There are certain stereotypes about the East and the Arab countries in particular. Discrimination, restrictions on women’s rights exist everywhere – particularly in Europe, in America, in China, and also in the CIS countries. I may surprise you, but the lowest rates of female early-stage entrepreneurship are in Europe (especially in Italy and Poland). Only 1 out of 20 women decides to start a business and become an entrepreneur. And the highest rates are in the Middle East and Africa. The rate reaches 50 per cent there. Kazakhstan and Latin America are in second place, with over one in five women starting a business or already developing a start-up.

Speaking about the Gulf countries, women are generally given more attention there. This has both positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that the success of women in the Middle East is always very noticeable (more noticeable than in Europe, for example). An active female leader always attracts a lot of attention in that region. And the negative aspect is that women, especially in industries that are considered as “male” (e.g., energy, manufacturing, construction), are treated with apprehension and mistrust, believing that women do not have enough experience in them. But if you show quality and results, all blocks are also leveled. So quality is the new black.

How would you describe a woman leader? What should a woman entrepreneur be like to successfully run her own business?

Self-sufficient, who knows her worth, and knows what she wants. A woman who is constantly working on her professionalism, skills, knowledge. A woman with character, values, and tenacity. A loyal, empathic woman. And these are not different women. All these qualities are present in a woman leader. All in one. I am convinced that for a woman to be a leader, you don’t have to fight men. It is enough to remember how much power and opportunity we have in ourselves and to work on them, unite, develop current and new projects, create more values in society and business.

Is it difficult for women to start their own business in the Gulf countries? Can you advise me on where to start?

For several years now, there has been a big trend in the Arab countries, and the Gulf countries in particular, to support women in their leadership and entrepreneurship. Men in business and government (authorities) are proud to be PRO Women Empowerment, they are increasingly hiring women for the TOP positions, and attracting them as business partners. But this is more of a consequence of global changes.

The world is in a big crisis right now – economic, educational, financial, cultural. And we are forced to move from a mindset of «struggle and competition» to a mindset of «solutions, shared benefits and results». Somewhere this is happening faster and easier, somewhere harder and slower. However, year by year such factors as age, sex (gender), nationality are becoming less and less important. Values, skills, qualities and results become the priority. And I am very happy about it.

How to start? Determine the needs of the market (your main purpose), understand, which issues you can solve on your own, and what you need help with. And try to start small (MVP approach). That minimizes fear, risks and financial barriers.

Author Yulia Biliovska

Foto Kristina Sheihaitli (archive)