Empowering Women in Entrepreneurship
KPMG Cyprus — Enterprise Tuesdays
Hi! My name is Andrea Solomonides and I am here today to talk about women in entrepreneurship. A bit about my background.
All of the things you see in the background defined me one way or another. In a good way, in a bad way, some still do some not anymore.
What that slide doesn’t tell you is that I got lucky. Really lucky. I was really lucky to have an amazing dad, who raised me, that kept telling me my mum made more money than him. I got lucky that my mum had also 3 sisters, all of them extremely successful at what they do. I got lucky that I had amazing teachers, male and female, that fostered that fire and that feeling that I was unstoppable. That I could conquer the world.
I was lucky to be able to play in the streets, the yards, the schools amongst boys and girls and to compete with all of them in every level. Those memories built a powerful platform for me to step on and go out there and make something of myself in this world.
During my adult years, I wasn’t so lucky. My powerful personality suddenly became “vivid”, code name for being a bitch, hysterical, with my period and so on. I’ve been denied positions because a woman can’t lead a mainly male team, not even a mainly female one. I’ve been an assault and battery victim. I’ve been denied positions because I wouldn’t sleep with the manager to go ahead. I’ve witnessed conversations where department heads would blame their inadequacy to their female colleagues, calling them “Kotes”.
And then, the world shifted. When I decided to get into the start up world after my MBA, it shifted. It was like when we were kids again. The big field, the mixed teams, the unlimited potential, the respect you once lost. Everything else didn’t matter. Because it shouldn’t…and it doesn’t.
Entrepreneurship leveled the field. It closed that infamous gap. The gender gap. No more corporate talk, no more career advancement, no more “a woman is paid 70 cents to a man’s dollar.” No more. In that field, only the best would prevail.
Although this entrepreneurial bug spread like a virus, that familiar question remained. How to get more women to play in that field. Twenty years ago it was about getting more women in politics. Ten years ago it was about management. Now is that. Women in entrepreneurship.
In January 2013, when trying to launch CEL’s pink edition I wrote in an article and I quote “I can safely say that it’s probably easier to build a rocket ship, fly the rover robot on Mars, than figuring out how on earth we could inspire women from different age groups, fields of work or area of expertise at the same time.”
That’s what happens when you try to separate women from a generic field. You struggle to find common ground besides the fact that they are women. And to my opinion always, things get messy when you try to apply different rules based on gender. You end up preaching to the wrong crowd. I am preaching to the wrong crowd.
When preparing for today’s discussion, I turned to my only viable option to test my thoughts and theories. A group of women. Professionals, founders, artists, engineers. I placed a very simple question. “How can someone empower you to get into entrepreneurship”. Their look was scary. And I felt that cause probably I would have that look if asked that question. The sum up is this:
Nobody even remotely touched the subject of the question. They thought it was ridiculous. As ridiculous is the fact that when the female engineer with the male marketing manager sit with a client, the client addresses the male for the technical issues. When someone calls up at the office and requests to speak someone in charge and the woman responds that she is, he still requests to speak to the CEO. When the female actor refuses to pretend she is some kind of mentally challenged person when acting in a female role, they call her unfeminine and a tomboy. When 70% of the company force is women and still only men get the chance to be partners. And last but not least, when a couple orders a beer and a coffee and the waiter automatically assumes that she’ll have the coffee.
I could relate. Trust me I could. 90% of what I’ve experienced, of what they’ve experienced applies for at least 90% of the women that sit in front of me today. And I know this cause I can see them nod while I speak.
Everything I’ve shared with you today, everything I’ve experience, made me better person. Not a better woman. And the reason I’m scared when taking any entrepreneurial step is not because I’m a woman. It’s because I’m human.
We don’t need laws that help us enter the door of entrepreneurship. We know where that door is. What we need is better representation everywhere. Better representation in media, in government, in sports. Let’s watch something relevant.
We need to find a way to stop dudes from writing “the pretty girl that made greeks proud”. Her name is Nicoletta and she won a freakin medal in the IAAF World Championships. The only greek athlete. Not woman. Athlete. (Thank god other get it. That was written by a man.)
Most importantly, we need to stop struggling to empower people that already know they are powerful. All we needed all along was to find ordinary women who are willing to to extraordinary things.
(The delivered speech may have minor alterations)