In Iran, there was a time when if someone asked the question “Who is the manager/founder/CEO of your company?”, the answer usually started with “He is…”.
Despite the fact that in Farsi the terms “he” and “she” are the same, one would automatically assume it was a “he”. However today, that thought is rapidly changing in many professional and working circles in Iran and now many actually wonder whether the owner is indeed a man or is in fact a woman?
Nazanin Daneshvar, the founder of Takhfifan, an e-commerce group buying website, explained at the Iranian ‘Bridge 2014’ event how difficult it was for her to enter the Iranian market and to be taken seriously as a female founder and manager. She explained how some potential clients of hers didn’t take her seriously, and didn’t want to believe that a (26 year old) woman would be the manager of the company. This misunderstanding resulting in having to bring her father in to ‘introduce’ him as the ‘actual’ manager in order to proceed with winning over her new clients.
There are also female entrepreneurs who have had some hot recent exposure like Homa Pourmohammadi, founder of Cafegardi.com, a social community website for ranking and reviewing cafes in Iran, and Ghazal Shishavani the co-founder iroopon.com, a blog and group-buying website. Of course, these women are among a few dozen examples of women entrepreneurs in Iran who have recently started a startup and had a success story to match.
Recently a “Startup Weekend for Women” event was held in Tehran with the goal of creating a welcoming and nurturing space for women to improve their skills, test some ideas, draw inspiration and build their professional networks. 65% of the participants along with all the judges and mentors were female. This event helped encourage more women, regardless of their profession or education, to start a business, improve their entrepreneurial skills, make friends and perhaps meet their future co-founders.
After a question posed to the Vahidian sisters; two of the organisers of the Start-up Weekend Tehran: Women, about how much the event had helped women build start-ups, they said:
One single event won’t be enough to make a big change in encouraging more women in entrepreneurship, but it’s a start. The Vahidian Sisters
The Vahidian sisters, Reyhaneh & Bahareh, are also the founders of The Wiseup Community, a monthly breakfast gathering held in a cafe in Tehran with the purpose of building a small community of entrepreneurs and enthusiasts to share their knowledge and experiences, and for young entrepreneurs to get advice from more experienced individuals. The awareness of the event started with just their friends and since the founders were women themselves, it encouraged more women to participate and be involved. The two young entrepreneurs tell us their story on how ‘Wiseup’ was born.
“Basically the Startup Weekend events were our gateway to the world of IT and because of our own lack of knowledge in this field we came up with the Wiseup idea so that people with different professional fields would gather around and share theirs.”
We asked them if entrepreneurship amongst women had increased in the past couple of years. They said, “Well, there have always been women entrepreneurs in Iran. They just didn’t have that much media exposure for everyone to know. To give an example, we have Seyedeh Fatemeh Moghimi. A few years back, she entered the transportation business, a business no woman has ever entered! She is now the Managing Director of a big transportation company and President of Women Entrepreneurs Affairs in Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines and Chairman of The Business Women Council of Tehran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines.”
We also came across Mina, a young entrepreneur in Tehran struggling to assemble a team for her start-up. We asked her about the difficulties she is facing.
I think the main ability we all should posses is to ‘get up, clean up’ after each time we fall!
Mina – A start up enthusiast in Tehran
We asked Mina how she thought young entrepreneurs, especially women, should empower themselves and force their way through the many obstacles that are among them. “I think the main ability we all should posses is to ‘get up, clean up’ after each time we fall. I never had a successful start-up; I actually had 2 failed ones. I got really down and lost hope each time I failed, but I managed to ‘get up, clean up’ and keep moving on and gained a lot of experience by failing. I’m really happy that I’m not afraid of failing anymore. I think that is the source of power we need to have. I think sometimes we women just don’t believe in ourselves as much as we should; instead, we rely on society, friends and family to give us the thumbs up which sometimes doesn’t happen.”
“Many of the women in our community lack the self confidence to start something big or to start any business for that matter,” she said, “Of course not all of us are like this but it’s safe to say the majority are so. We constantly feel society won’t accept us in managing roles therefore it’s hard to have that entrepreneur attitude and culture we should have. One other big thing that happened to me was that I feel many men won’t accept me as a person to have authority in work or as a team leader.
I feel many men won’t accept me as a person to have authority in work or as a team leader.
I think this is due to the wrong belief and culture we still have that men are the working force and women have the main role in the house. I personally think a man faces fewer obstacles in society than any woman. I am, however, optimistic about my work and I’m trying to overcome the professional impediments I have.”
Not only has the change in cultural and social behaviors in Iran had a great impact on creating the entrepreneurial culture, but coupled with Iran’s financial crisis of 2009 and the economic problems that followed have forced men and women into the private sector and entrepreneurship. The number of female entrepreneurs in Iran is changing at a very high speed, and it will definitely help Iran past its economical problems at a faster pace.
Clearly, entrepreneurship amongst women in Iran is going viral, but it is still miles away from where it should be since Iran has the largest highly educated female population in the Middle East, (nearly 62% of university students are female according to The Ministry of Education). Despite this, Iran is seeing a significantly larger number of women entering previously male dominated professions. According to recent statistics, 9.2% of entrepreneurs in Iran are now women, yet only 4% of management positions are held by them, (who mostly tend to be running design firms).
% of University students are female
% Of Entrepreneurs In Iran are Female
% In Management Positions in Iran that are Female
Potential Amongst Women
Despite many cultural and social barriers, women in Iran are already well known in many professions, from literature and art to medicine and engineering. Despite the very high number of educated women in Iran, this had not yet translated into overall high employment rates or growth in entrepreneurship. In the next few years we predict an increasing number of women starting businesses and building exciting start-ups.
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*Partial blog photo credit; ladybug.io