On March 30th, we hosted our Womens’ History Month event at Craigmillar Library with three incredible leading Scottish women. The gathering was a perfect setting to share experiences, discuss frustrations and learn from each other as women in entrepreneurship.
Our incredible panellists, Ana Betancourt (Black Goblin), Zakia Moulaoui (Invisible Cities) and Sara Thompson (Leith Collective), are each solving different problems through entrepreneurship and come from varied sectors and walks of life. However, profound similarities surrounding the challenges and obstacles in their journeys soon came to light.
This year’s UN Women’s Day theme, “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” resonates deeply with us at JCI Edinburgh: we believe that gender, climate and social justice are intertwined and interconnected – and sentiment came through loud and clear throughout our conversation.
Opportunity is at the heart of entrepreneurship; business is an uphill battle without constructive, connected support systems.
In a primarily white and male space, finding these opportunities can be a struggle. “Entrepreneurship is a privileged world,” Zakia said. “The idea of a ‘self-made man’ is a myth.” This frustration around accessing funding was consistent across the panel, whether a social enterprise or for-profit tech business.
When opportunities aren’t easy to come by, people fill this gap. Working at the intersection between science, tech and art, Ana’s road to entrepreneurship was about creating opportunities for those who can’t get their foot in the door. “We built Black Goblin as a space for diversity and opportunities for all people: whether you are a woman, a minority, or simply don’t live near your industry,” she said.
Connection and community
Finding people that we can connect with is a basic human need. While workplaces cannot replace family, so much of our waking hours are spent at work – and so the connections and community we find with our colleagues and customers can be incredibly fulfilling.
Sara’s Leith Collective is a beacon for creatives looking to bring their creations to market. Many makers find their community there, relying on their new friends for support. “We brought this community together to support each other,” Sara said. “The Collective has become a stand-in family for people who didn’t have family in Scotland. If you can create something like that for people, you will always succeed.”
Ana echoes this need for connection: striving to make sure that her colleagues and employees have the best lives they can was a driving factor in creating Black Goblin. Likewise, for Zakia, helping the guides find support and connection is critical to their mission.
A call for allyship
Men must be open to the fact that there are more barriers for women in business and help amplify voices. It doesn’t have to be transformative, but in small ways: whether that’s giving women space to share ideas, standing up for a colleague when someone speaks over them, and helping us reach the leadership potential that is within us.
“We need men to understand that it’s harder for women and younger people. They think we’re too much of a risk and can’t see that we could possibly succeed – until we’re already there.” – Zakia Moulaoui
Bringing humanity back to business
Throughout the conversation, a thread of humanity tied each of the panellists’ stories together. We exist and do business in a world where we are labelled and categorised, whether our gender, race, age, industry or simply how we dress. But people are more than just the boxes that we tick: we are the sum of our experiences, stories and people we know. For each of our panellists, bringing the people they work with and for into the heart of what they do keeps them focused on the big picture: the impact that they can create.
“The impact that you can have on people – people who once couldn’t look you in the eye and can now stand up in front of a crowd and deliver a tour – it’s just so fulfilling.” – Zakia Moulaoui
It is clear that the challenges that women face in entrepreneurship are complex, but by connecting, working together and sharing experiences, we can face these challenges head-on – and build a more inclusive space for future generations.
Thanks again to our incredible panel – let’s do it again soon!