Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1975. Margaret Ann Bulkley, the first lady-surgeon, was born in the XVIIIth century. The year 1878 saw the opening of the Bestuzhev Courses in imperial Russia. Independent women, ready for gender equality have had to prove to be as worthy, intelligent, and strong as men. Nowadays, society remains by and large patriarchal, so businesswomen’s life is anything but easy. Nevertheless, against all odds, we will manage. Of this, Mila Smart Semeshkina, CEO of Lectera.com is absolutely sure.
The phrase ‘women’s success in international business’ is rather contradictory, though it’s not obvious at first sight. The thing is in most world cultures, the successful woman concept usually has nothing to do with business.
The majority of the world’s population believes that the main, if not the only, sphere of life for women to realise their ambitions in is the family. For centuries, a happy wife and mother, a well-maintained household, healthy children, and a lifelong housewife status have been considered the biggest ‘success points’ for women and are still viewed as such in most countries. According to this stereotype, the words ‘woman’ and ‘business’ just don’t belong together, implying that businesswomen have no other choice for some reason or another. Unable to find a good husband and build a happy family, such women are ‘forced’ to realise their potential elsewhere, i.e., in the sphere of making money.
Most people find it hard to believe that women’s choice to start a business could be conscious, thus disregarding their success in the field. Men often feel intimidated by such women, viewed as too ‘free-spirited’, passionate about gender equality, self-confident in communication, or demanding when it comes to splitting responsibilities, incomes, etc. The view of the wife’s main life purposes being to support her husband and take care of her household prevailing, such women are usually not very popular with men, which perpetuates the established stereotype of women and business success being absolutely incompatible.
Nowadays, more and more women are busting this myth by becoming successful both in business and their personal lives. Good-looking, confident, strong, and independent, they prove to be able to support not only them- selves but also their teams, thus deserving respect and admiration in society. With the existing stereotypes being gradually destroyed, the idea of female happiness and success is slowly but surely starting to mean something new. In my opinion, it has been a long time coming.
I think this stereotype is rooted in the close meanings of the words ‘succeed’ and ‘success’. Back in the day, to be considered successful, a woman had to ‘succeed’ in getting married ‘in time’, while being ‘left behind’ and becoming a spinster were viewed as the worst female vices imaginable. This is directly related to the common belief that ‘female happiness’ lies in getting it from the husband but not earning it by means of the wom- an’s own talents and efforts.
This concept has eventually undergone a considerable transformation, taking a more ‘universal’ or rather ‘male-centric’ shape. Meanwhile, a successful woman nowadays, apart from being as independent financially as an average businessman, is still supposed to have a wonderful family, a nice house, and a perfect appearance, otherwise considered ‘incomplete’. As for men, to be considered successful, all they have to do is make their businesses a success. So, the requirement list for women is obviously much longer. There are not so many women able to manage that much, even though we are seeing more of them, which is great. Still, even if they have got everything covered by becoming happy wives and mothers, perfect housekeepers, and prominent businesswomen, sometimes, even that is not good enough. We still live in the men’s world, the business world being even more so. That’s why women have to work twice as hard to prove their worth and right to be there just because they are women. For example, if a busy father misses a teacher-parent meeting, it’s no big deal. In the meanwhile, if a busy mother does the same, she is at fault one way or another. To justify this difference, the same old clichés, like, ‘She’s a mother after all!’ or ‘She should consider her family her top priority!’ are highly likely to be used.
It’s no surprise why the business sphere has always been considered an inherently male field. With its huge risks implied, business feeds into men’s natural inclination to taking on challenges, which explains their passion for extreme sports or even physical violence. Meanwhile, women are less prone to taking risks, thinking it more sensible to leave it to men and rely on their protection instead. So, historically, if a man succeeded, his wife automatically shared his success. If not, the woman could not be a success either. Nowadays, women have a choice of paving their own way in life by taking risks themselves and achieving their own success. Meanwhile, women, becoming successful on the international arena, are usually much more hardworking and multifaceted professionals than their male counterparts – a truly one-of-a-kind role model. As to me, Oprah Winfrey has been my ideal ever since I was a little girl. I’ve been also following the careers of such outstanding celebrities as British barrister Amal Clooney and Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. It makes me really happy to see women from Oriental countries becoming more independent, pursuing their dreams, demonstrating their talents, and achieving great success, especially in the financial sphere. Maintaining their businesses and getting involved in venture investments on the one hand, they live their lives to the fullest on the other, travelling the world, building happy families, and becoming prominent politicians. Among them are successful Chinese businesswomen Yang Huiyan and Fan Hongwei, as well as influential Emirati politician Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi. Historically, middle-eastern women have held much more traditional views on matters like this, compared to European women, which makes these particular ladies’ cases even more special. Sending a very promising message to all women around the world, these success stories can hopefully change the social perspective of women’s position in business and politics, opening new doors for their self-fulfilment.
I still remember my first visit to Dubai many years ago. There was a pretty young woman, very nicely dressed, with diamonds on, a designer Dior bag among her accessories, helping me with my papers. And I thought to myself, ‘What a beautiful and hard-working woman! Her country must be proud of her’. Now, I do not feel surprised in such cases any more, but feel just as happy as back then. It is great that, in today’s fast-paced world, women are finally getting their chance to become established and successful professionals. We are still supposed to meet a lot of expectations. OK, we, no doubt, will. For, we are women!