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international women’s day

#ChooseToChallenge This International Women’s Day

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, meet 8 of the UAE’s army of entrepreneurial Wonder Women choosing to challenge the world, and making change happen every which way they can

We do it every day, regardless. But March 8 – International Women’s Day – is the official day to celebrate the power, resilience and all-round magnificence of every single woman on the planet all the more.

This year’s International Women’s Day has the campaign theme of #ChooseToChallenge. As the collective states “A challenged world is an alert world, and individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help to create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change.” 

Choosing to challenge is a vital step forward in the continued empowerment of women in every corner of the world. To celebrate International Women’s Day, The Gaggler met 8 spectacular female entrepreneurs of the UAE, whose #ChooseToChallenge mindset is all the inspiration we need to keep championing women everywhere, every single minute of every single day, and ensuring their voices are heard ….

Maxine English

Nationality: British

Business: Co-Founder, Park Lane Live

Established: 2019

Your business in a nutshell:

Entertainment, Events, Communications. We discover what you actually need rather than what you think you want…

How will you be #ChoosingToChallenge to support International Women’s Day this year?

Sometimes the easy way to do things is to let people call you aggressive, emotional, bossy and take the easier route. I choose to challenge all people who think that a woman doesn’t have the right to express herself in the way they choose. I choose to challenge men being seen as assertive and women being seen as aggressive. I choose not making myself smaller to please other people.

Do you think the gender inequality problem is improving? 

Yes, because both men and women are discussing it. No longer do people shy away or grumble about it in dark rooms, people openly question inequality when they see it. Its education – if people aren’t aware that something is happening, they cannot do anything about it.

Who are the women speaking out that you admire the most and why? And how are you supporting the causes they champion?

I follow an incredible woman on Instagram @mother_pukka Anna Whitehouse whose tireless, day-to-day fight for mothers, women and the gender pay gap is endless. She recently brought a petition to Boris Johnson to keep the gender pay gap reports going. This basic transparency is essential for women in the UK and it’s depressing to think we have to fight for it.

“I hire other powerful women, and we celebrate the men I work with who empower women. Every single person in my team is equal – equal pay, equally seen and equally empowered.”

Maxine English

How does your business seek to empower other women?

As a business owner, I feel that I should lead the way in being a leader. Making sure I am in the room where the decisions are made. Ensuring that my voice is heard. Ensuring I point out gender inequality. I hire other powerful women and we celebrate the men I work with who empower women. You will always find amongst my teams that every single person is equal – equal pay, equally seen and equally empowered. My husband is my business partner and he celebrates my leadership at the top of his voice. Leading by example is showing everyone what can be done. It is how we must behave.

Starting your own business is no easy path, and success does not come easy. How do you deal with setbacks and failures?

Get up and keep going, every failure is a lesson. It’s as simple as that. You had to fail at something to learn something, so see it as a bonus as it will stop you making a bigger mistake in the future. Don’t waste the failure by missing the lesson. 

Mimi Nicklin

Nationality: British

Business: Founder, Mimi Nicklin/Empathy Everywhere

Established: 2020

Your business in a nutshell:

I’m an international bestselling Author and Executive Creative Director passionately driving the awareness of empathy in our world.

How will you be #ChoosingToChallenge to support International Women’s Day this year? 

Whilst I entirely support the passion and goal to drive womens roles and equity in society, I also believe the theme this year is un-empathetic to the journeys of women all around the world today.From my POV, to be asking us to challenge anything further than the existing daily challenges we are all already facing is a disconnected ask. As COVID-19 continues, we have seen that its impact, and its economic fallout, have had a far more regressive effect on women than our male counterparts, so my question today is, do we really need to be taking on anything bigger than overcoming the challenge of surviving and resetting the grips of the pandemic? After months of balancing it all – alone, from home, with children flying all around us and pets interrupting our board meetings I believe that this International Women’s Day we should be saying #ChooseToCelebrate. I believe we should be celebrating women for what they are doing, for who they have near them, for the moments they continue to endure when they realise they truly are doing it all, already. This month I want to say to women everywhere: choose to empathise with yourself and with the strong women around you because it is our survival, our tenacity and our grit that should be the ultimate celebration in March 2021.

“I want to say to women everywhere: choose to empathize with yourself and with the strong women around you because it is our survival, our tenacity, and our grit that should be the ultimate celebration in March 2021.”

Mimi Nicklin

Who are the women speaking out that you admire the most and why? And how are you supporting the causes they champion? 

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. It’s less a specific cause she is championing, but the example she is setting everyday. She reflects deep empathy for humanity regardless of gender and is proving to young women everywhere that there truly are no barriers. She became only the second prime minister in history to give birth whilst leading a country, and she continues to prove she can balance motherhood and political leadership seamlessly. 

“I hope to support women in finding our shared empathy, in honing the skill of using it and in building our confidence for using this to drive a better future for our children and those around us.”

Mimi Nicklin

How does your business seek to empower other women? 

My passion is to inspire empathy and the powerful role empathy has in connecting and healing our world. I hope to support women in finding our shared empathy, in honing the skill of using it and in building our confidence for using this to drive a better future for our children and those around us.

Who is your business icon? And what is it about them that you admire so much? 

Satya Nadella. He’s the CEO of Microsoft and a leading advocate for business strategy, innovation and growth that is led by empathy. He has truly proven that a ‘human first’ approach builds business as well as our shared humanity.

Starting your own business is no easy path, and success does not come easy. How do you deal with setbacks and failures? 

Every day, I try to look at the world through my daughter’s eyes (she’s three years old) and wonder what she sees that matters today. This perspective helps me balance what truly matters and to create the space needed to step away, take a breath and then start again!

Sara Chemmaa

Nationality: Moroccan

Business: Founder, Citron

Established: 2017

Your business in a nutshell: 

Citron is a Dubai-based family business that offers eco-friendly products from bamboo plates and beautiful printed lunchboxes to food jars, snack boxes, lunch bags, water bottles and food cutters. 

How will you be #ChoosingToChallenge to support International Women’s Day this year?

We always try to support local businesses led by women. We’re in the process of manufacturing new stands for stores, and instead of going straight to the factory in China, I’ve contacted women in the UAE who lead startups that are offering a competitive price and a better service. We try to ensure this is what we do on an ongoing basis, not just for International Women’s Day, but every day.

“Success doesn’t necessarily mean fame or money. It means you managed to make your dreams come true.”

Sara Chemmaa

What are the conversations that we need to hear about more so we can continue to empower women all over the world? 

Reminding women that they have the power to do whatever they want. We need to hear more stories about female entrepreneurs who are making changes throughout the region, with more relatable local stories, because I feel there’s a fatigue about hearing of those well known, international brands that made it. I could relate more to a local entrepreneur that started from scratch in the same environment as me who made it. Success doesn’t necessarily mean fame or money. It means you managed to make your dreams come true. Failure is part of the process, so why don’t we also hear about the ups and downs of running a business?

I’ve always chosen to consider and project myself as an equal. I refuse to let anyone label any sort of difference as gender inequality. I try to advocate as much as possible that women should stand up for their rights and believe that they are always on par with their male peers.”

Sara Chemmaa

Do you think the gender inequality problem is improving? 

I’ve been working in male dominated sectors for the last 13 years. I started in investment banking, then strategy/management consulting, followed by corporate strategy and now entrepreneurship. I’ve always chosen to consider and project myself as an equal. I refuse to let anyone label any sort of difference as gender inequality. I have always been paid as much as my male colleagues and been given the same privileges. Where I feel things get tricky for a woman is when she has a family and has to press pause on her career, while men can just carry on. I try to advocate as much as possible that women should stand up for their rights and believe that they are always on par with their male peers.

Who are the women speaking out that you admire the most and why? And how are you supporting the causes they champion?

I am a big fan of many local female champions. Natasha Hatherall from TishTash has been a true help to me during the past few years, and she always speaks up her mind. I also admire the many women that are making their business work on a daily basis whilst juggling kids and their careers, like Katy Rice, the founder of Eco-Souk. 

Do you think the female support network has grown stronger, both regionally and internationally over the last year?

I am a big fan of female support networks. They have been of massive help to me, whether it’s by offering small tips about which bank to choose to, meeting the most incredible women offering the best services. I see so much more activity now on the Female Fusion Facebook Group, and I love seeing how much everyone is willing to help one another.

Amy Hanbury

Nationality: British

Business: Founder, Odist

Established: 2020

Your business in a nutshell: 

We’re a beauty company focused on raising topics that matter and doing good through beauty, positioning ourselves as a brand beyond product and embodying a new form of luxury – positive luxury. We just happen to make exceptional beauty products. 

What are the conversations that we need to hear about more so we can continue to empower women all over the world? 

We need to learn about female experiences, period (no pun intended). In particular, we need to understand the challenges they have faced, both personally and professionally, and start the conversation there. The uncomfortable truth is that women often get in their own way, due to lack of confidence from being the burden of negative cultural and societal practices. If it’s not being a victim of the gender pay gap, it’s being forced into an early marriage; or leaving school early; or being subjected to physical, mental or emotional abuse by a male counterpart. Learning about these experiences and stories are vital to the progress of gender equality and empowering women.

“We empower women simply by connecting with them. We believe that sharing stories and experiences has always been one of the most effective ways to change minds and provoke action.” 

Amy Hanbury

How does your business seek to empower other women?

Being a female-founded company, empowering women doesnt stop and start at International Women’s Day – it’s something that we consider day in, day out. It’s a part of our mechanics. 

One of the ways we empower women is simply by connecting with them. We believe that sharing stories and experiences has always been one of the most effective ways to change minds and provoke action. Our latest series, ‘Odist Interviews’ gives women the platform to share inspiring stories and messages with the world, whether they’re beauty-related or not. So far, our community has touched on topics such as sustainability, marine conservation, breaking gender and cultural stereotypes and mental health amongst others. Pairing up with strong female role models is something we love, and will continue to do. 

What’s the best piece of advice to women considering starting their own business or making a big career change?

I can offer three pieces of advice to women looking to start their own business or who are in the process of changing careers:

Firstly, preparation and industry knowledge is key – don’t rush this process. Before starting Odist, I spent the best part of two years learning about the industry, researching customer habits, talking to manufacturers, sampling endless products and teaching myself the necessary skills to get started. By no means was I fully equipped when it came to launch, but I did have a well-considered, researched plan that I knew how to execute. 

Secondly, get yourself a business partner or mentor that holds a completely different skill set to you. I have yet to meet a founder that is fully capable and confident in all areas of their business.

Lastly, ensure your business is powered by purpose. When challenging times arise – and most new businesses will face uncertainty at some point – purpose is what will set you apart, keep you focused and motivate you when times get tough. 

What three tools would you recommend to anyone trying to start their own business?

I’d recommend finding a business that inspires you and conducting a detailed case study on the company. Get to know as much as possible; learn about the founder and their motives, understand why they started and how they did so, dive into their infrastructure and get to know their daily practices. If it’s feasible, contact the founder and tell them you’re interested in learning more about their business – you’ll be surprised how many founders are happy to offer advice and support. 

One of the most hard-hitting and influential books I have read that’s directly impacted my business is Do Purpose by David Hieatt.It offers insights on how to build a purpose-driven brand that exists for a reason over and above making profit. 

Lastly, I recommend checking out the ‘When Women Win’ podcast, hosted by Rana Nawas. She interviews an array of inspirational female business leaders from across the globe and asks them to share their stories and practical tools to help professional women get ahead. 

Aya Assaf

Nationality: Egyptian

Business: Founder, Koala Picks

Established: 2019

Your business in a nutshell:

Koala Picks provides healthy snacks and products for kids and families. We make clean products – no refined sugar, no preservatives, no artificial ingredients.

What are the conversations that we need to hear about more so we can continue to empower women all over the world? 

The challenges of female owners creating a start-up, and support given by the government. 

“We may not be there quite yet, but the start-up scene has seen an increasing number of female founders take the leap to go out on their own, which is a great sign.”

Aya Assaf

Do you think the gender inequality problem is improving? 

Yes it is improving. We may not be there quite yet, but the start-up scene has seen an increasing number of female founders take the leap to go out on their own, which is a great sign.

Do you think the female support network has grown stronger, both regionally and internationally over the last year? 

Yes, many female-led networking groups have launched and thrived during the past year, with a vision of supporting each other, I’m always amazed by the amount of knowledge and support I get through these groups.

What’s the best piece of advice to women considering starting their own business or making a big career change?  

GO FOR IT! Yes, the idea of leaving the corporate world or your comfort zone is scary to some, but I used to be once in the corporate world, and quitting that to pursue my dreams was the best decision I have made. I learned how to wield all the skills I gained from my corporate job into creating my new venture.

Who is your business icon? And what is it about them that you admire so much? 

There are many women I admire for the change they have created in their industries. But in particular, Tash Hatherall, for the change and innovation she has brought to the PR field through the TishTash agency, and Halima Jumani, Director and one of the founders of Kibsons, for the excellent service and quality of her business. She is truly a game-changer to the online retail scene.

Amanda Perry

Nationality: British

Business: Founder, Vitality

Established: 2010

Your business in a nutshell:  

Built for women by women, Vitality is a female-focused business accelerator with a mission to provide professional support to female led/co-led businesses looking to launch and/or scale their business. We also provide investment services for those start-ups wishing to raise funds.  

How will you be #ChoosingToChallenge to support International Women’s Day this year?  

Every day is Women’s Day for us. We use our time to seek out new opportunities for fellow female entrepreneurs, sharing knowledge, recourses and talent. On March 8, several members of our team are participating in webinars and panel discussions happening in the UAE, India, Pakistan, UK and the USA, discussing topics ranging from launching a business to the obstacles women face when seeking funding, again bringing forward the conversation about what else needs to happen to bring more women to the forefront with the equal opportunity they rightly deserve.

What are the conversations that we need to hear about more so we can continue to empower women all over the world? 

I believe we need more visible role models. We’re in a bit of a chicken and egg situation right now. We want more women stepping up, but as most of us know or believe, stepping up requires courage and conviction, and much of that comes from witnessing our peers achieving similar goals.  Men make easier role models – they’re more open about their achievements and promote it that way, whereas women generally let their results do the talking. Entrepreneurship has been widely more accessible to men over the last century (and longer) and therefore the majority of the success stories and the role models from those successes are men. We need to elevate the success stories of women, encourage women to share their stories and achievements with an audience to encourage more women and girls into business. As we increase the number of women in business, we increase the success stories, and more role models emerge to create the cycle.

“The numbers of women versus men who lost jobs in the pandemic is shocking. But we are women, and we have an amazing ability to rise up and see the opportunities and solutions available to us and don’t need a massive amount of support to succeed. We just need men to stand out of our way.”

Amanda Perry

Do you think the gender inequality problem is improving? 

It’s definitely improving, but COVID did set many women back as, yet again, women held the role of primary caregiver to families over lockdown, and their careers and businesses suffered as a result. The numbers of women vs men who lost jobs in the pandemic is shocking.  But we are women, and we have an amazing ability to rise up and see the opportunities and solutions available to us and don’t need a massive amount of support to succeed. We just need men to stand out of our way.

What’s the best piece of advice to women considering starting their own business or making a big career change?

Believe in Yourself – it really is that simple. If you don’t yet, find yourself a tribe of cheerleaders and undertake some personal development courses for mindset. Once you’re there mentally then the journey can begin and again, surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed and have the experience and expertise that can support you also. You turn will come to be the supporter when you’ve built your business.  There is a quote by Jim Rohn that I see used a lot and I find it a good grounding point – ‘You are the average of the people you spend the most time with.’  So choose mindfully.

Who is your business icon? And what is it about them that you admire so much?

I’ve got two. I think Donna Benton is remarkable – she is relatable and is such an inspiration and wonderful leader. I had the pleasure of sitting down to interview her recently for our Role Model YouTube series, and she just affirmed my girl crush even further. She is so switched on and sharp, witty and funny and when you speak with her it’s very clear that she is the type of person that will always see solutions rather than problems.  

I am also a big fan of Michelle Mone. I read her book several years ago and her story really grabbed me as it was a real ‘triumph over adversity’ journey much like JK Rowling. Their self belief and commitment got them their successes and I applaud them all for not only achieving but also sharing their wisdom.

SAM SALIBA

Nationality: German

Business: Founder, Art Painting Lab

Established: 2015

Your business in a nutshell :

We’re a Dubai-based Art Consultancy/Studio

How will you be #ChoosingToChallenge to support International Women’s Day this year?

By leading with compassion and empathy and imparting to fellow industry peers that quality, integrity, and stamina are feminine qualities and one of many paths to success. 

What are the conversations that we need to hear about more so we can continue to empower women all over the world? 

Conversations about bringing up sons and daughters with an equality mindset. Teaching young boys that they are feminists because they believe in equality. This will have a ripple effect into the future. 

“It’s not the women that I admire the most, it’s the men that call themselves feminist that I think unites the gap and changes many levels of indifference.”

Sam Saliba

Who are the women speaking out that you admire the most and why? And how are you supporting the causes they champion?

It’s not the women that I admire the most, its the men that call themselves feminist that I think unites the gap and changes many levels of indifference. Examples are Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, and ex-president Jimmy Carter.

Do you think the female support network has grown stronger, both regionally and internationally over the last year? 

I think in select social groups there is more of a female support group, mostly in the upper economic classes. If that is the case, it’s because women understand that other women have a great sense of responsibility. Let’s think of the word “mother” – mothers are multitasking, selfless, ever in motion, ever delivering with an inbuilt sense of responsibility, endlessly giving, growing and fabricating. Applying the same principles at work and in networks explains why so many companies in fact hire so many women. Not to say men do not have these qualities, also but equalizing to say, women have these qualities. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, as long as the team spirit and output is met and as long you’re happy doing the work and bringing in good energy. We all need good, friendly vibes to get the job done.”

Sam Saliba

How does your business seek to empower other women?

My business thrives on teamwork and equality. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, as long as the team spirit and output is met and as long you’re happy doing the work and bringing in good energy. We all need good, friendly vibes to get the job done. 

Sian Rowlands

Nationality: British

Business: Founder, Retold

Established: 2018

Your business in a nutshell:

Pre-owned fashion boutique, rehoming perfect-condition items from high-street brands to designer and luxury labels.

How will you be #ChoosingToChallenge to support International Women’s Day this year? 

I am dedicated March 8th to learning more about gender inequality and what other actions I can take in my life, whether its words that I need to banish from my vocabulary, or subconscious bias I have that I may not be aware of. I am challenging myself to go above and beyond my view of equality (as I am already an equalitist – like a feminist, but standing for equality rather than straight feminism).

“Women are Equal. Full stop. So we need to have conversations about the basics of equal rights, access to education and women in leadership roles. We need to have conversations about how women the world over are suppressed and what EVERYONE can do to combat that suppression.”

Sian Rowlands

What are the conversations that we need to hear about more so we can continue to empower women all over the world?  

All of them! Women are Equal. Full stop. So we need to have conversations about the basics of equal rights, access to education, women in leadership roles. We need to have conversations about how women the world over are feeling suppressed and what EVERYONE can do to combat that suppression.

Do you think the gender inequality problem is improving? 

I think it’s improving, but not quickly enough. Sadly,as with every systemic surpression, it takes time and a hell of a lot of incredible, brave people leading the way and relentlessly campaigning for equality. 2020 has been a bit of a tipping point for a lot of imperative movements, so hopefully in the coming months and years, these changes will actually start to take place rather than just being talked about.

Who are the women speaking out that you admire the most and why? And how are you supporting the causes they champion? 

Honestly, I support ANY and all women who are taking a stand on the things they believe in. I have always surrounded myself with strong, empowering, inspirational women (I come from a solid family of four daughters, so it’s part of my nature to seek this same environment out). There really are too many amazing women that I admire, so to name just a couple of my current inspirational women-crushes: Jessica Robinson – friend, mentor, sustainable finance expert, and author and Alex Light – ‘influencer’ who talks about women’s body image and how weight should NOT be a measure of beauty, and how society has distorted views on women’s value.

What tools would you recommend to anyone trying to start their own business?  

The book I love is Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Feel Better, Live More by Dr Ranjan Chatterjee is a podcast I cannot recommend enough – looking after yourself is SO crucial, and this podcast talks about all the ways that we can improve our lives, from holistic experts across the globe.

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