This week I read that the women in Saudi are soon to be smiling with the driving ban about to be lifted. Being able to drive in a country that has virtually no public transport will be life changing for many. Aside from the fact that the Saudi roads are already massively overcrowded and the logistics of how on earth you can overnight open up opportunities for driving to millions of women, getting women behind the wheel has got to be good for society and good for women. There will also be a tremendous sense of relief amongst women in business who have for a long time been frustrated about the driving restrictions placed upon them.
But whilst the West has been fixated on Saudi’s driving ban, my experiences in Saudi have shown me that driving is for the most part an irrelevant or otherwise just a tiny barrier for women seeking to own and run their own businesses there. There are other barriers that create far more difficulty.
It’s not for me to head here into the legal and other restrictions on women, but what I have found remarkable in delivering entrepreneurship training to women in Saudi is that one of their real barriers is ‘that little voice in our heads’.
Ever heard a woman in the West say ‘I’m not sure if I‘m good enough’, ‘what if they don’t like what I’m selling’, ‘am I experienced to set up and run this business’, ‘what if someone finds out I’m not as confident as I look’, ‘I just don’t know enough about business’, etc. that little voice in our heads has a lot to answer for and has held back so many businesses.
The reality is that those voices in our heads create fear…
Fear prevents us from making decisions, taking risks, or listening to our gut about the fact that we know we are good and that our products are good and our customer service is great. Fear can be paralysing though and one thing you can’t afford to be when you are running a business is paralysed by fear.
So women in the West spend too much time listening to those little voices in their head, and Saudi women do too. Yes, Saudi women have difficulty getting their businesses licensed, overcoming the regulatory hurdles and they currently spend far too much time hanging around waiting for their driver to arrive to pick them up, but their greatest stumbling block, from what I have seen is taking themselves seriously, believing in themselves, having the courage to do it and being confident that their ambition is not going to antagonise the more traditional family and friends or damage their relationships with their husband or children.
What I love about training though is that sometimes just raising these issues in a group enables a discussion to take place between people who have spent years thinking that they are the only one with such enormous self doubt, low self esteem, poor self confidence or endless, all consuming worries about ‘what if…’.
There is often no reason for such feelings, as women around the world become more educated and gain qualification, after qualification.
Ironically, many have suggested that the way forward for women in business is to get educated and get qualified, but in my experience, not even gaining 5 degrees and 3 doctorates will be enough to eradicate the doubt or raise the self-esteem. Bits of paper (i.e. qualifications) raise your credibility externally but seldom raise your sense of self worth internally.
What is crucial therefore is that we create an environment where we are able to discuss how women feel, why women feel the way they do and develop strategies to develop confidence and self-esteem alongside gaining those essential qualifications so that women can enter into business feeling empowered and self-confident.