Anousheh Ansari Speaks at 2018 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards

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The 2018 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards ceremony convened under the theme “Bold Alchemy.” This theme drove the evening’s conversations and celebrations. The Awards ceremony itself consisted of two conversations with international high-profile speakers and a series of live and video talks showcasing the talent, expertise and experience of all 18 finalists. The finalists all showed personal commitment and engagement that made their businesses succeed with a positive social impact. For one night, the audience was transported into the world of women entrepreneurs.

Prodea’s CEO and Co-founder, Anousheh Ansari, was joined by panelists Ilian Mihov, and Shinta Widjaja Kamdani. The panel focused on advancing practical support mechanisms for women to access entrepreneurial opportunities. They explored concrete, actionable steps towards inclusion and active engagement. In addition, they addressed potential insights on the role of education and individual action to solve the biases that hold back women entrepreneurs. Fear was also one of the biggest hurdles facing an entrepreneur. Anousheh made it clear from her personal experience that, “You can never let your fears stop you from pursuing your passion. You don’t want to look back at your life with regrets.” She continued, “I hope to inspire everyone — especially young people, women and young girls all over the world, and those in Middle Eastern countries where women are not provided with the same opportunities as men.”

The panel agreed that the success of the 18 finalists grew from each woman discovering something they enjoyed and then dedicating everything to make it a success. When asked how she felt about the low numbers of females in STEM programs, Anousheh responded “It is very lonely in the classroom, as an engineer in the work place, and as a CEO. Women CEOs in tech are very rare and to me it is a shame because our world is changing rapidly due to technology that is growing exponentially. A lot of the new technology is being designed and used by men. However, when you get women involved, ideas and innovations do take different paths. I want to see more women involved in technology but it has to start at a very young age. Young girls in elementary school need to have their interest piqued in STEM because that is when they make choices based on their interests. They need to see career paths and opportunities that in the past have been more male focused. In STEM education, it can be more difficult for women because they can be made to feel that they do not belong there. They need to feel accepted and loved for their choices. Specifically, in Iran, there are families that discourage their daughters from going into these fields. As parents, we need to start earlier and encourage them to take risks so they learn that they can take risks. The courage to take that first step is what is needed to create more women entrepreneurs. Women can be afraid to fail, but if they do fail, they need the courage to try again until they succeed.”

The panel discussed the biases and impediments women face when entering tech and leadership positions. They agreed that now there were tangible paths and real initiatives focused on getting more women in the boardroom and into executive tech positions. The practical support mechanisms needed to encourage women included balancing family with career, mentorship, gender equality in the workplace, reducing the pay gap, improved recruitment, and daycare. Furthermore, regarding biases towards women entering education and the work place, the panel felt that the gender biases that we are all unaware of were more dangerous than those biases we are aware of. Men and women still has some bias that they may not realize are affecting their daily interactions and decisions. Research states that if you want to see progress in gender equality, you must give more responsibilities to women. This is why development of women entrepreneurs is so important. Unfortunately, financing for women and their ideas is a challenge. Ansari shared that “in Silicon Valley, women have a tough time getting access to funding. Men and their ideas are much more easily funded.” This blatant gender discrimination shows that societal institutions and their outdated beliefs are still major obstacles.

Support for women to succeed in their careers must extend to support in their homes. The panel addressed the cultural shift regarding the roles of men and women. Today there is no reason why we are not gender-equal in both the home and at work. “The family responsibilities have traditionally fallen on the woman, but today we see shared family responsibilities between men and women. They are creating a more equal and balanced homelife which translates into more opportunity for a woman’s career to develop“ said Anousheh.

Ansari’s closing advice to women was heartfelt and mirrored her own experiences. “Being realistic in what you want to do is important. Understand that the journey will be tough and you will have to make a lot of sacrifices. Once you enter this journey with a prepared mind, your chances of success are increased. Courage is what every entrepreneur needs and women entrepreneurs need it more than anyone else.”

The Cartier Awards was a true celebration of women and bold ideas. Congratulations to all of this year’s amazing Cartier Awards Laureates!