For this symbolic day – dedicated to the fight for women’s rights, equality and justice – we interviewed three women entrepreneurs from the SINGA network to discuss the issues of sexism and racism in the workplace. Meeting with Loriane Thomas, Nadia Al Soleman and Raby Hamelin.
Loriane Thomas comes from Gabon, she arrived in France about 15 years ago. She is the mother of two children, a freelance digital marketing consultant, and the creator of the Orèma podcast for multicultural entrepreneurial mothers.
« While talking with mothers who have business projects or who are starting their own business, I realized that many of us were facing the same challenges, and that’s where the idea of the Orèma Community came from. SINGA in Lille helped me create this community. I recognized myself in the values of diversity promoted by SINGA because they are the same values I defend with Orèma.»
Nadia Al Soleman is an FLE (French as a foreign language) trainer, president of SINGA Nantes and founder of the AREA association for the success of allophone students, whose mission is to support allophone families (students and parents) in their education.
« I arrived from Syria with my husband and daughter in 2016, being a French teacher with ten years of experience I decided to continue my studies to get a master 2 in French as a foreign language. I discovered SINGA in 2020 through my network and that was the beginning of the creation of Singa Nantes, I joined the first promotion and it was the beginning of an enriching journey that led to the creation of the association AREA with today two employees and about twenty volunteers. After my experience with SINGA, I decided to join the team and to defend as president of SINGA Nantes the cause for which SINGA fights every day.»
Nadia Al Soleman
Raby Hamelin has created a training and professional integration program for women in the fields of beauty and well-being. La Beauté du Monde Inclusive aims to make the world of cosmetics and beauty more inclusive and responsible.
« I created La Beauté du Monde Inclusive to respond to the difficulties of access to work for women, particularly through integration, which is still largely oriented towards jobs that are primarily for men. And to enable women to reconcile their cultures of origin and their aspirations for autonomy with the expectations of a rapidly expanding economic sector.»
N.A.S.: The entrepreneurial journey requires courage, willingness and risk taking for both men and women.
When it comes to a woman entrepreneur, mother and newcomer, the margin of risk to be taken must be limited. That’s why we do our best not to fail, even if it means staying up late at night in front of the computer screen and working during family and childcare time.
From my experience and that of other women I meet at SINGA, the biggest obstacle is not to be surrounded, encouraged and supported. I was fortunate to have all the support and encouragement, help and advice that many women I have known did not have and at some point they gave in to the great load of pressure and difficulties.
These women needed to be believed in their ability to succeed and in their competence and know-how.
N.A.S.: Absolutely, it is worse than what one can believe because the difficulties arise at several levels. There are difficulties that concern beliefs, cultures of the societies of origin where the question arises on the legitimacy of the woman to undertake, even on her autonomy and her freedom of choice. We must not forget that the struggle of women in these societies marks an important gap between them and French society.
There are also difficulties linked to legitimacy in the host society. This requires a double effort to be recognized as a newcomer first and a woman second. This is a difficulty that I have had to face several times, but which has only strengthened my motivation and my will to contribute to changing the way people look at migration and especially at migrant women.
Inappropriate comments, a condescending tone… In the United States, women have created the email address of a fake male colleague to demonstrate the difference in treatment between men and women. Once started in entrepreneurship, what are the stereotypes that women still have to face?
L.T.: I am not surprised to read this because during my experience as an employee I also experienced this.
Once I became self-employed, I chose to target mostly women clients and sometimes mothers because I find that there is more understanding and respect between people who have common points. I also noticed that women entrepreneurs were often infantilized by their male clients or counterparts, but also sometimes hyper-sexualized.
Finally, there is the stereotype around age, at a time when young women are becoming interested in entrepreneurship at an increasingly early age, they are not taken seriously enough because of their precocity.
L.T.: This is a very good question, and I have no doubt that the results would be similar when talking about entrepreneurship. I say this because racial bias is still deeply embedded in our society.
Nevertheless, in digital, the field in which I work, I observe that racialized or veiled women have an easier time speaking up and making a place for themselves. There is a greater freedom to make ourselves visible in order to choose or attract clients who look like us or who will be perfectly comfortable with our identity.
The advantage is that an entrepreneur works with his clients and not for them, there is no hierarchy like when you have an employer.
R.H.: Of course, it’s always positive and useful to be able to refer to and rely on inspiring initiatives or journeys, especially those of women.
But I don’t think that women need role models or great figures to launch themselves into entrepreneurship. If they have a business project, if they carry it deep inside themselves, they will find the desire, the energy and the strength to undertake. More than models, they need opportunities, confidence and space to defend and develop their project. Desire, courage, perseverance, initiative, all of this comes with the project!
R.H.: I am not sure I can give advice… I believe that you must first trust yourself and your experience, remain combative, always, and leave your complexes aside. But you also have to know how to surround yourself with people, how to listen to them, including divergent opinions, and how to take the time (even if you don’t always have it!) to decide.