Only 10% of internet entrepreneurs across the world are women. Except in Middle Eastern cities, it seems

CONFERENCES on start-ups, the old joke
goes, are the only events where there is
never a queue for the ladies’ room. Only 10%
of internet entrepreneurs across the world
are women, according to Startup Compass, a
firm that tracks such things.
Except in Amman and other Middle Eastern
cities, it seems. There, the share of women
entrepreneurs is said to average 35%—an
estimate seemingly confirmed by the mix of
the sexes at “Mix‘n’Mentor”, a recent
gathering in the Jordanian capital organised
by Wamda, an online publication for start-
ups.
Reasons abound, and they are not always
positive, says Nina Curley, Wamda’s editor.
Although more than half of university
graduates in many Middle Eastern countries
(51% in Jordan) are women, the workforce is
dominated by men (women provide only 21%
of it overall, and a paltry 16% in Jordan). The
internet, however, is a new space that is
more meritocratic and not as heavily male.
The technology also lets entrepreneurs work
from home, making it easier to raise children.
Still, being a woman entrepreneur in the
Middle East is tough, if a round table at the
Wamda event is any guide. “It’s sometimes
hard to get taken seriously,” said one
panellist. “Try telling a male employee that
he has made a mistake,” lamented another.
And a third participant reported: “My mother
always complains that I work too hard. ‘Why
do you do this to yourself? When do you get
married?’ she asks.”
Many firms run by women entrepreneurs deal
with what are labelled female issues
(weddings, parenting advice, recipes), but
even in other types of firm, male colleagues
agree that woman tend to trump them in
management skills. “As a woman, you have to
fight for everything here—which is a great
preparation for being an entrepreneur,”
argues Sarah Abu Alia, the founder of
ArtMedium, a concert organiser which also
runs an online video channel for alternative
Arabic music.
The number of women entrepreneurs in the
Middle East is likely to grow, including in the
least likely places. “Well-educated women in
Saudi Arabia want to work, but their family
often objects,” explained an entrepreneur at
the Wamda shindig. “Running an internet
start-up from home is the perfect
compromise.”