Tech companies need to focus on retaining female employees by reducing unconscious bias, and fostering a culture that treats all employees fairly and equally, regardless of ethnicity or gender.
That's one of the key takeaways from a recent Connecting Africa interview with Selina Bieber, who is GoDaddy's regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and South Africa.
She is working to empower female entrepreneurs in the region with online tools, solutions and training to help make their businesses successful.
Bieber spoke to Connecting Africa about her passion for the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the things that connect women all over the continent and world.
Paula Gilbert (PG): Can you tell me a bit about your background and where you grew up?
Selina Bieber, regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and South Africa at GoDaddy.
Selina Bieber (SB) : My background is quite mixed and diverse.
I was born in the UK, born to a Turkish mother and German father. I spent my primary school years in the UK, traveling quite extensively with my parents and spending a lot of my pre-school years in Turkey with my grandparents.
I didn't realize it then, but my language skills, appetite to engage with people and cultures, and to learn more about the world around me stemmed from these foundational years.
As a family, we moved to Australia when I was nine, which was another growth experience for me – getting used to a new country, opening myself up to new experiences.
Since then, I have moved countries five more times – something which is much easier said than done.
PG: Growing up, what were your aspirations, and how have your goals and ambitions changed over time?
SB: I have always been a social person and good communicator, often writing stories and articles with a strong sense of ethics, equality and understanding the person standing opposite me – these characteristics had me dreaming of being a journalist or some kind of storyteller.
I left Australia in 2007 with one thought in mind: I want to succeed and make a difference in this world – and I thought Istanbul was the right place to start.
Over time, I have come to know myself much better, and understand what "success" and "making a difference" mean within different contexts, roles and cultures.
Together with what I could call my personal but universal objective, I've always tried to have a next step for my own growth and development in mind – both at a professional and personal level – and kept my leadership ambitions top of mind.
PG: You have traveled extensively in Africa. What are the trends that you see which are holding women back from success? And on the flip-side, what are African women doing that is uniquely helping them succeed?
SB: While I am still listening and learning about the experiences of women entrepreneurs in Africa, I believe many of the challenges that African women face around equality, opportunity and fair treatment are also shared global issues faced in countries around the world.
I have observed that African women have strong insights when it comes to business.
The entrepreneurial ideas, coupled with the resilience coming out of the continent, is incredibly powerful to watch.
Entrepreneurialism is driven by the ability to function in a variety of different situations and social contexts, while identifying and pivoting based on the opportunities offered specifically to solve the local market need.
From local jewelry designers and self-branded coffee, to CV writing services and affordable optical services, there is a lot of innovation and solution development coming from women in Africa.
PG: How do we make sure the business world is more inclusive of women?
SB: In my opinion, there are two core areas that lay the foundation for recognizing the role that women can and should play in the broader business and macro-economic landscape.
Firstly, changing the current mindset to help ensure women are treated equally and have a voice – whether this is inclusion in research for product or solution design (e.g. voice recognition, which initially ignored women altogether) or reviewing your own company gender data to uncover unconscious biases that can be remedied.
Secondly, providing further access to education, particularly Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) led education, to help women become interested in technology-driven sectors, and to have them acquire the skills so that women are involved in design and development processes from day one.
It is encouraging to see an increased number of women in engineering fields being realized in South Africa, but there is still more to do.
I was fortunate enough to take a computer engineering class when I was 15 or 16 years old, after being laughed at by a male teacher.
We need to show the younger generation of girls that they can become engineers, developers, designers and anything else they set their minds to.
PG: How do you deal with being a female boss in such a male dominated field?
SB: I think it starts as a personal level first and foremost – I don't consider myself a female at work.
I am a director, a region owner, an employee, and this allows me to focus on the work at hand, collaborating with my peers and reports to achieve the common business goal.
According to the 2019 GoDaddy Diversity Report, GoDaddy pays men and women in similar jobs at parity across the company, marking the fifth consecutive year the company has achieved this goal.
The data also illustrates that GoDaddy continues to make progress to reduce bias, yet GoDaddy recognizes there is work to do to increase the overall population of females and ethnic minorities across the company.
Given its commitment to gender equality and diversity in the workplace, GoDaddy fosters my own personal mindset across the entire global organization, and encourages me to drive for opportunities for more female empowerment within the technology sector and within our company.
PG: What leadership advice would you give to other women and young girls?
SB: There are three pieces of leadership advice that I would share:
1. Communicate: Speak up, facilitate open communications and build a network of peers to help create a collective and collaborative environment for yourself. You never know when a contact may become a business partner or open a new door for you. And don't be afraid to ask questions either; they can only serve to enlighten you, even if the answer is negative – your takeaway is learning.
2. Empathy: The inability to put yourself in someone else's shoes is often the root cause of a misunderstanding or someone's behavior towards you, a task, topic or similar. Take a step back and try to view it from their perspective.
3. Keep your eye on the prize: Know yourself, your strengths, ambitions and how you can achieve them – there will be bumps and detours in the road, you may have to change your vehicle along the way, but you are the key to your own development and success.
PG: We are slowly seeing more gender balance in tech companies, but how do we speed this up?
SB: The technology sector has been working to address this issue, however, there is much more to be done.
We need to get more women into tech companies – and in all positions, including technical roles – as women continue to remain under-represented.
We need to open the door to promising female candidates who may not have had the traditional experience that tech companies have been used to looking for in potential candidates.
Tech companies can consider hiring women at the ground level, giving them an opportunity where they can hone their skills and become an integrated part of the tech sector culture.
And tech companies need to focus on retaining female employees by reducing unconscious bias, and fostering a culture that treats all employees fairly and equally – from performance reviews to career advancement to pay – regardless of ethnicity or gender.
We need to remove obstacles which have contributed to lessening the involvement of young women in STEM, by identifying what influences secondary school girls' choice of subjects.
We can encourage the importance of female mentorship in the tech industry. Women leaders in the tech industry can become mentors to women in secondary school and in universities, to help guide them to be interested in working in the sector, and offering opportunities for entry.
PG: How do you find a balance between work and your home life? Or is balance just an illusion?
SB: I wish I could say I'm a pro at it, but finding balance is definitely easier said than done.
My husband is an entrepreneur and business owner, so we share the same kind of work ethic, and are able to work side-by-side or bounce ideas off one another – my experience benefits him and vice versa. I believe this is the foundation for a true partnership.
As a mother I make it a point to designate certain times that are completely off limits for me – bedtime, for example – and this is blocked on my calendar, so my priority is my family during this time.
If I go on a business trip, I will 100% focus on work and business during my trip, but take time out once I am back to spend special, uninterrupted time, with my son, and tell him about where I have been and what I have done.
What I have learned is that it is up to each person to decide what balance means to them, and respect that line for yourself.
PG: I know you have a particular passion for the entrepreneurial ecosystem. What is it about this space that excites you?
SB: Entrepreneurs are thinkers, doers, creators, they see a problem or need and work to solve it. I have massive respect for their work ethic, their resilience and ability to reinvent themselves, traits which are seldom seen elsewhere.
They are of all ages, including representatives of the upcoming generation and the future of the market. It's important that we listen and support these visions and growth opportunities.
I admire that entrepreneurs are open to guidance, advice, learning. I always find every conversation I have with an entrepreneur refreshing.
I feel privileged to be able to offer advice and support, but I also walk away having learned something or gained a new perspective. These conversations push me to consider a new idea, approach or push myself to challenge myself.
PG: What have you observed about the startup scene in Africa? Are there a lot of female-run startups that are making waves or gaining traction?
SB: Women are still in the minority when it comes to South Africa's entrepreneurial landscape. More than half of South Africa's population is female, yet only 34% of SMEs are women-led, according to a survey conducted by Facebook in partnership with the World Bank and OECD.
However, we have noticed that a large number of our GoDaddy Digital Training workshop attendees are female entrepreneurs. We are encouraged to see so many women joining and learning about the benefits of having an online presence, and how to get started.
We are hoping that they go on to become successful entrepreneurs, and we look forward to being able to help them on their online journey.
One female-run startup which is on the path to making waves is one of our customers, Marissa Vogel from Konfetti Love.
She first launched her website for her event design and styling company last year – at the same time GoDaddy officially launched in the South African market in March 2019. And her team helped with the styling and décor for GoDaddy's launch event. One year later, the creativity and hard work Marissa has invested in her website is paying off.
PG: What have you noticed from your work in Africa in comparison to your experience in other markets?
SB: We have found in working with entrepreneurs around the world that they have similar experiences and challenges.
They have innovative ideas, work hard to make their business grow and be successful, and they experience and overcome challenges along the way.
Last year, GoDaddy global research found that 84% of small business owners in South Africa surveyed said that they were happier since becoming an entrepreneur, as compared to 72% globally.
And 91% of South African respondents said that they would do it again, compared to 79% globally.
Looking at Turkey and the South African market, and now seeing similarities with Egypt, we have noticed that greater price sensitivity, need for accessible tools and solutions that help businesses take the digital plunge, along with the perceived lack of tech skills, are core challenges for many small business owners across the region.
Another observation these markets have in common is their young, entrepreneurially-inclined population, mobile-first and interested to adapt to new trends spirit.
They are also resilient societies, and populations that pivot as they face new challenges. All these markets have been very positive to GoDaddy's market entry, have proactively engaged with our brand and tools, and shared their own stories.
PG: You call yourself a foodie and travel addict, so what is the best restaurant you have been to and what's your favorite travel destination?
SB: I love quality food and flavors, and have been fortunate to explore many cuisines across the region.
For example, last time I was in Joburg I had an amazing meal at Marble Restaurant on recommendation from our local agency – the quality of meat is truly next level, but the view from the terrace after a long day was refreshing.
On a warm summer night, I'll crave Mediterranean mezes from this quaint restaurant called Bahce in Kas on the south coast of Turkey. Or dim sum from Din Tai Fung in Singapore – the only reason I would leave the airport when in transit for a few hours on my way back to Australia.
My favorite travel destination is the one I haven’t yet visited – another culture, another place to explore, new foods to try. But as a family, we keep going back to Sardinia whenever we get the chance. I have dreams about those turquoise waters.
— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa