Education & E-leadership

Digital technology key enabler to women entrepreneurs Inclusion

Mireille Toulekima - Managing Director at MT Energy Resources

Can you tell me a bit about your background and your current role?

I am the Founder and Managing director of the Perth based energy consultancy MT Energy Resources. In my current role, I focus on the business development and growth of the company in Africa, Asia Pacific and Oceania. My background is in the oil and gas sector. I am a petroleum engineer by formation. I gained my experience working for more than 25 years in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia in a range of technical and leadership roles. I carry out empowerment work globally with a particular focus on the Energy and Resources sector, Women, STEM and Entrepreneurship. I also contribute to several leadership, technical and Think Tank groups around the world. I created STEM QUEENS in 2018 with the objective to empower at least one million women and girls in STEM by 2025.

Who were the mentors that encouraged you?

My father was my first mentor. He was a mechanical engineer by formation. He inspired me to become an engineer. I’ve also had different mentors at different stage of my professional career. My mentors were mostly men because I’ve worked my entire career in male dominated industries. My 1st female mentor was my then supervisor (Kathy Heller) when I started as a graduate petroleum engineer in the oil and gas industry. I’ve also had women leaders who have helped me during my journey but it was not formal mentorship.

What are the challenges to become a female entrepreneur?

For a Female entrepreneur particularly in male dominated industries, it still a great challenge to be taken seriously. The recognition from male and female entrepreneurs alike can take time and require us female entrepreneurs to work harder to prove our competences and abilities to lead and succeed. While most people believe in gender equality in the entrepreneurship world, unconscious organizational gender bias do still exist. As a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, earning respect has been a struggle for me. It took me several years to get over it.

One key challenge is the limited financial support that is given to female entrepreneur. Raising capital is more difficult for women-owned businesses. Many investors are skeptic about investing on women-led companies because they may think that women can’t be successful as entrepreneurs. They may feel that women entrepreneurs won’t be able to lead their company towards success, as a result of which they may incur losses. This leads to investors hesitating in financially supporting women entrepreneurs.

Among other challenges, finding the right support network isn’t always easy especially in male dominated industries. A robust support network is essential for entrepreneurial success. With the majority of the high-level business in the world still being dominated by men, it can be hard to create your own path and facilitate the introductions and connections into some of the more elite business network. It is something that I’ve struggled with at an early stage of my entrepreneurial journey seven years ago.

Finding the right balance between family and work is still a problem for Female entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur might help because of the flexibility offered by entrepreneurship but that’s not always the case especially when running a business of scale.

What do you do when the world is at risk of falling apart — and your business along with it?

The recent challenges with the pandemic of Covid-19 have put entrepreneurs to the test. We’ve been living in a tumultuous time and seen the world at risk of falling apart. Entrepreneurs have adopted the military acronym VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – to describe the current state of normal. It has been hard for leaders and entrepreneurs to manage this uncertain environment. For me, when the world is at risk of falling apart and our business along with it, we must focus on remaining effective and forward-looking. It is actually the right time to reflect on our business and see how we can restructure it to adapt to the new reality. Adaptability is key. It is important to focus on the big picture instead of being overwhelmed. It also can be the time to find ways to collaborate with other entrepreneurs who will come with different skills and business perspectives. It is such moment, It is essential to put together a plan composed of incremental, achievable steps.

Part of navigating any VUCA environment is realizing that every step opens up new doors, and it’s only when we walk through them that we realize that there are opportunities behind the doors.

How to develop the next generation of women leaders?

There are different ways to build the next generation of female leaders. The important thing is for successful female leaders to take their place as role models by sharing their stories, tools, strategies and give advises that will help the next generation of female to emulate them and be really confident that if those women could do it, then they can do it as well and even do better if they learn and build from the mistakes and lessons by those female leaders who did pave the way. It is important that today female leaders are part of the solution to create leadership opportunities for the next generation of female leaders positioning themselves as coaches, mentors, show them what they do and inspire them to grow. It is imperative for this generation of female leaders to take time to help the next generation of female leaders to refuse to stay in a box and create pathways that will empower them.

I’ve often been victim of the Queen Bee phenomenon in my career. The Queen Bee phenomenon is all about competition and it is detrimental to empowering the next generation of female leaders. Only when women work together can they breach the upper echelons of leadership. Empowerment and Inspiration Starts with every single woman leader today! We can directly impact the next generation of female leaders. We must seek them out, develop and train them and make sure that they have ample opportunities to grow and we’ll see many more women eager to step up to the challenge and become the best leaders they can be.

What is the one piece of advice you find yourself repeating over and over again to fellow women entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is not for the fainthearted but as women we should not be intimidated by it. As women entrepreneurs we experience big challenges but they are not insurmountable when we collaborate and play on our strengths. I am convinced that the current industrial revolution which is digitally driven is here to serve and empower us and help us to find our place as the empowering agent of change that we are.

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