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#HERStory – Episode 5: The Fearless Business Woman

What Did She Do?

My Female-led Business was Awarded a Life-Changing Contract Beating my Male Competitors

The Fearless Business Woman: I started my business about 15 years ago. It was an impromptu decision I made one day after being frustrated of working for years at a job that did not allow me fulfill my potential. I was also poorly paid and gaining irrelevant experience in an industry that I was uninterested in growing a career in. So, one morning, I just made the decision to quit my job and start my own company. I had saved up some money at my job, so I cleared out my savings and jumped head first into the unknown. In the beginning everything was a mess. I was not making any money or getting any clients. I was running around town dropping proposals with everyone looking for contracts and business deals that would change my life. Everything just did not seem to work. At some point my savings began to deplete and I entered full panic mode. I had gone 4 months without any inflow of income. I was ready to just quit and look for another 9 to 5 job, when I finally got my first big break. One of the proposals I had dropped at a firm a very long time ago had yielded some strong leads. After a few weeks of follow through, I got paid a mobilization fee to commence the project. Everything felt like it was falling in place finally. That was how it all began. Year in, year out I remained consistent at my trade. Developing new proposals, marketing my business to potential clients, following-up on leads, and sometimes closing contracts. It was not easy. Most times, I barely made enough to survive through the year. Other times, I’d close out on contracts so huge, that it covered the financial gaps experienced beforehand. After 13 years of surviving in the business, I finally got the opportunity of a lifetime. It was an Oil & Gas firm that put out a request for proposals for the services I offered. I submitted my proposal but, I didn’t think anything of it. After what seemed like ages, and after all the challenges I faced because of my gender, I was finally awarded the contract (worth about $2.3million) which absolutely changed my life.

How Did She Do it?

The Drive to Break The Stereotype

The Fearless Business Woman: When I first got the call to make a presentation on my proposal, I thought to myself “Let me just try, it may not work, but, let me try”. I got to the office that day and I was totally intimidated. The waiting room was full of men. I was literally the only woman, (asides the receptionist who welcomed me in). The other vendors who were presenting were all men. Older, powerful men, who seemed to all know each other. They had been executing big projects in the Oil and Gas sector for ages, so it was like business as usual. This was my first rodeo. I did not know who to talk to or how to act, and all the men seemed to snub me out of their subtle circle, but I was not going to be made invisible. I exchanged pleasantries and introduced myself and my company, making it clear that I was a contender for the contract. Each time I introduced myself, I got one sexist comment or the other from these men like “Where is the man that owns your company?” or “Oh, really? You got shortlisted for this project? That’s impressive for a woman”, or “Don’t worry, this would be a good learning experience for you, even if you do not get this contract”. Few minutes into the day, I realized that what I was up against was much more than I could imagine. I did not only have to battle other businesses, I had to fight the discrimination created by the patriarchal system. At that point, it was no longer about me. It was a battle against the patriarchy. I was going to make sure I beat these old men at their game. I finally got called in to make my presentation. The room was once again filled with only men. I wondered why the business environment was always this way. The first comment I got, as expected, was “Oh, a woman? How come?”, like it was abnormal for women to be in such rooms. I ignored his misinformed comment and went straight for the kill. By the time I was done with the presentation of my solution, they were in awe, but, audibly skeptic. Questions like “Are you sure you can handle such a project?”, “Would you be able to deliver this solution? You know you are a woman?”, “Do you have men on your team that can support you?”, these comments shook me to my core, but motivated me more to prove myself, I did not want them to feel like they were right about their stereotype. In the weeks following my presentation I was given more and more tasks to complete to prove my competency. I stopped at nothing to emerge with the best solutions. I was even more motivated to do so because I did not want to give them the satisfaction to think I was not good enough because of my gender. At the end of the two months of bidding and presentations, it was down to me and a man I had looked up to as a role model in the industry. He tried to talk me out of continuing several times. He would say things like “You’ve tried, but I’m not sure they can award a project of this magnitude to a woman. Partner with me now so, you do not lose out completely”. He was dumbfounded when the final contract was awarded to me. He even accused me of having sexual affairs with the CEO to get the contract. As if a woman cannot go that far without giving sexual favors to a man. I honestly believe I got as far as I did because I wanted to show them that women have what it takes to excel in projects like this against all odds.

A Moment That Tested Her

The Sexist Comments from The Men Around Me.

The Fearless Business Woman: I think the most difficult moment for me would have been the comments I kept getting. Yes, the comments motivated me, but, first, they destabilized me. Each time sexist comments like that were made towards me, my confidence would shake. It was like I was already been judged incapable before even getting the chance to prove myself. So, I felt like I needed to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. But, in a way, these comments made me better. Because I knew I had to prove myself, I was driven to be extraordinary so I would be taken seriously, and this reflected in all aspects of my engagement with the company.

Her Eureka Moment?

Realizing That My Motivation To Succeed Stemmed From My Determination To Not Let My Community Down

The Fearless Business Woman: After all the work had been completed, and the contract was awarded, I realized that the motivation to secure this contract was not what got me the contract at the end of the day. It was my desire to defeat all the men who doubted me that really made me more exceptional than I would have been. I knew that everyday I needed to make a presentation, I needed to work twice as hard to be taken seriously. At some point it became much more than securing the contract, it became about not letting myself and my gender down. Being awarded the contract was just the icing on the cake.

What She Learnt:

The Fearless Business Woman:

  • There are not enough women in positions of power in business. This makes it intimidating for the women who want to venture into these spaces. We need more women to step up into these roles. The more representation we have, the easier it becomes for all of us.

  • When you turn the negativity of gender stereotyping and sexism into motivation, you become better at whatever you do. The knowledge that you have to work twice as hard to be seen and heard prepares you for the worst and helps you become the best.


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