x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Rock-hard resolve for women entrepreneurs

The Life: Zuhal Mansfield, a Turkish businesswoman, talks about women in entrepreneurship and how how they need to push the boundaries.

Zuhal Mansfield says she employed a woman manager at TMG Mining and it resulted in a reduction of waste. Jaime Puebla / The National
Zuhal Mansfield says she employed a woman manager at TMG Mining and it resulted in a reduction of waste. Jaime Puebla / The National

Growing up, Zuhal Mansfield fought with her father and brother to have access to the education she needed. After she got married, she fought with her husband to become an entrepreneur.

"'Why do you want to be a businesswoman?' my husband used to ask me," Ms Mansfield says during a panel discussion at the recent fifth annual Women in Leadership Forum in Dubai. "You have your son to look after, you have me to look after."

But the Turkish businesswoman did not give up and over the past 23 years has founded a marble export company, a hotel and more recently a food business.

"People laughed at me when I wanted to sell marble from Turkey to China, and then they laughed when I opened a marble stockyard in Hong Kong, and then a quarry, and then a factory," says Ms Mansfield, who lives in Istanbul.

"Even today they are laughing at me, and I am making money." Her battle to achieve in the world of business was one of the many themes dominating the Women in Leadership Forum.

Panellists spoke of less tolerance among senior managers for women's responsibilities at home and in the workplace and how a lack of support in harassment cases contributes to fewer women in senior management positions.

Gender imbalance was also discussed, along with the importance of networking.

"Ambition and hard work is not enough. Women have to look the part - look as if you have the gravitas to be on board - and have exposure," says Helen Pitcher, the chairwoman of the London consultancy IDDAS. "You have to be known by people."

Ms Mansfield is a testament to this. Her group now employs more than 350 people worldwide. And while she will not disclose her company's turnover, she says it is "good enough to make me independent".

But it was a bumpy ride to begin with. In her early 20s and with a baby, she divorced her husband, and found herself unemployed.

"I had to get out of Turkey," she recalls.

She landed in Stockholm, got bored with the cold weather, and moved to Botswana, then Australia and finally Hong Kong.

Along the way she tried different jobs and businesses, and gained more educational credentials. Finally in Hong Kong, where she spent 11 years, she launched TMG Mining in 1990, an industrial supplier of Turkish marble, travertine, limestone and granite.

That year, there were 6,000 men registered in the mining business in Turkey, and Ms Mansfield says she was the only woman.

The gender imbalance might have changed since then, but the sector is still male dominated.

In Canada, where mining contributes 4.5 per cent of the GDP, fewer than 20 per cent of the industry workforce was female in 2011, according to a report from Carleton University's Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership in Ottawa.

The report also revealed that women were under-represented in senior management positions and on executive boards.

Women were less represented than in other Canadian industries such as manufacturing, where 21.7 per cent of the labour force was women; energy where the number was 24.6 per cent; and the financial and services sectors, at 61.5 per cent and 71.86 per cent respectively.

But studies say more equality in the workforce has often led to more collaboration.

"I employed a woman manager at my mining business and it reduced wastage," Ms Mansfield says. "Anyone can do my business because it's a matter of management. There is nothing called gender equality, people don't understand what is equal opportunity. We have to convince ourselves first, and then the men."

In 2002, the businesswoman opened Pera Hotel, a mid-range hotel in Istanbul and launched the food products business Mir Eksport last year.

Her professional life is flourishing and while she has not remarried, she says she enjoys life to the hilt.

"Living alone is a lifestyle," she says. "To be human and change the world, we don't need to be married but be ourselves."