In this interview, Omayma Abo Doma discusses her long career and diverse work experiences as an employee and then as a two-time entrepreneur. Omayma’s interview was part of a group interview with her sisters and business partners, Lobna and Rabab.
Omayma’s work experience encompasses 36 years of diverse work environments and expertise. Omayma has worked in administrative capacities in Petroleum companies and she has also worked in marketing. She chose to stay at home with her children for a while and she mentioned that she needed work with more flexibility. She stressed that she loves working with her sisters and that she is very happy with their family business. This was a better option to her than attempting to be a conventional employee climbing up the corporate ladder. Each sister has her strengths in business and they work well together.
As Omayma and her sisters Lobna and Rabab all have experience and talent for art, they decided to open their art school to teach young children and they named it “Art Fun.” This was their first entrepreneurial project together which they launched nineteen years ago. The three of them were pioneers with this endeavor as their school provided a systemized and innovative teaching approach to plastic and fine arts. Art Fun was a major success as parents and children sought them and their services. The three sisters even mentioned that a famous plastic artist wanted to merge with them and take over their business owing to Art Fun’s success. The three of them refused since this was their project and they did not want to hand over their work to anybody or be under anyone’s thumb. However, the only issue was that the school was too time-consuming. They found that they were dedicating all their time to the school and not enough time to their families. Art Fun lasted for seven years and then they decided to shut it down and pursue other opportunities.
Omayma’s career started in the corporate world in the Petroleum division of the company HCH in administration. After that, she left HCH for Roussel where she also worked in administration and then she had the opportunity to work in marketing. Omayma enjoyed marketing since the work was creative and she was in charge of creating and publishing promotional materials for the company. Creative work has always drawn Omayma and allowed her to display her artistic talents. She spoke about her prior work experiences positively and when asked if she ever faced gender-based discrimination in the work place, she denied this ever happening. Companies had implemented policies in place to ensure that employees were treated equally regardless of gender.
In terms of workplace gender dynamics, Omayma, Lobna, and Rabab stated that their work at the school of Art Fun was mainly with women; therefore, they did not face issues of being women owners and bosses at the school. Their current company “Touch Wood” is a wood-based home accessories enterprise. In Touch Wood, the men they deal with primarily are the suppliers and carpenters. Omayma pointed out that suppliers and carpenters make assumptions since the three owners of the project are women and therefore, they would not have any experience with woodworking or being able to discern low- grade from high-grade wood. Her sister Lobna said that it took them time to learn how to address this issue and make their demands and specifications clear. Omayma revealed that this is still an ongoing issue, but that time and experience have taught them how to handle it better.
Their workshop for Touch Wood has female workers only although the three of them asserted that this was not done on purpose. They brought in female students on their summer breaks from the Faculty of Fine Arts to assist them in their workshop. Omayma asserted that they run it as a family business rather than a large corporation. Therefore, the girls who work with them feel a strong sense of loyalty towards the place as Omayma also said that they make sure to treat everybody with respect and to provide the girls with flexibility if they are facing any difficult circumstances. Lobna and Rabab are of the opinion that girls are more committed in work than men until they become engaged and get married. Omayma disagreed with them on this. Her work in multinational entities did not leave room for anybody to not be fully committed or to work overtime if needed. She said that she would be asked to work overtime and stay late while she was married with young children. There was no accounting for personal circumstances or the traditional gender roles of girls and women in terms of family and household responsibilities.
On the question of entrepreneurship and being pioneers in the arts and crafts sector, Omayma wavered a bit. She initially did not perceive herself or her sisters as entrepreneurs or women leaders within their sector. However, she backtracked on this and explained how Touch Wood is unique in that every piece is drawn and painted by hand. Other artistic home accessories businesses do not follow their methodology. Art Fun and Touch Wood are both stand-out projects that brought new and untrodden areas into the market. Lobna, Rabab, and Omayma even added that there were several copycat art schools and wood-based home accessories projects after they launched Art Fun and later Touch Wood. Their work inspired others to copy their example and expand on both these markets. When asked about whether the market of art schools or wood-based home accessories favored a particular gender, Omayma replied that both market sectors have men and women.
Omayma stated the mechanisms of the labor division of Touch Wood. Lobna, Rabab, and herself are artists with different specialties. Lobna handles the human resources and financials while Rabab takes care of orders. The three of them are in charge of product distribution across different sectors of Cairo. The decision making is done by the three of them and they emphasized how much they love working together. Omayma mentioned that starting her two businesses with her sisters was a great decision and that all of them are happy.