In this interview, Fatma El Zahraa Ahmed talks about her startup MEAComS, which she launched fourteen years ago. She also talks about her studies, her beginnings in public relations (PR), her family, and answers some questions about gender and business in general and about the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, she voices her opinions on education, and the importance of parents supporting their children’s chosen career paths.
Fatma graduated from the Faculty of al-Alsun, Department of English, and worked as a translator for some time. She later decided this was not where her passion lies, and switched careers to marketing in the field of communications, then to PR. She began studying for her MBA, when she noticed how important it was, as she says it used to be “preferred” in job postings, then became a requirement. By coincidence, she started communicating with a solar energy company headquartered in the USA, then she had to launch her own startup in order to start doing business with the said company. She launched her startup on her own, without any partners. In the beginning, some of her family members were against her work, worrying that she would lose her own funds, which she invested in her company.
Fatma emphasizes that her work at MEAComS is very dynamic, as she gets to work with a versatile group of clients, from different fields, just like advertising companies do. She also indicates that working in PR requires multitasking skills, social skills, and adaptability. Fatma describes MEAComS as a PR agency, specializing in corporate media activities, such as press conferences, interviews, crisis management, media monitoring (monitoring competitors’ media), and training, specifically training clients to deal with journalists and the media. MEAComS also specializes in media communication, events, and provides services such as translation and content writing, which clients, in turn, present to the media.
As for impediments that she faced in her career due to her gender, Fatma said that indeed there have been many. For instance, when she audits accounting records, the male accountant she employs would sometimes get offended. Fatma says that men do not like the idea that they are managed by a woman, which, she believes, has to do with the patriarchy. Luckily, Fatma says she does not face similar problems with clients, as her clientele knows who she is when they ask for her services. In a related vein, Fatma says that it is difficult to do business in Egypt, and that a comparison between the business scene in Egypt and in other countries would not be in Egypt’s favor. Fatma also sees that business is usually linked to men, especially steel and industrial businesses. However, she, in addition, sees Azza Fahmy’s business as an exception to that rule, as she, a woman, was able to build an iconic jewelry-making business. Women unfortunately are obliged to fight against backward customs and traditions and the weight of doing so could be even heavier than the weight of doing business, states Fatma, especially when women do not have enough support. Sometimes, she also says that women do not support other women, but she believes that the current generation of young people are very supportive of each other.
Also, regarding gender, Fatma states that her current team consists of women only, and that was intentional, not a coincidence. She thinks women are more capable of working in PR than men, and that she is for women’s empowerment. Fatma also hires men, such as photographers and designers, but she hires those who are more open-minded, so that they would not clash. She asserts that sometimes she must stand her grounds and be a “dictator” to guarantee the success of her business. When asked about gender differences between men and women’s performances at work, Fatma said that women are better at multitasking, while men would rather focus on one task at a time and not distract themselves. She states that she likes working with women and values their input, as they never disappoint her.
Fatma also said that PR attracts more women, and that 80% of owners of PR agencies are women and the rest are men. On the other hand, advertising attracts more men, since those who work in the field spend many long hours at their offices and need to deal with technicians who tend to be men. PR, however, needs language skills, talent, and presentability, which tend to be more feminine traits, she believes. Fatma, however, asserts that these are not hard-and-fast rules, as there are many women in advertising and many men in translation, etc.
Fatma says that her startup is currently affiliated with one of the top PR agencies in the world, and that this gave her the opportunity to work with international clients, such as Blackberry, Canon, Shell, and General Electric. When the Covid-19 pandemic started, however, business slowed down. She thinks lockdown was a good break though, as there were not many events to organize and no work-related stress as usual. Fatma and her team could also adapt to the new normal by working remotely.
Fatma concluded the interview by emphasizing the importance of parents encouraging their children to find their passion, even if that passion, in their opinion, was not a good source of income. When one succeeds at what they are passionate about, they will, in turn, have good income, she says, and they thus should not be forced to pursue a career they do not want. Fatma also commented on the problem of education in Egypt and the fact that she notes that some schools do not provide good educational services, and that some parents are also lax in their parenting. She emphasized the importance of hard work if one were to achieve their dreams career-wise.