Iranian Women Ready to Show They Mean Business

Iranian Women Ready to Show They Mean BusinessIranian Women Ready to Show They Mean Business

Iranian money manager Mona Hajialiasghar is chief operating officer of Kardan Investment Bank, which oversees about $300 million invested in Iran.

With the historic nuclear agreement signed with the major world powers in mid-July, she sees more women joining her.

“The presence of Iranian women at the workplace and in higher education is much more serious now compared to when I first started,” 13 years ago,  said Hajialiasghar, 35, who has a master’s degree in business management from Iran’s Alzahra University.

“With younger women entering the market, firstly their numbers are much higher, but also their confidence is much higher,” she said, Bloomberg reported.

Iran is counting on the accord to unleash billions of dollars in investment from the US and Europe. As companies expand, women are ready to make gains in a way few of their peers can in the Persian Gulf Arab world and narrow the gap with western nations.

Iranian women have never faced limitations when it comes to driving, voting and access to education. They also occupy some top political jobs – three of President Hassan Rouhani’s vice presidents are women.

 Economic Empowerment

The nuclear deal “means economic empowerment for women in Iran,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, director of the Iran Initiative at New America Foundation in New York, a not-for-profit research organization. “Already today there are more women than men studying at Iranian universities, and they also work for a living and can own businesses and vote, so once sanctions are lifted and Iran reintegrates into the global economy, that should help women.”

Government figures show 72% of working women in Iran are employed by private enterprises. That’s the area of the economy that’s set to burgeon after sanctions stifled business, according to Shahindokht Molaverdi, vice-president for women and family affairs.

“Female employment is key to meeting Iran’s economic growth targets,” she said.

While Iranian law protects equal pay in government jobs and there’s maternity leave of 12 months in some departments, women in Iran face much of the same problems as they do in the western world.

They are disproportionately fewer at the executive level after making up more than half of university places. They also face higher rate of unemployment, which at 19% is more than twice the figure for men, according to the Statistical Center of Iran.

Access to quality jobs may be better for women in Iran than in the Persian Gulf Arab states, yet women account for about 18% of the labor force, barely higher than Saudi Arabia and below Pakistan, according to statistics from the World Bank. In Turkey, a non-Arab Muslim country also with a population of about 80 million people and demographic similarities, the figure is above 30%.

 Cultural Barriers

Fatemeh Moghimi started her trucking business 26 years ago after finishing a degree at City University in London. She’s the first woman to be elected to the board of directors of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce and Industry and employs several women as drivers.

“I was worried, because I wanted to start my business,” Moghimi, 57, said at her office at the Tehran Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where she spends her Saturday mornings mentoring dozens of mostly female entrepreneurs. “It took two years. I came across a lot of cultural barriers, with the mindset of people, rather than legal barriers.”

When it comes to finance, Hajialiasghar is leading the charge for a growing number of women who top bankers say are increasingly filling the ranks of their companies.

Kardan’s chief executive officer, Majid Zamani, said that across Iran’s nine investment banks, the presence of women is high compared with other industries and in some cases it even outnumbers men.

“I’d say this is definitely the case in the capital markets in Iran,” Zamani said. “We’re looking for dedicated, committed people and contrary to public perception women tend to be the strongest candidates in this regard.”