Meet Semhal Guesh. Semhal is CEO of one of our beloved leather partner businesses in Ethiopia and a daily source of inspiration for our team. Her love for design and architecture led her to her current role– where she is able to empower women in careers they usually are not fortunate enough to hold in Ethiopia. Take a look at our conversation about the importance of training, support systems, and mentorship.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do professionally?
I am, by profession, an architect, which has helped me create Kabana Leather. In the company, my position is CEO– leading the company and supervising. My role involves being the creative director, overseeing production, and more importantly supervising women's requirements, training, and job creation.
What motivates you to keep going in your life and career?
My motivation is my passion for design and making a positive impact and sustainable change for underprivileged women in my community and their families. Especially those with young kids.
What are the ways you’ve experienced inequality in your field?
Ethiopia, where I live and work, is a developing country, which comes with its fair share of challenges and inequalities. First, we women do not have equal chances or chairs in the manufacturing sector of the field I work in.
Second, even if we as women are the owners of our businesses, we are often harassed and second-guessed. I am often mistaken for the secretary of the CEO of my company rather than the CEO. Sadly, it is often believed that if you are young AND a woman, you can not be the owner of the business.
Third, the representation of female managers in the field is low, and I see more women in the lower value chains where they are paid much less. In our field or sector, women are higher in number than white-collar labor and less than blue-collar. Furthermore, when opportunities come, those opportunities are given to men in my field, and the agreements are done behind closed doors with men, giving less chances to women.
How does your position give you a unique opportunity to create more equality in your field?
My position gives me:
- The ability to provide underprivileged women the opportunity to have skills that allow them to be paid a livable wage and become economically empowered.
- The opportunity to bring up women to the management and leadership positions in my company.
- The position to provide mentorship and coaching to young girls who join our company and other women who want to join the field.
- The position to empower women to build confidence through training, and ask her to speak up and question.
- The platform to provide intensive training for most women to advance in the line of work there are in.
- And last but not least, the ability to join hands with other women to advocate for women's rights, voices, the desire to include 50% women on board, through associations like AWIB.
What have you learned about equality from your work?
It is the most important aspect in work. Equality has a vital role to play in having equal treatment regardless of background, race, tribe, disability, gender, etc. Women's work lives have changed for the better in terms of building confidence, striving forward for growth and change. Equality assures having the same opportunities, acceptance, and equal pay. I have seen disabled women move forward and grow because of equal treatment and equal pay. I have seen young women build confidence and speak out. I have seen the transformation of one woman from being an intern in Kabana to building her own business– all because of equal treatment, equal pay, equal opportunities.
What are the ways you choose to fight for inequality?
Training, advocating, mentoring, coaching and giving more opportunities for women who have not been given opportunities.
Why is it important to have more women represented in your field?
The representation would be a symbol and a role model for other women striving for growth.
What can be done to encourage more female leadership in the workplace?
- Equal pay, equal opportunities, and standing for women who do not voice their ideas.
- Supporting women who need support at the time they need it. For example, I see single mothers struggling because they do not have the support system. But if the support is given, those women will build themselves to a leadership position.
- Maternity leave and job security.
- And last but not least, constant training.
What advice would you give to someone experiencing inequality in their personal life or workplace?
- To talk to fellow women who can mentor you.
- Speak out against the unequal treatment.
- Find a support system.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, who are women in your life who have shaped who you are today?
Yoadan Tilahun is a phenomenal woman in Ethiopia who still, to this date, mentors me in terms of shaping my path.
Nahusenay Girma is another strong and amazing woman in Ethiopia who advised me and made me see light in my dark and broken times and lead me forward.
As a young girl, I was able to read the book of Maya Angelou, her books gave me great perspective.
I would add my PAPA but he is not a woman. But he was a feminist! My Papa, who was both a mother and a father, raised and shaped me.