Moving the Market: Women work to make their mark in a business world dominated by men

Diana Hakobyan, 28, is striding decisively into the world of business. Her ‘Dina’ brand of women’s jewelry is exhibited at the Armenian Women in Business 2006 trade exhibition in Yerevan.

“I used to make jewelry for myself. Then I began to distribute my work to some shops to have them sold. And now I have my own brand sold both in shops and at the Vernisage,” says Diana.

The young entrepreneur believes such exhibitions are an opportunity to establish oneself and to open new markets. This is the second time the Armenia Small and Medium Enterprise Market Development Project has organized the Armenian Woman in Business trade exhibition, with financial support from USAID.

Sixty businesswomen from different regions of Armenia are showing samples of their work in food, textile/clothing production, consultancy, publishing, handicraft, carpet making and other activities.

“There were just 49 enterprises representing their businesses at the exhibition last year. Their number has grown this year and we are happy with that,” says Garry Kilmer, the program director of the Small and Medium Enterprise Market Development Project.

“I don’t know of a country where the majority of the population has not taken part in its economic development. More than the half of the population in Armenia are women and they have to contribute to the economic development of the country with their creative and flexible ideas.”

Kilmer says his organization aims mainly at creating new jobs, supporting small enterprises through various kinds of consultancy to help them to improve sales.

Anahit Bobikyan, program coordinator for the Armenian Woman in Business project, says businesswoman in Armenia were much rarer only a few years ago.

“When I tried to find an enterprise created or led by a woman in 2000, there were just nine and three of them were not working. In only six years their number has grown by several dozens. This means women have great potential to develop,” says Bobikyan.

Bobikyan believes the most important guarantee for the growth of women’s business is a strong desire to learn constantly and to create new things.

“We organize seminars for enterprises led by both men and women and the remarkable thing is that the main participants are women,” says Bobikyan.

Gayane Jeyranyan started her cake business in 1996. At the beginning, she was the only baker, decorator and seller of her goods, but later, as her business developed, she hired some staff. Now she offers more than a hundred kinds of sweets and cakes for different occasions.

“Our traditional mentality may reject the notion of woman in business, but I manage to combine those two things in a way that they complement each other instead of interfering with one another,” says Jeyranyan.

Women entrepreneurs believe it will be a hard task to change the traditional image and role of woman in Armenia.

“The success of your enterprise depends on the man by your side: if he encourages the woman, she becomes inspired, but if not – she turns into a simple housewife and satisfies and realizes all her expectations within that field. But women have great potential that should not be suppressed,” says Zara Akunts, director of the ‘Eco’ Center for beauty and health.