In an industry that is still very male-dominated, Andrew Work of Harbor Times Hong Kong sat down with Leyla Alaton, President of Alvimedica and Board Member of Alarko Holding at the recent World Congress of Angel Investors WBAF 2018 Istanbul, to discuss the challenges still facing women in wealth influence. Here, we take a look at the key questions that formed this highly informative debate.
We want to talk about women in business. You’ve been there and overcome the hurdles, and reached the heights of business in Turkey. Business is challenging for anybody, but I imagine you have had to deal with struggles that most people haven’t. So could you tell us a bit about yourself, before we look into what your history has taught you about how we can help women in business in the future?
Not many women seem to be interested in what we are doing – I see a mostly male audience here, but that is good, because perhaps they can really understand these challenges. Women are usually a minority in meetings, especially the higher you rise in a corporation. Women are always alone in a business setting, they are not part of the club, and so they often feel out of place and somewhat misunderstood. It’s challenging, and it’s lonelier the higher you rise, but that is why women need to get stronger and be more assertive. But let me emphasise that ‘assertive’ does not mean ‘aggressive’.
Where does that strength come from? It’s all very well to say “be strong”, but it involves much more than that. Where do you look for sources of strength?
Practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the better you become, and you have to practice this a lot more than others, and with your contrasting approaches, ideas and views, I think you come to be more respected and accepted. I think women can contribute a different point of view, a different form of thinking, and we tend to have a Plan B and a Plan C. Therefore, we are respected, and we add to the mix. We see more women today at the decision-making level of corporations, and they are becoming more successful. The numbers show it.
When you were rising into business, were there women in your life to lend you strength and give you advice? You say women do things differently – at that time, were there any women in your business network who could help you, or did you have to blaze that trail alone?
There weren’t many, but I have always followed the world and what is happening in it, and have always been learning and reading about women who made it, and they became my role models.
Were they Turkish women?
No, they were from other countries, mostly from the States where I studied. I went to the American Women Economic Development Conference, where there were many wonderful speakers with an audience 3000-strong, and all women. I found a lot of my role models there. They inspire you, and get you thinking, “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Role models are very important, and that is why I am out here, trying to inspire other young women.
If looking at your rise to status, and now others trying to follow in your footsteps, who would you cite as one of your inspirations, and how, if at all, do you pass these same inspirational characteristics on to those you mentor now?
I do a lot of mentoring, to men and women – I don’t differentiate – and I am a founding partner of the Women Entrepreneur’s Association, so I do a lot of talks for Turkish women. I am committed to talking to all of these people so that I can share what I know and inspire others. In terms of my inspiration, there were a lot of women in the States who inspired me.
Do you mentor on a one-on-one basis and do they confide in you that they now face situations that you never experienced? Are there any differences in your experiences and those of the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Sure. Handling sexual harassment or abuse and how to ask for a career advancement plan. I make myself very approachable across social media – tools like LinkedIn make me very accessible to others. Of course, I can’t directly answer every message, but such tools provide a sort of hotline that people can reach out through.
Women in wealth, and influencing wealth, is all about the angel investment ecosystem here. Do you see more women getting involved in angel investment? Are there more women getting access to wealth that they could deploy to help others? Is that happening in Turkey?
That’s very premature. Don’t forget that the accumulation of wealth is a fairly recent thing and now women can begin thinking about where to invest intelligently. But I do see that there are a lot of women entrepreneurs, and so if they sell their companies they can then perhaps look at investing that money. Now the ecosystem is there, it is developing very quickly. Especially women in tech, who develop applications or eCommerce sites, those are the ones who are developing very fast. I think they are the ones who will be leading in the future.
Given that there are not many women in wealth influence, how would you advise them to deal with investors? If there were any additional things that women would have to bear in mind when looking for investment, what would they be?
I wouldn’t say there is anything different for women. Money has no sex, no gender, and neither do ideas. They can only be good or bad, profitable or not.
In Silicon Valley, there has been a wave of scandals emerging about investors sexually harassing entrepreneurs who come in to pitch.
Power corrupts. The combination of power and money, you need a very strong stomach to handle. I don’t wish money or fame on anybody who can’t digest it, as it can be terribly self destructive.
You’ve been successful in business. Are you active in investment too?
My only investment currently is in a medical device company. I can admire other prospects but at this point I cannot invest in them. Not yet. But I enjoy the challenges of it because it is new for me. Turkey relies so heavily on the importation of medical devices, so being able to bring manufacturing over to us is a huge step.
So someone came to you with a strategic investment that would give you what you needed?
So many companies that come up with their little startups and inventions, I am very open to those, and I hope that soon we will have developed into a hub for those startups and inventors to come together, get investment and sell.
You can listen to the full interview from the WBAF Annual Congress 2018 here –