Region’s largest translation company aims to build more ‘female economy’

“Women can deliver more when given more flexibility.” - Founder and CEO of Tarjama Nour Al Hassan.
Sunday 10/03/2019
Big ambitions. Founder and CEO of Tarjama Nour Al Hassan.  (Courtesy of Nour Al Hassan)
Big ambitions. Founder and CEO of Tarjama Nour Al Hassan. (Courtesy of Nour Al Hassan)

Nour Al Hassan, founder and CEO of Tarjama, the Middle East’s biggest translation and linguistic services company, said the region needs to build a “more female economy.”

Tarjama, founded in 2008, is helping, employing 200 women who translate items from 30 foreign languages into Arabic.

Is Hassan’s company an example of how to move towards a more “female economy”?

Tarjama’s workforce is overwhelmingly female. Many of its employees work from home or from Tarjama’s offices in Amman and Dubai. It has more than 500 clients, including government agencies and Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Facebook and Acer.

Hassan said she wants to build on Tarjama’s success. There was a need, she realised, to connect businesses and freelancers across the region. So she did it through another company, a digital marketplace that she named Ureed. In 2016, the Aspen Institute, a US think-tank, made Jordan-born Hassan a fellow for her entrepreneurial work.

She spoke to The Arab Weekly via WhatsApp.

The Arab Weekly (TAW): What does it take for a woman to create the biggest translation company in a male-dominated region?

Nour Al Hassan (NAH): “Business is challenging, whether you are a man or a woman. It is absolutely not a gender thing.

“In the early days when I used to meet stakeholders and tell them I would be hiring women who would work from home, many expressed their reservations regarding the quality of the work. Many thought my venture would be a charity. It took time to change mindsets and raise awareness about remote working by women but I remain convinced a man would have received the same reaction.”

TAW: Tell us a little bit about your business and the women you train and employ.

NAH: “Most are highly educated. Many hold a master’s degree or even a PhD in linguistic studies but we also have engineering, law, finance and medical (graduates) and they are already perfectly bilingual. Translation services, by their very nature, require knowledgeable individuals who possess subject matter expertise.

“In October 2018, we launched our first online Translation Academy through our newly launched sister company, Ureed. This series of online courses, in partnership with Saint Joseph University, was created to access larger numbers of both genders and (to enable) content creation in Arabic of a higher standard.

“We also organised a one-day translation competition among female students from the University of Sharjah and Saint Joseph University in Lebanon. The winner received a year’s paid internship at Tarjama and the runner-up a half-year internship.”

TAW: How does one reach women who are able to enter the workforce?

NAH: “We used different social media platforms such as LinkedIn and some digital marketing online. Word of mouth was also an effective strategy to reach women who were offline. We never faced an issue of a woman not showing interest. I think the stigma — that women are not willing to work — is simply not the reality.

“At Tarjama, many women approach us confidently and of their own will rather than because of our outreach. These women are very disciplined and willing to work more than the normal eight hours, whether from home or our offices. In my opinion, women are known to be multitaskers. If you give the same task to a man and a woman, women tend to complete the task much more efficiently, productively and independently, in our experience.”

TAW: So how does one create the right conditions to have more female business leaders?

NAH: “As countless studies have proven, any thriving society has a significant number of women at work. What does that take to empower a more female economy? It takes affordable day care for children. It takes maternity leave that gives time for women’s body to recover. It takes flexible hours and a work environment (that makes room for) mothers. When you combine these factors, you are creating a healthy environment for women to enter and stay in the workforce.

“A woman should not be handled the same way as a man at work. Women can deliver more when given more flexibility. Companies could support the costs of day care or could simply have day care within office spaces.

“If you want women to rise to leadership level and not only mid-level positions, you need to empower women by inviting them to board meetings and ensuring that they have a more decision-making role within corporations.

“In my experience, women excel at leadership positions because they simply work hard to prove themselves.”

TAW: It’s important to include men in the conversation on regional gender parity but how does one do it?

NAH: “Many women’s rights’ organisations are female-only. We imperatively need men in the conversation. We also need to lobby at CEO level and approach influential decision makers such as board chairmen and business owners.

“I think the conversation around awareness and advocacy needs to shift to how we accommodate women in the work environment, rather than a human rights approach. In the Middle East and North Africa, I do not think we have been very successful at having that conversation yet.”