Tech CEO Rania Hoteit On Sexism In STEM

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Rania Hoteit is the CEO and cofounder of ID4A Technologies, a technology company that makes software for manufacturing and robotic technologies. They work with corporations, startups, inventors, engineers and designers to take their ideas from design to production and distribution. ID4A is on Entrepreneur 360’s 2016 list of best entrepreneurial companies in America.

Hoteit is originally from Lebanon and has been living in the US since 2001. She has a highly technical background, with advanced degrees in production design and architecture.

“Women in STEM remain challenged by sexist behaviors and gender dynamics,” said Hoteit. “I’ve seen it all — I’ve been stereotyped by my physical appearance, gender, ethnicity and education.”

It’s no secret that women in business face unique challenges. For Hoteit, negotiating with partners and investors has been fraught from day one. She has found that as a Lebanese woman, she is not typically what people expect when they picture the head of a technical company.

About three and a half years ago, when her company was expanding to international markets, Dubai was one of the first places Hoteit wanted to enter. She was pursuing a partnership with a government official who was a part of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development.

“He started asking personal questions like, ‘Why does your family let you live alone in the U.S.?’” said Hoteit. “They were invasive questions, but at the same time, I thought, I can’t let him keep invading my personal space. So I said, ‘I’m too scary to be scared.”

Hoteit says she tried not to shut him down, but lead the conversation to something more constructive.

“I didn’t want to be a victim,” reflects Hoteit. “I was so angry, but I didn’t want people to know. I kept pushing and channeling all my negative energy to keep moving and doing what I needed to do.”

When he asked her whether she was single, she worked to change the subject by asking, “How would that affect how we’re going to work together?”

Ultimately, Hoteit and ID4A were able to get a sponsorship deal. He eventually became one of their largest partners in the Emirates.

Hoteit says she’s faced similar situations as much in Silicon Valley as in the Middle East.

At a meeting with a venture capital firm to pitch for funding, a potential investor took one look at Hoteit and said, “What is a sexy girl like you doing in San Francisco?”

Hoteit turned and walked out. She didn’t even pitch. That meeting was the turning point when she decided not to continue raising money.

So what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation? Understanding your alternatives and having the confidence that you can find another opportunity will help you create more options for yourself when you’re in a difficult — or inappropriate — negotiation.

The first question you should ask yourself is, how much do you need this deal? Or, said another way, how much are you willing to put up with in order to reach an agreement? Hoteit’s experiences demonstrate two potential options. You can stand your ground and show your counterpart that you still intend to make a deal, or you can walk away.

If you find yourself facing an unpleasant counterpart, you have to wonder: if this is someone who will treat me this way before we’ve even agreed to work together, is he or she the right partner for me?

When in doubt, trust your gut.

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.
 

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Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.