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In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022, Mintel analysts from around the world highlight inspirational women from across industries who embody this year’s IWD theme: #BreakTheBias.

Mona Ataya, Co-founder of eCommerce platform Mumzworld (UAE)

By Sarah Al Shaalan, Consumer Lifestyles Analyst, Middle East & Africa

Source: Instagram

Mona Ataya is a Palestinian-Lebanese entrepreneur based in the UAE. In 2011, she co-founded an e-commerce platform called  Mumzworlda leading mother, baby, and child ecommerce site in the Arab world—and was named one of Forbes’s top ten Arab entrepreneurs for two years in a row.

Her Mumzworld journey started when she tried to look up and provide her children with the best food, clothing, toys, and books. Back then, in the Middle East, it was difficult to locate high-quality products, as access to brands was limited, and an online community for mothers to tap into did not exist. She set out to solve these problems and built up a business that now reaches more than 2.5 million mothers in the region.

Today, the platform is the largest female-led e-commerce business in the region with over 250,000 products, an engaged community and shipping to over 20 different countries. Despite competitors like Amazon and other similar regional platforms, Mumzworld is the go-to destination for global brands that want to reach Middle Eastern parents. In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group acquired a majority stake in the company with the aim of expanding geographically and strengthening its digital footprint in key markets.

The e-commerce industry in the Middle East is heavily male-dominated, making it all the more impressive for a woman operating in this space. Despite many challenges, including societal pressure on women in the workforce, and disadvantages in fundraising and investments, female entrepreneurs in the region are finding creative ways to overcome regional barriers to starting their own business.

What differentiates Mona in this corporate maze is that she is on a mission to empower and support mothers through her business. By consolidating everything mother, baby and child may need, from resources to products, in one platform, Mumzworld is set to become an indispensable online extension of a mother’s life.

Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, Founder and Creative Director of Theobroma Patisseries (India)

By Dr. Anamika Banerji, Food and Drink Analyst, Mintel Reports India

Kainaz Messman Harchandrai is one of the first entrepreneurs to bring an exclusive range of internationally-styled bakery products within the reach of folks in Mumbai, India. She conceived her business venture Theobroma, which means “the food of the Gods”, at the age of 24 (in 2004) when few Indians were truly familiar with the concept of a patisserie. Since then, it has grown to become an INR. 2300 million (US$ 31 million) business with 85 outlets across India

Theobroma, fondly called “Theo”, bridges the gap between regular chain stores and five-star pastry shops, making cheesecakes, brownies, and quiche more accessible to consumers. Today, even after 18 years, Theobroma continues to enjoy consumers’ loyalty in spite of the emergence of numerous players in this segment.

When Kainaz was in France on an exchange programme she had an opportunity to live with a family enthusiastic about baking and also enjoyed visiting several patisseries. While biting into a strawberry tart, baked French style with custard, she knew this is what she had to do. 

Kainaz found herself to be the only woman in the class when she enrolled in a chef’s course. The fact that there were very few women in her field did not deter her passion for food. While working as a chef in a renowned hotel she hurt her back and was on bed rest for three months. She had to take a year-long break when she was advised by doctors to give up being a chef and look for an alternate career. This is when she decided to open a neighborhood café with a French twist. 

To encourage young entrepreneurs like her, she co-authored a book with her sister, sharing what it takes to run a business in India.

Lauren Hobart, President and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods (US)

By Diana Smith, Associate Director, Retail & eCommerce, Mintel Reports US

Lauren Hobart, President and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, is certainly to be commended for her efforts toward breaking the bias regarding female empowerment in business and sports. Hobart’s move into the role of CEO in February 2021 is, in and of itself, an accomplishment given that it requires her to navigate through a male-dominated industry; the company she leads even includes the first name of its male founder, Dick Stack.  

Hobart believes she has a personal responsibility to show girls and women everywhere that they can do anything they aspire to do. Under her leadership, the company has launched many initiatives that provide girls and women more access and representation in sports. For instance, she led a new campaign dubbed “Inside Moves” that highlighted the many female leaders at Dick’s Sporting Goods, helping to illustrate the potential that young girls and women can strive for in business and sports. With Hobart’s push, it also became the WNBA’s official sporting goods partner and largest national retailer for WNBA merchandise and is currently partnering with Under Armour to develop a basketball shoe designed using a female foot form.

Hobart’s efforts in leading the company toward #breakingthebias via more inclusive initiatives to empower women in sports will have broad-reaching appeal in the age of conscious consumerism. Mintel research finds that 60% of adults think leaders of companies should publicly demonstrate how they are personally supporting their company’s mission and over half are willing to shop from a brand they’re not familiar with if it supports a cause or issue they believe in. The company’s efforts thus far appear to be paying dividends. Mintel research on sporting goods finds that Dick’s Sporting Goods was one of the top retailer choices among women when shopping for sporting goods with three in ten doing so in the past year, the same level of men who shopped the retailer. With Hobart at the helm, Dick’s Sporting Goods is well-positioned to keep breaking barriers and biases in the future world of sport.

Xi Liu, Founder of sexual health service Ferne Health (Singapore)

By Huiqi Ong, Consumer Lifestyles Analyst, Asia 

Talking about sexual health can be awkward for some people even among close friends, and a lack of discussion can mean that STDs go undetected and untreated. Xi Liu saw this gaping problem and launched Ferne Health in 2020, which enabled people to test themselves discreetly at home.

When working in the USA, China-born Xi Liu founded Ferne Health in an effort to build accessible healthcare solutions for sexual health. While we’ve seen shifts, Asia’s more conservative attitudes mean that sex education and talking about sexual health is limited and often taboo – and this lack of open discussion could have severe consequences, with people not knowing how to protect themselves from STDs, or living in discomfort because of the stigma of seeking help.

The Ferne website not only sells at-home STD testing kits, but also provides cervical cancer HPV tests, birth control solution delivery, and professional teleconsulting services. On top of that, the website also has a blog section, with regular posts on topics like HIV, abortion, and sex.

In an online interview, Liu shared that Ferne Health wanted to “build an open platform for everyone to feel free to speak up about sexual health.” With both Ferne’s testing services and blog platform, Liu has done just that by making information easily accessible, and not shying away from topics that are considered sensitive or taboo, especially in conservative circles.

At a time when talking about sex is still frowned upon, Liu forged ahead to make sexual health solutions accessible for all, creating a judgment-free platform where everyone can learn about their bodies, their preferences, and how to protect themselves. Many say that younger generations are becoming more open to talking about once-taboo topics, and Liu is no doubt one of those making it easier for these conversations to happen.

Maria Júlia de Araújo Dias, Model and Influencer (Brazil)

by Amanda Caridad, Senior Beauty & Personal Care Analyst, Mintel Reports Brazil

After years of social distancing, consumers are resuming their social lives, and it is expected that the discussion towards greater diversity and inclusion will gain force. This helps understand how the search for the term ‘body positivity’ set a record around the world in June 2021, according to Google Trends.

In this scenario, we have seen the arrival of new influencers in Brazil, with the role of breaking stigmas and stereotypes, as is the case of Maria Júlia de Araújo Dias, the first Brazilian top model with Down syndrome who has gained international renown after modeling at three major fashion weeks, including Milan. Furthermore, Maju (as she is known) made history in June 2021 alongside L’Oréal Paris when she was named brand ambassador. In the announcement, L’Oréal welcomed Maju with enthusiasm and reinforced the message: beauty lies in diversity. Most recently, Maju, who is currently 20 years old, was included in the list of Forbes Under 30 in Brazil, which acknowledges some of the world’s most successful personalities among 20 different industry segments.

The sentiment of beauty being more than skin deep is resonating with consumers. According to upcoming Mintel research on Brazil’s young beauty consumers, most consumers believe that being beautiful is more connected to one’s personality rather than physical appearance, with characteristics such as being confident’, ‘accepting your flaws’, and ‘being kind’ as the three most-cited by respondents aged 16-34. With that in mind, beauty brands will be challenged to propose an open dialogue about the importance of self-confidence in a new era where beauty patterns no longer make sense, as observed by Mintel Trend ‘The Body Beautiful’ which points out how beauty standards are becoming increasingly inclusive, as long as authenticity and self-love have emerged as new important attributes for consumers.

Carolin Emcke, Journalist and Author (Germany)

By Dr. Christina Wessels, Associate Director, Lifestyles, Leisure & Household, Mintel Reports Germany 

Carolin Emcke is a Berlin-based German journalist and author whose books, articles and speeches have made a significant contribution to breaking societal bias. 

Through her work, Carolin stands up for a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. Her writings focus on the topics of collective identities, human rights, violence, racism, but also sexuality and desire. They have helped shape social action at a time when political, religious, and cultural conflicts often no longer allow for dialogue

I am especially intrigued by Carolin’s fearlessness. To truly get her points across, Carolin exposes herself regularly to difficult living conditions and directly reports from war and crisis zones including Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Gaza, and Haiti. By putting herself in such hazardous situations, she is an immediate observer of violence, hatred and speechlessness. She uses those immediate observations to explain in her writings how all of this can change people and illustrates how all parties involved can find their way back to understanding and exchange.

In the wake of the #MeToo debate, Carolin published a book entitled “Yes means yes and…” In this book, she reflects on desire and unwillingness, on sexuality and dependence, on role models, and also – keeping the #MeToo discussion in mind – on racism, identity, participation, and exclusion. Using her own experiences as a homosexual woman, social habits, literature and music, Carolin reveals how tangled and complicated the relationship between sexuality and truth can be. 

For her work, Carolin has received many prizes including the 2016 Peace Prize awarded by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. Carolin is a truly inspiring woman and I envision her leading the conversation on breaking the bias in the future. Her recent piece about the war against Ukraine in her column at Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the leading newspapers in Germany, testifies just that. She writes that “Putin’s war plunges the world into uncertainties and dilemmas. Only one thing is certain: human rights and democracy are not luxury issues, they are the indispensable foundation of peace.”

Tianzhen Yang, Influencer, Plus-size Entrepreneur and Model (China)

By Amy Jin, Beauty and Personal Care Analyst, Mintel Reports China

The typical image of a beautiful woman in Asian society would be slender, with flawless skin, and youthful looks. However, in our modern society, more and more women are realizing that no matter the age or body size you have, the definition of beauty is about being confident with who you really are.

Tianzhen Yang, a celebrity agent turned key opinion leader (KOL) influencer and entrepreneur in China, is an example of a woman who is #BreakingTheBias about traditional beauty norms. She doesn’t have the ‘typical’ looks of a fashion model but is now a Victoria’s Secret model, who represents what it means to embrace the beauty of different body sizes. Before that, she also founded the womenswear brand Plusmall which provides large size clothing for Chinese consumers who are often struggling to find plus size women’s clothing in traditional brick-and-mortar shops and online.

Although she does not fit into the traditional beauty standards with her plus-sized image, her confidence encourages many Chinese females to love their own bodies and be proud of who they are. As a successful entrepreneur and feminist advocate, she also showed that a woman can also be powerful and run a business as long as she is confident and dares to pursue her dreams.