Assia Riccio, Evolvin Women | Be Your Own Boss

Assia Riccio  founded Evolvin Women is addressing the struggles of women in the hospitality sector by her online platform. She is connecting women working in hospitality or aspiring to start a career in the industry with professional coaches, mentors, recruiters, education and training providers that offer their services to enable career development. Assia talks to us about her aspirations and following her dream to start her own venture.

Tell us about yourself and your business, how it all started

Hospitality is what I know. I started my career in the UK where I worked for Belmond group in many capacities in several jobs both in operations and Learning & Development. In 2011, I was nominated for the Olive Barnett Award, given annually to the most outstanding person under 30 in any sector of hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism, anywhere in the world. I faced several challenges throughout the competition from moments of low self-confidence to dealing with the politics and at times the feeling that I lacked the skills necessary to advance to the final. At the end I realized getting awarded that I had surrounded myself with the best people I knew to mentor, coach and promote me always. It was not about the number of connections in my professional network but it was about having my own agenda and sitting at the table with hospitality professionals, experts, coaches, consultants, recruiters, educationalists and training specialists to develop my skills, tackle challenges or simply share knowledge, experiences. I realized that my female colleagues were facing similar issues such as occupational gender segregation, low salary, promotion opportunities, their role in the informal hotel, catering and tourism economy that is too often associated to a position of servitude rather than a professional career.

I spent months researching the best practices in education and development. I discovered that most of the initiatives for women were centered around mentoring programs where they were matched to senior colleagues in the hope of meeting the CEO’s agenda on gender diversity. In spite of all these efforts, the number of women worldwide in senior positions in hospitality and tourism is still extremely small only 70% of the workforce is made up of women and less than 40% hold managerial positions, less than 20% general management positions and 5-8% board positions.

It was clear that on one side women were struggling with filling the gaps to overcome challenges specific to their career progression and on the other side hospitality businesses were investing hundreds of thousand of dollars in recruiting female talents, educating and training them to reduce the gender gap. I saw the need for women to achieve their goals and overcome challenges faster and for employers to access a talented pool of female achievers.

The seed for Evolvin’ Women was sown. Through our online platform, women can now register for free and create a virtual “table” based on a goal they have set for themselves. They can then invite a network of professionals to join them at their table, people who can help them achieve their goal, or overcome their challenges. Connections become meaningful and strategic to professional development and the platform becomes a talent pool for employers.

I also wanted to do this differently by providing free skill training and coaching to women and young people who lack the resources to advance professionally and want to increase their employability in the market.

Becoming a social entrepreneur

When I was made redundant having lost my dream job I had two options, do nothing and feel sorry for myself, or get hold of a business plan I put away 2 years ago. I chose the latter. Once again I surrounded myself with the best people I knew to mentor and coach me just as I did in before. Within a week I had the company structure set and the draft for the theory of change for a social enterprise. I never looked back. I don’t know if I am an entrepreneur as yet. I am just enjoying the journey for now and making the most of it.

Challenges and benefits of setting up your own business

The benefit is to be able to make decisions every day based on what I believe in. The challenge is that what I believe in might not always make sense businesswise, however,  I always make sure to surround myself with people I can learn from to help overcome the challenges. These are unchartered waters for me, but in a place like Dubai there is no shortage of opportunities to find like-minded and experienced people to help me on my journey.

About the Facebook #SheMeansBusiness initiative

In February I was invited by the Emirates Foundation to be part of a new initiative by Facebook called #shemeansbusiness. A project launched to empower women in the MENA region with the aim to train 10,000 women on how they can grow their business through social media. I attended a 2-day “Train the Trainer” program and became certified to deliver the #shemeansbusiness workshop. We are constantly looking for current and aspiring women entrepreneurs to join our free sessions and learn how to define their business and online marketing strategy. We are extremely proud to be part of this initiative and to be able to do business differently by providing free skill training and coaching to women who may not have the resources to access social media training.

Getting involved in #SheMeansBusiness initiative

We schedule workshops monthly, as soon as the dates are confirmed we advertise them on social media – all you need to do to is to register! We are happy by all the support we are receiving in Dubai and feel privileged to work closely with partners who can help us reach more women in the region.

Advice for other entrepreneurs

Have the courage to “park” your passion on the side and challenge your idea. Give yourself a realistic timeline as if you were working on a real project with deadlines throughout, otherwise it’s very difficult to stay motivated and on track

Then find that one person who believes in you, make that person your friend, colleague, teacher, coach and mentor. I am very fortunate because in my case, that person is also my husband!