Jane Drury is the founder of ME Digital Group, a publishing and online marketing platform which includes popular sites like ExpatWoman.com, Cobone.com, ewmoda.com, EWfood.com and Croutique.com. Jane has been a leading digital entrepreneur in the MENA region for 15 years and has already successfully launched multiple sites on a global level. #SaltSessions caught up with Jane to speaks about her journey and life as a female entrepreneur in the MENA region.
The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders to get their opinions and advice on how they have grown their career in tech and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.
Can you give a brief outline of your background and development:
I started my professional career as a Management Accountant progressing through various roles with Unilever for 10 years across the UK and in Europe. In 1997 my husband secured a position in the UAE and we relocated. Initially focused on raising a young family, I quickly realised that there were very few expat information sources available. I launched ExpatWoman.com in 2002 to help fill the gap. Building a digital publishing business at that time was principally about finding revenue streams when there was no act to follow. That creativity and resultant breadth of offering has served us well through steady years of growth, giving us stability through the ups and downs of different market sectors. In 2014, I formed ME Digital Group as an umbrella under which to further develop our digital brands. Our first acquisition was in ecommerce. Cobone.com, another homegrown success, is the leading daily deals site for the region with particular strength in Saudi Arabia. We subsequently launched specialist verticals in digital publishing; ewmoda.com and EWfood.com, and are about to launch EWmum.com, our first pan-GCC, English/Arabic title for ExpatWoman.com. The launch of Croutique.com marked our move into marketplace, recently supported by the acquisition of The Giftbox.
What has been the biggest deterrent to women succeeding in the workplace?
I don’t see any reason why women cannot succeed in any endeavour they choose to take on. Both in the UAE and Saudi we have been able to generate substantial success as a firm with a wholly female leadership team, and our teams across both locations are pretty much 50/50 male/female.
What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially in male-dominated environments?
I’m not conscious of a male/female issue. There have been substantial challenges along the way, growing from a team of 1 to a team of 80 but more in the field of change management.
In your opinion is it getting easier or harder for women in tech?
Globally I would expect easier, and here also, but some fields may be more challenging. For example, looking for a programmer position might be difficult to break into here as you would likely be applying to join a male dominated, probably Indian/Pakistani team. It’s not impossible but the employer will consider how a new recruit will fit with the existing team, taking both language and cultural sensitivities into account. That, however, is exceptional. We have over 30 nationalities working for MEDG with women being well-represented across most business functions. We don’t set out with any male/female agenda when hiring; we’re looking for the best person for the role.
What are you most proud of?
My brands and my team – the people behind them. Personally, I am driven by growth and we’re all constantly on a path to delivering the next milestone. In this industry for sure, if you’re not moving forwards you’re moving backwards. A recent example would be ewmoda which launched in November and within 6 months has surpassed all other regional fashion publishing sites. Next, on the agenda, EWmum.com is breaking new territory for us, being both in English and Arabic, we’re pushing hard to achieve 1m monthly unique visitors each, both for ExpatWoman and Cobone, and the development of both Croutique and The Giftbox is super exciting with gift season approaching!
Who has been your biggest advocate/supporter in the workplace and why?
My management team, every day, and I am grateful for their continued support. We bring different skills and experience to the table and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Did/Do you have a mentor in your career?
My husband has listened to every bump and shared every success along the way. It is useful to have someone outside the business to talk to. He has vast experience of managing teams which has been helpful to draw on as the business has grown.
As an employer what would you recommend to other companies regarding infrastructure to have in place to develop the best talent?
Clear roles and responsibilities need to be in place, and development and training needs, identified and addressed. Facilitating idea sharing and informal mentoring between the team is important and in that respect, we have found a weekly meeting of our operational department heads to be useful.
In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women in the workplace?
Some people are not interested in developing – they may be very good at their job but not looking for change. Others are looking for direction and a career path. It is the responsibility of each line manager to understand the individuals within their team – they’re strengths, weaknesses and aspirations, to coach them toward success. Where we can promote internally we do, with many examples of success; predominantly female, by chance rather than intention.
Regardless of gender what is the one piece of advice you would give someone in the midst of their career?
Be mindful of your CV as it is really easy to reduce your marketability. Moving jobs more often than every few years can throw up warning signs to employers, especially mid-career. Also when weighing up a new opportunity, look beyond salary to factors such as the stability of the company – is it well-funded? The learning opportunities within the role and potential for your personal development will be key. You can make a wrong decision and hop once, twice not so good; don’t make it a habit. Jumping companies for small increments in salary doesn’t flag loyalty or reliability.
What is your biggest stress reliever?
Family life, the most important thing, and time with good friends. We have been in Dubai for over 20 years so have managed to achieve a remarkably stable home for expats, whilst forging our different career paths. Having said that, it isn’t that unusual for expats to arrive in Dubai and decide to stay.
Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?
Maybe to have been a little more bullish at the start and do it quicker. For anyone starting a web-based business now, I would say to work on your fundraising skills. Whilst MEDG has been built on sustainable growth, in the current digital ecosystem finance is essential to get an idea off the ground rapidly. Learning to network and engage with sources of capital is a critical skill for digital entrepreneurs.
For more information visit: http://www.medigitalgroup.com/
Stay tuned for our next #WomeninTech #SaltSessions interview……….