Warning: this post may come across as extremely sexist or rub people the wrong way, but this is my experience living in Bangkok :)
No, I'm not getting married, and no I'm not dating a local (my partner is from Finland), but if you are friends with me on Facebook and care enough to look at my pictures, I attend a lot of professional events:
British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce,American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand , Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce, German-Thai Chamber of Commerce, multi-chamber of commerce professional networking events (you get the idea!).
I go to these events because I’m looking for a business partner and to make business connections.
However, every time I meet a successful foreign male entrepreneur they are almost always (90%) dating, engaged, or married to a local. I guess I’ve been looking for a partner in all the wrong places!
Is this a bad thing, absolutely not, given the bureaucracy, lack of English language, connections needed, and “way things work” in Thailand, if you want to find a partner you can trust, the strategy most male entrepreneurs I’ve met just date or marry a business savvy Thai woman.
It’s a man’s world!
I’ll never forget when one friend passively told me that “It’s a man’s world, no offense!”
And, I wasn’t offended, men can travel anywhere in the world, find a wife or girlfriend (they don’t have to even speak the same language! Most likely the woman will learn the man’s language), and if he has business aspirations his wife/girlfriend will help him, navigate the bureaucracy of her country, help with translation, use her connections, and together they will build a business.
Both parties benefit from this partnership because the man has a local he can trust (obviously, not all marriages end up happy and faithful :), and the woman gains a husband (bonus if he’s a westerner that is relatively financially well-off), and helps her country create jobs for locals.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat about how sexist and simplistic explanation, I am speaking of my experience in Thailand.
It's difficult and expensive to start a business as a foreigner, there are many laws that bar foreigners from certain professions, foreign businesses have to have a “ratio” of locals to foreign hires (unless you have a BOI), and the bureaucracy is quite difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with Thai business customs and laws.
That’s the reality here, and I’m sure in many places that want to protect their economy (Thailand has a really low unemployment rate), and people’s attitude towards foreigners.
Do men have all the advantage?
Yes and no.
What to do if you’re a female entrepreneur in a foreign land?
Now for a female foreigner with ambitions to build a business she has to be smart and very clever.
Smart enough to make friends and connections with people that can help her, see Thai women as her allies and not her competitor (in dating or business), and clever enough to know when to turn on/off her feminist views.
Let me explain, first Thailand is one of the top countries in the world that has a lot of women in executive and senior management positions.
Next, Thai women are very beautiful, they invest in their beauty and very conscientious about their looks, not only because they are vain, but because beauty will lead to having good job opportunities, marrying into a good family.
Not everyone hold these views, but many Asian societies still hold traditional female roles and family values.
Feminism only works when it’s “beauty and brains” unlike the West where a woman can look any type of way (fat, unattractive, and single) and eventually gain respect for her work.
That shit won’t work here.
Women cannot compete like men (marrying a local Thai man or Asian man, is very difficult because of language and cultural barriers) but we are still women and there are advantages.
What I’ve observed from successful female Thai and foreign entrepreneurs are that women are the best allies, mentors and customers to have.
We all know the difficulties of building a business and not having our ideas taken seriously.
So, make as many friends and connections with other women in business.
Since I’ve started this entrepreneurial journey I’ve made it my mission to surround myself around women in business, politics, culture, as long as they were successful in what they did.
Next, these great women I surrounded myself with were in relationships, married or long-term, in which their partners were incredibly supportive of their ideas and business.
When I moved to Thailand, I made it my business to find a boyfriend (took me 6 months) because I knew I couldn’t do it all on my own.
We need to stop telling women they can can do it all by themselves and "have it all."
No one can have it all...not at least all at the same time.
In regards to dating in this competitive environment, I made sure I found someone smart and who worked in a lucrative career (my boyfriend is such a nerd, he's a Data Scientist), supportive, and would be faithful to me (let’s be real, Thailand is a paradise for men).
I’m going to say something very unpopular, people respect women more when they are in relationships (sexist I know!) and I’ve gotten a lot of “browny points” because my boyfriend is European, works in hi-tech, and quite good-looking (we live in a very shallow world). Last but not least, have male allies when building a business, unfortunately people are more confident in you and your ideas if men are on your side (so sad, but true).
My local partners: Thai business women
So, I may not be able to marry a local but I’ve managed to find a way to work with Thai women to help me build Healthy Hair Asia.
Given that women make up the majority of my customers, I’ve been quietly securing partnerships with local hair salons and beauty brands operated by Thai women.
It’s too early to get into details, but professional partnerships are the best ways to go! Women helping women :)
Thanks for reading, check out my pictures below!
Stay tuned for next week, I’m a writer for the global Techsauce summit happening this weekend!