Allowing you to build yourself and participate in the social world is what it means to be a woman in 2022. For this special month of March, dedicated to them, we interviewed an entrepreneur and icon of the Brussel tech scene: Julie Foulon.
Energic, ambitious and engaged in the transmission of digital knowledge, Julie Foulon presents to Beelance, her inspiring, atypic and human career. She is the founder of Girleek, a 100% female blog dedicated to new technologies and co-founder of the incubator MolenGeek.
Break the rules
From Africa, through France, all the way to Belgium
After growing up in Africa, Julie Foulon, founder of Girleek, a blog dedicated to technologies and code, has moved constantly between different locations, from Africa, through France to Belgium. She tells us with enthusiasm her unusual career, because she was first predestined to career as a trader, after her master’s degree in market finance. Even if she was already interested about new technologies, she was “parachuted” into finance in 2006 in Charleroi, before setting up her own IT company just after the Subprime crisis.
“Instead of doing an internship in the finance world, I started to create websites because I had learned it on my own”
Girleek, the birth of an engaged community
Democratize the Tech sector
With this first experience in the Tech field, Julie Foulon tells us that with Girleek, she wants to democratize this sector, where women are still under-represented. She also says that her blog was born out of her father’s thoughts about women during the Arab Spring. “Several women were learning how to develop their websites to raise their voices across the borders. He said to me “They are not defining themselves as developers, they are learning digital skills to do something for themselves.” He then said to me “it’s funny, we don’t have the same vision of technologies, man will be interested in the technicality, whereas a woman will be more interested in how to optimize it and integrate it into everyday life…”. That is how Girleek was born !”
She goes further by adding that it is essential to raise women’s awareness of the technological world to help them emancipate and build their careers.
“I realize that this is a male-dominated sector and I have a problem with that”
Then, Julie tells us that she put aside her blog after being spotted by Belgium’s first start-up community: the Beta Group in 2011. She then co-developed new projects such as Start-it, an incubator from KBC, and MolenGeek, before returning in 2019 to her initial project: Girleek.
Motivate and raise awareness of women
For Julie Foulon, dedicated organisations for women are necessary because they make it easier to motivate and attract them. “We often think, because there are mixed initiatives, open to all, that women will come naturally, but it’s not true. To attract women’s attention, you have to look for them, one by one, you have to convince them, to create an environment that’s adapted and that is thought out differently from the current system.”
“You can’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t have your website, you can’t be entrepreneur If you don’t communicate on social media… If you don’t understand the mechanics of the web and social networks, it’s not possible. I realize that a lot of women don’t understand that”
Be a woman entrepreneur in 2022
Being a modern woman is not an easy thing, they are constantly confronted with several challenges, including a mental load that weighs heavily on their shoulders. “I realized that, we, women have a time problem, we are always running out of time. Even me, as an entrepreneur, I see it well, I’m the first to sacrifice some moments, because I cannot do everything!” She then, went on to talk about the creation of her training center dedicated to women. “We have to adapt ourselves to their schedules and we trained 4500 people in 2 and a half years. We are opening two spaces, one in Antwerp and another one in Brussels. The idea is to create a space where we do training, where we stream. But If they prefer to work face to face, we have available places.”
“We have infiltrated a niche market, because we need women to be trained in new technologies. In Belgium, the whole sector needs it! Companies have to adapt and they need to find resources”
…and financial difficulties
Although she admits that she has not experienced difficulty in gaining credibility in the Tech field, she admits that it is difficult for a woman to prove herself in a male-dominated sector. She also adds that there is a strong discrimination in accessing finance for women entrepreneurs. And this is, still strongly linked to stereotypes. “In Belgium, we are discriminated against when we go to the banks as a woman. When I go to the bank, I have to talk like a man! I can’t go as a man could, with a lot of confidence… You have to be fully prepared! Access to finance as a woman entrepreneur is the most complicated problem in Belgium…”
Support each other
Even if gender inequalities persist, especially in the world of work, there has been an increase of 9,52% of self-employed women in Belgium over the five last years, according to the Réseau Diane. The emergence of several women’s networks has been noted, allowing them to establish commercial and social relationships. According to Julie Foulon, women need to support each other in these initiatives but they also have to take advantage of them. She particulary supports two initiatives: Womanly, a co-working space dedicated to women and Hors Norme, a network of women entrepreneurs that offers workshops and talks.
“Woman, we don’t have the luxury of wasting time. So, if we go somewhere, we have to make profit and it has to be used in our business”
For aspiring women entrepreneur
She concludes by giving some advice for women who wish to embark in the entrepreneurship adventure. “Join a network, like an incubator, one or several, because we need to be accompanied and to see others. We will meet people, coaches, who will save us our time. It’s better than staying in your corner and learning on your own. Then, another advice is to be autonomous regarding new technologies, it’s essential and it must be done in common. The technical part and the business part must go hand in hand !”.