When Galit Ben Simhon came out, left her husband, and started scouring the newspapers for lesbian goings-on in Tel Aviv, she was shocked. “One band playing on one night, in a tiny, terrible club? I was a VP of an insurance company, and I was insulted, for me, for lesbians. We really have to go to a dungeon to meet other women?” she tells GO over Zoom.
Galit, who most certainly doesn’t do things by halves, had a solution: she opened Minerva, the first lesbian bar in Israel. It was a revolutionary feminist space, comprising a beautiful bar and art gallery. It soon became the “beating heart” of the lesbian community. For over 10 years, Minerva changed the lives and consolidated the identities of more women than we could imagine. Minerva has since closed, but that doesn’t mean Galit stopped there. Instead, Minerva served as a foremother to Galit’s current project, Panthera.
On the face of things, Panthera is a very plush women’s co-working space in the heart of Tel Aviv, which Galit’s been running with her wife Limor for the last two years. The space is superbly designed and abuzz with activity, with women hunched over desks and important conversations simmering all around. (Granted, it’s been socially distanced activity of late.) Panthera survived this year because the space is like a “second home” to many of its members. “We closed for one month and for some; it’s worse than not being with their families,” says Galit. And so, Panthera reopened with face masks and social distancing required.
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The 150 members — or Panthers, as they’re called — range from designers to acupuncturists, consultants to psychologists, and tech entrepreneurs that specialize in everything from divorced couples to medical innovations.
When we delve a little deeper, it’s clear that “co-working space” is a major understatement for what Panthera actually is. “We are an accelerator,” says Galit. “We teach women how to succeed. We give them management skills, fundraising skills, networking opportunities. We give them more confidence, more bravery. Women are lacking an inspirational model in business. Most of the business industry is run by men, so they don’t have a benchmark; they cannot learn from other women that have the same needs. So we are there to consult, mentor, and track their records. We are very, very involved in their business.”
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Panthera’s hands-on approach stems from Galit’s lived experience in the corporate world, which is still a big ol’ boys club. When she wasn’t running her lesbian bar, Galit was VP of marketing, business development, and sales for the biggest companies (banks, insurers, TV, and advertising) in Israel. Often the only woman sitting on a board of directors, Galit says, “It got to a point where I understood that women have to conform to the norms, which are masculine norms, in order to progress in corporations and to be in high positions.” While men are out on long lunches, having drinks, and networking hard after work, women are silently ploughing through two jobs — the second being motherhood and caregiving. “The feminist revolution basically gave us another job,” says Galit, who has four kids.
Though there are ample superwomen bossing the corporate world while keeping their home lives in check (research in fact shows a rise in women’s C-level employment because businesses run by women are often more profitable), the problem is the lack of stability for women in this man’s world. “You can be VP or another high position employee,” says Galit, “but at some point, you’ll be seen as too old. They will find another person who they’ll pay less — and get less, yes — but you won’t be needed anymore.” For Galit, the only real tangible answer that will “change women’s position in the world and ensure that women have money, is to own their own businesses.”
And so, Panthera is where they go to learn how to do business well.
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According to Panthera members, Galit and Limor are the parents their businesses so deeply needed. Brimming with straight-talking insights, stats, and calming advice, Galit and Limor make their way through the space, doing everything from arranging carpets to giving business development workshops, from making cocktails to hunting down prospective investors for their Panthers.
Galit is renowned for her tough-business-love, at times tearing business strategies apart, leaving some in tears (Limor comes in with the tissues), before working with them to restrategize and revise. Despite this tough reputation, Galit can often be found giving profoundly motivational talks about “fulfilling your destiny” and “realizing your vision.”
As our Zoom call warped momentarily into a TEDtalk, Galit spoke of how “Women need to believe in themselves, and do it better than what they see around them. And when they do better then they will influence the world. We do not own the assets and money. We lack power and influence — money gives these things. It changes the world. With money, you can have better education, better influence, better economies, better societies. And we have to take responsibility, and not wait for that. You have to do it by yourself. You don’t need any law to succeed; you just need to believe in yourself and to start to move.”
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Don’t live in Israel? Fear not, this Panther’s on the prowl. Galit is looking to set up franchises in Berlin, London, New York, and maybe even Mumbai. She’s currently looking for franchisees, and it’s an open invitation. For any businesswoman (being a lesbian is a bonus) from any city in the world who would like to set up a co-working accelerator space, Galit is offering to teach them everything she knows, and together, “we’ll open Panthera all over the world,” she says.
“This is the dream, but also the plan. You have to dream big. It’s the same work for small business and international business,” says Galit. “Why work the same and have little impact in the world? Dream big and go change the world.”