“…The increase in female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, China and India. Add the value of housework and child-rearing, and women probably account for just over half of world output. It is true that women still get paid less and few make it to the top of companies, but, as prejudice fades over coming years, women will have great scope to boost their productivity-and incomes.” – The Economist
In the Central American region, the majority of small and medium businesses are owned and operated by women (in El Salvador alone, 80% of jobs are created by women-owned SMEs). In the case of large businesses and corporations, while data is not easily available, it is clear that a large number of women build their lives through corporate careers. Yet it is estimated that only about 1% of executive and leadership positions are held by women.
Voces Vitales would like to change that statistic. Last Monday, April 23, Voces Vitales El Salvador held the First Central American Corporate Women’s Forum, dubbed CreceMUJER. What was intended to be an informative and inspiring half-day forum turned into a lengthy celebration of women’s participation in the economy, and a look into the skills, needs, and capacity for the growth of corporate women in leadership positions.
Nearly 450 women attended, eager to discuss their increasingly important roles in the workforce. Among the issues addressed were: women’s participation in the workforce, leadership models for women, seeking opportunities in a primarily masculine world, women inspiring women, building your career, professional growth, and mentoring.
When the CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, Alyse Nelson, was delivering her empowering speech, I could not help but smile to myself when she challenged the audience by asking, “In the work that you do, in your leadership, how do you cross those lines that create the divide?” There are obvious divides in the Central American region with regard to politics and equality, and women’s empowerment has proven to be one clear avenue to bridging them.
|“I am a leftist thinker, and there is nothing wrong with that. Subjects like women’s development should unite us.” – El Salvador’s First Lady and Secretary of Social Inclusion, Vanda Pignato|
Really, this is all about challenges: challenging the status quo, challenging our own limits. MarĢ_a Cristina Nieto, VP of Human Resources at SAB Miller El Salvador, assertively encouraged the audience to “…shed the fear of debating and defying.” The solution does not lie in establishing quotas, but in redefining our boundaries, exploiting our talents, and showcasing our merits. As women, there is much we are capable of, but we often let fear hold us back. By seeking personal and professional growth, being true to our values, and using President of VV Argentina, MarĢ_a Gabriela Hoch‘s keys to success: “networking, mentoring, and credibility,” we can improve our participation in the corporate world, narrowing the difference in earnings between genders, and securing a better future for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our countries.
Carmen Irene Alas, President of VV El Salvador, said that “…maintaining a healthy emotional balance is crucial to our success, practicing balanced and sensible leadership and employing ethical resources. We should respect the opinion of others and accept divergence as something natural and enriching.”
In the end, by learning to communicate and being assertive, we will surely be a part of what Alyse Nelson said is “…very slowly, very quietly, but very powerfully, transforming our world.”
Florence de Sola is the Program Coordinator for Voces Vitales El Salvador.