According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, El Salvador ranked 114 out of 136 countries in economic participation and activity. For business women in El Salvador, and for many others in countries around the world, being born a woman can sometimes signify a life-long struggle against what is commonly called, the glass ceiling, “an unbreakable barrier that keeps women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”[i]
However despite such unfavorable scenarios, there are still women in El Salvador who have been able to succeed in fields traditionally dominated by men, including entrepreneurial business. Two exemplary business women who have been leading the way in closing the gender gap are VV GROW Mentoring participants Diana Figueroa and Ana Cristina LĢ_pez. Diana is a mentee, and the co-owner of a veterinary services business Peludos, and the independent owner of a small wholesale company, Inverpet. Her mentor Ana Cristina LĢ_pez, is the Director of Investment Banking at Citibank.
In a candid interview, Ana Cristina and Diana speak about issues women face in El Salvador and their experience participating in the VV GROW Mentoring program.
What are some of the biggest challenges for women in your country?
Diana: “I think some of the biggest challenges for women and girls here in El Salvador is access to education. There are a lot of girls working at a very early age to help their families, so they quit school.”
Ana Cristina: “As a young woman, the challenge may be to stay in school. It also may be whether or not to continue on to higher education, which often means delaying plans to have a family. For professional women, the challenge most often is to be able to do both, have a professional career and a family. Ultimately, the stigma of a “man’s world” is still very much present in our culture, and I believe there is still a long road ahead for gender equality in El Salvador.”
What is the best part about having a mentor/mentee ?
Diana: “For me, having a mentor is far more than one session every two weeks, it is about having someone I trust to help me see things I normally donå«t see. It has been an awesome experience to have someone that listens to me and encourages me to make decisions. Through sharing her knowledge, Ana has become a business and life mentor.”
Ana Cristina: “I relish in my mentee’s success. I enjoy her process of discovery. Questions or issues that are evident to me, are absolutely not evident to her… so we have worked together to decipher her path, and in the process, she has discovered many angles to engage in analysis that will lead her in better decision making.”
Is there one statement you can provide about the power of mentoring?
Diana: “I think the power of mentoring lies in the confidence to talk openly to your mentor or mentee and vice-versa, all in order to gain new knowledge, reinforce strengths, and build skills. Sharing critical perspectives, experiences, and tips make mentoring wonderful.”
Ana Cristina: “If I do make a difference, it is my strongest wish that I make a difference in my mentee’s degree of belief in what she can achieve. She is well on her way… and I am thrilled to be going down this road with her!”
To learn more, watch Vital Voices’ El Salvador’s video highlighting Ana Cristina and Diana’s mentoring relationship, via the VV GROW Mentoring program.