Over the past 40 years, women have made significant advances in the workforce, earning more and rising to management and C-suite positions. But there’s still a long way to go.
Through its Facebook page, the YLAI Network asked its members what they had found to be the obstacles to equal treatment for women in the workplace. We asked for advice from Marisa Rivera, president of President of Mpowerment Works, a consulting firm focused on empowering women Rivera has worked extensively throughout the Americas, including Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia and Curacao.
“I always say that hiring women should be a no brainer,” said Rivera. “We’ve never been at the top, so we’re always striving not only to do good work — we do excellent work. Why? Because we’re not even recognized for good work. We have to be excellent to actually be recognized.”
Challenge: lack of financial support
On the YLAI Facebook page, Network member Esther Lopez from Honduras spoke of the financial challenges women face in trying to start businesses, especially in Latin America.
“When you are trying to start a new business it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for women in Latin America,” said Rivera. Most women don’t have a house or other valuable asset to put down as collateral, and Rivera says that banks often require more from women even to open an account.
In Latin America and in Africa, Rivera has seen groups of women benefit from micro-financing, offering them the means to start their own businesses when they can’t find financing elsewhere. “They started their own small co-op and said, ‘Let’s put some money together and buy two sewing machines. We’re going to start a business,’ because the banks will not lend them the money.”
Challenge: acceptance of women’s abilities
“A huge challenge for me is working with people that still believe and joke that the female role should be to assist, attend, and be at the service of men, because we (should) know how to do that.” said YLAI Network member Rommy Aparcana, “And also the pressure society puts on women to get pregnant and to have and raise babies.”
Rivera said the men in positions to advance women within organizations should consider the women’s abilities to work well in a team atmosphere and to build consensus. “When I speak with top level management and CEOs, I tell them, ‘You know women are the most untapped talent in the world.’”
Additionally, she said, those women who are able to rise to senior level positions in organizations should recognize their responsibility to help other women. “I think those who are fortunate to be in leadership positions should be firm noble and fair,” Rivera said.
“As I work with women in Latin America,” Rivera said, “[I think] the main reason why they became entrepreneurs is because they realized that in the workforce they had very little chance of progressing and moving into upper level positions. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that you don’t have to ask for permission.”
Challenge: overcoming social stereotypes
Jennifer Schell from Venezuela told the Facebook page that stereotypes and social expectations make being an entrepreneur hard work for women.
“What women need is persistence, performance and mucho corazon,” Rivera advises. “Persistence because there will be some closed doors. But that should just re-energize you to look for other ways to get to your end goal. Performance: Always do your best. And with mucho corazon — with a lot of heart — that will take you where you need to go.”