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Investing In Women’s Economic Development Is A Growth Driver

Culture

We've heard it many times. Investing in women is good business.


I've worked and developed economic development programs for women for more than ten years and I've witnessed how capital, resources and mentoring are significant drivers of growth. These ingredients can boost growth to any business, but if taken seriously by the government and private sector, investing in women's economic development has the power to transform family units, communities, towns and countries.

Last year, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund talked about this in a speech in Los Angeles.

“We know—based on a wealth of research and experience—that empowering women can be an economic game changer for any country. For instance, if women were to participate in the labor force to the same extent as men, national income could increase by 5 percent in the U.S., 9 percent in Japan, and 27 percent in India. Equal pay and better economic opportunities for women boost economic growth—creating a bigger pie for everyone to share, women and men alike. Better opportunities for women also promote diversity and reduce economic inequality around the world. It is an economic no-brainer."

We've read the studies and seen the data. Companies with women as part of the leadership team, perform better. As a business case, it should be a no brainer.

As business leaders, aren't we leaving money on the table by not including 50 percent of the population in key decisions that impact our bottom lines?

As citizens, aren't we shutting down opportunities by not involving 50 percent of the population in matters that impact our daily life, health and education? Let's work together—men and women—to advance the 50 percent and bring them to the table. Betting on women's economic development is a key solution to our economic transformation. Which brings me to my beloved Puerto Rico, where I was born and live today.

I bet you've heard about Puerto Rico and seen how nature's wrath has taken away so much.

These voices vary. Some hopeful, some in dismay, and some distraught. But the reality is even before the hit of two hurricanes, we were entering the 11th year of a deep recession.

In Puerto Rico, 60 percent of women in the labor force heads of households and live below poverty levels. At the same time, women are also opening up businesses at a fast rate and there are double the number of college-educated women as there are men.

As it is, Latina-owned businesses created 550,400 jobs and contributed over $97 B in revenues to the U.S. economy in 2015 – and they are projected to be nearly a third of the total U.S. population by 2060. Minorities and women represent the fastest growing segment of consumers and entrepreneurs in the United States. Latina-owned firms comprise 46 percent of all Latino-owned firms, according to The 2016 State Of Women-Owned Business Report.

That is why we founded Animus Summit: A Women's Innovation Platform. Animus opens doors, connects and provides the opportunity to listen to great stories — of both failure and success — to guide people of all ages and career stages to their next stage of growth.

Animus is the largest female innovation summit of the Americas designed to inspire women to take action to reach their highest level of personal and professional development. It's an innovation platform designed to maximize women's economic and personal development around business, mindfulness, empowerment, and entrepreneurship. It offers introductions to capital opportunities, a marketplace for local brands to showcase their products and workshops for personal development in San Juan. We also offer a pitch competition where women-owned companies can get access and FaceTime to investors.

Hailing over 1,000 women in attendance, up from 600 women in 2015, we've seen tremendous growth in such little time. Animus will provide insights, ideas, perspective and strategies to develop or hone an entrepreneurial mindset.

Women are paving their own way to success. But we need 100 percent of the population, to realize, act upon and understand that our success translates into growth for all.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.