By Jeanette Awai
(6 minute read)
There’s no denying that when it comes to increasing the GDP of CARICOM countries, women entrepreneurs are often the real MVPs – they play a crucial role in helping stimulate economic growth and aiding economic recovery. According to UN Women, “When more women work, economies grow. Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes.”
That sounds amazing! Yet, women-owned businesses comprise only 23% of MSMEs in Latin America and the Caribbean and only 1% of women entrepreneurs have access to angel investors, seed capital and venture capital funds. Why is there such a disparity between a businesswoman’s worth and her representation? In this blog, we’ll discuss the unique traits that make Caribbean women such great entrepreneurs, the realities of the gender gap and why leveraging women-owned business should be a priority for everyone’s financial future.
Now we woman have changed the course,
without remorse, woman is boss
Put them in an Office or the Hall of Justice,
Woman is Boss – Denyse Plummer, T&T Calypso and Gospel Singer
Yes Denyse, woman is boss. Women are often tasked with navigating a multiplicity of roles both in and out of the household including but not limited to spouse/partner, daughter, caretaker, custodian, teacher, and the list goes on. These skills can be easily transferred into the boardroom or describe the requirements of a good entrepreneur. For example, the ability to manage competing demands, be an expert communicator, anticipate the customer’s needs and show empathy.
That’s not even including the characteristic ingenuity of diasporic women in their ability to foster community and encourage sustainable practises. Caribbean people know that Granny always knew how to stretch a dollar as far as she could by minimising waste through reusing scraps and turning it into creole soup or brand-new outfits. Similarly, women entrepreneurs are more likely to have eco-friendly businesses and businesses led by female CEOs pollute less, receive less environmental penalties and have a higher awareness of environmental protection.
Innovation and the Caribbean Businesswoman
According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Latin and Caribbean women entrepreneurs “play an important role in helping national economies transition from developing to innovation and knowledge-based. In these innovative economies, new ideas and technologies become economic and social solutions. Women are also more likely than men to create social enterprises rather than companies driven solely by profit.” Women are levers of change in the business world from social entrepreneurs and agri-preneurs to solopreneurs crossing over to male-dominated skills trades like electricians and plumbers. Women are out there doing it! However, there is the problem of the gender gap.
Why Closing The Gender Gap Is Imperative
Goal 5 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” However, in today’s business world, women hold only 15% of management positions and own only 14% of companies. Here in the Caribbean, women MSME owners are educated at very high levels, but more likely to fail in their business ventures due to lack of funding an adequate access to resources. Throughout the region, 30% of women-owned businesses are financially constrained compared to only 25% of male-owned or male-led businesses. If businesses around the world acted now to advance gender equality versus doing nothing, they could potentially add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030 as cited in a recent McKinsey report. Investing in women-owned business is good business and a way to put us on the path to economic recovery.
COVID-19 Shines A Spotlight on Women’s “Invisible Work”
Two major obstacles to women entrepreneurs blazing the way to economic recovery were COVID-19 and the “invisible work” of emotional and domestic labour done by women during COVID-19. 13 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean left the regional workforce during the pandemic. This was partly due to the precariousness of jobs in which women predominantly work such as tourism, hospitality, event planning. Women entrepreneurs, especially momtrepreneurs experienced great stress and longer working hours trying to juggle managing their business while parenting, cooking and cleaning which also led to higher levels of burnout. Throughout the pandemic, working women needed help.
The UN Women’s Global Gender Response Tracker Fact Sheet shows that in 2020, Barbados took measures to target women’s economic security by promoting the rights of domestic workers through information campaigns and regulatory adjustments. While in Trinidad and Tobago, the Government provided TT 50 million in grant facilities for Tobago hoteliers to upgrade their premises thereby aiding 11% of the country’s women employed in that sector.
Bringing Women Forward Requires Elevation
Many tools are needed to give women entrepreneurs equal footing in the business world, and this requires more than mere tokenism. In 2020, formerly celebrated pioneer of the #GirlBoss media platform, Sophia Amoruso along with other #girlbosses had to step down amid allegations of toxic work cultures that perpetuated racism. True elevation requires fostering and supporting women-owned businesses and encouraging all women to thrive. Accelerator and entrepreneurship building programmes like Republic Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Business Builder (EBB) Programme help create a healthy environment for businesswomen to collaborate and grow with no barriers, thereby creating sustainable and profitable businesses. The initiative will facilitate entrepreneurs from across the region including, Anguilla, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Maarten, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname.
As part of a commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Republic Bank Limited intends to take action on gender equality and has pledged to have at least 30% of its corporate governance boards be comprised of women at the parent group and all subsidiaries throughout the organisation. RBL’s long-term goal is to achieve gender parity in board representation throughout their organisation. This strategic focus part is because Republic Financial Holding Limited has signed to the Global Principles for Responsible Banking, stepping into a leadership role that contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the Caribbean region. They are the only signatory in the English-speaking Caribbean. Now, that’s a business boost for women and our economy!