WOMEN, THE WORKFORCE AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN COLOMBIA
HISTORY OF THE EVOLUTION OF WOMEN’S ROLES IN COLOMBIA
Colombian women have participated in social, economic and political life since the struggles for women’s independence in the first half of the twentieth century. Only after fighting for several decades, women gained the right to vote in 1957. Colombia was one of the last countries in the region to recognize this human right. Women’s struggles have included organizing, creating their own spaces and confronting with the power of a patriarchal society, reluctant to provide opportunities for their full development.
With a highly influential Catholic Church (emphasizing traditional gender roles), strong traditional values regarding women’s roles culturally, and a highly exclusive and restrictive political system, the path of women has been particularly difficult. Women have had to earn every gain towards higher levels of participation, while simultaneously dealing with the situation of social and political violence that has prevailed in the country for many years.
Important dates and facts for women’s rights in Colombia include:
- In 1932 women have the right to manage their property.
- In 1933 women have the right to education.
- In 1954 women have the right to citizenship.
- In 1957 women can vote.
- In 1962 women can have equal pay for equal work.
- In 1979 Colombia endorsed the international convention to eliminate forms of discrimination against women.
Acting as a woman entrepreneur represents a form of access to what has been traditional male power, so female entrepreneurs are pioneers who contribute towards breaking the mold, and reflect a different and a new aspect of Colombian society. This has been filled of resistance and change, affecting not only women but men as well who have to face the loss of male monopolized institutions such as work, politics or finances.
Women have opened a door for female leadership in modern organizations and they have discarded the male model for breaking the “women are soft” stereotype. Women have multidimensional roles in the home, with children, family and work, and this has fostered the ability to respond to a variety of things efficiently.
Today, more than a half of a century after Colombian women achieved one of the greatest achievements: the vote; women’s roles have taken a new turn. It is not uncommon to see women executives at all levels, and to a lesser proportion, running a large company like IBM, Santander Bank, Telecommunications or a Ministry.
WOMEN VS. MEN: THE BRAIN DEBATE
Historically, women have been considered to have less intelligence than men and not long ago a part of society considered it was a waste of time educating them. Certainly there are differences between the male and female brain. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza in his book “Evolve Your Brain”, “scientists have debated the extent to which the brain is sculpted by either its genetic inheritance (nature) or its environment and experiences (nurture)”.
Our genetic inheritance is a combination of long-term genetic information that is common to all members of species, plus short-term genetic inheritance from each of our parents. Both long-term and short-term genetic traits are what nature has given us as an inheritance. We can say it is “our nature.” In addition to our genetic inheritance, what has shaped and molded – in other words, nurtured – the brain over millions of years is a result of interaction with the environment, how that information was stored, and how the brain has adapted. Nurture also concerns our individual life experiences, which are recorded in the brain. The way the brain is wired, then, is a combination of genetic (long-term and short-term) traits and learned experiences throughout life. The brain evolves not via nature or nurture, but by a remarkable interaction of both these processes. (Dispenza 2007, Chapter 5 Hardwire by Nature, Changeable by Nurture)
For example, it has been shown that men can read maps better because they have a greater “visual-spatial” ability. Women, in contrast, have been shown to have greater verbal ability than men and are the best at performing tasks relating to understanding written material, analogies and creative writing. Also women have less ability in mathematics and better in language because men gray matter of the brain has more activity than women (predominantly white matter). Gray matter handles information processing while white matter relationships between data. (Blum 1998, Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences between Men and Women).
“The corpus callosum does account for a significantly greater percentage of the total white matter in women (2.4 percent in females versus 2.2 percent in males). This fact just might mean that women are able to process the two types of thoughts (emotional and analytical) between the two hemispheres of the brain a lot faster than men. If the greater distribution of total fatty myelin, or white matter, in the female corpus callosum does account for speedier neurological transmission between the brain hemispheres, this may explain why men are often dumbfounded when observing women’s problem-solving abilities in action.” (Dr. Joe Dispenza, Evolve Your Brain, 2007:125).
In IQ test results, men have 5 points higher average percentage than women. This apparent difference in results seems to be related to the fact that much more importance is given to math skills than linguistic ones; therefore, this difference reflects an inherent bias to the test. It is important to mention that some of these results are culturally-based, meaning that there will be cultural differences depending upon what a particular culture’s gender roles are and how that culture educates its children with regards to gender roles.
WHERE ARE WOMEN NOW?
Currently, the scope of the work of women is quite broad. They work in every sector: commercial and marketing, financial, industrial, public relations, textile and services, not to mention the political arena.
Women have a unique management style that their roles in society have fostered: creativity, flexibility, adaptability, and ability to mobilize groups. These are critical skills to be successful in today’s workplace given the changes occurring in the new century.
The importance of women in the workforce in general allows them to achieve empowerment as a process of change and transformation in which there is a leap to gain more independence and control over their lives. Today women are more participatory in society in general, have decision-making power, and have increased their self-esteem. Ideally, a redistribution of power and change in patriarchal structures occurs in tandem with this change in female empowerment, given that women’s empowerment requires a change in the social structure that permits development not only as mothers and heads of household but also as women in all aspects of their beings. Women want to make decisions, to have equalities in society, and ultimately to be valued as human beings, who think, feel, love and are loved and accepted. Although many women have entered the workforce, they remain responsible for housework and childcare, and so many women in Latin America therefore have a double workload.
DEVELOPING AS A WOMAN BEYOND THE BUSINESS WORLD
In Colombia there is still a marked difference in gender roles although men and women now qualify for the same jobs. As women, what can we do? The role of women in the workforce goes beyond that of a simple job in a professional level.
The professional aspect is only one dimension of a human being and we believe that the role of women at home is also very important as a wife and mother, in addition to being a friend, sister, daughter, or living any role in their life. It is important for women to be educated. It’s been said that if you want to be successful, then study the success, if you want to be happy then study the happiness, if you want to improve as a human being then you must learn about yourself, as only you know what to improve. So studying, learning, practicing is the way to achieve what we all want as human beings. A woman has a lot to do in every aspect of her life and mediocrity can’t be part of her existence.
Every woman has a period in her life when she wants to be successful in everything: as a woman, as a mother, as a professional, as a wife, as a housewife, as a student… she wants to do everything and sometimes this is too much. To achieve what she wants, she must leave and get out of the mediocrity; it requires discipline, commitment and work in any job or occupation that is done. No matter the difficulty of the task, a woman should always do it well and give the best she can. Giving more than a given task requires involves an absolute daily commitment and in the end life will show results.
If a woman in her home always does and gives her best in each of the tasks she performs as a wife or a mother, she will become an example for her husband and children who will copy and behave in the future contributing to the development of a family, a nation, and overall human being. If she can do it at home, she can do it at work. Lao Tzu once said “a leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” It’s a challenge and a risk that is worth to try… Be a woman who gives everything in all that she does.
A few years ago, a wonderful quote touched our lives: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled – Plutarch.” These words have caused great reflection on our part. A woman can’t just fill her life with diplomas and titles, if she is not doing anything with that knowledge. What is the point of reading and re-reading books, highlighting them, memorizing words for making up speeches, if she is not using them to highlight and exalt her life so she can reach wisdom. It’s really a waste of time, if she doesn’t do something useful with the time she invested in those studies and doesn’t use it for the service to humanity beginning for herself, family, friends, coworkers, partners, etc.
As women, we have to nurture our home in many ways, no matter the role we have. If we decide to use our power wisely, we can develop tools and strategies always keeping in our hearts that “someone who conquers others is strong; but someone who conquers himself is mighty” Lao Tzu. So we have to start by changing ourselves in order to accomplish our dreams.
GROWING ENTREPRENEURSHIP RATE IN COLOMBIAN WOMEN
Business is considered a masculine field. The values that are associated with business success (risk decision and investments) seem to go against the essence of feminine attributes, which usually are associated with the art of listening, being sure everyone is well, acceptance, dialogue, and well-being, among others.
If power is masculine in the business area, it would be important to look for this strange phenomenon of women entrepreneurs: questioning about empowerment, the importance of handling work in front of the family, how codes of domination have been changed and in what sense; and especially to identify the elements that characterize successful business management that are somehow distinguishable as a result of their status as women entrepreneurs.
Today, a high percentage of women in the world are participating in entrepreneurship, especially in informal economies. In Colombia there are many cases of entrepreneurship by women. Some situations that have influenced this growth are the forced displacement due to violence in part of the rural population and the growing number of female-headed households. Unemployment rates in Colombia have also forced women to consider entrepreneurship. However, there is still a long way to go.
According to National Bureau of Statistics DANE, in 2011 the national employment rate for women was 48% versus 70% of men and for unemployment, there was 12% for women versus 7% of men. Regarding incomes, the earning gap between men and women was 67% for those without any level of education and 46% for those with more than a high school education.
MOTIVATING THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPIRIT AND LEADERSHIP ENTREPRENEURSHIP FOR WOMEN
Consider that the entrepreneurship experience must respond to the pursuit of our own dreams as our mission in life. Just by learning to discover oneself, one can define the dream for them which is worthy to achieve with enthusiasm.
Creating company has its own challenges, and more so in Colombia than in more developed countries. Some reasons to create our own company were to provide employment, to have different styles of leadership and friendly environment, and to develop our own ideas.
In order to move and adapt from employee to entrepreneur status, processes and paradigms need to change. However, after one learns how to enjoy this new life choice nobody wants to go back. In order to adapt, it is very important to develop the skills of a good entrepreneur such as passion, strategic vision, competency in business, discipline, perseverance, leadership, trustworthiness, and innovation.
As entrepreneur women, we had learned that is important to be aware, to watch, to be curious, to see the world, and read the market, always reading between the lines for recognizing people’s necessities and creating new products or solutions for resolving those requirements.
In addition, we believe in the concept of providing excellent service, building long-term relationships with employees, customers, partners, and associates. For example, one of the issues we like to talk about in our lectures is related to CRM (Customer Relationship Management) as a philosophy for a company because Colombian businesses in general are very weak with regards to customer service.
We believe that Colombian companies can improve if they understand the importance of building a good culture of service and going further to understand the high cost of losing a customer. It is easier to keep a satisfied customer with a good product and/or service, loyalty strategies, and a good relationship that allows offering customized solutions. The ideal goal is “don’t have customers but fans”. A fan is someone who follows you, forgives you and grows with you.
Our company seeks to transform Colombia via impacting different areas, from teenagers to entrepreneurs, so they can be more competitive on topics ranging from customer service, to leadership, to communication, and to international negotiation, among others.
Some time ago, we read a statistic that stated, “in Colombia just 15% of people are happy with what they do in their life”. We informally surveyed our friends and other people we know, and found that this is mostly true. There are too many people bored with their jobs, afraid of losing them and doing whatever they must in some cases without planning and no direction. We didn’t want to be part of this culture of disillusionment. It made us think about the needs of teenagers and young people because if they begin to know themselves at an early age, each decision or step in their lives will contribute to build their dreams.
During this process of questioning and searching, we had the opportunity to read the books “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard Nelson Bolles and “What Color Is Your Parachute for Teenagers”, by Richard Nelson Bolles, Carol Christen, and Jean M Blomquist. As a result, we decided to adapt the methodology in a workshop we designed entitled, “Building Leaders of their Own Lives”. We’ve had the opportunity to give lectures to different young groups with success and helped them to be more assertive and also to understand how important it is to know what they want as a dream and work for it.
We encourage women to take the risk of launching themselves in this adventure of doing business, and potentiating to discover their strengths so they can achieve their dreams.
- Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences between Men and Women – Deborah Blum, Penguin Books, 1998
- The Female Brain – Louann Brizendine M.D, Morgan Road Books, 2006
- Evolve Your Brain – Dr. Joe Dispenza, Health Communications, Inc., 2007
- National Bureau of Statistics – Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE). http://www.dane.gov.co/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=67
- La República. http://www.larepublica.co/forosLR/mem_tacones2012/bancamia.pdf Informe MESEP, Marzo 2012.
- Foro Internacional Democracia y Cooperación. www.eurosur.org/FLACSO/mujeres/
- Digitale Bibliothek. http://library.fes.de/fulltext/iez/01111002.htm
- Alta Consejería Presidencial para la Equidad de la Mujer. “La participación política de las mujeres en Colombia: Avances, retos y análisis sobre la presencia y acceso de las mujeres a los espacios de decisión en el país”. Boletín 13. 201. http://www.equidadmujer.gov.co/Publicaciones/Boletin%2013-Observatorio-asuntos-genero.pdf