Red de Mujeres Empresarias de Nicaragua Luncheon

It’s a pleasure to be here with such a dynamic group of women leaders. There is no place that I would rather be than with the Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua. I am honored that you invited me to be with you today.  Thank you to REN and Vital Voices for organizing this important event.

I don’t know if you know this, but before I joined the Foreign Service I was a businesswoman just like you.  As a newly minted MBA, I got a job with IBM in Dallas with small and medium clients of the oil industry. Being a female manager and work with businessmen in the oil industry– in Texas – in the 80s – was not easy.  I had to learn a sort of strategic patience in dealing with some of my male clients, especially those who were not exactly ready to see past my gender and accept me as a colleague.

I think that being a working woman in a male dominated industry was where I learned how to be a diplomat.  Maintaining composure, building alliances, knowing when to speak up and when to be patient –and yes- even wearing softer colors. These were all lessons from my time in the business world that I draw on every day as Ambassador.

Your working environment is quite different from the one in which I started.  Technology and globalization have brought us closer together and expanded your markets. While challenges remain, Nicaragua is seeing more growth, investment, and tourism.  And, thankfully, women in Nicaragua and the United States are more visible in positions of leadership in the business and political arenas.

Today more than ever, women are taking leading positions.  Women owning their business, leading companies and heading governments, are outstanding because of their unique skills and great engagement with their countries. For example, in the United States, women-owned business, contribute with around 3 billion dollars to our economy and are growing twice as much as the rest of companies.

This results in 23 million jobs, or 16 percent of total employment in the United States; if this pace is kept, businesswomen will help create over 5 million jobs in the next 6 years in the United States alone. But some things are still slow to change.  You, as women entrepreneurs, face all the same challenges as your male counterparts, but some unique ones as well.

It’s not a secret that in the business world, in some instances, women must work a lot harder than their male counterparts to access credit and better market opportunities. The networks that have traditionally supported businessmen can be intimidating to female small business owners. But the disadvantages women face are nothing compared to the strengths that we, as women, bring to the business world.

Of course I recognize that women and men are individuals who approach business in their own unique ways.  But in general, I think that women are outstanding organizational thinkers. They seem to have an innate understanding of how people function in a group and how they can work together to achieve a common goal.

They seek collaboration before conflict and appreciate the fact that more and more women share their ideals. This is what the Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua is all about.  This organization has been indispensable to advancing the cause of female business owners in Nicaragua.  Through mentorship, capacity building, and advocacy, you are a major part of the success story of women entrepreneurs.

You have built a coalition around la Agenda de las Empresarias de Nicaragua, a vital contribution to strengthening the rights businesswomen. But your work is far from finished. The next generation of businesswomen is already looking to you to lead by example.  So keep doing what you are doing.  Keep giving your time and effort to strengthening this vital organization.

Keep running your businesses in a way that would make your daughters proud.  Keep giving back to your communities through your corporate social responsibility programs.  Keep leading, keep striving, and keep fighting. I am thrilled at the possibilities for today’s young female entrepreneurs.  You are coming of age at a time when women are changing the face of business all over the world.

In the United States and in Nicaragua, girls and young women have a generation of female business leaders to admire and emulate.  And the workplace is changing as well.  Companies are slowly adopting more family-friendly policies that benefit all workers, men and women. The influence of female managers has left its mark in offices that are more collaborative, but also in product offerings that are more attractive and marketing campaigns that are more respectful to women consumers.

Leadership is not easy. Particularly for women who have to face more cultural and social pressure than men do.  Sherly Sandberg from Facebook has written about the challenges faced by female leadership in a book entitled Lean In. This book discusses how women need to feel comfortable while promoting their talents and abilities.  In the classroom we don’t raise our hands even when we know the right answer.  In meetings, we sit in the back instead of sitting in front.  Sometimes we don’t vie for a job because we don’t feel qualified.  Don’t let your misgivings keep you out of the competition.  Indeed, you have nothing to lose and a lot to win.

The beauty of business is that, at the end of the day, it comes down to dollars and cents.  If you produce a better product or service at a lower price than your competitor, and you can deliver that product or service on time to the specifications of your customer, you will succeed. The talented, driven, successful businessperson – man or woman – that can achieve that standard will win. The United States is working with our partners here to support the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people for a prosperous, secure, and democratic Nicaragua.

These goals are inextricably linked, each one supporting the other and together forming the foundation for a hopeful future. Prosperity is what happens when businesspeople are able to function in a climate that supports the growth of their businesses, when they can make personnel decisions, sign contracts that are valid and enforceable, and import and export goods within a system that is transparent and predictable.

As the Nicaraguan economy grows, a transparent business environment with sound rule of law and strong contract enforcement is the only way to ensure that this growth benefits everyone. And the continued advocacy of REN, Vital Voices, and other business organizations is essential to drive the reform that will benefit the entire Nicaraguan economy. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day gives us a chance to reflect on all we have accomplished and discuss our shared goals for the future.

REN can feel proud of its work to advance the economic and social development of Nicaragua.  As women leaders, your perspective is unique and valuable.  Truly, it is irreplaceable. I hope that you continue to build on your efforts and look for new ways to support entrepreneurs, especially women. The United States supports you and looks forward to your continued success.

Thank you.

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