Remarks by Ambassador Laura F. Dogu
Managua, May 5, 2016
What a pleasure it is for me to be with this group of businesswomen. I want to give a special welcome to the businesswomen coming from North Caribbean Coast region with whom I had the pleasure to meet last week during my trip to Puerto Cabezas and also a special welcome to participants who have come from around Central America and from the Dominican Republic. Congratulations to the Congreso Permanente de Mujeres Empresarias for fifteen years of service.
Women’s participation in business is absolutely fundamental. When women are empowered through education, training or funding, the benefits impact all parts of society. However, there are still many gender gaps, particularly in the economy—for example, salary disparities and differences in household responsibilities.
I feel very committed to this issue, and I will continue working with you to make progress. Recently, I read a study conducted by one the Chambers of Commerce, which shows that that representation by women in Nicaraguan business is abysmal.
Microbusinesses are the champions with 30% owned by women. That is nowhere near 50%, but far and away ahead of the 10% of small businesses and the 8% of medium sized businesses.
This means that women own the smallest businesses. The question for everyone here today is how to move more women-owned business from micro, to small, to medium and finally to large-sized companies. The skills you gain and the network you build from your participation in this Congress can help you achieve your goals. But there are other obstacles to overcome before reaching success.
The World Economic Forum estimates that at current rates, gender parity will not be achieved until 2133. That’s 117 years from now.
So I think we can all agree that women in business is important, and that furthermore, we have a problem. Why do we have this problem and what are we going to do about it?
Hardly a day goes by where I don’t read something about the lack of gender parity in business all over the world. It is so important, it was chosen as the theme for International Women’s Day 2016. It’s much more than feeling that women deserve to have economic opportunities and pursue their dreams.
On the most basic level, if women don’t participate in the economy, a country’s earning potential is literally halved. Furthermore, women are responsible for nearly two-thirds of worldwide consumer spending.
This means that women hold a great economic power. Women also tend to spend more of their income on health and education for their families, creating more inclusive growth.
The skills you gain and the network you build from your participation in this Congress can help you achieve your goals. But there are other obstacles to success. For instance, as women business leaders you are balancing taking care of families with your work responsibilities.
We all have faced these challenges because we are mothers, wives, sisters or daughters. You can also be discriminated against by businesses that refuse to work with a woman. Or, by investors or financial institutions that do not want to lend money to a woman. For this reason, many of your business are micro or small informal businesses without a formal accounting system.
It’s a vicious cycle. According to Agora, an organization assisting entrepreneurs, less than 18% of SME lending goes to women-led businesses.
And even just having the self-confidence to accomplish your goals when many in society may be telling you your goals are impossible can be difficult. According to various studies, fear of failure is one of the top concerns for women who start businesses. All of these challenges are real, and all of them can be overcome with effort and collaboration.
Sheryl Sandberg is currently the COO of Facebook. In 2013, at the age of 43, she wrote a book that sent shock waves through US businesses, classrooms, and homes. The book is called Lean In (Women, Work, and the Will to Lead), and it takes a look at what women can do to close the gender gap.
Her advice: be willing to take chances in your business. Did you know that men apply for a job or contract if they think they have 60% of the requirements while women only do it if they think that they meet all of the requirements?
Now, who is more likely to get the job or contract—the man who applies, or the woman who doesn’t? Women tend to underestimate their performance while men tend to overestimate theirs.
So my advice to you—when you negotiate with a customer and feel insecure, remind yourselves that you do not need to meet all the requirements to win a contract. Also, make your partner a real partner. To quote Sandberg, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” She points out that the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is.
If you pick someone who mistreats you or does not support your business, you won’t be successful. But if you choose someone willing to share the burdens and joy, your life will be more successful.
The Embassy of the United States will continue to promote a prosperous, secure, and democratic Nicaragua. Other U.S. Ambassadors in the region are focused on the same types of goals. The Embassy supports business women in three ways: 1) Through financing, 2) through the Entrepreneurship Program, and 3) through an initiative to support small business.
One month ago, I signed a financing program of USAID with Nicaraguan partners to provide financial assistance to businesswomen. I hope some of you can benefit from this program.
The Entrepreneurship program, which is implemented by the Peace Corps, seeks students who can learn how to start a business in order to gain the necessary experience to be successful in their next business projects.
Finally, we would like to establish partnerships with the Government of Nicaragua, the private sector, and the civil society organizations to build a network of support centers for small businesses.
These centers will support the development of small businesses and exportations of their products. In addition, they will provide technical and vocational training. The other Central American countries, Mexico, and some South American countries already have these centers, and it is now time for Nicaragua to join this network of innovators. In addition to those actions, we will continue to increase the profile of key Nicaraguan organizations which are assisting Nicaraguan entrepreneurs.
Now let me say a few words about innovation and the future of the global economy. Boosting innovation and productivity is critical in helping Nicaragua compete in an integrated economic world.
That is why we are pleased to announce that the Embassy will also be sending two Nicaraguan women business owners to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit next month. There, they will meet with hundreds of other innovators across the world to exchange ideas, develop partnerships, and make connections that can strengthen their businesses back here in Nicaragua.
The ability of the Congreso de Mujeres Empresarias to unify organizations is particularly noticeable as you enhance the capacity to help those who need it. I hope you can continue to augment your efforts and identifying new ways to support entrepreneurs, especially women. The United Sates supports you and looks forward to the success you will achieve in the future. The diversity of opportunities for entrepreneurs available today makes me feel enthusiastic. Continue leading, continue working hard and struggling. Keep running your business in such a way that your daughters feel proud of you. Keep supporting your communities. We are united with you.