Businesswomen, professionals, entrepreneurs, and other private and public sector leaders gathered at AS/COA's New York headquarters on October 12 for a workshop on women’s economic empowerment. The event marked the launch of AS/COA’s Hemispheric Women’s Network, which seeks to increase female economic empowerment across the region. The Network also features an online portal and ongoing meetings in Latin American cities and New York.
UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet opened the conference, followed by Margarita Zavala, then-first lady of Mexico. Four workshop panels followed these keynote speakers, exploring female empowerment themes around role models, implications for economic development, entrepreneurship, and the road to the executive suite.
PANEL: ROLE MODELS
- Patty Menéndez-Cambó, Chair, International Practice Group, Greenberg Traurig, LLP
- Carolina Eterovic, Executive Director, Mujeres Empresarias
- Ambassador Carolina Barco, Senior Advisor, Emerging Sustainable Cities, Inter-American Development Bank
- Moderator: Susan Segal, President & CEO, AS/COA
The first panel explored the importance female role models have in helping guide and develop other women professionally. Panelists shared their personal experiences because, as Susan Segal stated, “that’s what role models and ultimately mentors are all about: when you can listen to someone, identify with them, and think about what that means to you.”
Continuing with this idea, Ambassador Carolina Barco said: “I always learned to ask and to depend on the people around me about how they were approaching things and how they were doing it.” Barco shared a personal story on when she was named foreign minister of Colombia: "Two of the women I asked to work with me were starting their pregnancy and I said: ‘Of course I’m still going to hire you, we are going to show that at the foreign ministry that doesn’t matter, that you will come in, work with me for six months, you will have your child, you will take your leave and you will come back.’ This is the kind of attitude that I have tried to show."
Patty Menéndez-Cambó spoke about integrating children, family, and career at a crossroads in her life, when her three-year-old-child was diagnosed with autism while she was pregnant with her fourth: "I had to think whether I wanted to continue working or stay home and it was the most difficult thing and there wasn’t the information then." She added that: “the day I decided to continue working, I said to myself that every day that I work was going to be to make a difference.”
Carolina Eterovic recounted how her father was her role model: “He had always encouraged me to become an entrepreneur, to do new things, to be daring and that its fine to make mistakes because everything has a solution.”
PANEL: IMPLICATIONS FOR ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION
- Noa Meyer, Global Program Director, 10,000 Women Program, Goldman Sachs Foundation
- Susan Silbermann, President & General Manager, Vaccines, Pfizer Inc.
- Moderator: Kristin Hetle, Director of Strategic Partnerships, UN Women
For this panel, speakers discussed how female economic empowerment can contribute to economic growth through direct participation, strategic partnerships, and public initiatives. Susan Silbermann commented on local and state government programs aimed at increasing women's economic and professional participation: “It’s a great way to walk in the door, but I think from a private-industry perspective, the biggest problem is turnover since it’s hard for the government programs to stay in place when the mandates end.”
Noa Meyer spoke about the 10,000 Women program, launched by the Goldman Sachs Foundation in 2008. The initiative is a $100 million commitment over five years aimed at providing business and management education to women from all around the world. Meyer also spoke about the project's outcomes: “Women are reporting that 18 months after graduating, 80 percent have grown their businesses and 66 percent have hired more employees. The data which is most inspiring for us is that 9 out of 10 of the women that go through the program are mentoring other women,” she added.
PANEL: THE WOMAN ENTREPRENEUR
- Michele V. Levy, CEO Melissa USA
- Susana Balbo, Founder, Dominio del Plata
- Gina Diez Barroso, President & CEO, Grupo Diarq
- Moderator: Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Anchor, CNBC
The third panel of the day featured female entrepreneurs sharing personal and professional stories. Panelist Gina Diez Barroso founded Universidad Centro in Mexico, which specializes in teaching design, cinema, and television—the first university of its kind in Mexico. Diez Barroso admitted that the most difficult time of her life was “the day that the first student enrolled in the university that I was so stubborn to make, even though everybody told me that I was crazy and that I would not be able to create a university, and I knew that I had the future of a young kid in my hand—I could not fail.”
Michele V. Levy shared advice on how to go from ideas through to action: “Networking is extremely important. Second, confidence, because you’re going to take a lot of hits. And third and foremost, you have to be patient.” Susana Balbo, who started a successful wine company in Argentina, said even that she arrived at this business “dominated by men” by becoming the first female to graduate in wine studies in Argentina. “So I had multiple challenges because I was the first one, and every offer I got was to work in laboratories. But I wanted to have my own winery,” she added.
PANEL: THE ROLE TO THE EXECUTIVE SUITE
- Judith McHale, Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and Former President and CEO of Discovery Communications
- Ambassador Vilma Martinez, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina
- Vanda Scartezini, Polo Consultores Associados IT Trend
- Moderator: Stephanie Ruhle, TV Anchor, Bloomberg L.P.
In the final panel of the day speakers talked about their professional trajectories and the difficulties they encountered and their way to the senior executive positions they hold today. Moderator Stephanie Ruhle began by saying there isn’t a formula to success, “because if there was we would see far more than 20 women leading Fortune 500 companies.”
Ambassador Vilma Martinez believes that the way to succeed is to “prepare, persevere, and stay focused." She explained further: "I had to do all three." Judith McHale commented that while she’s made it to the executive suite and been on corporate boards, she’s nonetheless faced discrimination but “part of it is your attitude and how you approach it as well. When I was at a law firm I encountered a lot of it, but I treated it as their problem, not mine.”