Voices of the World Conference Cycle: Four Regions, Four Women Entrepreneurs

Instituto de Empresa

26 November 2004

The Centre for Diversity, together with the Instituto de Empresa Foundation and the Ramón Areces Foundation, organised the Voices of the World: Four regions, four women entrepreneurs conference cycle, which ran from Wednesday, October 20 to Monday, November 15.

The cycle, which aimed to “examine crucial realities of the world today, as are the needs of women, business and culture”, has provided a window onto the reality of women entrepreneurs in four very different contexts, namely the U.S., Africa, Latin America and the Arab World. The conferences were based on the testimonials of four extraordinary women: American Julie T. Katzman, co-founder of the VB&BP investment bank and expert in capital and investments; Senagalese Tina Ndoye, agricultural entrepreneur; Brazilian Luiza Helena Trajano Inácio; General Director of Magazine Luiza retail chain; and Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, from the United Arab Emirates, former CEO of Tejari and current Minister of Economy.

The conference cycle highlighted the extraordinary role that women play in the economic growth and development of each country. This is particularly true in the case of emerging economies where agriculture is often a major element, and women represent the majority of the workforce, while underpinning production and social cohesion, serving as a gelling agent for the nuclear family.

In spite of the marked difference in the socio-economic environments of each speaker the cycle demonstrated how women meet common global challenges. These include the difficulty of achieving a work/lifestyle balance, overcoming social stereotypes that tend to pre-determine the role that women should play in society, and equality with men.

The fact that women frequently become entrepreneurs as a result of the need to coordinate their professional and personal lives is recognised as one of the most important economic phenomena underlying current social growth. The cycle brought the opportunity to hear the experiences of four women from backgrounds as strikingly different as investment banking in New York or biological agriculture in Senegal.

::Julie T. Katzman highlighted the use of the more “feminine” skills such as empathy or emotional intelligence, to survive in the demanding world of investment banking, traditionally a bastion of male dominance. She also talked about the difficulties encountered by women in the U.S. when trying to achieve a work/life balance, or access to top management positions - the so-called glass-ceiling syndrome.

::Tiné Ndoye recounted her fascinating life story and how she became an agricultural entrepreneur and city councillor in Senegal following her husband’s incapacitation due to illness. She talked about women’s situation in rural Africa, their family obligations and their responsibility for the greater part of agricultural production, telling how they are now managing to gain greater recognition for their role in Senegalese life, despite a traditional social environment structured according to classical female roles.

::Luiza Helena Trajano Inácio focused her address on the definition of “female management style”, a way of doing business based on greater emphasis on personal relations, greater sensitivity, or even spirituality, and which corresponds to contemporary corporate trends. An increasingly horizontal and cooperative firm, that is decentralised and centred around the client, with a more integral vision and concern for long-term development.

::Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, recently appointed Minister of Economy of the Arab Emirates, talked about the decisive role of new technologies and Internet as equality agents in women’s struggle for equal opportunity. According to the Emirate entrepreneur, women are facing the same challenges across the world, and technological advances can help overcome them.

Hence, the cycle has shown us the challenges faced by women who are actively present in the economy of four different cultural and social environments that are particularly relevant for the global comprehension of our environment.

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