If you're still looking for Caribbean-based female entrepreneurs in 2022, you're probably not looking hard enough. Female entrepreneurs are literally outside your front door, from the woman who pitches her goods from door to door, to the woman exclusively running the 'hit pies and cold drinks' cart or 'hot doubles' stand, to the female newspaper or fruit vendor by the corner. Likewise, there are female entrepreneurs in non-traditional careers such as contractors, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, carpenters, et cetera. Then of course, there are the female-run NGOs which, though sometimes underresourced, are still fighting tooth and nail to effectively service their catchment areas (or key populations), and by extension, their respective societies.
However, you might not necessarily hear about them, because though they are entrepreneurs in their own right, as they bring critical skills and experience to their daily operations, these women aren't the conventional CEOs, owners and managers which one might generally find in large and medium enterprises, and unfortunately, that perception appears to still be the litmus test for gauging female entrepreneurial success, at a glance. But, is that a fair and reasonable assessment of Caribbean female entrepreneurs, or is it even an accurate perspective?
The short answer is, it depends. It depends on who is making that statement. On one hand, for those in administrative and quasi-administrative roles tasked with documenting or otherwise reporting on the status of their local female entrepreneurship population, such as government ministries and agencies, international organizations such as the United Nations, and even the local Chambers of Commerce, there is a dire need to increase both the visibility and concentration of females in executive positions, or other business leadership roles.
On the other hand, for those women operating within the informal economy, social enterprises and the NGO sector, whose corresponding voices and experiences might not necessarily be comprehensively recorded, archived and highlighted for the benefit of census building or survey sampling, they are 'already' in these positions of impact. These are the positions of influence, impact and inspiration which require them to apply critical, creative thinking in order to make sound, strategic business decisions every day. Examples of where this thinking is applied include: budgetting, human resource management, accounting, marketing, mentorship/training, and networking- and that is despite the countless, lingering stereotypes surrounding women in positions of leadership, especially within the Caribbean. These women appear to be largely invisible and unkown to the wider public.
Therefore, what female entrepreneurs require in order to raise their public profile in my view, is greater holistic support. This support can come by way of enabling easier access to financing; as well as making financing opportunities such as grants, scholarships, disbursements and business starter funds, more commonplace and less burdensome (meaning less technical and lesa bureaucratic). Likewise, this support can also envision making work spaces of all kinds more flexible and accommodating for women who are mothers of young children (or grandmothers, or otherwise caretakers of dependents), as well as women who are pursuing further education, or both.
In my opinion, women also require sustained opportunities to feel physically and mentally-safe in environments that promote their personal and professional growth. This can be achieved by adapting a zero-tolerance stance on gender-based discrimination, as well as sexual harassment, since the latter disproportionately affects females. Additionally, such 'safe spaces' would also allow females to freely discuss their mental health challenges, including negative stress, discrimination, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, et cetera.
They may not drive fancy vehicles or operate in a contemporary (or traditional) work space. They might not make the daily news, the evening news or even 'go viral' on social media. They may not have a laundry list of achievements and awards. Then again, they might have all of the above and still remain generally unknown to us.
Nevertheless, female entrepreneurs have been and continue to be all around us. They are as dependent on us as we are on them. In this regard, if we truly desire to know (more) about them, and want to make the case for their greater visibility, then in my view, we need to routinely highlight and curate their experiences ourselves...if only because no one else is going to do that for them or us. On that note, which female entrepreneur will you showcase today?
Change starts with us. Let's be the change we want in the world.
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