Breaking the glass ceiling
The social and professional status of women in Barbados defies the statistics. Although high numbers reflect female achievement, women are still a minority where decisions are made.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Small Business Association, Lynette Holder believes that she is well positioned to make such a pronouncement.
She tells Barbados TODAY that as International Women’s Day approaches, questions must be raised on whether our society is reflective of strides of women
“I’ve been able to satisfy myself with the reality that we do still have that glass ceiling in this country. And for women in business, women who aspire to be leaders, there is a process they go through, this stereotyping that they go through that many times can be a discouragement for some. But it definitely is a hurdle that most have to overcome if they want to achieve their personal and career pursuits.”
Holder’s view comes from not simply being female but also moving from a small business person herself in her 20s, to conducting academic research for her Master’s thesis, and now presiding over the association for the type of enterprises that truly churn the Barbados economy.
“Education is an issue,” she declares. “Research from the University of the West Indies shows that approximately 80 per cent of graduates, post-grad, under-grad, are female.
“If you chronicle that for maybe the last decade, we will see that though more females are graduating with degrees, it is not translating to an increase in the number of female managers.
So what does that tell you?
“It is not translating, in politics either. What is the percentage of females in the Parliament of Barbados, in the Cabinet of Barbados?”
“The data is still showing women are paid some 30 per cent less than the male counterparts for doing the same job.”
The 2010 National Census puts the number of females in Barbados at 144,803 and men at 133, 018, Holder contends: “Yet they are still a vulnerable group in that we are still the minority in several areas. So it is not translating to increased numbers of persons as senior managers, on the boards”.
She took aim at cooperatives on the island as an example. “I cannot understand why in 2015 we would be contented to have all male boards.
“What is wrong with it is that it does not represent democratically your constituency. You cannot have a constituency made of a particular demographic, and yet your leadership does not reflect the demographics of your constituency.”
Illustrating the point of continued male dominance despite female achievement, she said, “You walk into a room with an all-male board, no light bulb goes off in your head. You walk into the room and see an all-female board, I’m sure one will”.
She makes clear that her views in no way advocate tokenism, but point to a need for leadership to be democratically representative of constituents.
“We have earned that today, near 50 years of independence, 64 years of adult suffrage, that leadership must represent your constituency. It must have the face of your constituency.
“If it is leadership in business, in government, in civil society, it should represent the people that you serve.”
Holder reflected on difficulties of business she experienced as a female small entrepreneur in struggles to get access to financing and interfacing with financiers.
“Networking is a very important component of business success, and it is ingrained in the psyche of us as a people here in Barbados. Women have a greater challenge in networking than men. It goes back to your socialisation.”
Holder showed in her thesis, “that because of the established networks that males are accustomed to, oftentimes it is a lot easier, it would appear, for them to climb the corporate ladder, because of the discussions and the decisions that are made on the golf course, in the shops and bars where they are liming. It is a form of networking that oftentimes contributes to a person’s success, or lack thereof”.
Much of that success tends to elude women because of their differentiated socialisation that creates an automatic barrier to networking.
“Owing to the responsibilities that women have, and tend to have, research shows that many times that woman has to make a decision: am I going to pursue my career, or am I going to pursue a family? It is not the same decision that a man has to make.”
Remedying such obstacles are easier said than done. Holder says: “I am concerned, even to this day, that we have not yet understood and identified what are the solutions that we will need to bring to bear”.
The elusive nature of a remedy to the female disadvantage in business does not mean that Holder and colleagues are taking it for granted.
Besides being involved in many women’s fora and on the Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) board, Holder pushes for women-specific programmes in the SBA.
The networking challenge for business women is being met head-on by the creation of an environment suitable to other demands they face socially. The percentage of women-owned business members has increased from some 20 per cent seven years ago to 35 per cent at present.
Holder says this makes an impact on impacts networking, which has proven to be one of those tools that small businesses can use to find markets, build contacts, relationships, facilitate trade, joint ventures, partnerships”.
“It is a step” towards breaking the glass ceiling, she says.