Bogotá — Like many countries, Colombia still faces countless challenges regarding gender equality and women’s inclusion in the workplace, and despite the fact that in 2022 women led the creation of companies in the country, they still remain on the margins of management positions, and are harder hit by unemployment.
On International Women’s Day, Bloomberg Línea takes a look at the challenges women face, from the point of view of women entrepreneurs, and how true female inclusion could be achieved in Colombia.
It is estimated that 62.5% of the companies created last year in Colombia, or 143,466 in total, are initiatives led by women, according to figures from the Registro Único Empresarial y Social (RUES), the register of incorporated companies that gathers information from the 57 chambers of commerce in the country.
During their first year of incorporation, those companies generated more than 92,000 jobs, while they are active in the wholesale and retail sector (45% of the total), accommodation and food services (20.5%) and manufacturing industries (9.1%).
On the other hand, of the 310,731 companies created in 2022, 20% have at least one woman in their workforce, while 6.3% have at least one woman in management positions.
The challenge of employability
In January of this year, unemployment in Colombia stood at 13.7%, 53.5% of whom (1.8 million) were women, with a little below half (48.1%) located in the country’s 13 main cities and metropolitan areas.
Women not only face challenges due to lack of access to job opportunities, but also a lack of recognition in indispensable activities such as the care economy.
“Caregiving moves the world, we have all been cared for or needed someone to help us care for our parents or children,” Salua García Fakih, the founder of Symplifica, a platform that helps to grant legal and extralegal benefits to domestic workers, told Bloomberg Línea. “Paid care is an 80% informal sector worldwide, while in Colombia more than 90% of those who exercise it are women.” .
The entrepreneur, who founded the platform that has helped 48,000 women in Colombia, says care work is vital for the functioning of families and societies.
“It is key that it is recognized as a job, that it is well paid, that employees are formally contracted, and that forms of training are generated so that an increasingly better quality service is provided. If these jobs are exercised with guarantees, we are going to have women with better incomes and families with a better quality of life,” she said.
According to a report by recruitment and talent management firm Page Executive, women in Colombia currently have a participation of only 30% in senior management positions, and about 45% in top-level roles such as vice presidents and managers.
The report states that roles such as CEOs and CFOs are still largely held by men, while human resources, communications, customer service and legal departments have a significant share of women.
“In general, in the business sector and in the startup ecosystem there is still a long way to go. The key is to foster women’s leadership. All companies have a responsibility to try to recruit, hire, train and promote talented women to make representation more equal,” Brynne McNulty Rojas, CEO of proptech unicorn Habi, where just over 50% of employees are women, tells Bloomberg Línea.
“Within organizations, there should be no pay gap, for example, and to achieve this, there should be more women involved in decision-making. Only then will pay be determined exclusively by work, with fair salaries focused on skills and not gender,” she added in a written response.
According to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), 15% of women in the world would like to work, but are unemployed, compared to 10.5% of men.
The report states that women earn only 51 cents for every US dollar of labor income generated by men.
In poor countries, that disparity drops to 29 cents for every dollar, and in richer economies the difference is 58 cents per dollar, according to Bloomberg.
In this context, entrepreneurs in countries such as Colombia fill gaps in the market and promote women’s employability, gender equity and inclusion. There are models such as Elenas, a social commerce platform that gives millions of women in the region the opportunity to build, manage and grow their own online business, and Bold, which offers low-cost data entry phones to related businesses, 47% of which are owned by women entrepreneurs.
Women’s presence in tech
Ana María Portillo, co-founder of fintech Finaktiva, considers that it is important to make women visible in the IT industry “starting from the fact that 90% of web developer positions in the market are occupied by men” in the region.
“And the female presence has a very low percentage in areas such as cybersecurity (8%), data and analytics (7%), ERP (5%), C-level (1%) or infrastructure (1%),” she told Bloomberg Línea.
She points out that women working in IT in Latin America represent only 23% of the total workforce, despite the fact that it is a market that has been growing considerably, and in which “labor flexibility [remote work, flexible schedules and constant training] greatly benefits the female population”.
“It is an area where we have a lot to do,” says the co-founder of Finaktiva, which has financed more than 485 companies led by women and whose portfolio is made up of 36% of women-owned businesses.
Catalina Acosta, CEO of Appen, a platform that offers free connectivity to generate digital opportunities, agrees that the participation of female founders in the startup ecosystem is low, and that this should represent a wake-up call for more women to launch themselves into the tech sector.
“I think we must overcome several challenges. In Latin America we are building one of the most interesting technology ecosystems in the world,and I would love to see more women leading, because the startups have a very inclusive-focused attitude.”
Even so, she highlights that “for the first time, we are seeing more women in higher education, which represents an opportunity for all sectors: to use this boom to deliver solutions that are key: access to financing, entrepreneurial programs, access to job opportunities, and so on”.
She says it is important to improve free internet connectivity to foster digital opportunities in financial inclusion, access to employment and education.
Access to the financial system
The president of the board of directors of Colombia Fintech, and leader of the Women Colombia Fintech, Madeleine Clavijo, says companies in the financial sector that have enabled female participation, gender equity and are led by women, are found especially in fintech companies, digital wallets and neobanks.
However, “the gender gap within this industry is still wide, and I am sure that when we understand that it is not a gender war but a collaborative model and true inclusion, where the importance of reducing this gap must be assumed as a wat of understanding women’s role in society in a different way, then that day we will have success,” Clavijo said.
Ana Portillo of Finaktiva argues that, although recent reports show that more and more women are accessing financial products, “still the percentage of Latin American women who have a credit is 10%, while in the case of men it is 16%”, according to data from the Latin American Development Bank (CAF).
She said it is estimated that the financing gap for women’s businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean is $93 billion.
“Although fintechs and some banking entities have been moving for some time to close the gender gap, there are still many aspects that need to be solved for there to be parity,” Portillo added.
And “for that to happen, entities must work on products with a gender focus and from a sectorial perspective, such as rural areas or young women, with the aim of promoting a context in which more women participate in the entrepreneurial ecosystem”.