Women & the Economy: Changing the Rules of the Game
However, this evolution of progress has been uneven. While women are experiencing more control over their finances and have seen an exponential increase in their presence in the labor force, social constructs still present obstacles and marketing strategies show outdated views in addressing women as consumers.
Recent estimates put Puerto Rico’s population at 3.4 million, of which women represent the majority at 52.4%. While women from the age groups 15-19 and 20-24 represent the largest categories with about 132,000 each, the third-largest age group is women 45-49, representing almost 130,000.
In line with the aging of Puerto Rico’s population, women from the age groups 15 to 64 maintain similar numbers at an average of about 130,000 for each age group, but when it comes to children, the number of girls is lower, at an average of 110,000. When going to the opposite side of the spectrum, women 65 and older add up to 65,000.
Approaching financial freedom
When it comes to percentages, the labor force now more closely resembles the makeup of the general population. Labor Department statistics show a labor force of 2.8 million for the past year, of which women also represent the majority at 53%. This is the result of incremental changes in the workforce, since 70% of the jobs created from the 1970s on, when the female participation rate was at 28%, have been occupied by women.
While the number of women who are income earners has seen an exponential increase, economist Marta Quiñones argues that the number of women who are in control of their finances has taken a slower course, although she pointed out that cultural changes have led to more women managing their finances.
On the other hand, the economist indicated that these changes are not always voluntary since many women control the management of the household finances because they become the single head of household. However, in general, Quiñones argued that “women are seizing the space.”
Although women have increased their footprint in the labor force, she explained that once the job is attained, more difficulties are faced as they try to climb the economic ladder. Some of these challenges are related to our society seeing childrearing as a woman’s job, as opposed to a responsibility equally shared by both parents.
“We say it in the elections. Many women who reach positions of power had to face questions on how could they leave their husbands or kids alone. The same was not questioned of men,” Quiñones said.
Jumping through the hurdles
To improve this situation, the economist indicated there is a need for policy changes when it comes to maternity and paternity leave, as well as childcare centers.
Maternity leave, Quiñones argues, “is important for the health of the mother and child.” She went on, “In countries where the economy is working well, they give a whole year for maternity [leave] and the economy has not been affected.”
She was referring to Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden, where they provide 56 and 55 weeks of maternity leave, respectively. According to Factly, a journalism and public information website, the longest maternity leave period comes from Croatia at 58 weeks. Meanwhile, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada, among other countries, provide a year of maternity leave.
Another thing to point out about parental leave in various European countries is that they also provide paternity leave.
In the United States, maternity leave is not regulated at the federal level, but in Puerto Rico, eight weeks is legally mandated. The president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, has argued that the U.S. should implement a better maternity leave and childcare policy. Her suggestions came after the latest IMF report that gives a less-than-stellar review of the U.S. economy.
Quiñones also believes parents need more accessible childcare options. “The problem in Puerto Rico is that we don’t have [public] childcare centers. We pay a lot to the State and the State keeps cutting the benefits we see,” she said. When using the term “accessible,” the economist is also referring to childcare centers that offer a broader schedule that can serve parents who work outside the traditional 9-to-5 schedule.
Another hurdle women face, argued Francis Ríos, founder of Women Who Lead and Ríos Enterprises, is there is a preconceived notion, or gender bias, for certain professions. Through her company, which emphasizes promoting business growth through improving the inclusion of women, Ríos has conducted various studies, including measuring gender bias in children.
Echoing other findings, Ríos saw that kids are geared, whether intentionally or unintentionally, from a very young age, to perceive certain careers as inherently male or inherently female. “Boys and girls are raised differently, tainted with stereotypes we carry from our own childhood, and that is part of what prevents more women [from working] in top management,” she said.
Gender pay gap, poverty, education
As in many other countries, there is a gender pay gap in Puerto Rico. The median income for men in Puerto Rico is $32,000 a year, with women lagging behind at $29,000. However, the difference in these numbers is not just because of a pay gap in the same types of jobs, but also because of the types of careers that include more women.
The highest-paying jobs in Puerto Rico, according to Data USA, are environmental engineers, physicians and surgeons, architectural and engineer managers, chemical engineers, and training and development managers. The 2016 Labor Force Participation statistics show women have been the predominant gender in government, teaching, health technicians, and technical, sales and administrative support.
Furthermore, women professionals are a burgeoning group in managerial and professional specialty positions, but men are the predominant gender in the management, administrator and executive sector. Likewise, women represent only 20% of the island’s self-employed sector.
Perhaps, more than in previous statistics, the data relating to poverty on the island shows a more polarized image of income disparity. According to Data USA, 46% of Puerto Rico’s population lives below poverty levels and the largest subgroup is women ages 25 to 34. The second-largest subgroup is women ages 45 to 54 and the third group is women 35 to 44.
An important factor to point out is that more women are pursuing postsecondary studies, which has helped shift the professional areas that are open to women. In the 1970s, only 21% of employed women had a year or more in a higher education institution, according to the Puerto Rico Labor Department. By the 1990s, the percentage of employed women who had attended at least one year of college or university had jumped to 56% and, by 2013, the number had reached 74%.
Currently, the Education Council reports that 58% of students in a higher education institution on the island are women, or a total of 133,000. Over 18,000 of these female students are pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees.
To improve the gender composition in corporations, Ríos said companies need to take a proactive approach in implementing more inclusion.
Once on the job, she said men and women often follow different ways of connecting professionally, with men being more open to networking outside of working hours and in casual settings. “Employers need to understand that they have to respect both styles. What they have to do is not focus on the process but the results,” she noted. In terms of employees, Ríos said “men tend to be more assertive” in voicing their opinions and results, while women are more vocal about the amount of work that was put into a task.
Approaching female consumers
Various research has shown inconsistencies and shortcomings when addressing women as consumers. According to the W Report, produced by Ríos Enterprises, women are in charge of 75% of the buying decisions for a household, but 89% of them said they do not feel represented by companies’ marketing campaigns.
In her opinion, Ríos said marketing campaigns often show outdated or inappropriate stereotypes. However, women “want to see themselves in advertising as they are. They are also tired of being used as sexual objects. Actually, 88% of women polled said the advertising campaigns are not good examples for their daughters.”
The study, titled “Sheconomy” by the advertising agency Arteaga & Arteaga, showed similar results in the level of dissatisfaction among women and the percentage of household purchases that are done by women. The study found that marketing efforts aimed at women put too much focus on age groups and tend to appeal to their responsibilities at home and work. For example, many appeal too much to women in their roles as homemakers and mothers, and not enough on their other interests, which could be sports, health and general wellness.
The study suggests advertising campaigns should identify women’s “points of passion” and better connect with women through those points.
This disconnect with women means the success of these brands is due to external factors such as price, but since no brand loyalty is created, consumers can easily change to another brand for either convenience or a better personal connection.
Promoting Entrepreneurship Among Women
While statistics show women may be having a difficult time crossing over the poverty line, Fundación Sila M. Calderón is betting on entrepreneurship to help more women achieve financial stability.
“Our mission is to reduce poverty and inequality, and promote the role of women in Puerto Rico, and we are doing it,” said former Gov. Sila M. Calderón, who chairs the board of her eponymous foundation.
In line with her affirmation, this past Saturday, the foundation celebrated the graduation of 40 women from the Business Development for Women Program and 36 men and women from the Business Formation for Young Adults Program.
These programs comprised 20 workshops on many aspects of creating and developing a business. Since their establishment in 2009, Centro Para Puerto Rico data show that the programs have led to the creation or development of 550 small businesses islandwide. The direct job creation for this same period was 990 jobs.
Calderón also pointed out that while the workshops are focused on specific points, the programs have had an impact, through their participants, on 76 municipalities, with the exception of Vieques and Culebra. For this year, participants came from 35 municipalities, including, San Juan, Fajardo, Cabo Rojo, Bayamón and Mayagüez.
Participant Liz Cotto said that after going through the young adults program, “one gets more hope, more confidence in one’s self,” while fellow participant Wanda Torres noted that the women’s program helped give her business proper structure. Cotto is in the process of acquiring a food truck that specializes in coffee, pastries and related products, while Torres is the owner of Janillon, a company that produces soaps, lotions and essential oils.
One of the factors Calderón emphasized is that the businesses created by the participants belong in the formal economy, not just for the importance of paying taxes, but also because to grow a small business, the proper permits are required. On the other hand, the former governor argued that the permits system in Puerto Rico needs improvements. This is essential because it is businesses that help move the economy forward.
“In moments when the economy needs to grow, and I believe [Gov. Ricardo Rosselló] is doing a great effort in this [matter], permits need to be accelerated for all businesses, big businesses, midsize and small, because they are the ones that are growing the economy,” Calderón said.
Aside from the educational programs, the foundation is also developing a new project to help fund more applicants. The new program would consist of getting established businesses or individuals to adopt a group of incipient entrepreneurs by pledging $3,000 to $20,000 each. This money would go toward training and other assistance provided by the foundation.
Identifying funds for these initiatives, especially in times of crisis, the former governor explained, is about being able to tap into many resources. In the case of the foundation, Calderón explained, “first, we go to the private sector, corporations and individuals of means that make annual donations.” Additionally, the foundation seeks funding from the local and federal government and from other nonprofit organizations. However, not all funding comes from donations or procurements, because the Fundación Sila M. Calderón also holds many fundraising events.
Despite the continuous efforts to attract more resources, the former governor explained that the island’s economic crisis has had an impact on the foundation. With that in mind, Calderón said she would like to see more cooperation from the private sector to help the foundation bring in more participants.