AMCHAM T&T’s 7th Women’s Leadership Conference 2021

By: AMCHAM T&T President - Patricia Ghany  |   March 17th, 2021    |   Related To: AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO (AMCHAM T&T)

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It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to AMCHAM T&T’s 7th Women’s Leadership Conference. Every year, I eagerly look at this event as a reinvigorated call to recommit ourselves to making the world a safer and more equitable place for all women.

Last year, the pandemic forced us to unexpectedly cancel our 2020 event. Today we come together virtually amidst so much chaos and disruption, to not only celebrate the amazing achievements of women but also to sound the alarm on the many pressing issues that continue to restrict their advancement in our society.

Patricia Ghany – President, AMCHAM T&T

2020, presented unprecedented challenges which threatened the progress the world has made in women’s empowerment. Long before COVID-19 became our norm, we already knew that women were making less, saving less and that they have less secure jobs based mainly in the informal sector. Therefore the capacity to absorb sudden economic shocks during disruptive periods was always going to disproportionately affect more women than men. 

From education and healthcare to job security and childcare, women and girls around the globe have been disproportionately burdened by the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.  Here are some sobering statistics:

  • UNESCO estimates some 11 million girls may never return to school because of the pandemic.
  • A recent McKinsey report noted that even though women make up 39 percent of the global workforce, 54 percent of female employees have lost their jobs across all industry sectors.
  • Since March 1 2021, four important studies charting the state of women at work—and the representation of women in decision-making roles— revealed the following concerning figures:
    • More than one-third of working women say their career is on pause because of the pandemic. Of those who remain in the workforce, 60% say feel like they’re underperforming in areas of their life—which is not terribly surprising considering that, among working moms, 39% say they’ve gotten backlash from their supervisors because caretaking duties have created scheduling conflicts.
    • For the past nine years, the PwC Women at Work index showed incremental progress in the number of women employed in OECD (organization for economic cooperation and development) countries. The 2021 update, however, reveals the index has slipped 2.1 points, down to 2017 levels. “If the OECD is to completely recover from Covid-19 by 2030,” the authors write, “progress towards gender equality needs to be twice its historical rate.”
    • Nearly half—49%—of private company boards do not have a female director, Crunchbase recently reported. (Notably, though not one board among companies on the S&P 500 is all-male.)
    • A report from IBM, out this week, shows a recent contraction in the pipeline of women for executive leadership roles: Between 2019 and 2021, the percent of female middle managers dropped 5% to 23%, while the percent of women at the vice president or director role has slipped from 19% to 15%

The pandemic has pushed women out of the workplace and back into their homes having to supervise children’s remote learning, cleaning or preparing family meals, and taking care of elderly relatives. Perhaps this is why some are calling this the “shecession” era with so many women either out of work or having to leave or take reduce paid work citing burnout due to company inflexibility, caring responsibilities and stress brought on by the pandemic. Such impacts risk erasing the already fragile progress that women have made in the labor force over the past decades.

As we navigate our recovery from the pandemic and beyond, we have a unique opportunity to redefine leadership, reconstruct workplaces, and create an equal, inclusive and resilient society for women and girls. Therefore, a post-pandemic world needs to see women treated as essential workers regardless of where they work or their positions in the organisation because we know that when women are absent in the workplace, our economies do not grow. 

Take for example the same McKinsey report, which estimates that if no action is taken to ensure women’s full participation back into the workplace, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower by 2030. Employers will need to look at more flexible working arrangements, gender-blind hiring, mentorship and more childcare support for women returning to work. We need to ensure that the ‘she-cession’ doesn’t set back 30 years of progress.

This year the theme for International Women’s Day has asked us to Choose To Challenge. This is a powerful call-out for everyone to work together towards gender equality. The belief is that a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.

So let’s make some changes:

Let’s choose to challenge workplace inflexibility so that women aren’t punished for attending to child care obligations while trying to do their jobs.

Let’s choose to challenge discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and start rewarding equal pay for equal work.

Let’s choose to challenge sexism and misogyny so that women aren’t subjected to abuse and violence where they are tragically meeting their demise.

Let’s choose to challenge outdated traditional beliefs and perceptions on gender that teaches us that a woman’s place is in the kitchen while men are the breadwinners. 

Let’s choose to challenge gender bias and other stereotypes so that we can see women as our equals and men as our allies in the struggle for gender equality. 

Let’s choose to challenge the all-boys club to lead more with diversity and include more women in the boardrooms across our nation.

Waiting for 250 years to dismantle the systemic barriers that make women more vulnerable in crisis and their leadership ascent steeper is not an option. We know that when more women are seated at decision making tables, better decisions are made for the benefit of everyone

These challenges may seem difficult but we simply can’t give up. We must embrace these challenges today to create the changes we want. And that’s exactly what we did at AMCHAM T&T over this past year. Even in a highly challenging year, we were able to secure gender parity on our board. Today, I am happy to announce that there is now an equal number of men and women sitting on our board serving the interest of the entire business community of T&T. 

I am extremely honored to work with these remarkable women: Giselle Thompson, Karri-Anne Hepburn, Caroline Sirju Ramnarine, Greer Quan, Katische Serrette, Andrea Davis and Angelique Parisot-Potter who are all powerhouses of talent, energy and ability. Our goal for gender parity has been strongly supported by our fellow male Board members who are very enlightened individuals. 

Over the past two years, you have also heard me speak about our Women in Leadership Mentorship Programme. I am extremely proud of this programme because, with the assistance from our partners at the IADB, we created a space for young female professionals to have guidance and counsel that will prepare them for the next step in their career paths. And what better way than having senior executives – both male and female – acting as mentors to the next generation of leaders?

Last year we saw the influx of women seeking mentorship increased from seven mentees in our first year to thirty-seven in our third year. I am delighted to report that our partners at the IADB are once more back on board with us and we are currently seeking applications for both mentors and mentees to fill our fourth cohort of this programme. So, if you are interested please do not hesitate to get the application forms through our Secretariat. So, this is what we mean by “Challenge for Change”

Over the last month, our nation was plunged into a state of national mourning over the senseless murder of one of our daughters. The horrific killing of Andrea Bharath sparked a collective outcry of anger, pain, and outrage from all citizens. The words of the former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” strongly resonates today as we find ourselves at a crisis moment where once more our women and girls are under attack.

By the end of 2020, we had reports of approximately 50 women in Trinidad & Tobago who lost their lives due to senseless acts of violence by men who were either unknown or known to them. We recognized these heinous crimes could happen to anyone, including men! And that’s why gender inequality is a universal issue that requires both men and women to stand with each other to dismantle barriers and obstacles that makes it more difficult for women to feel safe and to succeed.

That’s why AMCHAM T&T has taken up this call-to-action with our recently launched GBV Workshop because we know that not only do we (the business community) need to do more to protect our women but protecting women at the workplace means providing increased opportunities for women to succeed not only in their careers but in their lives. The result of which can improve a woman’s economic and social circumstances so that she is allowed to choose her own path to success. What we need is stronger, bolder, and tougher action from the state, law enforcement, the business community, and civil society to treat this burning issue as another deadly pandemic that demands urgent relief and support. 

In 2019, we had 19 men attend our Conference. Their presence underscored for me the importance of engaging men in the discussion, not simply as allies, but individuals who are also impacted by their gender. I also appreciated that they chose to join our conversation, learn and ask questions about our experiences, and were authentic when sharing their own perspectives. To fully address gender-based violence we need society to create a space for men to understand that it is acceptable to show expressions of fear, sadness, vulnerability and pain without acts of violence. 

As we go forward, we must ask ourselves the question ‘What can I do?’. While there have been cracks in the glass ceiling and tremendous strides, we need a better understanding of what equality looks like and what you can we do as an organization (and as an individual) to help. 

It can’t just be about government creating the change. The onus lies with each of us, both government, companies, NGOs and society working together to help realize the dream of equality for all. 

My journey as President of AMCHAM T&T has been filled with many triumphs and challenges. Through every step and hurdle, I have had to climb, I have often asked myself: how can I have an impact? How can I transition from that wallflower girl and burst into a sunflower that shines light and positivity into the world?

Whenever I am faced with this daunting question I usually find comfort in the words of Mother Teresa who once said: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Change may take a lifetime to occur but it’s often the journey rather than the destination that helps you to be prepared for the change you desire. The path may be long and scary at times. But if you aren’t brave and strong enough to challenge yourself you may never learn the lessons from the journey. And for me, that’s where we create our personal ripples and leave our mark on the world. 

That’s the message I want to leave you with today. 

Many of you are already on your own journeys and you’re probably already leaving many small ripples that are creating major impacts to many far from where you stand. But where ever you are on that journey, I want you to remember the following:

(1) Challenge the doubts that fuel a sense of inadequacy 

The gender confidence gap is real. While not all women lack the confidence to achieve what they want, many do. This is something that even I had to face. And here’s a little secret.. it’s something I still struggle with to this day.

But we must dare ourselves to challenge the negative noises in our head. Those critical voices urging us to think small and play safe. Remember, your attitude will determine your altitude.


(2) Challenge the limits and labels others put on you

We all know that women can be labelled bossy for acting with equal assertiveness to the men beside them. Or that the word ‘ambition’ is negatively correlated for women (but not for men.) 

But I believe a challenged world is one where women are equally praised for their assertiveness and their compassion. This is what makes women so powerful. Our ability to be strong and sensitive are our secret weapons that allow us to move mountains, calm storms, and create the change we desire in our world. 

As Vice President Kamla Harris said last November:

“Dream with ambition. Lead with conviction. And see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before.”

And finally, I remind you to:

Challenge other women when they disempower themselves. 

We need to proactively go out of our way to lift other women up – to challenge how they see themselves, how they speak about themselves, and what they see as possible for themselves. 

So let us all challenge ourselves to own our value more fully, to defy our doubts more often, and to dare to make the difference our difference makes.

In the words of poet Amanda Gorman, 

“We will keep fulfilling this path until the world goes still to say, ‘where there’s will, there’s a woman. And where there’s a woman, there is always a way.’

As I conclude,  I would like to recognize the unwavering commitment of our CEO Nirad Tewarie and the AMCHAM T&T Secretariat for organizing this event and a very special thank you to Kennedy Maraj and Neerala Boodoo for all their hard work and dedication over the past few months. And thank you to all our sponsors for your continued support over the years. 

Remember, together we can all choose to challenge gender bias and inequality everywhere and create an inclusive world for all!