Beth Brooke

By:Allison Salisbury Issue: La Bienal de las Américas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables

Biennial of the Americas 2010 870,000,000

Beth Brooke

By any standard, an enormous number. But this number represents the amount of women who will be entering into the world of economic empowerment within the next ten years, either as employees, entrepreneurs, consumers or leaders. According to Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair, Public Policy and Sustainability for Ernst & Young, these women are not adequately prepared for this takeover of global economics. Whether by lack of education and/or lack of support by their country, via law-of-land rights, equal pay, labor laws, or access to finance, they are unprepared. At this point, an international collaboration must begin to ready women for this global transformation.

This particular roundtable was a most impressive gathering of brilliant, successful, focused and driven women. Brooke and the other participants are the embodiment of what women can achieve. I asked Ms. Brooke if she thought women were more suited to the challenges of modern society than men. “Absolutely!” was the instant reply. “We are moving into an era where the need for what is more naturally suited to women - collaboration and open communication - the innate competencies of women are more designed for the types of jobs that are coming available,” she continued. In his introduction to Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, David Gergen writes, “Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day.” This was evident on the panel of women at this roundtable discussion.

Women are everywhere: founding and running companies, both for profit, and non-profit; in politics; in the media; and in the case of one roundtable participant: a secretary. Well, actually, the United States Secretary of Labor. Women are everywhere!

Preparing the Third Billion The term

“Third Billion” refers to the number of women as an emerging market. Third in size only behind China and India. How can these women be prepared? Education, of course. Girls previously prevented from schooling are being educated in ever increasing numbers, empowering them to further break down stereotypical barriers. Brooke states, “There are so many studies which show a direct correlation between the education of girls and women and the enhancement of a country’s GDP.”

However, the hurdles to educating the female gender can be imposing. Cultural bias is one of the most significant stumbling blocks to gender equality. The patriarchal mentality, pervasive in so many countries, is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Brooke expanded on this thought, “Whether it’s the culture of a country, the culture of a company, or the culture within a family unit, I think we all have a lot of unconscious bias that is a product of our social programming, in any society, about the expected roles of women in the work force, in the family and in society. That frankly is the biggest barrier.”

So, how do we go about altering this mentality to enable women to forge ahead in society? Brooke doesn’t want it altered, but instead wants to change the way in which it manifests itself; traditional roles, referred to as the burden of unpaid care, fall disproportionately on women, which must be dealt with through increased flexibility, and a shift in societal programming. Society must incorporate cultural traditions, embrace diversity and make it a win-win situation. When women are educated it creates a multiplier effect; they become more invested in their children’s education, in their communities, and therefore in their economic growth.

Creating Successful Entrepreneurs

How does a company such as Ernst & Young connect and promote collaboration between potential entrepreneurs? According to Brooke, through programs like E&Y’s “Entrepreneurial Winning Women.” Begun in the United States, now expanding globally, the program provides a network of successful entrepreneurs who want to give back, to mentor, and to support one another. Women brought together in this forum are a powerful force. They start businesses at twice the rate of men and actually grow them faster, but women tend to "get stuck" at a certain level. The program helps them, through collaborative efforts of networking, mentoring, providing role models, investors and advisors.

Women are the “biggest, untapped economic engine of our time,” says Brooke. And she wants the world to know this. Women are moving forward at breakneck speed, whereas men are, according to an article by Jessica Grose in Slate magazine, “fixed in cultural aspic.” As the traditional “blue collar” working man fades into the history of the Industrial Revolution, women are stepping forward into leadership roles to bolster a sagging global economy. Women are creating businesses to provide the flexibility they need, while providing economic stability for their families, and contributing to the economic growth of their villages, cities and countries.

Asked for a final thought, Brooke replied, “We should be doing everything in our power to scale them [women] up. Not only for the sake of their businesses and the economic potential it brings, but the research is clear - they create that multiplier effect. They are investing in their families, their children’s education, and in their communities. The multiplier effect in investing in women is greater than investing in men. I would like to support all entrepreneurs, but will lean toward women because of that multiplier effect.” And women around the globe are proving themselves worthy of that support.