The Biennial of the Americas is in full swing, and at the "Americas Roundtable on Women: Drivers of the New Economy," on July 7, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum eloquently summed up the goal of the event when she declared, "I believe that women should be protagonists...not victims."
And as other panelists also attested, networking never hurts.
The roundtable, one of a series of discussions at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House during the Biennial (there are two more on Monday, July 12, and a final session on July 28), featured prominent leaders from government, philanthropy and business who have contributed in some way to the advancement of women. This diverse group included U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios; Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, U.S. Representative to the Organization of American States; Beth Brooke, Global vice chair of Ernst & Young; and Danielle Saint-Lot of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Network, as well as Menchu Tum. Opening remarks were provided by Hilda Solis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, and the discussion was moderated by journalist Maria Hinojosa.
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While the roundtable was promoted as a discourse on the changing place of women in the global economy, the discussion was free-flowing and far-reaching. Much of it focused on identifying and assessing the many barriers and setbacks women face in the realms of policy-making and business. At one point, participants shared with the audience the barriers they'd personally faced, and had to surmount in order to become the powerful women they are today.
Ambassador Lomellin inspired shocked laughter when she revealed that she spent much of her childhood in a convent training to become a nun, while Rios described "learning discipline" by having to "work from three to nine" and study from ten to one" as one of eight children being raised by a single mother.
The panelists also explored the pay gap between men and women in the Americas, a problem that many participants, including Beth Brooke, believe can be partially remedied through the granting of micro-loans and loans to female-driven businesses. Above all, they stressed the importance of "networking" for aspiring young women, as well as "getting out of your comfort zone," as Hinojosa said, to get in touch with other powerful women who can serve as mentors.
"Just say, can I pick your brain sometime?," advised Lomellin, when asked how young women should approach older women for advice and support. "All of us want so much to share." In addition to the roundtables at the Ellie, the Biennial is hosting discussions at the McNichols building; there are also concerts, exhibits and other events around town through the end of July. For more information, go to the Biennial website.