empowerment with economic power

Real empowerment conquered with economic power

Mixed Race Young Female Economic empowerment You probably read my story, a reaction to the hot debate and response triggered by the domestic violence sequence of cases we saw happening to football players’ wives the past weeks. I was particularly impressed by a phrase in Janay Palmer’s statement: “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life…”

Reading about HER life, it appears she was swept of her feet with the economic power that Rice showed at every step of their relationship, engagement and later marriage. They met when they were very young –Janay was only 16. Not surprisingly, she probably felt she could never achieve the economic power and “stability” her husband could provide for her and for that, she has been willing to surrender all her power.

Without getting to such an extreme situation, many women are willing to give in the ability to make their own decisions in order to achieve a comfortable position in life or some economic stability. Others are just unable to see their options, raised in the culturally pervasive environment that being with a man is always a guarantee to attain a certain status or protection. Hispanic culture, in particular, still suffers the traces of centuries of traditional “marianismo” and “machismo” that, although maybe not as explicitly, is still instilled in our young females and males.

Two stories, not to talk in a vacuum: at our LCSW training center, we used to teach ESL with specific purposes, and more than once we encountered the situation in which young immigrant women would not attend classes because their husbands would not give them “permission.”

In another occasion, a young woman who used to work for me confessed her mother –living back in Mexico at the time- was mad at her because she had not taken the beating and abuse from her husband, and had left him. She explained her mother said “she had to have coraje to put up with it” (meaning to be brave).

These are just small examples of what a large majority of Latina women might go through when they are not encouraged to take control over their lives. Empowerment is a grand idea but if it does not go hand in hand with economic power, it continues to be a dream, an idea that, for many, might appear as “it is not for me.”

Latinas in business lack basic financial literacy to run their businesses

Don’t take me wrong, as “Latina empowerment” has become a household name for hundreds of groups, organizations and professional associations encouraging minority women to step up to leadership, and while it is a phenomenal way to motivate and support those in the trenches, I find there is a vacuum, a dark whole in the way we encourage them to take control of their lives. Discipline, focus, balance, vision, all good but…

Participating at financial literacy workshops, I have been shocked at the little information some Latinas running their small businesses have related to their credit history or credit scores, for instance, or how to obtain a minority certification to apply for federal contracts or expand their businesses globally.

Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), talks about the lack of business acumen of Latino Javier Palomarezentrepreneurs in general. “Often they did not go to business school, they did not go to Wharton, so they didn’t learn the fundamentals of how to build credit,” he said. “A Latino businessman may be an immigrant; he does not have five or six generations before him in this country to teach him how to build a business. That makes it much harder for a loan officer to give him a loan,” he was quoted in a LatinoMagazine.com article.

According to the article, a Small Business Administration study showed only 7.2 percent of black and Hispanic business owners have high credit scores, half compared to white non-Hispanic counterparts (13.7 percent) and usually 39.5 percent have a low credit score compared to white non-Hispanic entrepreneurs (30.1 percent).

Fifty percent of all new small businesses fail in their first four years of operation according to Hector Barreto, The Latino Coalition Chairman and former Administrator to the U.S. Small Business Administration. In some sectors, he said, the failure rate is even higher. Restaurants, for example, in which women are predominant owners, have a 90 percent failure rate.

Are we on our way?

Latinas in the US have made impressive advances in many aspects of their lives. They are getting ahead over their male counterparts, reaching higher levels of college education and graduation rates. Fighting their way up in the corporate ladder in Fortune 500 companies, they are breaking the glass ceiling by proving themselves capable and effective. Even in politics, they are making headways in running and leading public offices.

However, the numbers are miniscule compared to the amount of women in the workplace at around 11million and counting. Not every one of these 11 million is in a corner office, not even a cubicle. And many of them still rely on a marriage to take care of her and her children. Poverty levels are rampant among certain groups of Latinas and their children.

More acculturated young couples are now learning to share their finances but in such a way they both keep their own savings or manage their own reserves. It is like having “me time” with “my money time,” and that is a good way for women to learn to handle money and the consequences –bad or good- of managing it.

And again, I hope you don’t take me wrong, my position is not anti-men or even a feminist one but one that speaks pro-women. Learning to handle your finances, your bank account, your business and your life can only enhance your couple’s relationship with the certainty that, whatever happens in life, you are prepared to face it.

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