-Wants LCC to create awareness so women businesses will join

It seems that many Liberian-owned businesses started with great fanfare and hopes of successful futures. But, after a few years, many of them fail. Nevertheless, some do succeed. There are a number of reasons why many Liberian-owned businesses go under, including but not limited to failure to keep track of the bottom line, lack of fiscal discipline, costly cultural practices, and lack of a succession plan.

Hundreds of businesswomen from diverse business backgrounds have observed that the reason for this is that, they do not have the kind of support they need. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce, who is supposed to connect them to resources, is being run by men.

“But if they start having more women in leadership roles, it will encourage others in the workplace or self-run business organizations to join and generate more revenue,” they stated.

To achieve this, the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) needs to start ensuring that women get the critical experiences that are required for their advancement in the organization.

According to them, women’s leadership in business is important in ensuring that more women are in positions where they have the authority to decide and negotiate on issues that affect them, because they are the ones feeling the pinch.

The women made the statement on Wednesday, June 21, at a one day conference organized by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in partnership with the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) to create awareness on the benefits of having a diverse Board and supporting the need for targeting more women to become actively involved in the activities of the LCC.

“We don’t even know whether the Chamber of Commerce is a Liberian business organization, boys club or foreign business organization, because no woman is in leadership there,” said Madam Fatu Kromah.

She also said that as a result, they are not receiving the kind of opportunities they need to grow their businesses.

Also speaking, Salamartu Stephanie Duncan, secretary general of LCC, told the participants that although the institution has been dominated by men, since her ascendancy to that position, LCC operations across the country are now more diverse.

She said if women want to receive the kind of opportunities the men are receiving, they need to join the LCC, which will create more links to others for them.

“We need women to take up the mantle of authority in the business environment if they want to become successful in doing their businesses,” she said.

The LCC secretary general also said the presence of women in any organization can boost the entity, and help generate more revenue for the organization.

She said close to 300 top companies and business associations form the chamber’s membership, adding, “Less than 5 percent of our members are female-owned.” According to her, the lack of female participation is not just unique to the Chamber of Commerce, but is also the same on different boards of member organizations throughout Liberia.

Ms. Duncan said women need to diversify and inclusion is a major issue in businesses in Liberia and the Chamber of Commerce.

“We wanted to bring together a group of Liberian women entrepreneurs and just ask them, ‘why aren’t you members of our business organization or serving on the Board?’…your view of what the challenges are.

“What exactly do we need to do because the numbers are pretty low as Liberia’s oldest business organization? What do we need to do to increase the number, not just with us but other business organizations?” she asked.

After some research, Duncan said the Chamber found out that, “we need to do more awareness; there are a lot of women who said they don’t even know what the chamber of commerce is about. So we need to do more awareness, reach out to businesses or specifically target women business owners, go out to them and invite them to come on board.”

“So, as the chamber, what we need to do now since we know the service here but there is a lack of information, we need more information on you and we need you to communicate with us more. We will diversify our means of communication so that we can move forward,” she said.

“If you look at the laws on the books, they make pretty much right in a sense even though we have associations that are members of the chamber of commerce, but on the large-scale people look at it to be a boys or men’s club.

“So we need to change that perception by encouraging more women to join the Chamber of Commerce, come to meetings, come to events that we have, be a part of the advocacy process, because if you are not part of the Chamber of Commerce, when we are setting down policies it will gave us a tough time. You have to be at that table.

“We are responsible for making sure that our private sector is functioning correctly.”

Succession planning in organizations needs to have ‘gendered lens’ so that barriers to women’s advancement into senior roles are eliminated, she said.

Vaanii O. Baker, a private sector development specialist, called on other business institutions to support women businesses in the country.

Mr. Baker said prior to the war, there were many successful businesswomen organizations that made headways in the Liberian economy, “but today it is no longer working because the men are not willing to support the women.”

Rhonda Richards von Ballmos, who served as one of the panelists, said the main reason for the shortcoming is access to financial services to support their businesses.

“Financing has been recorded as a major constraint faced by female entrepreneurs to start growing their businesses, because of high collateral which they cannot afford. The interest rates are also too high and the majority of them realized they are using their own financial resources to start their businesses,” she noted.

Madam von Ballmos noted that banks are not interested in collateral, but rather capacity to repay the money, “so women need to reach out there to encourage others who are not successful in business to begin to do.”

Mrs. Jannine Cooper challenged the LCC to ensure that businesses are protected and have access to more opportunities. She said the LCC needs to promote and capacitate Liberian businesses in the country.

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