Workforce Readiness for Economic Empowerment
Time and Place
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On February 22, 2017 the Women in Public Service Project and Plan International USA hosted a panel discussion on “Workforce Readiness for Economic Empowerment” with Rodrigo Bustos, Country Director, Plan International El Salvador, Zoe Markwick, Commercial Director, Skanska Infrastructure Development, and Jim Peters, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the E3 Bureau, USAID. The event kicked off a joint series of panels on women’s empowerment for global leadership.
Ann Hudock, Senior Vice President for International Programs at Plan International USA moderated the panel discussion. Gwen K. Young, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative and the Women in Public Service Project, and Tessie San Martin, CEO of Plan International USA, offered opening remarks. They stressed the importance of women’s economic empowerment and women’s political participation on the global development agenda.
Ann Hudock began by asking each member of the panel one question. With regard to building workforce readiness for women, she asked Jim Peters, “How do we lower barriers to workforce entry?” and “How do we better prepare women?” Peters responded by stressing the importance of developing women’s soft skills and providing them with better education surrounding the costs and benefits of different career paths, so that they may make informed decisions.
Hudock then asked Zoe Markwick about the role mentoring plays in workforce readiness. Markwick recounted her own professional background and difficulty finding female mentors in male-dominated industries. She stressed the importance of looking for female mentorship outside of the workplace and across industries. She said that it is important to train women to be able to ask for mentorship.
Rodrigo Bustos described his experiences working in El Salvador, explaining that youth there often face gang activity and some of the highest rates of violence in the world. He noted that this danger is heightened for women and LGBTQ individuals, who are often targets in their communities but are unable to leave them without formal education or training. He added that Plan el Salvador has seen some success in getting women ready for the workforce through soft-skills trainings.
Following the panel discussion, Hudock opened the event to questions from the audience. One question addressed protecting young people who fear violence in schools or on the way to or from school, especially around the age of puberty. Peters responded, noting USAID has worked to decrease violence by framing it as a cost to schools and businesses, building safe spaces like all-girls schools with protective walls around them in Pakistan, and teaching conflict resolution in the workplace.
Markwick was asked how we can encourage women and girls to enter traditionally male-dominated industries. She responded that we must identify why women and girls are not entering these areas early on and then work to provide girls the choice to enter these areas at a young age. She stressed that we cannot change the leadership pool at the top without finding diversity all the way back in the pipeline (among young women). When asked how men can be engaged with this issue, Markwick responded that engaging white men is the key to cultural change, so for the time being it is most effective to frame issues as why they should matter to white men. She also noted that she is hopeful that the millennial generation will be more supportive of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Following the Q&A discussion, Gwen K. Young offered brief closing remarks and thanked the panelists and audience for attending.
This event was the first in a joint Wilson Center series with Plan International USA entitled “Empowering Women and Girls.” Learn more about Plan’s work here.