Catalina Ortiz Lalinde (Photo: EFE)

Colombia needs more women founders and executives in its burgeoning startup ecosystem, according to the head of the Colombian government’s innovation agency

Although Colombia has one of the highest proportion of women in managerial roles in Latin America, more needs to be done, said Catalina Ortiz, General Manager of  iNNpulsa Colombia, the government’s unit created to support high-impact entrepreneurship.

She spoke to Colombia Reports on Monday, having returned the night before from the WeXchange, the first Latin American women in entrepreneurship conference.

Lack of finance is a big barrier.

At the conference, a recent study by auditing giant Ernst and Young was presented, which found that lack of finance and maintaining a work-life balance were the biggest reasons women were being kept out of the entrepreneurial space, followed by conflicts among the many roles expected by society, a lack of commercial skills, limited networking and a lack of managerial knowledge.

“In most families in Colombia all of the major assets, like the home, are in the name of the male, so its hard for women entrepreneurs to raise capital by putting up collateral,” Ortiz said, “We have more women managers, but we earn 17 per cent less than men in high ranking positions.”

“The lower down in the food chain you go, you are going to find more women, but the number of founders and high impact entrepreneurs is still low”.

Not a feminist issue

Ortiz pointed out that addressing this issue was important for Colombia and as an economic imperative, no only as an equality issue.

“As [billionaire investor] Warren Buffet said a lack of women founders is not a feminist issue: you are losing out on 50% of the talent pool.”

“We’ve seen research of startups that suggests that if you have a woman as a co-founder, [statically speaking] you double the chances of your startup being successful.”

Ortiz said most of the women in the business sector are in the food and beverage industry, services and retail.  You don’t really find them in software development or other tech industries.

“We need more women in the tech sector or we [as a country] are in trouble.”

Balance issue

Ortiz explained the work-life balance issue, while appropriately enough, working from home, the general murmur of her household in the background of her interview.

“Yes, you can get a nanny or a maid her fairly easily in Colombia, compared to other countries, but the nanny can’t take your sick child to the doctor.  The maid can’t go to a dance recital.”

She said that the balancing of roles was a particular issue for female entrepreneurs.

Still not great

Colombia does not have gender equity at top management levels, according to Professor Connie Cardenas de Santamaria at the Unversity of the Andres in Bogota, but women managers make up 38% of top management positions in Colombia

However, when compared to other Latin American countries in the private sector, it clearly excels in the percentage of women in management: 75% of managers, 50% of second level positions and 38% of top management position

“If a woman is a good leader who does her job well, she will be respected and followed.” An illustration of this is that Colombia has several women bank presidents and many women in management in the financial sector, which are typically very masculine preserves in other countries. We also have several women engineers in the energy sector in top management positions, just to name a few areas,” said Cardenas de Santamaria.

Latin America has very few female CEOS.  Of the major companies in the Latin 500, only nine of them had female CEOs.

But that’s not really any worse than the Fortune 500 companies from the US, where only 12 companies are lead by women.


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