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Businesswomen take on nation building and the glass ceiling

Senior staff reporter

Friday, September 29, 2017

It is obvious from the answers from three prominent Jamaican women involved with major businesses locally, at Wednesday night's Mayberry Monthly Investors Forum, that the “glass ceiling” is still unbroken.

However, their responses to a very attentive audience suggested a few things, including that that they are not afraid of the mythological “glass ceiling” and they see themselves a genuine nation builders.

CEO of Manpower and Maintenance Services Ltd, Audrey Hinchcliffe, brought the house down after arguing that the essence of her nation building is the amount of taxes that her company pays.

And she wrapped an irrefutable ring of authenticity around that, explaining that her Manpower, which provides janitorial, building and grounds maintenance services to health care institutions, now employs 1,800 people and is about to increase that figure to approximately 2,000.

“But in terms of giving back, I have a foundation that supports education and sports. And every year there is a back-to-school programme for the employees' GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test) students, and our clients have collaborated with me on that back-to-school programme,” she noted.

“So I pride myself in being part of the nation building,” she added, noting that her company also has a programme for recruiting individuals from various institutions on apprenticeship, some of whom end up being employed by the company.

For Michelle Chong, who is not only the president of the Jamaica Exporters Association also CEO of the family-founded baking and pastry firm, Honey Bun — considered the fastest-growing wholesale bakery in Jamaica — the important ingredient in nation building among businesses must be collaboration.

She says that working together, sharing ideas and resources to develop their business will eventually contribute to growing the economy.

“Working together and collaborating is important. That, to me, is really about nation building, because I am prepared to help another company, and that is something that I suggest businesses try to do,” she explained.

She added that there is also the issue of businesses operating at the highest possible standard.

“That's nation building, because it means you have workers who can operate at first-rate standards, anywhere,” she added.

And for Jackie Stewart Lechler, director at Stewart's Automotive Group, nation building is not about any single facet.

For example, she sees her company's involvement in transport as helping the process along, not only in terms of its own success but more so in filling the need for reliable transportation and employing more Jamaicans at the same time.

“When we started we had just 15 workers. Now it is 70. It took us 30 years to reach that figure, but it is an achievement,” she noted.

However, she pointed out that her family-owned company is not restricted in giving back.

“In other words, we take pleasure whether it is charity run, helping basic schools, which is one of our projects. We need to give back because to whom much is given, much is expected. It may be a saying that is used a lot, but it is a reality. It takes a village. We can't be selfish and only think of ourselves. We need to think of Jamaica — beautiful, beautiful Jamaica.”

But what do they actually thinking about the “glass ceiling”?

For Chong and Stewart, there is a glass ceiling, but they were lucky to circumvent it within family-owned businesses.

“There is such a thing as the glass ceiling, but I was just very lucky,” Chong admitted.

Stewart said that the pressures were more in terms of succeeding in her position while being a mother.

“I am fortunate not to have suffered from that in my particular situation,” she admitted.

But for Hinchcliffe, it probably doesn't exists, at all.

“Once you want to get where the next person is you have to figure out a way to get there, whether it is through education or not. Once you [get through the door], you have got to have something to show that you ar equal and can measure up, too,” she said.

“The glass ceiling is a latter day thing for me, personally. I am not fighting to break no glass. I have created my own ceiling,” she added.

Host for Wednesday's forum, which focused on the subject 'Entrepreneurship: Successful Women in Business”, was Floyd Wilson, Mayberry Investments Limited's (MIL) investment advisor.

The interviews were done by MIL's Executive Investment Advisor, Okelia Parredon.