30 May- 5 June , 2001

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Enhancing women’s role in business

ROSANNE GALEA IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL WOMAN IN BUSINESS, WHICH IS MOST LIKELY THE REASON THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE MALTA ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN IN BUSINESS ELECTED HER AS THEIR NEW PRESIDENT A LITTLE OVER A MONTH AGO. DAVID LINDSAY SPEAKS TO MRS GALEA ON JUGGLING FOUR BUSINESSES AND A FAMILY AND ON HER ROLE AT THE MALTA ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN IN BUSINESS.

The MAWB was set up in 1991, with the idea of assisting women in business by creating a forum for discussion. Meetings are held during which common problems are discussed and information is given to members. However, not all is business and the Association engages in a number of social activities such as barbecues and dinners.

Mrs Galea elaborates, "There are certain circumstances in which I would communicate better with another woman. When you are in business, especially when you are at the top, it can get lonely.

"In certain cases, for example, when you have a particular problem, you can’t always share it with your staff. So it’s good to have friends to discuss problems with, to hear other people’s opinions. As such, it’s not an association dedicated solely to women’s problems, we discuss matters that involve both men and women, we don’t restrict ourselves in that way.

"For example, if we have a problem with a lack of liquidity in the economy, it’s a problem that affects everyone. So it’s not an issue particularly related to women, its about business in general."

The MAWB is a member of the FCEM (The World Association of Women Entrepreneurs) - a large, global association incorporating all likeminded associations from around the world.

Mrs Galea explains Malta’s role within the organisation, "Two weeks ago we held the World Presidents Meeting in Malta. All the presidents from across the globe came to Malta to discuss various topics in a closed session.

"Difficulties were discussed, for example, our main difficulty in Malta is lack of funds. Everyone provides input for each other’s problems and discusses what the world association can do to assist. The next world meeting will be held in Senegal, while the next congress, which differs in that all members are invited to join, will be held in Mexico.

"Our intention at the world congress is to set up a Malta stand in Mexico through which we will be promoting incoming business to Malta. We will soon be meeting local companies in terms of promotion that we could give them through the stand, such as the Malta Tourism Authority and the Malta Maritime Authority, and private companies wanting to market abroad.

"Through the congress we can also help our members to form partnerships with members from other companies, which is another of the main ideas behind the congress – to network, come up with new ideas and to generate new business."

Mrs Galea wants to see more women participating in business, coupled with proper statistics on their participation in the economy.

She explains, "We want to see more women in business, as there are very few of us around. There are a lot of women who are in business but there are no statistics pertaining to them because the business would be in the name of the husband.

"I know of a few cases in which the woman does all the work in the business. However, there are no official statistics, to the effect that the government doesn’t even know how many women there are in business. Some of them are even unpaid, as the income goes to the husband. Then, if there is a separation, the company would be registered under the husband’s name and a woman who has invested her life in the company would lose her life’s work. This is a major hurdle.

"We need statistics and recognition of those women who are in business. We also need to assess their potential because I think that there is a lot of potential that is not being utilised properly. Women have enormous potential, but because of the situation they are in, they are not using their knowledge to its full capacity.

"However, this is part of the culture. If you talk to both women and men in general, one finds that we, women in business, are an exceptional breed in that we are definitely not in the majority. Furthermore, when you carry out research on what both women and men think about women who work, I think there is still a lot to be done, culturally. It takes education and efforts from many associations."

The provision of childcare facilities is another problem facing today’s women, who are more prone to and, in some cases, are forced to continue working after childbirth.

She elaborates, "This problem affects not just women in business, but all women. We’ve been reading about the government possibly supporting such facilities, but where are they? Just the other day I went to see a couple and the woman told me that she can’t manage to live on her husband’s salary alone, so she simply has to go out and work. However, she has nowhere to leave the children. One cannot always rely on the grandparents to fill in.

"The government should look at, perhaps in conjunction with the private industry, providing child care facilities. There are a few around but they are expensive and paying so much for such a service defeats the purpose, as does hiring a nanny. There are many highly qualified women who can’t carry on with their companies or their jobs simply because they need to look after their children – not because they want to, but because they have to.

"The message is that there should be a system of support for those women who have to carry on working, because of financial constraints or otherwise."

Mrs Galea has been involved in the Association for some three years now and the motion to make her President had taken her unawares.

"I was quite surprised when I was asked to become the president. It was that former president Kate Bonello Sullivan’s term had expired and the Association needed a president. However, the council members were not interested in the position, as being the president obviously involves a great deal of work.

"In fact, when they had first asked me, I declined due to all the other work I have on. However, when I saw that the council had taken a vote in my favour and even though I could have still refused, I saw that they had faith in me so I took on the responsibility under the condition that I was supported.

"I was a little worried, still being relatively green, when the Presidents ‘Meeting was held in Malta shortly after my election and over being the youngest president at the meeting, but all went well.

"When you see what the other countries are doing, you feel you have to prove that you are doing enough to remain a member of the FCEM. There are a lot of different countries involved such as Romania, Brazil, Argentina, China and Belgium – all of which are doing a lot of work and we have to do just as much as they are doing for their members.

"Luckily, compared with the plight of women in some of these countries, we have very few problems in Malta. In fact, our environment is such that now is the time for us to come up with new ideas. We need to lay the ground so that bright ideas can be nourished."

Mrs Galea explains that membership to the Association is by no means restricted to the high flying and highbrowed.

"Members of the Association don’t have to be graduates or the heads of large companies, we want any women who are running their own business to be able to find a niche.

"For example, I don’t know why there are so few women practising lace-making as a business. We should also start encouraging women to start producing filigree, as the traditional Maltese art is a dying trade.

"The idea is that any women with some kind of business can become members. They should come forward, and we might be able to help them. We’re not promising anything, but we could assist them in becoming more organised, more knowledgeable and more profitable.

"There is no boundary to membership. The only problem that we might have is for women who are managers, who don’t necessarily run their own business. We take them on as members as well, provided that they have a direct say and contribution in the management of the company. I would also like to introduce an observer status, whereby managers can be observers in the Association, without voting rights. They may be managers at the moment but they might also have setting up their own businesses in mind."

Mrs Galea is a woman who wears many different hats, she manages the Mediterranean Insurance Training Centre and owns and runs three businesses: Galea Insurance Brokers, Galea Investment Services – independent financial advisors, and Future Focus – a management consultant company, which she runs with Dr Katie Birch who, Mrs Galea explains, is invaluable and, in actual fact, does most of the work for that particular company. All this plus she is a mother of two.

Despite these obligations, she explains that she could never part with running the Institute, as she explains, "I manage the MITC, which is not my own company. I like it so much that I just can’t give it up. In this capacity, I meet people from all over the world and the wider the circle of students, the more it goes to demonstrate how well the Institute is doing.

"We have a lot of new programs. For example, we recently held a course, in conjunction with the Malta Arbitration Centre, which was very well attended by future arbitrators. We are also training a lot of people in financial services, which have become very popular amongst the Maltese, even more so than the insurance market.”

But how does she find the time to fit all these activities into her schedule, a feat bordering on the superhuman?

Mrs Galea explains, with a smile, that she is a self-confessed workaholic and that the key lies in being organised and in possessing very good time management skills.

However, support from those around her also plays a large role in her success, as she comments, "I have found from experience that if you have good planning and are able to delegate to good staff, then you can manage – as long as the people around you support you."

 



The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
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