What is the fastest growing economic force in the world’s economy today – is it China? India? No – it’s women. In Cayman to give a keynote speech to the Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs conference last month, Sheila Brooks, award winning journalist and entrepreneur, spoke to Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull about how women here need to realise their full business potential and be that necessary force for change during tough economic times.
World Bank estimates from late 2009 indicated that the earning power of women globally is expected to reach $18 trillion by 2014 – a $5 trillion rise for current income. That is more than twice the estimated 2014 GDP of China and India combined. Here in the Cayman Islands society has traditionally seen women as its backbone while men went off to sea for often long periods of time, leaving all sections of family, home and career life in the hands of women. Nowadays Caymanian women sit at the head of top companies, government departments and associations as well as leading small businesses. Top females in government include the Deputy Premier, Juliana O’Connor Connolly; Chief Immigration Officer, Linda Evans; the Solicitor General, Cheryll Richards; the Chief Magistrate, Margaret Ramsay-Hale; the Complaints Commissioner, Nicola Williams and the Freedom of Information Commissioner, Jennifer Dilbert. Women in Cayman lead top law firms, have high ranking management positions in banks, run medium sized businesses such as recruitment agencies, advertising and marketing companies and janitorial services as well as a plethora of small businesses.
It was then fitting that the keynote speaker Sheila Brooks at this year’s Inspiring Women Entrepreneurs conference, presented by the Department of Commerce and Investment as part of Honouring Women Month, spoke to a packed audience of local female entrepreneurs about the leading role women here play in assisting this jurisdiction out of its present economic doldrums.
Brooks is founder, president and CEO of SRB Communications, a full-service media and communications agency and post-production facility in Washington, DC. Celebrating 19 years in business, SRB Communications is an award-winning agency that provides creative, branding, and post-production services for the client’s print, broadcast and online needs. Prior to starting her company in 1990, Brooks built a distinguished television career as a news director, reporter, anchor, and documentary producer at CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox owned-and operated and affiliate TV stations across the country and is an Emmy award winner.
“I’ve been in business for almost twenty years and so I thought it was about time that I gave something back,” says Brooks. Speaking to the conference theme this year of ‘When opportunity knocks, let it in’, she said: “I’m here to tell women that they are in a position to lead their communities out of the economic downturn that we now find ourselves in.”
Creating network for success
Women, according to Brooks, make a significant contribution to a country’s economy, creating jobs and wealth and can continue to do so even in these trying economic times and even though they are still not perceived as equals among their male counterparts.
“Gatherings such as this conference make it easier for women to create relationships with one another, to share their experiences and create a strong supportive network so that each can learn from one another,” Brooks says. “Men are great at networking and sharing their work experiences; women have to learn to be better at this. It is the way business is done.”
Brooks believes that a reinvention is now needed for businesses to succeed. “It is not sufficient for us to sit around and wait for things to get back to where they used to be,” she confirms. “We have to realise that opportunity knocks all around us and it is only the acutely observant and well-poised who will succeed.”
What you need to succeed
To help women prepare themselves for such opportunities Brooks lists a number of criteria that are vital for success.
Innovation and creativity, she says, are key drivers of any business. “You then have to ensure that the innovation and creativity gets properly fed to your clients, potential customers and employees,” she confirms.
Determination and perseverance are also key strengths for an organisation to successfully grow.
Retaining and maintaining the best possible talent is also extremely important in Brook’s mind, as without top quality people to run it a business will fail.
“In this new age we need to identify new leaders among our teams to ensure that our businesses continue to be successful,” Brooks says.
Using females’ empathy and compassion to create a better way of doing business is another key strategy that women ought to be employing. “Women may be driven by passion in their work but they also instil a great deal of empathy as well,” she explains. “They become truly involved with those around them while men generally just think of the bottom line, especially when times are hard. Women are in the position to create useful bonds that will help them succeed and from those bonds networks that will further prosperity and ingenuity.”
Technology is another facet of business which women have to get completely to grips with if they are to move on and prosper, according to Brooks.
“We need to be on top of technological advances,” she advises. “Social media in particular plays a vital role and to ignore it is simply unacceptable. All media, whether it’s digital or not needs to be fully understood to give a company its competitive edge.”
Having recently spent some time at the World Entrepreneurship Forum in Lyon, France (the next Forum will take place again in Lyon from November 3 – 6, 2010), Brooks attests to the importance of realising the global connection of business. “We need to be forging global alliances if we are to be truly successful,” she says.
In this regard it would appear that the Cayman Islands presents itself as a perfect location for such global growth with its business emphasis on international finance, its concentration of overseas visitors and its multiracial population.
“Taking all of the above into consideration,” Brooks cautions, “we cannot grow the economic power of women if we feel underserved and ignored. This is why I urge women to stand ready and ensure that they are taken seriously in business.”
A shining example
As good as her word, Brooks says that her own business. SRB Communications, is poised for success in the years ahead. Based in Washington DC but with offices in Chicago and New York, Brooks says her company is busy building new relationships and establishing itself in these two new locations in a bid to embrace the business when it comes.
“You have to be a risk taker,” she says. “Research shows that more than half of the largest and fastest growing companies in the United Sates were formed during an economic downturn and there is no reason why the same principle can’t apply to the business sector here in Grand Cayman as well.”
In this regard, she made a pitch to the Federal Government for some of the stimulus package funds that were being made available to businesses. Although she says her company made the first cut but not the second that has not deterred her and her colleagues. “We found out what we needed to change and we are in the process of making another request for the stimulus funding. We are determined to succeed!” she says.
Embracing social media has also been a priority for this ambitious entrepreneur. Developing a blog geared towards assisting women entrepreneurs, Brooks is excited about the possibilities ahead. “The Brooks Business Report is the go-to resource for women business owners. We are launching later this year with seminars, and an online portal and we have plans to grow into radio, television, webinars and books,” she confirms.
Relevant to women entrepreneurs not just in the US but in Cayman as well, The Brooks Business Report will provide practical advice for women when it comes to business planning, raising capital, managing employees and much more.
“We are here to help women become the best CEOs of their lives!” Brooks says.