For Lijuan Wang, starting a business in Chile was rewarding but also challenging, for being Asian, female, and 'working at all hours.'
SANTIAGO — Figures for 2016 from Chile's National Institute of Statistics show that 38% of our country's entrepreneurs are women, which is almost 800,000 people. The Global Entrepreneur Monitor found in turn that of these female entrepreneurs, only 7.2% have consolidated their businesses, with more than 42 months in operation.
The figures indicate that a small portion of less than half of all entrepreneurs in Chile are women with established businesses, which suggests that women in the business world face a range of challenges and difficulties and need considerable courage, effort and constancy, and great tolerance for frustration.
In my case as a Chinese woman, I have had to overcome more barriers due to my cultural background.
Being a "bicultural" citizen eventually worked in my favor.
My first challenges had to do with language, adapting to the surroundings and a cultural shock. Paradoxically I learned to manage a business faster than to speak Spanish, because as soon as I arrived in Chile my family and I opened a Chinese restaurant in Antofagasta, northern Chile. I gradually learned about running a business there.
Even though my lack of knowledge of cultural codes and local customs worked against me at times, and sometimes people looked at me suspiciously because of my traits or people's ignorance vis-a-vis my roots, being a "bicultural" citizen eventually worked in my favor. It allowed me to move easily between China and Chile, making my business profitable and beneficial, especially when it comes to imports
In spite of Chile's increasingly business-friendly environment and its recognition of the positive contribution women make to the job market — and female business owners to job creation — there is still concern regarding different female roles.
In Santiago de Chile — Photo: Dimitry B.
After all do we not face bigger obstacles and challenges when it comes to starting a business? I think that as a society we have not advanced enough here. Personally, economic and business success created problems in my family life, and I went through some complicated times trying to push on without family backing or social understanding.
In China, money is the symbol of success. There is generalized awareness that to get it, you must work hard. Success is the fruit of daily work, effort, perseverance and constant sacrifice, and I am certain my Chinese cultural heritage was a key factor in my progress. Yet my rhythm of work, or the way I "work like a Chinaman" as they typically say in Chile of those who work a lot, created some problems in managing those working with me. I realized I was not sufficiently prepared and lacked all the tools needed to handle that challenge.
In China, money is the symbol of success.
My response to most of the challenges I had to meet on this business path came with my decision to return to university and study law. I realized that the big problems facing a Chinese entrepreneur here were lack of professional training, but also the absence of support networks and my poor understanding of the social and national environments.
I think it essential to be able to count on networks of trust that speak my language and share my cultural codes. That is why I decided to create a blog giving free legal advice and guidance so other compatriots of mine can settle and work better in Chile.