For Women, The Struggle to “Have It All” is Universal

By Lily Alcock 

Margarita de los Santos

It’s obvious within the first few minutes of talking with Margarita de los Santos that she is a powerhouse. Quick to crack a joke but just as eager to get down to business, Margarita is the sort of magnetic person who has a natural ability to inspire you to match her tempo. Daughter and mother, aunt and friend, she is part of a close-knit family where everyone is supportive of each other. Her children and family are the center her life. Margarita is also a professional woman, and describes herself as very active. Her vibrant and full life mirrors that of the city in which she lives: Santo Domingo.

Margarita’s energy and talent, combined with her passion for improving life at home in the Dominican Republic’and around the world’serve her well in her role as finance and administration manager for IESC’s Exporting Quality and Safety Program.

This four-year program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service will increase productivity and sales of agriculture products for domestic and export markets. The program focuses on high-value fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, avocado, peppers, and eggplant.

Margarita has been an invaluable member of the startup team in Santo Domingo, setting up systems and processes that will help the program run efficiently and effectively. As the team member in charge of making sure the program meets USDA and IESC standards, Margarita’s oversight is essential, and she understands the importance of her role. ‘I have a responsibility to record the complete history of program implementation in the best way possible,’ she said. This is not just a legal and financial responsibility to the donor, but also a technical one. The record of this program’s successes’and learning curves’will inform future agricultural development programs in the country, the region, and elsewhere.

Margarita has a wealth of experience that informs every aspect of her work, from the hefty responsibility of maintaining quality standards, to the day-to-day responsibilities. She’s been working on development programs for five years.

Yet, despite her experience, knowledge, and energetic nature, Margarita notes that it can still be a struggle for professional women to get a foothold in the Dominican Republic, a country ranked 67 out of 134 in the world for gender equality, with a gender salary gap of 16 percent.

‘Every day, women in this country are gaining more professional capacity, but there is still a mentality among businesses that a man is the preferred executive.’ Margarita attributes this to the fact that many women require time off for maternity leave and other childrearing responsibilities, causing all women to be perceived as less dedicated than their male counterparts. So essentially, the very thing that matters most to Margarita ‘ supporting and caring for her family ‘ could also be seen as a disadvantage by potential employers, making it difficult to do the work that she also loves. It seems that the struggle to ‘have it all’ is a universal one for women.

Margarita’s determination and the support of her family help her to press on in this challenging professional environment. Plus, she truly believes in the work. ‘[Working for a nonprofit] has been an enriching experience,’ she said. ‘I love to work for these types of organizations due to the way they are structured and the transparency that these organizations require.’

Though juggling the numerous administrative and logistical demands associated with launching a big program keeps Margarita busy, she says that meeting potential beneficiaries face-to-face is a huge motivator, and she hopes that the program will help Dominican farmers earn a better income.

Margarita also sees the benefits of this program extending right to the family dinner table. ‘I would like if, in addition to the great impact we expect the program to have on our exports, Dominicans would also, by the same token, be able to consume quality products at home,’ she said.

Margarita is special. But she is also representative of countless Dominican women who find great value in their roles as mother, wife, sister, daughter, but also want to grow professionally and have positive impact in their communities and in their country. The struggle to have both is very real, but a firecracker like Margarita won’t let that stand in her way.

‘I would love to continue developing myself within international organizations, applying my knowledge and also facing new challenges. The world is constantly evolving, and each day there are new things to learn.’

This blog was written as part of IESC’s International Women’s Day 2016 campaign.

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