Bisila Bokoko is one of the most influential Spanish women in the United States. She visited Marbella last week to give a presentation to a group of entrepreneurs on how to overcome barriers and turn them into opportunities.
What image of Spain do you have as a CEO of a business development agency in the USA?
Since 2005 Spanish companies have spread to the United States and the image is very positive. Spain has a great reputation because it is a very friendly country, that has a fluid and good relationship with the US. There have been slower years, because of the economic crisis, but now things are improving again. There is, of course, still a lot of work to do. Spain as a brand is not established, and Spanish products still need promoting. As the regions are working autonomously, there's sometimes some confusion. There should be better cohesion in the international market, to work together to create a single brand.
Do you think Donald Trump has positively or negatively influenced these relationships?
Spain doesn't interest the USA from an economic point of view. The relationship is very neutral and very friendly. I do not think that Trump's arrival has affected relations. It remains one of the most popular countries for Americans to visit. I've seen four presidents in the US and I haven't noticed a big difference in that area. Trump doesn't have that power.
Are there many women CEOs in your sector?
We are still few and far between. Numbers of women in positions of responsibility in companies remain lower than they should be. We can improve this when women in senior management positions help other women achieve these same goals. The responsibility of every woman climbing the career ladder is to let others climb it too. Sometimes we are worried that, after all the hard work it took, another woman may take our place. That can sometimes be the reason why women aren't opening the door for others. The more women there are at the negotiating tables, the more advantages there will be for all of us.
Are women more competitive with each other than men?
No, I think that's a stereotype. Men also compete with each other but I think copying their way of doing things causes us harm because we lose our empathy and our intuition. We mustn't change or force ourselves to appear more masculine. At times, women try to adopt these mannerisms to be respected. Work environments are more positive when we value empathy and collaboration.
Do you consider yourself an inspiration for other women?
Any woman who has climbed the ladder is an inspiration for other women. Many women have inspired me and if I can do that for others, that's great. That's why I think I have a certain degree of responsibility to help others.
Your father told you that there will be two problems in your career: "being a woman and being black". Has that been the case?
I think it has benefited me. It could have, but that was my choice. If you already have it in your head that they won't hire you because you're black, or think that they will make it hard for you because you are a woman, then that's the way it will be. It depends on our way of thinking. We all have faults, insecurities and bad experiences that we have to overcome. But you can use these obstacles to your advantage. In my case, I decided that these two facts would not determine my life. I wrote another story.
Are you a feminist?
I am a woman who believes in women. I don't like labels and I believe in equality.
Do you think that the feminist movement has achieved its goals?
We've come a long way. 2018 was a great year in reducing wage gaps. There has been a lot of debate. But it's something that both men and women must do together. When we see the advantages of diversity, a lot will change.
You're involved in both economics and philanthropy. Are they incompatible with one another?
I think that they are complementary. We expect governments to take care of social issues but employers must also be socially responsible and we can all contribute our bit. Philanthropy must be an attitude of life. It is sometimes understood that you have to be a millionaire to be philanthropic. You have to learn to share what you have. The employer has to look out for the social welfare of its workers, so that they can contribute to society.
You're part of many different cultures (born in Africa, raised in Spain, working in the USA), but what do you think about people who see immigrants as the enemy?
It's human nature to be afraid of differences. In such a global world you have to lose that fear. The important thing is to know how to integrate them. Immigration is positive when done well. It must be done in a regulated manner. It always enriches a country to have people from other places. As a society we have to think about how these movements can help us and if we take the time to invest in these countries, immigrants won't be seen as the enemy anymore.
Do you see Africa as an opportunity, instead of the common Western conception that it is a problem?
Totally. Africa is still the great unknown and there are people who still relate it to starving children. That Africa has changed, and there is a lot of talent there. Spain is not that far away and has never looked to Africa. If that were to happen, there would be many benefits for both countries. I don't believe in aid; I believe in investment and return, because in all commercial relations both parties must win.