Galeano ’14 works to empower women in El Salvador
June 24, 2020
An Uplifting Story
By Greg Skoog ’89
As a student at the College of Saint Benedict (CSB), Maria Gabriela (Gaby) Galeano ’14 was the director of the Sister Nancy Hynes Institute for Women’s Leadership. “CSB showed me how fundamental it is to have women in leadership positions, and that it is our responsibility as leaders to pave the way for other women,” Galeano recalled.
So when she started a new job in logistics at La Constancia (a division of AB InBev) in El Salvador, one of her primary personal goals was to increase female representation in operations.
The problem was, no women were applying.
“I noticed that only 2% of our logistics workforce was women,” said Galeano, “and I was shocked. One of our key positions is our forklift operators. As I was trying to recruit women for these positions, I saw that none of them had previous training or experience.”
Women weren’t applying because they didn’t have experience. They didn’t have experience because they didn’t have training. And they didn’t have training because none was available for them. As a Bennie, Galeano was determined to change that.
She reached out to Puentes para el Empleo (Bridges to Employment), a program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “They helped create a wonderful program that included gender equality, women’s rights and leadership,” she said. “Not only were we teaching women how to operate a forklift, we were also empowering them to become their best selves.”
It seems like such a small step – 13 women earning certification as forklift operators. But, as Galeano points out, “El Salvador has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality.” Most of the women who enrolled in the program had never even driven a car, much less operated heavy machinery. “Some families were even ashamed that they were part of it.”
Nevertheless, all 13 persisted and graduated – earning their forklift operator certification with high scores. “The best part has been watching all these women become empowered and sure of themselves. We even had one participant who had a perfect score,” Galeano said proudly.
Initially there was some pushback from the men in the warehouses. “We had some comments like, ‘Women are not meant to be forklift operators’ and ‘This is a man’s job,’ ” recalled Galeano. “But all of those comments disappeared once they saw the women in their practical training and how good they were.”
Galeano and her company intend to hire the top participants (although current COVID-19 restrictions have delayed hiring). “La Constancia has been in El Salvador for over 115 years,” said Galeano, “and this is the first time in that history in which we will see women operating forklifts. It is a dream come true.”
Learning to lift
“Saint Ben’s allowed me to really get to know myself, discover my leadership style, find my strengths and work on my weaknesses,” said Galeano. “I was able to pursue not only my college degree, but also some of my biggest passions: feminism, women leadership and volunteering. The skills I developed during my time at Saint Ben’s have endured throughout my professional and personal life.”
Born and raised in El Salvador, Galeano discovered CSB/SJU in 2006 when she came to campus to visit her cousins Fernando Galeano (SJU ’10) and Hibes Galeano (CSB ’10). “I immediately fell in love with both campuses!” she said. “I was very interested in a liberal arts college, since I’ve always been interested in various topics. I also saw the chance to develop my leadership skills through all the student clubs, volunteer programs and campus activities. It was the best fit for me.”