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Pay inequality and lack of recognition are the main barriers facing Latin American women executives in the workplace

Women executives from Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru say that the pay gap (24%) and a lack of recognition for the work they do (19.2%) are the main barriers they face at work. In addition, 69% of the women consulted recognise that motherhood has had an impact on their professional career, while 31.3% say that they have considered not having any more children for that reason

The business culture (16.8%), the little to no effect of gender equality policies at the company (16.6%) and the difficulty of combining childcare with a position of responsibility (16.4%) are the main obstacles that Latin American women executives find blocking their way to senior management, a process that 73.2% believe is biased in favour of their male colleagues. This is one of the conclusions of Esade Gender Monitor Latin America 2019, drafted by Esade in cooperation with América Economía Intelligence. Almost 900 women executives from Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru were consulted to find out the difficulties faced by women managers in these countries when promoting or carrying out their work in their respective companies.  

Although 56.9% of survey respondents say that the company they work for has measures aimed at fostering gender equality — especially flexible working hours and training on leadership and managerial performance — the majority continue to face barriers, mainly with regard to the pay gap (24%) and recognition of the work they do (19.2%).

On the other hand, Latin American women executives do receive support from their male colleagues, who are committed to gender equality in some (48.4%) or in all cases (23.7%). They find similar support at home, where 85.1% of the women consulted feel “completely supported” or “very supported” by their partners when it comes to their professional decisions.

Patricia Cauqui, Esade professor and one of the authors of the report, interprets the data as “revealing a reality that Latin American women executives – at least in the countries analysed – interact with their partners and male colleagues in a substantial and growing situation of equality. It is the companies that seem to be lagging behind with regard to mindset and the rate at which they implement policies that meet women’s needs.”

Motherhood and work-life balance

Another of the main barriers to Latin American women executives’ professional development is family care. Some 69% of respondents acknowledge that motherhood has had some form of impact on their career, with 31.3% saying that they are considering not having any more children in order to further their careers in the business world. Some 25.3% of women who don’t have children have thought about not starting a family for this reason.

The women consulted also believed that the measures their companies had put in place to ensure that motherhood did not affect their job performance and opportunities for promotion were insufficient. When asked if their companies implemented measures to foster flexible workplaces and working hours, 31.7% answered that “No, it is a culture that rewards ‘presenteeism’ and measures are not implemented”, while 41.5% said that “Yes, they have been implemented, but they are still insufficient”.

Funding, an ‘extra’ barrier for women entrepreneurs

In addition to the pay gap, the lack of recognition and difficulties in achieving a work-life balance, Latin American women executives who are also entrepreneurs face an ‘extra’ barrier: funding. Some 17.3% of the women entrepreneurs surveyed by Esade Gender Monitor – Latin America 2019 said that, in addition to high interest rates (37%) and excessive red tape (25.9%), their interlocutors “do not take the time to understand the potential of their businesses” simply because they are women. It’s a major barrier, especially considering that 39.2% of Latin American women entrepreneurs surveyed for this study started their businesses with a line of credit or a loan from a financial institution, and that 22.97% did so by means of family savings.

A job that goes beyond the business world

Latin American women executives urge social players to make a greater effort to achieve women’s equality, especially trade unions, private enterprise and professional women’s associations, of which 36.4% of the women consulted are members. This low rate reflects the fact that just 27.1% of Latin American women executives have the time necessary for cultivating their professional support networks, while 49% have less than they would like and 19.45% say that it is impossible to maintain these networks because they have too many family commitments. Only the women founding members, managing directors or chairs and board members surveyed for this study feel that they have and do spend time on this task.

Beyond the business world, survey respondents believe that the factors that could be of greatest help for achieving gender equality in their region include: effective laws against harassment and sexual violence; a change in mindset with regard to women’s assigned roles in society; and encouraging joint responsibility in the public and private arena. This is where the greatest differences are noted depending on the country where the women consulted work.

Against this background, Eugenia Bieto, Esade professor and co-author of the study, says that “in order to make effective progress in terms of women’s access to positions of responsibility in Latin America, there is a need for the active involvement of companies’ and institutions’ governing bodies, the effective implementation of diversity policies, the promotion of cultural changes in society and the creation of conditions that facilitate a work-life balance. The issue cannot be approached one way only, and the solutions cannot be the same in each country: cultural conditions, history and traditions play a very important role in improving the situation of women in the furthering of their professional careers."