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Assessing Latin America's Gender Gap in Top Business Roles

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Around the world, women average just 24 percent of senior management roles—the same rate they held five years ago. While Europe is the least likely region to have women on senior business teams, Latin America is not far behind. A 2014 Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) shows that 40 percent of businesses in Latin America have no women in top management roles. Women in Business: From Classroom to Boardroom surveyed over 12,500 private sector businesses in 45 countries to analyze the gap between women who enter the workforce and those who continue on to receive senior-level promotions. In Latin America, the survey looked at Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.

Overall, regional results fell in the middle: Latin American countries placed in neither the top nor bottom ten worldwide. At 35 percent, Peru has the highest proportion of women in top positions in Latin America. Chile and Mexico followed closely behind at 30 and 28 percent, respectively. Argentina and Brazil ranked lowest among Latin American countries surveyed, averaging 25 and 22 percent respectively for businesswomen in senior management.

The main roadblock facing women in their ascent to senior ranks is education, according to the IBR. Yet Latin American women outnumber men in higher education enrollment, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows. In fact, since 1980, the region has seen a 50 percent increase in female enrollment in institutions of higher education. For example, a 2013 survey found that women encompass nearly 56 percent of Brazilian university spots, and another study from the same year found that women make up around 51 percent of Master's programs in Mexico. Still, IBR statistics show that 74 percent of Latin American businesses say that women account for less than half of employees with undergraduate degrees and make up a mere 13 percent of new university graduates hired.

Similarly, few women make it to the highest rungs of corporate power. A widely cited 2012 report from Corporate Women Directors International shows that women in Latin America hold less than 6 percent of board positions in the region's 100 largest companies. To change this scenario, 68 percent of businesses in Latin America support introducing quotas for women on executive boards, according to the Grant Thorton report.