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It's Time to Close the Gender Gap in Latin America's Private Sector

By Susan Segal and Carin Zissis

"Failing to elevate women comes with a cost," write Susan Segal and Carin Zissis in La Nación, El Mercurio, El Tiempo, and El Universal on #8M.

As we mark International Women’s Day, there is good reason to cheer advances in Latin America. When it comes to elevating women to political leadership positions, the region is ahead of the pack. Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Mexico have all achieved or are close to achieving gender parity in cabinets. Women make up 35% of national legislators in the Americas, exceeding all other regions in the world but the Nordic countries. The United States, meanwhile, is only bringing that average down, ranking 71 out of 184 countries and with more than a dozen Latin American and Caribbean nations landing higher in an Inter-Parliamentary Union list. Peru, Honduras, and Trinidad & Tobago are in the small club of 26 countries worldwide with women serving as heads of state. Argentina, Brazil, and Chile have all had women presidents and Mexicans are all but certain to elect their first one in June.  

But if there is cause to rejoice in the case of the region’s public sector, there is far less to celebrate when it comes to women’s leadership in the private sector. In the case of the C-suite, a 2022 Deloitte report found that the region’s women hold a mere 1.6% of CEO roles. On the board front, Latin America trails in terms of women on boards, with representation at just 14.5% overall, per a 2023 study. The region’s larger economies—including Mexico (10%), Chile (17%), Brazil (19%), and Colombia (21%)—fall behind the United States (31%), where companies also have work to do when it comes to achieving parity.  

In the case of the region’s public sector, women’s rising political power is connected to quotas that have boosted the number of women candidates on ballots for legislative and other seats. Argentina was the first country worldwide to pass such a law in 1991, setting the stage for more than 70 countries globally to do the same. Nearly every Latin American country now has such rules in place, and, over the past 50 years, 12 out of 21 countries in the region have had a woman president.    

In terms of the private sector, there are plenty of incentives, as well. Studies have long shown women executives are more inclined to bring new perspectives, seek consensus, and help improve decision-making. And in the wake of the pandemic, new research found women leaders are more likely to be seen as compassionate and engaged, which helps retain employees and improve productivity.  

All of this comes down to a better bottom line. Firms witness a 20% increase in stock price momentum within the first two years of women being appointed as CEOs. And companies  in which women account for more than 25% of board members experience profit margins 10 times higher than those with no women at all. Failing to elevate women comes with a cost, and that should not go unnoticed at a time when Latin America is looking for ways to boost the GDP growth projection beyond the current regional rate of 2.3% for 2024

Luckily, there are signs of hope. The fact that several countries have high rates of women’s representation in congresses is key; women lawmakers are more likely to back socially inclusive legislation, which can involve the measures that help women enter and stay in the workforce to climb the leadership ladder. And in Latin America, women held 37% of corporate management positions as of 2023, per a Grant Thornton survey—a figure that rose 17 points over the past seven years. That means Latin America went from lagging all other regions to outpacing the global average of 32%.  

It's clear that when it comes to propelling women into private-sector leadership positions, companies have the incentives to get there. With Latin America already a global leader when it comes to women’s political representation, it’s time for the region’s private sector to close the gap.