AS/COA Women's Hemispheric Network Conference in Mexico City. (Axel Heredia)

AS/COA Women's Hemispheric Network Conference in Mexico City. (Axel Heredia)


It's Time to Close the Leadership Gap for Women in Mexico's Private Sector

By Susan Segal and Carin Zissis

"Companies have both the incentives and paths" to propel women into leadership positions, write Susan Segal and Carin Zissis in El Universal.

In October, Mexico marked 70 years since women gained the right to vote, and there was a lot more to celebrate than an anniversary. The country has become a global leader when it comes to women’s representation in politics. Women now make up half the cabinet and head the Supreme Court, the Central Bank, and both houses of its legislature. Mexico is one of only six countries worldwide in which women make up at least 50% of congressional seats. That places it fourth out of 185 countries in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s ranking of women’s representation in legislatures, ahead of countries viewed as paragons of parity, such as New Zealand and Sweden. For comparison, the United States ranks in spot 68.

Now, Mexico is on the verge of smashing another hole in the glass ceiling, given that the two main presidential candidates, Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez, are both women. When the country holds its next inauguration day on October 1, 2024, it is more than likely to swear in its first presidenta.

Still, despite reasons to rejoice in the public sector, there is less cause for celebration when it comes to women’s leadership in Mexico’s private sector. In the case of the C-suite, a 2022 Deloitte study found that women account for a mere 1.6 percent of Mexican CEOs. On the board front, women held just 13 percent of seats as of 2022, per a recent study by the think tank Instituto Mexicanos para La Competitividad (IMCO). That puts the country behind Latin American peers such as Chile (17 percent), Brazil (19 percent), and Colombia (21 percent), and far below the United States (31 percent). Mexico did increase women’s board representation by one point since 2021, but at its current rate of progress, it will take another 30 years for the country to achieve parity on corporate boards.

In the case of Mexico’s public sector, nearly two decades of increasingly expansive quota rules opened the door to women’s political representation, culminating in a 2019 constitutional reform known as "parity in everything," requiring a 50–50 gender breakdown of candidates for elected office, as well as for leadership roles in judicial and executive branches.

In the private sector, there are plenty of incentives to increase women’s leadership 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-percent 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 percent of board members experience profit margins 10 times higher than those with no women at all. Failing to elevate women comes with a cost.

There are proven ways to solve the problem, from establishing mentoring programs to training programs to flexible work arrangements. The IMCO study found that nearly three-quarters of Mexican firms have continuing training programs, but fewer than half have policies to prevent gender wage gaps.

There are signs of hope. The fact that Mexico has gender parity in Congress could be one 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 Mexico, women now hold 38 percent of senior management positions, per a Grant Thornton survey—a figure that rose five points over the prior year. It puts Mexico just above the Latin American average, which in turn is outpacing the global average of 32 percent.

It's clear that when it comes to propelling women into private-sector leadership positions, companies have both the incentives and paths to get there. With Mexico’s achievements in political parity already setting a global example, it’s time for the private sector to close the gap.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Mexico's El Universal.