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Female leadership in Latin America, an expectation turned demand

According to the latest demographic censuses, women in Latin America represent more than half of the population in the region. It is therefore imperative to stop limiting the opportunities of a majority that seeks to grow, contribute and that, at the end of the day, can significantly improve the economic indicators of a developing region. Virginia Bernardini from RSM Mexico, speaks to five female leaders from the Latin America region to get their views on this issue.

"The road has been long and winding, I have had ups and downs, but it has undoubtedly been wonderful," says Laura Grajeda, Audit Partner of RSM Mexico's office in Mérida. “In 2011 I sought to join the group of professionals who lead the path of the Mexican Institute of Public Accountants, which meant earning a place limited to only 20 people. Subsequently, I decided to run for president. I had to overcome the logical obstacles of a contest, where there are other profiles also with professional merits and with an interest in the same position to which I aspired. I had to show why I was the best option for the institution”, says Grajeda, and she achieved it. In October 2021, she will take oath as President of the most prestigious professional organisation in Mexico. The Mexican Institute of Public Accountants brings together more than 22,000  public accountants distributed in 60 colleges throughout the national territory. Not to mention that she will be the third woman to lead this organisation with almost 100 years of history.

According to a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in 2019 women’s participation in the labour force in Latin America stood at 52%, placing the region among the most progressive in the world. However, its latest survey published on 10 February, 2021 indicates that "the COVID-19 pandemic generated a decline of more than a decade in the levels of labour participation of women in the region, falling to 46%".

Women's access to leadership positions is also progressing slowly. This will take more time and will involve changing a traditionally patriarchal social model together with the correct implementation of public policies such as gender quotas. The good news is that more and more midsize companies are making intentional efforts to drive equity. Over time, markets could start to see more women in leadership positions as initiatives are integrated and results arrive. Today, thanks to the work and persistence of many women, the expectation has become a demand.

Setting foundations for change

Doris Barroso, Managing Partner of RSM Puerto Rico and co-founder of the portal, Woman leading: Next, believes that “we must work on the organisational structure so that it openly supports equal opportunities for professional growth and that women aspire to leadership positions in business. By this I mean that the same opportunities are available to both men and women. What opportunities are those? Well, access to continuing education or professional development courses, exposure to networking activities and support groups where professional women can exchange opinions, fears, challenges and experiences.”

“Another issue that we can handle today in our organisations is closing the pay gap between men and women, ensuring that there is no difference in equal work compensation between people of different genders. For example, that a male auditor manager and a female auditor manager who do the same work and have the same level of academic preparation and professional certifications are paid the same”, adds Barroso.

According to Ana Inés Montaldo, Managing Partner of RSM Uruguay and Regional Tax Technical Leader, “in our region, women continue to dedicate more time than men to domestic tasks, and this restricts us when it comes to developing at work. In my opinion, this change must be accompanied by an investment in public services by governments and building an infrastructure that responds to women´s needs, since we depend on it to not be limited in our economic empowerment and in being able to take advantage of development opportunities”.

“Men and women can be different but not for the reason that some are better than others. The difference is not in the quality of knowledge, but in the perspective of approaching or doing things. Teams made up of men and women achieve a complementarity of criteria and joint responsibility in the decisions made, which exponentially benefit organisations. Multidisciplinary, multigenerational, multi-hierarchical teams, and others, promote the formulation of better proposals and consequently, better results,” reflects Lizette Keller, Managing Partner of the RSM El Salvador office. "I can personally see a big difference between teams led prominently by men or women, and those led by a combination of both," adds Keller.

Flexitime does not inhibit results

According to Marisa Panez, Managing Partner of RSM Peru, “for me, being a mother was one of the most difficult moments to overcome. Although it is true that I had flexitime and support from professional childcare staff, I had to learn to balance time between home and work, without feeling that I was abandoning one or the other, and that I fully fulfilled both. I learned that every effort has its reward. Sometimes we must sacrifice moments that won´t come back, but at the end of the line you realise that it was worth it”. In this same sense, Doris Barroso highlights the importance "that your life partner does not feel less about the fact that you progress and are financially independent".

Another topic that the Covid-19 pandemic made more evident, is that productivity is not necessarily measured by the hours that an employee spends at the office. It is vital that companies begin to incorporate flexible hours. "For many women it is extremely convenient since it allows us to better manage our professional responsibilities and those of mother and housewife that society still puts on our shoulders", emphasises Barroso.

According to the latest demographic censuses, women in Latin America represent more than half of the population in the region. It is therefore imperative to stop limiting the opportunities of a majority that seeks to grow, contribute and that, at the end of the day, can significantly improve the economic indicators of a developing region.

Something that all our RSM leaders in Latin America agree on is that supporting and promoting women's leadership has innumerable benefits:

  • It positively impacts the work environment (creating a certain camaraderie instead of fostering unhealthy competitiveness among women to occupy better positions)
  • It helps to increase the employees' self-confidence and their professional growth processes (due to the support they receive from management and the group of professional women)
  • It encourages talent attraction (due to publicity and positive employer branding in reflecting an inclusive approach to promoting equitability of women)
  • It facilitates retention of female and male talent (with tactics / benefits like flexible hours, for example)
  • It creates more diverse work groups, with richer and more dynamic professional perspectives in which everyone learns from everyone
  • In short, it contributes to a better performance in general, yielding better financial results.

RSM female leaders offer their advice

Laura Grajeda, Audit Partner, RSM Mexico:

  • Learn to work and enjoy doing it as a team. This also involves your family, share your plans and ideas with them, seek their support and understanding, as many times you will have to take actions that will come before the time you share with them.

Marisa Panez, Managing Partner, RSM Peru:

  • Cultivate a positive image of yourself in your mind. When you know what you are capable of, you will feel more confident to demand, ask for help and share brilliant ideas that can make a difference.
  • Every effort has a reward. Sometimes we must sacrifice moments that won´t come back but that at the end of the line you realise that it was worth sacrificing.

Doris Barroso, Managing Partner, RSM Puerto Rico:

  • Actively participate in meetings to which you are invited. Do not just attend the meeting. Make your presence felt, express your opinion, and share your ideas or experiences to enrich the discussion.
  • They teach us to be humble and not brag. However, if no one knows that you are doing things which have a positive impact on your company, they will not think of you when there is an opportunity for growth. It is not about being arrogant but being confident about stating the results of your efforts, of your work.

Ana Inés Montaldo, Partner, RSM Uruguay:

  • To become a successful leader, you need to invest time in training, not only technically, but in soft skills. People are not always born with all the virtues necessary to manage a strategic position, but there are several of them that can be acquired.

Lizette Keller, Partner, RSM El Salvador:

  • Help other women, motivate them, promote them. Much of your leadership as a woman will be to enable other women to reach your same level or higher.
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Author

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Virginia Bernadini
Communication & Marketing Advisor
RSM International