The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) recently reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had reduced the proportion of women in the workforce to 46%. This is down at levels not seen since 2010 and is a major stumble following 10 years of progress.
CEPAL pointed to the underlying social conception that women are responsible for housekeeping and childcaring, particularly during the pandemic, as one of the main drivers behind the reversal of the hard-won gains of female labour market integration.
According to CEPAL, women in Latin America have been the first line of response against the pandemic not only at home but also in hospitals, as women represent a 73.2% of workers employed in the health sector in Latin America, an overwhelming majority.
A March 2021 study by AméricaEconomia showed that 47 of 100 companies surveyed did not have any senior female executive or non-executive. From those companies with senior female employees, 36% did not have any female board directors.
A female executive of a multilatina business in Chile commented, “It’s a process. I believe these things should happen naturally and with conviction. Not because there is a legal obligation, as there is, but rather that there must be real conviction around the contribution that can come from the participation of women.”
“It’s a process. I believe these things should happen naturally and with conviction.”
Female executive, multilatina business, Chile
Gender Monitor Latin America interviewed 900 senior female executives who cited the lack of internal gender equality policies, conciliating family and old-fashioned business structures as the main obstacles they faced in their professional careers in Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. In contrast, 85.1% of the executives interviewed said that they felt fully supported by their partners in relation to their professional ambitions, suggesting that corporations are struggling to incorporate social advances towards equality in the region.
Argentina seems to be the exception in the region, as the former CEO of a multilatina business confirmed, “In Argentina, the situation for women in business is different from what may be happening in other countries across the region. Although it is clear that they still do not occupy managerial roles in the same proportion as men, there is a favourable outlook for the participation of women.”
“In Argentina, the situation for women in business is different […] there is a favourable outlook for the participation of women.”
Former CEO, multilatina business, Argentina
The study concluded that large corporations could better contribute to integrating women into executive and board positions by promoting changes in regulations, particularly in the field of sexual violence and family conciliation in which Latin America generally lags behind other Western countries. An ESADE business school professor participating in the study highlighted how people and, particularly women, need to feel protected in their private sphere to thrive in their professional lives as they both are inherently entangled and talent cannot flourish with fear.