Female Leadership in Latin America: Challenges & Opportunities

By: Stânia Moraes, Alternate Board Member, Embraer | Friday, 19 April 2024

With over three decades in finance and accounting, Stania serves as a board member at Embraer, MCM Brand Experience, and A4S. She leverages expertise in strategic decision-making, investment optimization, and sustainability, supported by CF certification, MBAs, and extensive leadership experience from analyst to CFO roles.

Female leadership in Latin America is a crucial topic for promoting gender equality and empowering women in positions of influence. Let’s explore some initiatives and challenges related to this issue: Although Latin America has had a significant number of female presidents, currently, the presence of women in leadership positions is lower. Promoting female leadership remains a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to transform how we approach politics and reduce inequalities. In summary, female leadership in Latin America is a dynamic field with both advancements and obstacles. Recognizing and supporting women in leadership positions is essential for building a more equal and just society. Women in Latin America face various challenges in their pursuit of equality and empowerment. I’ll highlight some of the key ones: Gender Inequality and Salary: Women still experience wage inequality compared to men. Even when comparing white and Black women, the wage gap can reach up to 71%. Additionally, access to leadership positions and influential roles remains a challenge for women.

Sexual Harassment and Domestic Violence: Sexual harassment is a recurring issue in the lives of women in Latin America. They face harassment in public transportation, workplaces, and other spaces. Domestic violence is also a serious concern, with many women experiencing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within their own homes.

Access to Health and Family Planning: Access to healthcare, especially for migrant women, continues to be a challenge. This includes access to family planning, prenatal care, and gynecological services. The health of adolescent girls is also a concern, as many struggle to obtain adequate information and services.

Balancing Motherhood and Career: Motherhood is still seen as an obstacle to women’s professional careers. Often, they face difficulties in juggling childcare responsibilities with work duties.

Political Participation and Leadership: Although women are often portrayed as supporting characters, they have also played leadership roles in various independence movements in Latin America. They organized conspiracies, led armies, and even held political positions. However, after independence, women were frequently excluded from political decision-making and denied recognition of their rights.

In summary, the struggle of women in Latin America is multifaceted and involves issues such as wage equality, gender-based violence, access to healthcare, and political participation. It is essential to continue working to overcome these challenges and build a more just and equal society. Taking a closer look at the finance sector, we observe even greater inequality. According to recent data, only 14.6% of senior management positions in Latin American companies are held by women in the financial sector. While this represents significant progress compared to the 8.2% recorded five years ago, there is still ample room to increase female representation in this field

What are the main barriers to women’s advancement in financial leadership roles?

Women seeking to ascend to financial leadership positions in Latin America face several barriers. I will highlight some of the key ones: “Broken Step”: Although women’s participation in executive positions has grown from 17% to 28% in the last eight years, many still struggle to advance to their first management role. This obstacle is known as the “broken step,” where opportunities for progress for women in middle management positions remain out of reach. Salary Inequality: Wage inequality persists, with women earning less than their male counterparts in similar positions. This directly affects their chances of advancement, as lower salaries can impact their visibility and recognition in the corporate environment. Cultural Stereotypes and Gender Discrimination: Deep-rooted stereotypes about women’s abilities in the financial sector can hinder their promotion opportunities. Gender discrimination is still a reality, affecting women’s confidence and perception in leadership roles. Balancing Career and Personal Life: The pressure to balance professional and family responsibilities often falls more heavily on women. This can make career advancement challenging, especially in demanding roles with long working hours. Lack of Representation: The low representation of women in financial leadership positions can create a cycle of limited role models and opportunities. The absence of female references can impact women’s ambition and confidence in pursuing higher positions. In summary, promoting female leadership in the financial sector requires overcoming these barriers through inclusive policies, cultural changes, and ongoing support for women in their professional careers.

Companies are adopting various strategies to promote female leadership in the finance sector and overcome existing barriers. Here are some approaches:

Development and Training Programs:

Many companies offer specific programs to develop leadership skills in women.

These programs include training, mentoring, and workshops focused on competencies such as communication, negotiation, and team management.

Goals and Quotas:

Some organizations set specific targets to increase female representation in leadership positions.

Quotas can be applied in recruitment, promotion, and candidate selection processes for strategic roles.

Workplace Flexibility:

Policies that allow flexible hours, remote work, and maternity/paternity leave are essential to support work-life balance.

This helps retain female talent and encourages professional advancement.

Mentoring and Sponsorship:

Mentoring programs connect early-career women with experienced leaders.

Sponsorship involves influential leaders actively supporting women’s advancement by recommending them for growth opportunities.

Internal Policy Review:

Companies are reviewing their compensation, promotion, and performance evaluation policies to eliminate gender biases.

This includes analyzing wage disparities and promoting objective and transparent criteria.

Inclusive Organizational Culture:

Companies are working to create a culture that values diversity and inclusion.

This involves promoting values such as respect, equality, and equal opportunities for all.

In summary, promoting female leadership in the finance sector requires addressing these barriers through inclusive policies, cultural changes, and ongoing support for women.

Promoting gender equality in the finance sector is essential for building a more inclusive and diverse environment. Here are some ways you can get involved and support these initiatives:

Educate Yourself and Raise Awareness:

Learn about gender issues, wage inequality, and female representation in the finance sector.

Share this knowledge with colleagues, friends, and family to increase awareness.

Join Networks and Support Groups:

Become part of professional organizations that promote gender equality in finance.

Participate in events, forums, and discussion groups to exchange ideas and experiences.

Advocate for Inclusive Policies:

Encourage companies and financial institutions to adopt policies that promote diversity and equal opportunities.

This includes setting targets for female representation in leadership positions and implementing specific development programs for women.

Mentor Early-Career Women:

Offer guidance and support to women starting their careers in finance.

Share your experiences and help them develop skills and confidence.

Encourage Responsible Investments:

As an investor, consider allocating resources to companies that prioritize diversity and gender equality.

Your choices can positively influence company practices and their commitment to equity.

Promote Equity in the Workplace:

If you work in the finance sector, advocate for policies that ensure equal pay, merit-based promotions, and a discrimination-free environment.

Be an active advocate for diversity within your organization.

Remember that small individual actions also make a difference. By supporting gender equality in the finance sector, you contribute to a more just and inclusive environment for everyone.