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International Women's Day
Opinion
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

There is no shortage of female leaders. There is a lack of women in leadership positions

Obstacles remain for women to reach leadership positions, despite having the necessary qualifications. We must put policies in place to close the leadership gap

International Women's Day
Francisco Ferreira of the London School of Economics; Raquel Fernandez of NYU, Eduardo Levy-Yeyati of Torcuato Di Tella University, Marcela Eslava of Universidad de los Andes, Stanley Bailey, of University of California and Ana María Ibáñez of the IDB.CHELO CAMACHO

Banco do Brasil, GM and Waze have female leaders. It is highly likely that Mexico, for the first time in its history, will soon have a female president. There are also good indicators on other fronts. Women in Latin America and the Caribbean today are more educated than men. Between 2000 and 2019, their workplace participation increased from 55% to 63%, although it is still insufficient to close the gap with men.

We are an example of female leadership. We are at the helm of two vice-presidencies of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and we are responsible for operational areas and technical knowledge. Half of the employees in our vice presidencies are women.

On International Women’s Day, there is a tendency to celebrate women leaders. This is important, but it is a biased view. We must ask ourselves why many women do not reach high positions despite their educational achievements. There is a lack of more women in leadership positions.

Gender gaps in leadership positions are seen at all levels in our region, from low representation in government (only 25% of ministerial positions) to seats on company boards (20%). The multilateral institutions where we work are no exception. Data from the IDB, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund indicate that the three organizations have less than 30% female representation on their boards.

Other women exercise silent leadership, without due social or economic recognition. We are referring to the woman who runs a stall in the local market, who negotiates with suppliers and keeps the accounting records. In our region, there are more than 560,000 MSMEs led by women. They have difficulties obtaining financing and integrating into value chains. A study in Chile revealed that women’s credit applications, under conditions equivalent to those of men, were 18.3% less likely to be approved than men’s applications, largely due to biased or prejudiced decisions by executives, particularly men, and not because they have a greater risk of defaulting on payments.

These examples and the statistical evidence from many studies say it clearly: obstacles persist for women to reach leadership positions despite having the necessary qualifications. We must put policies in place to close the leadership gap.

One solution is representation quotas. First adopted in Norway, quotas have been used to expand women’s participation on boards of directors in Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Mexico and Panama, among others. They have been effective initially, but IDB research finds that parity is significantly reduced for higher executive positions. The unequal burden of care and domestic work, the lack of childcare services, and social norms are obstacles to women’s career progression.

Expanding childcare services has proven effective. In Mexico, a care service for working mothers with children aged 0 to 3 years increased their labor participation by 4.5 percentage points. According to a study in 15 countries in the region, maternity and paternity leaves, by promoting a better distribution of care burdens and increasing men’s commitment to caring for their children, contribute to increasing female workplace participation and reducing gender gaps in income.

Another solution is for women to receive financing with credit scores and innovative financing methods. In Chile, the public prosecutor platform Chilecompra provided certification, training, and mentoring to companies run by women, and favored their participation and experience in public procurement processes.

Investing in policies that promote female leadership is not a zero-sum game, where women win and men lose. By excluding women from opportunities, society is wasting their potential. We lose women and countries lose. A study carried out by the IDB showed that, in Brazil, cities that had a female mayor reported fewer deaths during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The achievement of women leaders is notable, since being a woman leader is difficult. We are often subject to more scrutiny to validate our promotions, in a kind of micro-machismo that women face daily.

Women contribute so much and we can contribute much more. We need men and women leaders who will make the extra effort to remove the obstacles that prevent women from realizing their full potential. We need governments to invest in girls, care systems and education so that we all have the same opportunities.

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