Improving company performance implies removing barriers stunting its growth. To achieve this, we must identify all impediments: the obvious and the less visible. It is imperative to include women in business to take advantage of their talent, detect new markets and increase profits. However, to obtain the expected outcome, we must promote a profound transformation that will lead to success. Therefore, I would like to discuss the less visible barriers that hinder women’s professional growth and negatively impact companies looking to capitalize on female potential.
Investing in women allows us to get a closer look at the immense market they represent, as well as have access to their leadership and innovation capabilities. Oftentimes, companies who claim they understand female inclusion, announcing corporate changes among bells and whistles, proceeding with the best of intentions, end up settling for superficial changes, while deep-rooted problems continue to exist: discrimination, chauvinism, and cultural prejudices. This is no insignificant matter: adherence to traditional gender roles negatively affecting women also impacts the job market and corporations.
For a better understanding of this problem, the Angelica Fuentes Foundation carried out a qualitative study to explore how society views gender roles, as well as analyze the reactions and answers to gender role-related points-of-view. Twenty-two focus groups comprised of different ages, gender, and social roles were carried out in eight different cities in northern, central and southern Mexico.
One of the study’s most revealing findings is that there are significant differences between what individuals say, which can be considered politically correct, and how they act in their professional and personal lives. Many individuals profess that they are against any form of inequality. However, deep down, they possess prejudices and barriers, sometimes imperceptible, that influence their behavior and incite discriminatory conduct toward women.
These findings are shown in the participants’ answers in the study. It is common to hear phrases such as, “Men and women are equal, with the same abilities and rights.” Nonetheless, a very different message surfaced in conversation: “Men don’t let us work.” The phrase “don’t let us”, as if it were a concession, reveals how far we are from true equity. Similarly, men as well as women perceive equal work opportunities on the surface. However, a chauvinistic attitude and sexist speech underlie their words: “If she wants to work, she can do it…her priorities are her decision”.
These contradictions have an impact on women’s participation in the labor world. For many, working is just a means to supplement the family income and not a source of growth or personal development. A significant number of women still consider motherhood personal achievement and work, the opposite. On the other hand, women face conditions that run contrary to inclusive corporate policies, such as a lack of flexible schedules and quality daycare, that impede them from achieving a balance. They end up believing that their personal and professional lives are irreconcilable, which translates into the economy losing half of its human capital, as well as innovative and creative potential. The good news is that we, as business executives, can turn this situation around.
To contribute to a deep-seated change, the private sector must first be aware of existing invisible problems to be able to create solution strategies. We must identify discriminatory behavior and cultural prejudices so that we can generate policies to transform mentalities. This is the only way to remove the barriers women face in the labor market.
Angélica Fuentes, Founder Equal Invest
Angélica Fuentes is a Latin American businesswoman and impact investor, who has been recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of Mexico’s most influential women.
Ms. Fuentes was appointed CEO of Grupo Imperial in 1992 and quickly positioned the company as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector. Under her leadership, Grupo Imperial’s annual growth rate increased from 5% in 1992 to 9.5% in 2005. Ms. Fuentes served as President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association from 1996 to 2000. From 2007 to 2015, she served as CEO of Grupo Omnilife-Angelissima-Chivas. Under her leadership, the company became one of the top 100 corporations in Mexico.
Throughout her career, Ms. Fuentes has dedicated significant time and resources to NGOs, international organizations and professional groups that support the cause of women. She participated in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Programme, and led the Mexican Gender Parity Taskforce. She currently serves on Secretary Clinton’s International Council on Women’s Business Leadership; is member of the Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council of UN Women; is a Global Advocate for the Girl Up Campaign, a United Nations Foundation program; co-chairs the PVBLIC LATAM regional platform; is member of the Latin American Program Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and is member of the Global Dignity’s International Council of Advisors.
Her work in this field has been recognized by numerous honors and awards. In 2015, UN Women gave her the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Award; she was the first female CEO to receive this award for championing gender equality in the private sector. In 2016, PVBLIC Foundation, Ismael Cala Foundation, and the United Nations gave her the award for Latin Woman Empowerment. In 2017, she received the Corporate Social Responsibility Award from The Maestro Cares Foundation.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the eradication of poverty have always been a priority in all her endeavors. In 2014, she established the Angelica Fuentes Foundation. In 2016, she founded A Complete and The Imperative Fund. In 2017, she founded Equal Invest, The Beauty Station and A Complete Journey.