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Stephanie Oueda: “Equality & Diversity Must Be Lived. To Serve the Region, We Must Be the Region”

In an interview with the Negocios Sostenibles blog, the head of diversity and gender at IDB Invest explains the relevance of multilateral institutions in promoting gender equality and inclusion, the part the private sector plays in this and the importance of teaching by example.


QUESTION: What’s the role a multilateral institution like IDB Invest plays in promoting gender equality?

ANSWER: In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) we have the largest gap in SME financing in the world, at $93 billion. Also we are the region with the smallest number of women in top management positions worldwide: we hold only 8.5% of the positions at executive boards, and 4.2% of the chair and managing director positions. Not only is there a glass ceiling over the women’s heads in the region, there is also a “sticky ground.” Those figures get even more alarming if we talk about minorities. Gender equality and inclusion is a 360° issue, in the sense that it needs to cover all angles. But let’s focus on the positive side. IDB Invest is a bank. This means we can use financial and non-financial instruments to change things. As we say in my country “if you move the money, you move the world.” So, we can use all our power as a multilateral institution to work with the private sector in order to move towards an agenda of change that includes diversity and inclusion, and obviously gender. We aim at moving the ecosystem one client at a time.

QUESTION: In short, what is being done right now?

ANSWER: As we are in March, I’ll focus on what we are doing about gender. We support companies in three key areas: financing comes first. We speed up financing for companies owned or run by women through our partners and clients. This may be through new financial products (such as gender bonds or loans to financial institutions), as well as non-financial products, such as training, the creation of networks of contacts of common interest, etc. The second key support area involves the value chain, including granting access to business women to the markets so that they can sell their products and services, and work with anchor companies like Elcatex in Honduras or Tiendas TIA in Ecuador. This is important, as it is not only about giving them access to funds, but also to value chains. And, last but not least, is talent. Here we work with companies to attract more women to their workforce (especially in male-oriented sectors) and leadership positions (in all sectors), as well as closing the salary gap.


QUESTION: What can IDB Invest do that others cannot?

ANSWER: We have the power of being a bank and, therefore, we can do certain things, like financing. And that’s the kind of power we cannot waste. Let’s look at gender bonds, for instance. We seek to offer credit to more businesswomen through this financial product. So, with our clients we launched the first gender bonds in Latin America and the Caribbean. We started off in Panama, and then came Colombia, Peru and Mexico. When we launched five gender bonds, we did not want to launch the bond for the sake of launching; however, we wanted to create that type of asset and banks to later develop it. That’s where success lay for us: things would then move forward without our intervention. Another example is blended financing. With donors’ resources, we can offer our clients a more attractive interest rate (performance-based incentives) if they reach certain pre-established goals in gender-related matters. Why is this so important to us? Because, although we are convinced of the business case, many are still not. And with tools like this one we can accelerate the change. We have great success stories with massive transformations in companies in Argentina and Brazil. We have pioneered the use of incentives for matters related to gender and, more recently, diversity. We feel honored to be that laboratory and, if we succeed, the example may spread. As to non-financial products, we have created tools that any company or institution interested in working on the subject can access for free. Additionally, our tools help us create knowledge and solutions that others can use, and that is part of our mission. For example, our Gap Analysis Tool, a free, on-line, self-diagnostic tool that any company can use to have a glimpse at their own gender gaps. So, with scalable solutions we do our bit for a more inclusive region.

QUESTION: How are things at home?

ANSWER: Well, we walk the talk. We try to teach by example. Within IDB Invest, we have the EDGE (Economic Dividend for Gender Equality) certification. This is one of the most robust certifications, as it comprises three key areas: our policies and practices, our data and, especially, the perception. We have kept it for many years now, and we would like to go on and keep improving. We have a well-balanced workforce (51.8% men and 48.3% women) and gender parity at managerial level. In terms of diversity, we need to redouble our efforts in the future. I can humbly say that we do not reflect the region today. We are working to create much more diverse teams: the population in the LAC region comprises 25% of Afro-descendants and 15% of indigenous descendants. If we want to serve the region, we have to be the region; and today, at home, we are not. We know we want to change that, and we are taking actions towards it.

QUESTION: What does success look like for you? How far do you want to get?

ANSWER: We’ll feel we have succeeded when we no longer need to intervene. When the private sector sees the tangible benefit of being diverse and inclusive, and acts on its own. The challenges we have ahead to make LAC a more inclusive place are huge, and only a joint public-private response will do the trick. So, one of our strengths, which I consider a success, is the Gender Parity Taskforce initiative. This helps us capitalize on the strengths of both sectors and reach out stronger. Always obviously working with the third sector. To conclude, let me tell you that —as IDB Group— we have just launched a framework for job creation with a gender lens. This framework establishes how we are all going to contribute for the recovery of employment (much needed in the region) to be female and minority oriented, because the crisis affected these groups more intensely.

QUESTION: How do you see the immediate future?

ANSWER: The future is the region’s recovery, and this recovery should be inclusive. We don’t want to leave anybody behind, and we aim at complete solutions. An important issue is the role women and minorities play in both the climate and digital agendas. We have to make sure that these minorities not only have a full say in the matter, but that the agenda is designed so that we don’t make the same mistakes again. We would like to keep pushing diversity and intersectionality. For us the ideal scenario is that others start doing what we are doing. The person I respond to and for whom I get up every morning is that woman in Peru, that kid in a favela in Brazil; they are the force driving me on those days I ask myself what I am doing here; when I think of them, it is all worthwhile.



Stephanie Oueda

Stephanie is the head of gender and diversity at IDB Invest, based in Washington, D.C. At IDB Invest, our goal is to improve lives. As Head of Gend


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