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We Are Half the Population But Less Than One-third of Top Corporate Leaders. What Can Companies Do?

The evidence is solid: companies with women in leadership positions achieve clear financial and business benefits. Despite significant challenges, the private sector in Latin America and the Caribbean has the opportunity to do more about it.

Una mujer en una oficina

According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) conducted in 2021, analyzing data from 1,015 women in 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is clear that the "glass ceiling" (stereotypes, unwritten norms, and prejudices that hinder women's access to positions of power) persists in the private sector.

Only 14% of the surveyed firms reported being female-owned; women's participation on boards is 15%, and only 11% of the surveyed companies have women in top management positions. Furthermore, there is a higher proportion of women in junior positions (36%) than in senior positions (25%).

Despite representing just over half of the population, women make up less than a third of decision-makers in the private sector. In Latin America, for example, only 26% of managerial staff and a mere 18% of executive staff are women.

Moreover, according to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, our region ranks fourth in the world regarding the gender wage gap. On average, women earn 23% less than men for the same work, which hinders countries' development.


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Gender diversity in corporate leadership can lead to better financial performance, thanks to the efficiency and dynamics created in decision-making structures, increased innovation that enhances productivity, and better ability to attract and retain talent.

Companies need to create space for women to have more voice and participation in decision-making, influencing innovation, product and service development, supply chain practices, and financing, among other areas. Through diversity in all these areas of corporate decision-making, gender gaps and inequities can be closed.

But how can this be achieved? What can companies do to increase the number of women in leadership positions? A crucial step is fostering an inclusive organizational culture, promoting women's participation and representation, and providing training—especially in skills such as creativity, teamwork, emotional intelligence, digital skills, advanced technologies, and salary transparency.

There are concrete initiatives and tools to promote greater inclusion and gender equity in managerial and leadership roles, creating value for women, companies, and the socio-economic development of our region. The IDB and IDB Invest offer accessible courses across the region, such as "Women's Leadership: Boost Your Skills and Drive Change," for companies to launch their leadership programs. Over 15,000 women have been trained through this course, helping participants improve their leadership skills.

We also offer knowledge products based on our experience and Gender Parity Initiatives, such as this roadmap, which provides a step-by-step guide to developing, organizing, and implementing a women's leadership program in a company.

For example:

  1. Connect high-level commitment with clear implementation actions: Committing company leaders, supported by policies, clear goals, and the resources to carry them out, and monitoring their progress.
  2. An inclusive organizational context that nurtures women's potential and offers opportunities to strengthen their leadership skills and advance in their careers should go hand in hand with initiatives to develop women's leadership skills, such as training, coaching, mentoring, and networking. This process is a crucial complement to training efforts.
  3. A structure and accountability system for women's development initiatives is fundamental to measuring progress, building evidence, and analyzing challenges to overcome. This way, their effectiveness and sustainability can be ensured.

The private sector can play a crucial role in promoting gender equality and fostering women's leadership, generating benefits for companies, their employees, and society as a whole. BID Invest is committed to supporting our clients in this process.


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Authors

Milagros Rivas

Milagros Rivas Saiz is Division Chief, Advisory Services, at IDB Invest, which she joined in 2021. She is responsible for leading the Climate Change,

Paula Peláez

Paula Peláez is the head of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and sustainable businesses at IDB Invest. She has been head of Business Call

Development Impact

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