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The Organization Making Gender Equity a Reality in Latin America

Maria Saldarriaga and Pedro MejiaFeatures
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PAR Ranking Awards. Image Source: Aequales.

If women had labor force participation identical to men, the annual global GDP would increase $28 trillion by 2025. In other words, the world’s economy would grow 26%.

When it comes to gender parity, globally we are only68% of the way there, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by World Economic Forum. Pre-COVID-19, the world faced a 99.5 year time frame in order to close the gap and as the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, the metric has increased to 135.6 years -- essentially adding an entire generation. At the current pace, the gender gap in LatAm can potentially be closed in 68.9 years (10 more than estimated in 2019). In comparison, Western Europe will take 52.1 years and North America 61.5 years.

To understand the magnitude of the disparity, studies highlight that just one in every five organizational directive roles are occupied by women, and only 7% have positions on boards of directors. When women do occupy the same roles as men, they earn 20% less on average.

The Org spoke with Mia Perdomo, a Colombian entrepreneur working tirelessly to improve these statistics. Perdomo is the co-founder of Aequales, a company that provides tools to close gender gaps in the workplace through consulting, internal assessments and technology.

Aequales was born in Georgetown, where Perdomo was attending a Global Competitiveness Leadership program for Latin Americans identified as having high potential to change their region’s outlook and future for the better. The program had the not-so-small caveat that in order to graduate, participants needed to create a profitable company before heading back to their home country. With that, Perdomo partnered with Andrea de La Piedra and launched Aequales with the objective of reducing the gender gap in the region.

Once back in their respective countries Colombia and Peru, committed to building out Aequales, the co-founders began knocking on companies’ doors offering services that supported existing gender equity initiatives. After multiple failed attempts to garner significant interest from companies to hire Aequales, the duo concluded they had to start with a more notorious initiative to get them noticed.

In 2015 they launched the PAR Ranking, which measures gender equity conditions across several pillars in Latin American organizations. In the first edition, the initiative had 60 participating companies including Citibank, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Once the confidential scores were tallied, companies with great internal practices were publicly rewarded and were encouraged to publish their PAR Ranking as a means to attract not only female, but more diverse talent. This ranking, which had never been done in the region, captivated the interest of hundreds of companies and landed Aequales a front cover feature in Colombia’s most important newspaper the day after the results were announced.

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PAR Ranking awwards ceremony 2020. Image Source: Aequales.

The main pillars considered in the evaluation are:

  • Talent Management: Evaluates hiring procedures, promotions and compensation, as well as good practices in human resources, female leadership and new masculinities.
  • Organizational Structure: Evaluates the number of women and men in leadership positions and other hierarchical lines in the organization.
  • Objectives Management: Evaluates internal and external policies with a gender perspective, awareness-raising actions and use of indicators.
  • Organizational Culture: Evaluates work-life balance, inclusive communications, prevention and punishment of sexual harassment at work and treatment of he LGBTIQ + community.

The ranking has continued each year since, and in the 2020 edition more than 1,500 companies from México, Chile, Colombia and Perú participated in the assessment. The companies which excelled and received honorable mentions in the 2020 ranking were Konecta, Diageo, Johnson & Johnson, Colpatria and Pepsico.

The work Aequales does can be challenging. Perdomo says it is not uncommon to find companies who are initially interested in becoming more inclusive and incorporating beneficial practices into the organization, until the work needs to be done. She highlights that the attitude towards equity and equality are that they are “nice to have, but if it’s going to be uncomfortable and require resources, then let’s wait a couple of years.”

In an ideal world, Perdomo says organizations would go so far as to incorporate equity quotas into the goals and metrics established for the year. A clear example of this is Citibank Colombia, where the gender equity objectives are directly ‘attached’ to the bonus and if they aren’t met, the bonus is not paid.

From data gathered in the multiple PAR Rankings executed over the years, these metrics stand out for Latin American companies in 2020:

  • Only one of four companies have a female CEO
  • 60.5% of organizations have sexual harassment policies in place
  • Just 27.5% have gender equity objectives
  • 40.1% have a plan to reach gender equality
  • 67.9% have tools that track and measure compensation gaps

Additionally, the results highlight the low representation of females in areas such as computing (27.4%) and production (33.4%), and conversely show very high participation in areas such as human resources (67%) and communications (65.6%).

Improving these statistics will require significant commitment from companies, and Perdomo highlights two key components that must be present in order to successfully reduce and close the gender gap. First is leadership; be it the CEO or the executive team, leaders must emphasize the importance of the issue. If they consider it a priority and act accordingly, the effort will cascade down the rest of the company, and it is more likely the issue will transcend. Second, analytics have to be incorporated. Without reliable data and a way to track the results of the policies and practices, the efforts will be in vain.

Perdomo believes it’s important people “put their money where their mouth is.” Resources need to be invested to achieve results, both financial and talent-wise.

Aequales has already proven that closing the gender gap yields positive results. Organizations that have participated in the PAR ranking and met the criteria for good gender equity practices are on average 25% more profitable than their counterparts, and those who have 30% or more women in board of director roles are 13% more profitable.

All in all, gender equality pays off.

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