What must change to have more women in senior management?

 Senior management needs to include females in the business agenda and strategy of the organization.

Later this month, Cornerstone International Group will be publishing its 10th annual survey report on global business.  This year’s survey returns to gender diversity in business leadership which is showing signs of failing to achieve an equitable ratio of women leaders.

This comes as no surprise to us here in Chile.  Cornerstone in Santiago is very involved in the issue and we are seeing that here our representation of women may even be lower that global norms.

The solution is elusive, but the situation is known.  In Chile today, women are in a deteriorated labor market, often being postponed or pigeonholed in specific activities.

diverse business people group standing together as team in modeThe problem is across all levels, although senior management is where most disproportion is observed. According to a report published in March of this year, of the 40 companies comprising the IPSA – the Santiago stock exchange — only 13 had women on their boards (32.5%), and from a total of 331 managers, only 18 were women (5.4%).

Why is the percentage of women so low in management and governance?

The most common explanation is that professional women often postpone their careers to raise a family and prioritize motherhood. But this tends to lead to an assumption that there are positions suitable for men and others for women.  Not so, says Janet Awad, general manager of Sodexo Chile.

“It’s not that there are positions created specifically for women or for men. From my experience, being a leader within an organization is not defined by gender.”

To build gender equity in leadership positions, companies must build flexible work environments. Senior management needs to include females in the business agenda and strategy of the organization.

According to Awad, the leadership of women is complementary to that of men, much more empathetic and linked to the need to create safe spaces. “It is a leadership that is identified with a style of communication and collaborative solution finding.  It is a process of detailed, rational decision making that integrates with intuition.”


Optimistic executive business woman sitting inside car
Optimistic executive business woman sitting inside car

Another view holds that, contrary to most popular assumptions, there are simply no careers or specialties that are often more female than male, and vice versa.  For example, psychology is a profession where there are more women than men, while mechanical engineering attracts more men than women.

“So if you are looking for a professional related to those disciplines, you will tend to be looking more for a man or woman by market trends. But in real terms, both sexes could take the same type of tasks and responsibilities equally,” says Karina Perez, director of Robert Half in Chile.


Cultural changes

The subject matter experts conclude then that to make a difference, companies should implement certain cultural changes.

Creating a culture enabling and welcoming to women involves helping them understand that their contribution, working style and needs are different from those of men and, therefore, complementary.

Having a corporate strategy of attracting and retaining female talent can have tangible benefits for the company, including better indices of productivity.

A strategy of this nature would consider that women are contributing because they provide their own vision distinct from that of men and have special skills that are essential in today’s world.

Monica Cavallini is an authoritative voice to talk about women who reach positions of high responsibility.  Since 2005, she has been the general manager of the Association of Mutual Fund Administrators of Chile, and was a corporate manager before that.

She believes her rise in the corporate world was based on bilingualism and working abroad. “That opened many doors for me, was a competitive advantage,” she says

She believes that teamwork creates strong leadership, and that women have the advantage over men.  It really depends on them, she says, their effort, their desire, and their capabilities.

But women still need a starting line.   Most important of all is that the company has a real interest in pursuing more women in management positions, and opens paths for talented and committed women.

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