Women in Mexico’s Workforce

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Women in Mexico’s Workforce“, published on November 1st, 2013. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

“Women are not doing well because they want to do it all. They want to study, go out and get a job and be housewives as well. Well, that is really difficult to achieve.”

These were recent and controversial words spoken by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, president of Grupo Salinas and owner of TV Azteca, one of the two television media conglomerates in the country. Salinas made the remarks during the Mexico Cumbre de Negocios (Mexico Business Summit) on October 20-22.

Salinas went on to say that women should receive a salary from their husbands “so that their work at home as caretakers […] is monetized and better valued.”

Unfortunately, his ignorant point of view on gender equality is not as unusual in Mexico as some may think. Even in this day and age, many talented Mexican women face such myopic views as an obstacle to their professional development.

Given the growing number of women with advanced graduate degrees in Mexico—currently 50.4 percent, according to a recent study by the Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Instituciones de Educación Superior (National Association of Universities and Higher Educational Institutions—ANUIES)—forward-thinking companies have begun to understand the need to tap into a talent pool they didn’t used to, given prejudices in hiring and professional development processes.

These companies are breaking ground by incorporating gender quotas into their talent attraction and training processes. Some have also begun to explore work-from-home and flextime schemes to help working mothers split their time between professional and personal responsibilities. But are these strategies fair and effective in tackling the real problems preventing Mexican women from attaining greater professional opportunities, or are they simply temporary solutions?

The effectiveness of gender quotas is highly debatable. Those who favor them say that they allow for greater participation of women in the workforce and that they are an essential starting point for changing deep-seated behaviors in business organizations.

Those opposed to gender quotas say that they don’t promote real equality, risk attracting inferior talent and are condescending toward women.

My problem with inclusion quotas is that they don’t tackle the real issue at hand, which is the need to change the mindset of industry leaders who hold similar views to those of Mr. Salinas Pliego.

Faced with systemic prejudices and severe gender disparities, 30 percent of working women in Mexico feel that they are stuck in their profession and do not have opportunities to grow, get a salary raise or receive appropriate recognition from their employers and peers.

The message is clear. You can try to reach out and attract female talent, but you’re setting yourself up for failure if that talent is brought into a hostile environment and diseased bymachismo that can’t be cured by a quota. In fact, having a quota system could actually exacerbate discrimination by men who think quotas give women an unfair advantage.

Conscious businesses that truly want to make a positive change need to do more than just debate quotas or consider special concessions for working mothers  that would enable  them to thrive professionally. Rather, businesses should promote a cultural change that values talent regardless of gender, and that helps employees modify the often unequal gender roles at home.

Businesses must also understand that their decision to promote gender equality should not be viewed as a public relations campaign. It simply makes sense for businesses to attract, grow and retain the best talent available to them, regardless of gender. Business leaders should look to the numerous studies that have proven that a gender-diverse workforce provides better business results.

As the European Project on Equal Pay posits, there is extensive research showing “a strong correlation between a strong record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability.” Catalyst, a U.S. nonprofit, found in its 2011 research that there is a 26 percent difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between companies in the top-quartile of women board representation and those in the bottom quartile (with zero women directors). According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the profitability of Fortune 500 companies with three or more women executives is 5 percent higher than that of their competitors.

Rather than simply implementing quotas, businesses must ensure that their male executives learn these important facts. Ongoing gender inclusion efforts, such as flexible work schemes, should not be discarded or undervalued. But if companies in Mexico are serious about effectively capitalizing on women’s professional potential, they should start with their own employees.

Advertisements

López Obrador Shifts Gears at Monterrey Speech

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “López Obrador Shifts Gears at Monterrey Speech
, published on Oct 12th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

_____

In an unlikely stop in his pre-campaign trail, Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a quick visit to the industrial, private sector-intensive city of Monterrey last week. This is hostile territory for López, since the state of Nuevo León has not traditionally sympathized with the leftists parties with which he has associated (PRD, PT, Convergencia). His visit gathered around 1,200 middle- and upper-class listeners. Some were supporters, but most were just curious as I gathered from the low intensity of response to applause moments during the event.

His message was somewhat different from his usual populist rhetoric. The radio and TV spots, as well as his speech in Monterrey have all toned down. Wearing a slick suit and tie (as opposed to his usual more down to earth Guayaberas) and talking to the business community, López portrayed himself as a modern leftist, blaming the media for showcasing him as an “enemy of the wealthy.” One of his new soundbites states “I am not against businessmen. I am against wrongfully accumulated wealth.” López is not clear about what he means when he says that wealth is wrongfully accumulated, but he did mention a couple of specific targets as culprits: large media corporations Televisa, Telmex and TV Azteca and the PRI and PAN bureaucrats.

 López accused Televisa and TV Azteca of controlling the news, limiting his exposure and pushing PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto as their candidate in order to maintain control of Mexico. In his words, Peña Nieto is “the candidate of the power monopoly.”

While López is definitely right in saying that mainstream media in Mexico is biased, this bias holds true for both media that love and loath him. In this sense, he is no more a victim of the media than any other politician. He’s just become less effective at wooing most of them. You don’t see him complaining about all the media coverage he used to get when he headed Mexico City’s executive and knew how to play the media’s game.

Moreover, he really can’t blame newspapers and TV for having a tarnished image. Because it wasn’t the media that blocked Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma or kidnapped Mexico City’s Zocalo (Main Square) to install the famous National Democratic Convention after López decided that a majority vote against him meant that someone had stolen the election. At the time he called this “peaceful civil resistance” and in all fairness, he did send out messages to his followers asking them not to fall into any type of provocation that would lead to violence… but creating chaos and blocking business? No problem!

López’ post-2006 election antics were undoubtedly a political mistake. In a poll by EL UNIVERSAL 71 percent of Mexicans disagreed with López and the PRD’s attempt at blocking Calderón from accepting the presidency in the Mexican Congress. Nobody likes a sore loser and everybody hates a sore loser who gets in their way and paralyzes a city. And yes, most people disagree with López creating a fantasy “legitimate government” and taking a monthly paycheck from obscure sources over six years in order to keep campaigning for 2012, making him an intricate part of that “putrid system” he so vocally opposes.

During the recent event in Monterrey, López cynically defended taking a city hostage as a means to control the rage of supporters after “Calderón stole the election.” His pitch is that millions of people were ready to take arms to defend his “legitimate government” so he had to do something. I guess walking away and accepting facts was not in the cards. When did organizing blockades of banks and other businesses—costing a city millions of pesos in damages and commercial transactions lost—and causing chaos in highways and main streets become an appeasement tactic? Fact: in 2006, López showed his rabble-rouser face and most of Mexico didn’t like it, so now he’s changing up his game and telling a different story.

In Monterrey he attacked Televisa, TV Azteca and Telmex of wrongfully accumulating wealth, but he went on to say that they should be allowed to accumulate more of it by letting Telmex enter the TV business and Televisa explore going into VoIP, because “that promotes open competition.” He also said that if he reaches the presidency, he “will not expropriate anything or anybody. What we will have, is more competition.” This is an unlikely sales pitch from somebody who within the first five minutes of his speech called neoliberalism “a policy of greed.”

It is obvious that López is once again trying to reach out to non-hard line supporters and undecided voters from the center-left, center and center-right ideologies, as he claims that the “MoReNa movement” he heads is inclusive and welcomes all schools of thought and creed. During his speech he also called for more efficiency and competitiveness in the energy sector. That’s a real hard sell coming from him. López cannot be the appeasement, open market and competitiveness candidate and at the same time attack economic liberalism and support the legally extinct but still combative SME (Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas), one of the main sources of incompetence in the energy sector. Mr. López, you can’t have it both ways.

In his closing remarks, López’ proposals included putting young people to work, combating corruption, better coordination between military and police forces, better coordination between federal and state authorities, and alleviating poverty. All important issues, yes, but do enough people believe that López is the one who would actually solve them? Within the political left, Marcelo Ebrard seems a more likely candidate. And even in the unlikely event of him regaining the people’s trust, López is a little late in the game to shift gears. Plus, his clunker might have taken too big of a beating in 2006 to catch up.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Mexico Lowers the Bar on Education

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico Lowers the Bar on Education” http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2606 , published on Jun 23rd, 2011.

Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

————————-

It’s a common challenge in all of Latin America: run-down public school systems are insufficient, inadequate and outdated. Specifically in Mexico, negligence regarding education has widened the divide between the nation’s poorest and richest, leaving little hope for children graduating from public schools actually making a name for themselves and growing out of poverty. Mexico spends a larger portion of its GDP (about 5 percent) than countries like Uruguay, Chile and China, but it’s not about the amount of money spent. It’s the quality of education provided.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education (SEP) continues taking one step forward and two steps back in this regard, mainly hindered by its inability to negotiate with the ever-combatant teacher’s union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) which has become a mob of ramblers who’ve taken education hostage. 

The most recent news regarding the eroding quality of our school system is an agreement reached by the SEP and SNTE on filling new teaching positions. This year the Ministry of Education and the SNTE (led by Elba Esther Gordillo) declared that candidates will be eligible to become teachers if they pass a meager 30 percent of questions on the Examen Nacional de Habilidades y Conocimientos Docentes (National Test on Teaching Skills and Knowledge).

Ironically students in Mexico need to get 70 percent or higher to pass each subject. This, however, does not seem to bother José García, a member of the Comisión Rectora de la Alianza por la Calidad de la Educación (Guiding Commission of the Alliance for the Quality of Education) of the SNTE, who blatantly defends the policies. “It’s the students who need to show they know to subject matter, not the teachers,” he says. Crazy as this may sound.

As if having a 30 percent pass grade for teachers wasn’t enough, candidates now receive a set of guidebooks to help them prepare for the test. The fact that this information is readily available online, allowed me to dig deeper into the subject and find matters to be even worse.

On the one hand, candidates are not screened from criminal records. The only documentation requested for eligibility is their university title or proof of having taken a final professional exam (depending on the grade they aspire to teach), their voter card, the CURP (a registry number), and completion of a couple of forms.  These are people who are going to have unsupervised access to our children with a lasting effect on their development. You’d think somebody would want to look into their backgrounds, right?

Moreover, it is practically impossible to fail the National Test. To cite a specific example, a high school math teacher’s exam consists of 80 questions, 20 of which are actually about math. The exam is divided into four sections: curricular content (actual subject matter), scholastic competencies, logic, and ethics. It is understandable that you would want to evaluate skills to teach, think and have a moral conscience. However, the way the exam is now set up (only requiring the candidate to have the right answer on 24 of the 80 questions) a candidate to a math teaching position could score zero on subject matter and still have a very good chance of being eligible to teach it. 

Add criminal deviance and a skewed view on ethics into the mix and guess what? He can still make it if he has logical thinking and just a little bit of scholastic skills!

Each question in the exam is followed by four possible answers, one of which is correct. Does it take a genius to point out that just based on simple probability candidates are going to get 25 percent of the answers right? It seems all we’re asking our future teachers to contribute is an additional 5 percent of brilliance (or luck).

It is no wonder that regardless of the amount of money being poured into education (and seeped through corruption into the unions), our students are less and less prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.   

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2560 , published on May 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

__________________

Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.

The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”

Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.

Such a qualification would also send a clear message to the State Department and the U.S.  Agency for International Development on where to focus assistance funding and contract projects. Equally important, it would show that the U.S. is as serious about eliminating this threat as they were when they decided to add Colombia’s FARC to their terrorist list. It also would set the record straight that providing weapons to these organized crime groups is punishable in the same way that it  is to establish business transactions with terrorists.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management—who introduced legislation to Congress on March 30 calling for the government to label six Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations—stated that the decision to keep the cartels off the list is a sign of shortsightedness. His response: “The drug cartels are here. The Department of Homeland Security reports that they operate in 276 cities inside the U.S. Only after the murder of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent Jaime Zapata were 450 cartel members arrested in this country.” The cartel’s transactions are simple: they sell the drugs to U.S. users and buy the weapons to bring back into Mexico and service their bloody exchanges with Mexican federal and state police/military forces.

A reliable source from the intelligence community in Mexico, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, volunteered that even after Calderón’s attempts to strengthen military presence at the border, more than 10,000 artillery pieces (automatic weapons and grenades mostly) make their way into Mexico from the U.S. every day. The result? Our forces keep trading bullets with the cartels but the U.S. consumers continue to provide them cash flow and the gun sellers operating in the United States continue to arm them.

Nearly a year ago, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed President Calderón, who then said we needed joint, committed efforts to deal with the drug trafficking issue. Mexico has shown it is ready today but with elections coming in 2012, the resolve shown by Calderón might not remain after the dust has settled.

The window of opportunity could be closing and it’s time for our partner to the north to act, for both our sakes.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Return of the Divider: López Obrador Kicks Off Again

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Return of the Divider: López Obrador Kicks Off Again”

http://americasquarterly.org/node/2403 , published on April 20th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

______________________

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) refused to accept defeat in the 2006 Mexican presidential race, causing chaos, dividing our citizenry with messages of hate and tolerating violence from his supporters. But it seems Mexico is ready to give him another try at the top seat of government.

When he ran in 2006, López Obrador was able to rally together practically all leftist factions and political parties. However, the election aftermath and López Obrador’s shift toward extremism caused many of his supporters to abandon him and to look for a more rational social discourse.  López Obrador’s current inability to maintain consensus even within his own political party is one of the main reasons why today the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) is a weakened organization and keeps juggling with on-and-off alliances with its offspring (Partido del Trabajo, Convergencia, Partido Social Demócrata, and other small political parties).

Since the PRD would not institutionally carry him, López Obrador recently created a new platform, called the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement), or Morena for short, which coincidentally translates to “dark-skinned woman” and is a reference to the Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgen Morena). Through Morena, López Obrador is once again appealing to the disheartened lower classes and sowing seeds of division with over-simplified, anti-business messages.

Though it is certainly true that in Mexico a huge gap between rich and poor continues to exist, it is a distortion of reality to wholly blame the private sector. For one, the government is not broke, nor does it lack the resources to spearhead development initiatives. For another, it significantly taxes the private sector. Money is there, but political will is absent.

Here’s the truth: In select industries, the Mexican private sector is taxed at a rate of up to 50 percent of its income. Yet business groups are arguably the largest promoters of development today, not just through creation of formal employment but through partnerships in large infrastructure projects, as well as promoting education and establishing corporate social responsibility programs (often more efficiently managed than most municipal budgets). Private enterprise is also one of the few captive taxpayers in a country where the informal sector amounts to approximately 25 percent of our economically active population and many government officials get automatic tax exemptions.

So what is Morena telling Mexico? Through its website, the party is accusing 16 Mexican businessmen of being personally responsible for what it calls “the national tragedy.” Among the named culprits are Ricardo Salinas Pliego from Grupo Salinas, Dionisio Garza Medina from Grupo Alfa, Emilio Azcárraga Jean from Televisa, Grupo BIMBO CEO Lorenzo Servitje, FEMSA President José Antonio Fernández Carbajal, Cemex CEO Lorenzo Zambrano, and Carlos Slim Helú, who heads Grupo Carso. 

Andrés Manuel López Obrador purports to offer “proof of responsibility” for this supposed tragedy by listing the approximate monetary values of the companies led by these men. Let me say that again: AMLO’s proof of these men’s participation in what he calls the national tragedy is the fact that they are able to run companies successfully and collectively provide employment to more than half a million people directly. Of course, López Obrador fails to mention the companies’ contributions to the economy and urban development, the benefits they provide their workers and their efforts to positively engage communities.

Morena’s hymn sings, “The Right must not alter the results of the elections. In order to avoid their frauds all we need is to organize against them.” It goes on to say “National Regeneration Movement: peaceful until the end.” But in Morena’s homepage we see an endorsement of the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas, an electrical workers’ union that has perpetuated violent conflict in Mexico City, including recently setting cars on fire, sabotaging the city’s electrical infrastructure and beating up Comisión Federal de Electricidad employees who took their jobs after Luz y Fuerza del Centro was dissolved.

At a time when what we need most is unity behind a constructive nation-state project, the return of the divider is a hard blow for our future and an irony of our political present.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.