Women in Mexico’s Workforce


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.

Human Trafficking in Mexico


Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Human Trafficking in Mexico“, published on June 14th, 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.

On June 4, the Mexican Army raided a house in the border town of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Tamaulipas and rescued 165 people being held against their will by a 20-year-old identified as Juan Cortez Arrez. Testimonies from some of the victims show that they had been kidnapped for nearly three weeks.

News of their rescue has drawn praise for Mexico’s armed forces, which responded to an anonymous call and implemented an operation that resulted in zero casualties and one arrest.  However, this event should also serve to bring attention to a problem which has become graver in recent years: trafficking in persons (TIP).

The group rescued comprised 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans, 23 Hondurans, one Indian, and 14 Mexicans, all of whom had contacted a supposed “pollero” (a person who assists unauthorized immigrants in crossing the border) in the hopes of reaching the United States. The pollero was really a member of a criminal gang who had other plans for the group.

After the rescue, the Mexican  government’s spokesperson for national security, Eduardo Sánchez Hernández, stated that many aspiring migrants end up “being delivered to the hands of criminal organizations,” rather than taken safely across the border. These criminal groups then use their captives for sexual trafficking and prostitution, forced labor, as drug mules, and—as the narcofosas (clandestine mass graves) tragically show—execute kidnapping victims in initiation rituals of new gang members.  In 2011, 236 bodies were discovered in narcofosas  in the border town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Granted, there is no proof that all of the victims were  intended migrants and some might have been killed in other gang-related activities, including inter-cartel wars, but the problem remains.

Human trafficking is not new to Mexico, but it was not until 2004 that the first anti-trafficking in persons law was passed, making this activity a crime punishable by up to 18 years of incarceration. In 2008, the Attorney General’s office created the Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia Contra Las Mujeres y Trata de Personas (FEVIMTRA), a special prosecutor’s team designated to work on crimes against women and human trafficking and whose members have received training from international outfits specializing in these matters. And last year, then-President Felipe Calderón passed a new law  making femicide a crime punishable by up to 60 years in jail. Some radio ad campaigns have been launched at a national level to focus on prevention.

These are important steps toward addressing the TIP problem, but clearly more needs to be done to put a dent in this very lucrative business of human exploitation. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), human trafficking is a $32 billion a year business.

According to the U.S. State Department’s TIP Office, there are three “p’s” to tackle to effectively combat human trafficking: protection, prevention and prosecution.


The legal framework for protection is more or less in place in Mexico, and the aforementioned laws protect victims. However, putting the laws in place is only the first step, and local institutions treating victims are a long way from providing proper care to address the problem effectively. The 2012 U.S. State Department’s TIP report notes that Mexico has relied heavily on NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments “to operate or fund the bulk of specialized assistance and services for trafficking victims.” The message is clear: Mexican authorities need to invest more in building local capacity instead of depending on non-sustainable foreign aid.

There is also a huge amount of work to be done to properly habilitate shelters and migrant houses and  to train staff how to properly identify and treat victims. According to the State Department report, victim services are often inadequate and some shelters for migrants and domestic abuse victims are reluctant to house trafficking victims “due to fear of retribution from organized crime.” Anonymous anecdotal testimonies of people working in some of these shelters also tell the story of migrant houses actually hosting traffickers who pose as victims.  


On the prevention track, educational campaigns need to hit home through better and more effective channels than a few superficial TV and radio spots. Unfortunately, the Mexican government’s budget allocation has shown other priorities: in 2011, the government reduced the anti-trafficking budget from $4.2 million to $313,000.  

Prevention is not just about making sure people understand the crime of trafficking, but also about addressing its causes.

In this regard, immigration reform in the United States is crucial. Robust temporary worker programs that disincentive illegal work would allow the U.S. to meet its demand for certain types of labor and protect those who are willing to fulfill it. Addressing the TIP problem in Mexico without strengthening bilateral cooperation with the U.S.—which draws migrants to their dangerous journey—would  be futile.


Prosecution against human trafficking has made some progress in Mexico, but still falls drastically short. In 2011, 14 sex traffickers were convicted, a massive difference from the one conviction achieved the previous year. But effective prosecution is impeded by a lack of law enforcement and embedded corruption.

Effective prosecution also has a long way to go with regards to training public attorneys on the differences between trafficking, prostitution and other related crimes. There is not enough transparency to provide effective statistics on convictions vs. dropped cases in Mexico, but in a conversation with a former employee of the American Bar Association working on anti-TIP projects in Latin America, I learned that most traffickers who are caught go free because of procedural errors during prosecution.

So kudos to the 165 rescued in the first week of June. But if these 165 victims were found just in one location, it does paint a grim picture of the dimensions of the problem in Mexico and of the lack of adequate resources allocated to address it.

Why Mexicans don’t care about wikileaks


Here’s a link to my most recent article on AQBlog, titled “Why Mexicans don’t care about wikileaks”

Date published: Jan 4th, 2011 I hope you find it interesting. Please feel free to comment.

Here is a copy of it:


In November, Americans turned on their computers, fired up their Internet connections and gravitated to wikileaks.org. The nation was appalled at coverage by virtually all national media telling the tale of a series of diplomatic cables leaked from different U.S. embassies in the world. 

Immediately questions were raised about the U.S. military’s excessive use of force, national security, foreign relations, and a number of other matters included in the first wave of cables reaching the public eye.  Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department (with the help of Interpol) set out to try to silence Assagne.

But the response was starkly different in Mexico. Two days after the first WikiLeaks came out communications were released on U.S.-Mexico relations, the violence problem in Mexico and our armed forces’ internal debacles, as well as President Hugo Chávez’ involvement in supporting former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the 2006 elections.

Some U.S. colleagues immediately contacted me commenting on “the hard hit” Mexico was taking from Assange’s open communication and free speech antics. However, Mexicans did not start tweeting or commenting on facebook and other social media sites about this. The usual suspect bloggers were mildly impressed and Mexico’s government reaction to the leaks was as agitated as a couple of turtles taking a nap.

The reason for this difference in general reaction between U.S. and Mexico’s society is both simple and strikingly depressing: we’ve lost hope and trust in our political system and its players. We’ve lost the capacity to be amazed by our own state’s inadequacies.

When they leaked that the government was in danger of losing control of some regions of Mexico to organized crime; when they told us that Venezuela’s Head of State was involved in the leftist movement in Mexico; when we read that U.S. consular officers were concerned with President Felipe Calderón’s ability to lead, all Mexicans could say was “tell me something I didn’t already know.” Corruption and inefficient government unfortunately are no longer a surprise to us. In a world where perception is reality, the fact that WikiLeaks told us these things maybe made them more official, but it wasn’t something we didn’t already feel and had been talking about for decades.

So to all Americans I say this: enjoy and value the fact that you can still be amazed when Assange tells you about disappointing activities going on behind the scenes in your political system and institutions. When this becomes a norm and it actually gets boring to hear about it for the nth time, that’s a sign for you to be really concerned.

*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.