Women in Mexico’s Workforce

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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.

Return of the Divider: López Obrador Kicks Off Again

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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:

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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.