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.

López Obrador Shifts Gears at Monterrey Speech


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.