Latin American Women Locked Out of Boardrooms Trail Peers- 14 May 2015

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Latin American Women Locked Out of Boardrooms Trail Peers

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Women remain locked out of Latin American board rooms even as their global counterparts make strides worldwide, a new study shows.

Women held just 6.4 percent of the board seats at the region’s 100 largest companies, up from 5.1 percent a decade ago, according to the report from Washington-based research group Corporate Women Directors International. Meanwhile, the proportion of female directors at Fortune Global 200 companies rose to almost 18 percent, from about 10 percent.

The absence of gender equality in board rooms stands out in a region where the heads of states in Brazil, Argentina and Chile are women. Almost half the companies in the survey didn’t have a single woman on their boards.

“Neither the political nor economic spheres are entirely open to women,” said Hildete Pereira de Melo, a professor of gender economics at Federal Fluminense University. “The work environment is where prejudice is at its strongest. It’s very hard for a women to rise up the ranks while fighting chauvinism.”

Colombia is the regional leader in diversifying its boards. Thirteen percent of seats there are held by women. Brazil ranks second with 6.3 percent, and Chile comes in last at 3.2 percent.

That compares with 20 percent in Europe, 19 percent in North America and 9.4 percent in Asia, according to the study to be presented Friday in Sao Paulo at the 2015 Global Summit of Women.

Fighting Inequality

Since she first joined a corporate board in Brazil 15 years ago, Isabel da Silva Ramos says she routinely finds herself in conference rooms surrounded by men only. She’s currently the only female member of the board of BB Seguridade Participacoes SA, the insurance unit of Banco do Brasil SA.

“It feels like the situation is not getting better,” Ramos said. “We’re going the wrong way.”

Brazil is seeking to rectify the imbalance by placing quotas at companies in which the government holds a stake, including oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Banco do Brasil. The measure, which is being analyzed by the Senate’s Social Affairs Committee, would require a minimum of 40 percent of board seats at those companies go to women.

“It’s only with quotas that we’ll be able to reach the proper level of participation of women on boards,” said Luiza Helena Trajano, chief executive officer of Magazine Luiza SA, a Brazilian electronics and furniture retailer. “Women are totally capable to take their proper places in boards, totally prepared and in tune with the modern trends in business management.”

Diverse Management

Adding more diverse voices to corporate strategy meetings increases the odds of success, according to Viviane Senna, one of the two female members of the board of Banco Santander Brasil SA. The local unit of Spain’s biggest lender has the largest relative presence of women on boards in Brazil, according to the report: 22 percent.

As more women join boards and demonstrate their talents, more women will be given opportunities to ascend the corporate ladder, according to Marilia Rocca, the second female member of Santander Brasil’s board.

“The support of your team helps a lot,” Rocca said.