Brazil's Petrobras names first female CEO
Women rise in Latin America: the Petrobras board meets today to confirm Maria das Gracas Foster as first female CEO for Latin America's largest firm.
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A longstanding strain of machismo runs through Latin American culture. Women have had more success on the political field because of democratic transitions in the region, while the corporate world is still male-dominated. "In a company it's a smaller group of people, largely a male hierarchy, who gets to decide who goes up the ladder," says Irene Natividad, president of the Global Summit of Women. "It's not a democracy."Skip to next paragraph
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Societal changes are helping foster change, however. The economically active female population grew from 42 percent in 1990 to 52 percent in 2008 in urban areas of Latin America, according to ECLAC. Wage disparities have narrowed from 69 percent of men's wages to 79 percent.
Gina Zabludovsky, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, says that of the CEOs of the 500 most important companies in Mexico, about 4 percent are women. Women make up 14 percent of general director positions, up from about 8 percent a decade ago.
"So it is changing," she says, "but not changing as fast as the changing presence of women at the university and in the workforce, and especially what is not changing is their responsibilities at home."
Corporate quotas next?
But Ms. Natividad expects many countries in Latin America will move closer to the experience of Europe, which started with quotas in politics and then implemented gender parity policies at the board level.
The Catalyst report puts Norway at the top for women on boards, with 40 percent. "I think it will spill over to the private sector [in Latin America] at some point," she says.
Enthusiasm in Brazil is high. Its quota laws have not functioned as well as they have elsewhere in the region, leading to lower rates of participation of women in politics.
But President Dilma Rousseff's inauguration was an important boost, especially as she has named women to her cabinet and put them at the highest levels of her staff, says Ms. Tavares. She notes that Brazil trails only Japan in the number of companies that have signed up for UN Women's Empowerment Principles program.
"There are many examples in Brazil right now, including Foster and the president, which have created a very positive environment for women's rights," says Benjamin Goncalves, who coordinated research for the Ethos Institute study.
With women at the top, more have a chance to make it there as well. For example, according to press reports, Foster and President Rousseff are good friends, showing how one woman's success can foster another's.
Or as Joan Caivano, director of special projects including women's leadership at the Inter-American Dialogue, puts it: "There's a new 'old boys' network among women."