Alejandro Cerda, KPMG; Susan Stautberg, WCD; Kathleen Barclay, AmCham, and Félix de Vicente, Minister of Economy, Development and Tourism
On August 13, AmCham co-sponsored a breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Santiago to launch the Chilean Chapter of WomenCorporateDirectors (WCD). The event was hosted by KPMG and supported by the Chilean Manufacturers’ Association, Sofofa, and the Confederation for Production and Commerce (CPC). Around 70 guests attended the breakfast, including many of Chile’s top women business leaders. The speakers were Chile’s Minister of Economy, Development and Tourism, Félix de Vicente, WCD Co-Founder Susan Stautberg, and AmCham President and WCD Co-Chair in Chile, Kathleen Barclay.
Other Founding Members of the Chilean Chapter in attendance included AmCham Directors Sandra Guazzotti, Pamela Camus, Sandra Miró and Karen Poniachik. Andrés Santa Cruz, the president of CPC, was also present.
The WCD is a New-York based organization of women corporate directors with over 2,500 members who serve on close to 4,000 boards around the world. The Chilean Chapter is the organization’s 54thchapter globally and its fifth in Latin America.
In his speech, Minister de Vicente gave an overview of Chile’s economy and the labor market. He said that despite Chile’s reasonably strong economic growth, low inflation and nearly full employment, the relatively low participation of women in the workforce remains a major challenge.
According to the 2009 CASEN survey, the percentage of Chilean women with formal employment was just 42%, compared to an average of 53% in Latin America and 65% in the OECD.
The government of President Sebastián Piñera has recognized the problem and in 2012 it created a Women’s Employment Bonus for low-income women. In addition, programs such asCapital Abeja(Bee Capital) have helped women entrepreneurs get funding to start small businesses. But women remain underrepresented in the top management of Chilean companies, said Minister de Vicente.
On Chile’s IPSA Index of the 40 most heavily traded stocks, 33 of them do not have a single woman on their boards, he pointed out. According to the World Bank, the participation of women in senior management in Chile is just 3.4%, versus a global average of 16%.
“We have a big challenge as a country,” he said. “Studies show that companies with more than three women on their boards are more profitable, which is something business leaders in Chile should consider.”
Increasing productivity is key to Chile’s development and women can play an important role in this, he said. “The best way to achieve a change in productivity is by including more women,” he said.
The next speaker was Susan Stautberg, who thanked the WCD’s Chile Co-Chairs, Kathleen Barclay and Teresa Oliva, for organizing the launch. “This is not just a women’s issue, this is an issue of global competitiveness,” she said.
She highlighted the successful rescue of the 33 miners in Chile in 2010, which she said is a case study for leaders around the world when “the stakes, risk and uncertainty are very high”. Directors often face similarly difficult decisions she said, and the WCD aims to help women be better prepared for these situations.
“WCD is one of the most powerful communities of women directors in the world,” she said. “Our members are the global business elite.”
In addition to a global network, the WCD is focused on education to improve board performance. Although WCD is based in the US, it recognizes that American companies can also learn from corporate best practices in other countries.
Stautberg invited members of the Chilean Chapter to take advantage of WCD’s connections and events to network around the world. The next meeting of the WCD’s Americas Institute will take place in November in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Kathleen Barclay will represent the Chilean Chapter.
In her closing remarks, Barclay said that the participation of women on boards is key to increasing Chile’s competitiveness and improving corporate governance. “Today the answers are not clear and a good question can be the difference,” she said.
AmCham is leading the way in this regard. “At AmCham we are proud that our members, who represent an important percentage of Chile’s GDP, have elected a board that is mainly comprised of women,” said Barclay.
But this is still the exception in Chile. Businesswomen have much to offer on the boards of Chilean companies, but too many of them remain anonymous. The WCD Chilean Chapter is there to provide a global support network and help them claim their place on the corporate ladder.
See bUSiness CHILE’s Interview with Susan Stautberg on page 36.
Julian Dowling is Editor of bUSiness CHILE