Female leadership gains ground

Every day it is more common to find women working on a par with me. However, the number of such cases is seemingly insufficient. The salary gap and the few opportunities in terms of strengthening female leadership are not only concerns for developing countries like Chile, but also for established powers. This was the view of President Barack Obama when he launched an agenda for equality, subsequently signing into force a number of decrees promoting equal pay for women. “Inequality has become entrenched”, he declared, arguing that while the United States has experienced economic growth, labor opportunities have been lacking.

Progress in terms of female participation in the labor market has been seen in the US, above all in leadership roles; however, salaries of women remain below those of men. “The salary gap still exists, even though a large part of this is due to the types of roles into which women are grouped, including education, health and other sectors which are not always well-paid”, said Sarah Stewart, partner at Boyden Pittsburgh and an expert on company boards.

Although men and women work in similar Jobs, explains John Byrne, Managing Director at Boyden Chile, the salaries of American men are higher than they are for women. For example, a female surgeon earns just 67.6% of what a man undertaking the same role makes, and a female marketing manager earns 67.7% of that of a male counterpart.

Chile, meanwhile, is making progress, slowly but surely.

“In Chile, women have gained experience and opportunities, but the issue of family still weighs heavily (the reconciliation of family versus job and personal life), just as is the case in the United States. Clearly, I see the progress made in the last ten years and it’s

tremendous, but, as they began later and given that the culture is more conservative, there are more achievements to be made”, admitted Kathleen Barclay, president of the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce and co-president of Women Corporate Directors (WCD).

A greater level of female participation has been achieved in the United States, given that women became part of the labor force during the Second World War, an era in which such a thing was inconceivable in Chilean society. Today, labor force participation of Chilean women is 48.7% (Institute of National Statistics, [INE] 2014), which is considered low compared to the Latin American average of 52.5% (ECLAC, 2011). In any debate on this issue, it is necessary to consider the existence of a marked salary gap. According to the New Supplementary Income Survey 2012, conducted by the National Women’s Service (SERNAM), women in senior positions earn 30.4% less than their male counterparts. I.e., if an average female executive earns CLP$1,183,850, a man working in the same position earns CLP$1,700,217. Whereas female professionals, scientists and intellectuals earn CLP$763,328, a man with the same job earns CLP$1,216,486. With regards to technicians and mid-level professionals, the average salary is CLP$578,976, with women earning CLP$495,487 and men doing the same job CLP$656,830.

To incentivize female participation in formal employment, the government of Michelle Bachelet has recently taken on the commitment to expand the coverage of the female employment subsidy, to reach 60% of lowest income homes. This tool is expected to provide support to almost 550,000 women. “As we are particularly interested in the women outside the labor market, we will develop a program of support and resources to assist women in becoming trained and find work, or so they can initiate their own micro-enterprises, for which they will also receive assistance”, says the Minister of SERNAM, Claudia Pascual.

In parallel to these projects, article 203 of the Labor Code will be repealed as a means of ensuring that employers do not decide against contracting more than 20 women, thereby activating a legal obligation to provide a preschool at work. Claudia Pascual explains that in its place a new solidarity fund will be created (with support coming from the workers themselves, the employers and the State) which will finance a universal childcare system for male and female workers.

Leadership roles

“Women are more than capable, they just need the chance to show it”, states Kathleen Barclay, from her experience as co-president of Women Corporate Directors, an organization which seeks to strengthen female leadership by opening doors to women business directors in different parts of the world, including Chile.

Janet Sprohnle, executive director of the consultancy firm People & Partners, is also optimistic. She believes that female participation, in both mid-level and director-level roles, is growing and, if the figure does not grow further, it is down to personal choice. “There are women who stop growing professionally because they are unable to cope, as they can’t be raising children, dealing with great amounts of responsibility, being good parents… Many choose to develop themselves professionally, while prioritizing the family”, she notes.

In the United States, women make up more than 50% of the work force, but occupy less than 20% of all senior leadership roles. “In the last twenty years, progress has been made in terms of more women taking on more senior management and directorial roles, but there’s still a long way to go to be on level terms” says Trina Gordon, president and CEO of Boyden World Corporation.

In Chile, according to figures from Women Corporate Directors, only 3.4% of women occupy directorial roles and 2.9% are directors of IPSA companies. The Economist Intelligence Unit and the Multilateral Investment Fund (linked to the IDB) have shown that 12.8% of the small and medium sized enterprises in Chile have a female general manager. Data gathered by Comunidad Mujer explains that the financial sector (the Central Bank and the AFP pension funds) and different companies (from the mining, salmon, retail and paper and pulp industries) register the lowest number of women in positions of power.

What is certain is that female empowerment is something that, seemingly, transcends borders. The reason? “Companies with women in charge have reaped many benefits”, states John Byrne, of Boyden Chile. It is a fact, he says, that many companies are prioritizing women leaders for their abilities to better manage risk and for their level of commitment. “Those companies with predominantly female board members perform better than those in which women are in a minority, achieving better sales returns (of 16%) and returns on investment (26%). Finally, companies with a sustained high female representation (three or more directors in the last four or five years) achieved significantly better than companies with no female representation”.

Although not confined to the female world, Janet Sprohnle believes that women have developed enhanced soft skills that allow them to foresee conflict situations. Kathleen Barclay is of the opinion that, in general, women know how to listen and work as part of a team; both indispensable qualities for women directors. That is why the AmCham president mentions the fact that women need connections and opportunities. Since

Women Corporate Directors opened its Chile division (in August 2013), Kathleen Barclay explains that the organization has been able to submit five resumes of Chilean women for posts of director in Chile and other Latin American countries. “Without these networks, perhaps none of them would have succeeded. We want to provide women with an international network of support. I believe that, in addition, in a globalized world, a network is advantageous, providing another point of view and creating greater possibilities for women to secure director-level positions”.

Another notable example is the work being done by WEConnect International. The organization seeks to strengthen businesses owned by women in order to help them connect to foreign chains, or multinationals with the capability of buying their products and opening them up to international markets in the process. WEConnect has only been in Chile for a few months, but it has already signed an agreement with AmCham to work together in favor of economic parity between the sexes and better opportunities for businesswomen.

“Women in business can access all the help and financing in the world, but without the ability to sell their products or services, they won’t be in business for very long”, warns Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO of WEConnect International.

It is for this reason that when a businesswoman achieves commercial success and participates in a network, her leadership and business grow together. “When a woman’s company experiences growth in sales volume and the businesswoman needs to increase her operational capacity, she generally employs women. When a businesswoman is in the process of looking for new suppliers, she generally chooses women. This behavior offers better opportunities for professional growth, as well as enhancing female participation across all levels of the economy”, says Belisa de las Casas, Latin America director at WEConnect International.

Work-family reconciliation and personal life

Companies in the United States which are open to providing women with the opportunity to become leaders generally experience economic growth, in the same way that they increase policies of flexibility aimed at strengthening the family-career balance. Examples of good practices are beginning to be seen in Chile as well, little by little. This has been shown by the study Best Companies for Working Mothers and Fathers, compiled in 2013 by Fundación Chile Unido, in conjunction with Ya magazine from the El Mercurio newspaper. This research has been conducted since 2006, and shows that the female workforce is still smaller than that of men. This is mainly because women take charge of childcare duties, either because they lack support networks or because of the phenomenon known as “techo de cristal” (“glass roofs”), a stereotype which holds that managers should be men.

Minister of SERNAM Claudia Pascual noted the following: “work is conceived of as having no timetable, in which the worker must be available to the company at any given moment. With this criteria in mind, women can’t or don’t want to participate in jobs with responsibilities, or employers see the family or personal life as a hindrance. What should be discussed is not if women want or can assume these types of roles, but rather ending this burden of work that impedes their development as fully-rounded people”.

Nowadays, a good company to work for, according to the executive director of Fundación Chile Unido, Verónica Hoffmann, is one which covers preschool costs, allows the parent to take the child to the doctor, offers flexible working hours, provides school vouchers, among other economic benefits, as well as generating spaces for personal development. “Women appreciate it when businesses and public entities are attractive places to work (…), in which they can relax a little, without having to worry about childcare, or that they may have to attend to an emergency during working hours”, she adds.

Walmart and the Compite + 1000 program

Since last year, Walmart Chile has been awarding grants to women who are owners and managers of their own companies to participate in Compite + 1000 (“Compete + 1000”), a program from Adolfo Ibáñez University which enables them to grow their businesses. Walmart has wanted to support and work with suppliers composed mostly of women, as it believes they provide a new vision and understanding of what their clients, the majority of whom are women, look for in a supermarket. “We are aware that the significant presence of women inside companies is still a recent occurrence, which is why we want to play a part in this process of change, by supporting female entrepreneurship”, explains Pilar Aspillaga, head of social responsibility at Walmart Chile.

At the global level, the multinational is committed to doubling purchases from companies led by women, i.e. those in which one or more women hold more than 51% of the ownership and play an important role in the running of the business.