The strength of Diversity in Latin America: The emerging role of female leadership on the continent

In modern, open societies, diversity accentuates the multiplicity of options and increases the quality of decisions. In contemporary societies, diversity is active and is articulated through networks and the new means of communication, showing itself in an accentuated and different way. In many cases, diversity is accentuated in its role as a minority, seeking its new or recognized space in decision-making, whether in politics, organizations, or societies. Their positioning role often reinforces the idea of this minority being unable to exercise real representation power. Racial minorities are an example of this.

Also gender, females to be specific, are often underrepresented in societies. It is the most emblematic case.

They represent at least 50% of societies, and they don’t always have the same weight in institutionally established decisions. In other cases, the issue of race or origin, whose representation is sometimes even greater than 50%, does not receive the same attention. In Latin American societies, the greatest involvement of this explicit diversity is certainly that of women, followed by racial origin. Latin American societies, in their origins, have given formal institutions explicitly male predominance, while in the family group women exert a natural force of authority in the formation of their family.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the emancipation of women has followed an irreversible course, increasingly placing women in formal management alongside men. The more open, liberal societies have managed to bring women with their different qualities into this process, while the more traditional ones have maintained the prevalence of male hegemony. In politics, few women have held the top leadership position, but no Latin American democracy can fail to bring women into ministries and state command bodies. In the legislature and judiciary, women are still underrepresented, but their participation is growing irreversibly.

It is very interesting to note that, with the experience of these insertions, many of the public policies aimed at family welfare are based on women as the mainstay of the family. Social programs such as Renda Mínima (Minimum Income) in Brazil, for example, define women as beneficiaries who, through experience, can better and more assertively dedicate resources to the well-being of their children and then to adult family members. Many loans dedicated to the family, where the borrower is a woman, are lower risk. This makes the woman at the center of this attention structurally a more reliable guarantor in the management of these essential resources. There are many women leaders in high-ranking financial fields, in retail organizations where women oversee credit and consumer orientation. Mentioning the growing participation of women in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Shared leadership between men and women is increasingly becoming a mark of success in contemporary organizations.

Apparently, female participation is more visible in open societies in the service sector, which today accounts for more than 50% of Latin America’s GDP. However, this impression may be flawed if we look at the current exponential growth of female leadership in areas previously occupied mainly by men. Information Technology, Robotics, Automation and R&D, among others, are areas where the presence of women is becoming increasingly noticeable. Latin American agribusiness is seeing more and more “leaders of the field” of the new generation, expressed through strong and successful participation by women. Many of them have come from small rural enterprises, which, to survive, have sought quality and specialty as their differential. In adverse environments, they persevered and built their small enterprises into sustainable businesses that grew into larger ones. Other revelations are the women who, in the second or third generation of agribusiness entrepreneurs, have taken on leadership positions, having lived on farms, and studied at top universities in their countries.

There are not a few women in their 40s or older, in prominent positions, training to become company advisors, or in international management schools, because their market and their vision already go beyond the borders of their countries. It is these leaders who are showing that new concepts such as ESG or sustainability are not being resisted; on the contrary, they are new protagonists, as they are already starting from much of what women do in their lives and believe in. Business organizations show that where there is modern, contemporary governance, women take on prominent positions and are the first to be faithful to the best governance principles. It’s hard to see women not stressing the importance of governance in organizations, not only because it fosters diversity and transparency, but because it gives them confidence that the rules of the game are the best way to ensure a creative and innovative future for the organization.

In these new times of rapid digitalization and the need to adapt, diversity, which can appear to slow down decision-making processes, increases the quality of the responses given to challenges. Diversity is the surest guarantee that we won’t leave anyone behind and will increase the competence and legitimacy of the whole.

The risk, like everything else in our time, may lie in exaggerating diversity, giving so much voice to the minority that it prevents the majority from taking more risks and being more assertive. The right to diversity should not be confused with the right of the majority, guaranteeing a voice, space, participation, and transparency for all participants in the process. This is the art of contemporary leadership, making space for the contradictory and influencing the course of history, without becoming a dictatorship of minorities, and being a transforming agent. Women together with men, respecting our racial, cultural and environmental diversities, are the richness of our humanity, and in this ensemble, we form one of the most beautiful orchestras in the planet, playing the melody of people’s hearts, performed by diverse talents, without prejudice, but with the concept that we are one body in the whole, in the permanent search for peace, harmony and well-being.

Ingo Plöger is a Brazilian businessman and president of CEAL.

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