Las mujeres ocupan menos del 5% de los puestos de CEO en compañías de S&P 500 y menos del 20% de las juntas directivas.

Since women make up half of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean, it would make sense for them to have a similar representation in the different sectors of society. It is not only a question of human rights, but also an intelligent move, because equal representation generates increased benefits for both men and women, socially and economically.

However, in our region, women perform 75 percent of unpaid domestic work, 1 in 3 do not generate any income, and 54 percent work in informal contexts, with unstable incomes and little social protection. We are therefore depriving businesses, as well as society as a whole, of their talent and financial contribution to the family economy and that of their communities and countries.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to promote the role of women in the social, political, and economic spheres. This is indispensable if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — a series of global goals that include eradicating poverty in all its forms, promoting equitable growth, and achieving quality education for all — within the next 12 years. The SDGs are strongly interconnected and gender equality is essential for their broad achievement.

The commitment of countries around the world to achieve the SDGs is fundamental for the empowerment of women in the workplace. The numbers back this up. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, gender equality in the labor force could add up to 28 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2025. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that companies that are diverse tend to be more innovative and innovative companies tend to be more diverse, and that both factors tend to be drivers of company growth.

All of this is within reach; however, companies must take concrete actions to make it happen.

To discuss the challenges and best practices for promoting gender equality in the workplace, more than 400 business and government representatives met in Santiago, Chile, on Feb. 27-28 for the 4th Global Forum on Businesses for Gender Equality, a joint initiative of the Government of Chile and UNDP in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Women.

Recent studies reveal that increased participation of women on company boards leads to better financial results, as well as higher levels of corporate philanthropy. Nonetheless, women hold less than 5 percent of chief executive officer positions in the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies and less than 20 percent on company boards.

The numbers are not any better for Latin America, where according to ILO, women represent only 4.2 percent of CEOs among the 1,269 listed companies. Furthermore, almost half of the executive boards in the region comprise exclusively of men, with women making up only 8.5 percent of membership on average.

In both rich and poor countries, women bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, depriving them of opportunities to earn an income, start their own businesses, and participate in public life; therefore, depriving economies of their talents and contributions. According to the latest Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that at the current rate of progress it will take at least another 220 years to close this gender gap and achieve equal participation in the workforce.

The region cannot afford to wait.

Over the last decade, UNDP has supported partners in 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Eurasia to certify public and private companies that meet gender equality objectives. Through the "Gender Equality Seal" initiative, certified companies commit themselves to eliminating the gender pay gap, increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, improving work-life balance, eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace, and increasing the participation of women in traditionally male industries.

Various companies around the world are already reaping in the benefits. For example, in Chile, the state-owned copper company Codelco has been promoting, through the gender seal initiative, mixed groups of men and women in this traditionally male industry; which has resulted in increased productivity. Similarly, the National Bank of Costa Rica increased the representation of women in decision-making positions through a leadership program that allowed 70 women to assume managerial positions. Along the same line, Scotiabank of Canada identified potential employees for a "Talent Pool" offering tutorial programs to improve women's access to high-level positions.

We have an opportunity at hand, which is almost an obligation. The cost of not allowing women to contribute in the same way as men is too great, not only for companies, but for society as a whole. Companies, both public and private, can be the main drivers of inclusive growth that leads to the reduction of inequality gaps, with the aim of leaving no one behind.

About the author
Jessica Faieta
is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaFaieta

This article was originally published by Devex.

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