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Last October, the Mexican National Women’s Institute launched “Beijing + 20: Las voces de la ciudadanía (The Voices of Citizenship),” an anthology celebrating 20 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted by the United Nations, which commits to promote the elimination of any form of gender discrimination. The anthology data provided by Cecilia Garcia Ruiz, former director of the Programa de Genero de Espolea, A.C., states: “Mexico stands in 80th place out of 142 countries on the general list, and in 120th in terms of participation and economic opportunities for women. Working force participation, wage equity per similar activity and estimated income place the country in the 118th, 116th and 114th places, respectively. In terms of education (level of instruction), though, Mexico sits in 75th place, women’s registration to higher education levels places the country in 102nd place. Moreover, Mexico descended from the 68th to the 80th position in relation to the 2013 Global Report, which was reflected on women’s economic participation, education level and political empowerment.”
As of 2010, out of 112 million Mexican citizens, women outnumbered men (57 million) by .02 percent; however, in the business sector, women represented only 16 percent of the working force, according to a report by the Centro de la Mujer en la Alta Dirección. Centro also highlights that one third of women in Mexico, 15 to 29 years old, did not have access to a job or education, and stressed that, among the nations represented in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCDE), Mexico shows the lowest female job participation, after Turquía.
The following voices address the setbacks women face in male-dominated sectors. These four women share their reflections on the current situation they face in their respective working environments. Their stories are not much different than what women in many nations face.
Gina Zabludovsky, PhD in Sociology and Full-Time Professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Women are becoming part of salaried life. This does not mean that they have just begun working; they have always worked. It means that work out of the household is one of the greatest revolutions of the second half of the 20th century and beginnings of the 21st. Women take part in a myriad of activities; however, wage inequity still exists. Among people who earn more than five minimum salaries, there are more men than women, and among those who earn one, most of them are women. So, there has been some progress, but inequity persists.
Barriers yet to overcome
Barriers are cultural. We still cannot see a significant number of women in certain sectors. For instance, in services and trade sectors, their presence is high, but not in the industrial sector. Women in executive positions are, for example, related to public relationship areas, but not to production areas. I believe that culturally it is still expected that some activities are to be performed by men, and some by women.
Women still have little access to certain majors, and a great deal is related to the sector under analysis. Another crucial issue is household activities and family. Even when family members depend on each other’s incomes, domestic responsibilities have still not been divided. In general, women work double.
Women’s authority in a company
If a man gives an order, he is usually thought of as assertive, resolute and a good leader. On the other hand, if a woman raises her voice a little bit, she loses authority. People may think she bears some personal issues. In consequence, there are still some areas to work on to balance behavioral patterns.
Women against women
There are women who will undoubtedly support others. On the other hand, there are women that perhaps do not take cooperation as a priority in their agendas. What has been found, notwithstanding, is that women entrepreneurs tend to create collaborative networks that help them succeed as listeners and advisors in business.
Women in important positions work as a model for other women in areas where their presence is not significant, such as in engineering, for example. Their presence in a prototypically male field provides a reference that others may look up to.
Women entrepreneurs in Mexico and the world
There are many coincidences. Women entrepreneurs in Mexico, as in the rest of the world, have a common profile. If they own a small business, it generally belongs to the service sector; very few belong to the construction or mining sectors. This is, once again, part of the gender roles we play. There are businesses more related to men in which women find certainly more obstacles.
When is success achieved?
Though the concept is highly subjective, we can say that, for women, success is a kind of equilibrium; whereas, for men, it depends more frequently on material gain. The ideal situation would be that the idea of equilibrium is applied for men and women alike. The fact is that success depends on the patterns everyone creates for themselves. The important thing to change are the obstacles a person (man or woman) faces to succeed; the easiness or difficulty that a woman must face to become a leader of a company, for instance.
There are certain advantages in the way they are educated. We are use to multi-tasking. It is said that women have a horizontal view, instead of a hierarchical one. They are more emotionally developed. All these characteristics can be positive to the organization businesses are exhibiting in this day and age. Emotional intelligence has become highly valued, and women who exhibit these characteristics in a business setting are essential.
Some research shows that in companies where women lead, income and productivity increase. In other words, it does pay to have women directors.
Maribel Miceli Maza, National Vice President Women Entrepreneurs, CMIC
At the Mexican Construc-tion Industry Chamber (CMIC), we are proud to be more than 11,000 members, of which 14 percent are women. Four years ago, engineer Luis Zárate invited me to lead the Women Entrepreneurs Division. When I took up this position, 4.7 percent of women held positions in the chamber. In general terms, we are the second sector with the least women; the first one is mining. However, since Gustavo Arballo Lujan became president, the chamber is more inclusive. This is evident in the fact that women directors have become more interested in being part of our network.
Definitively, the main issue is cultural. Historically, the industry has been a male-dominated sector, and that persisted. The thought that women are not capable of developing infrastructure is a global misconception. They are as capable as men. Women create job opportunities and strengthen national economies, and that makes us equal.
At the CMIC, we began with two main goals: recognition and equal opportunities, on which we have been working uninterruptedly, inside and outside the chamber. Inside, today we have a regional coordinators structure (10 in total), and a representative on each deputation.
Real working fields
Mexico is a developing country, and it needs infrastructure. Our numbers show that, today, 89.1 percent of women that participate in the industry own micro business; 5.3 percent little businesses; 3.2 percent medium businesses, and only 1.4 percent own big businesses. The fact is our work is as good as that of men. One of the topics that has had influence on these numbers is that CMIC offers tools for women to develop professionally through training, masters and certificates. The national economy and its circumstances have taken different sectors, construction included, to recession. When this happens, it drastically impacts women. The fact that public investment decreases by 20 percent places a complicated scenario, for women and men alike.
To reach young women
The new generation’s attitude is positive. Young people don’t back the idea that men must provide, and women must keep the household. Global economic circumstances push both to participate. Currently, female engineering graduates represent 20 percent of the total number of students in Mexico, and 35 percent are architecture graduates.
Many women still believe they will not be given the chance, so they do not think to try. My experience at CMIC is very different. When women face real situations, they tend to respond quite well. Women must break such barriers to be able to express themselves, not only from an equity point of view, but from a scientific and technical point of view.
From 2011 on, we have focused on integrating women into the construction industry, in fields like plumbing, finishing, electricity and welding, just to mention a few. The point being, first, is that they use this knowledge at home, but mainly that they work professionally on those fields. This work can be empowering and provide unparalleled personal satisfaction.
We have signed agreements with government women representatives, so that, with their spanning, our information reaches wider and new generations that truly believe that women are capable of building infrastructure, breaking models and changing gender roles.
One of the main problems we have faced is the fulfillment of agreements we sign with institutions, for they are very rarely put into practice. That is undoubtedly uninspiring, but we know it is hard to sensitize people. Inside the chamber, we want women to be part of a mixed commission structure. We also want to reach private companies, by means of agreements in which our services and programs are available for them, so that investors feel supported.
Alma Lizárraga, Leader at Women Innovation Network DOW
Women Innovation Network looks for empowerment, for women training inside the company to develop a working environment with the same opportunities for everyone. We have an inside strategy and an outside strategy. On the inside, we promote training and share success stories. The goal is that our contributors are ready when the opportunity to lead comes. On the outside strategy, we promote networking activities with other companies that share our view to work together. At WIN we believe in gender and thought diversity.
Among our results, we have women mentoring programs in Dow. We have also promoted working policies to benefit employees. For instance, we have widened the maternity leave and offer schedule flexibility.
How to create an inclusive vision
At WIN, we want impartiality all the way to the board of directors. I believe sharing practices exemplifies that it is possible to be a profitable, successful and inclusive company.
How are women seen in working environments?
It is a matter of believing. Most of the time, we discover it is ourselves who do not believe in our own capacities. Though we have agreements with others, we realize we have different ways of thinking. There can be different ways of thinking among women, but such difference is enriching.
When we talk about mentoring programs, it is sometimes thought that women in leading positions must sacrifice many personal things. The challenge is to break such models; a woman can be a mentor without losing her personal life.
New generations face challenges in a different way; they do not see many barriers and are willing to take risks. All generations can coexist. With newer generations, talent, not gender, must be considered, and talents should complement each other. As a network of women, we want to lead, along with other companies, this breakthrough.
María Rosa Casillas, iCloud Manager at IBM
I studied engineering and am very familiar with male-dominated environments. I believe that, fortunately, in the IT sector women’s presence is more common, mainly because it allows mobility and a good balance between work and family.
It is not so much a gender issue, but a diversity issue. Diversity enriches decision-making and allows for the development of new schemes. We must consider diversity to include movement and be able to create different ways of working. If we focus only on gender, it becomes a vicious circle.
In our company, diversity is intrinsic, natural. We work with diversity because we know it is necessary. We believe that gender quota is an obsolete practice. A company has reached maturity when it includes minorities not because of quantity, but of quality; when this is done naturally, and everyone has the same opportunities to reach a position.
Working in Brazil
In some respects, working in Brazil was different. Even if it was because of their needs, there was a whole infrastructure that allowed women to develop their activities on a flexible schedule, a situation that, to a certain extent, was contradictory. This is because they focus on improving wages to create alternatives for women to contribute extra income to their households. Many women became part of the working force.
Undoubtedly, IBM has taken part in different research regarding generational behavior. We believe it’s important to include newer generations so they can share their knowledge and ways of thinking with a company. No generation is better or worse. The question is, simply: How we can get the best of each of them? But, we have yet to know how newer generations interact in traditional companies. It’s a big question.
Ángel Martínez, associate editor at Especificar, has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish language and literature. He has been an industrial journalist for more than seven years, writing about energy, HVACR, buildings, sustainability and entrepreneurial culture.
This article was originally published in our sister publication, Especificar, TMB Publications’ leading B2B Mexican magazine for plumbing, HVACR, hydronic and fire protection contractors, engineers and wholesalers. Especificar was launched in January 2017. Read more articles like this at especificarmag.com.mx.