“Women are not doing well because they want to do it all. They want to study, go out and get a job and be housewives as well. Well, that is really difficult to achieve.”
These were recent and controversial words spoken by Ricardo Salinas Pliego, president of Grupo Salinas and owner of TV Azteca, one of the two television media conglomerates in the country. Salinas made the remarks during the Mexico Cumbre de Negocios (Mexico Business Summit) on October 20-22.
Salinas went on to say that women should receive a salary from their husbands “so that their work at home as caretakers […] is monetized and better valued.”
Unfortunately, his ignorant point of view on gender equality is not as unusual in Mexico as some may think. Even in this day and age, many talented Mexican women face such myopic views as an obstacle to their professional development.
Given the growing number of women with advanced graduate degrees in Mexico—currently 50.4 percent, according to a recent study by the Asociación Nacional de Universidades e Instituciones de Educación Superior (National Association of Universities and Higher Educational Institutions—ANUIES)—forward-thinking companies have begun to understand the need to tap into a talent pool they didn’t used to, given prejudices in hiring and professional development processes. These companies are breaking ground by incorporating gender quotas into their talent attraction and training processes. Some have also begun to explore work-from-home and flextime schemes to help working mothers split their time between professional and personal responsibilities. But are these strategies fair and effective in tackling the real problems preventing Mexican women from attaining greater professional opportunities, or are they simply temporary solutions?
The effectiveness of gender quotas is highly debatable. Those who favor them say that they allow for greater participation of women in the workforce and that they are an essential starting point for changing deep-seated behaviors in business organizations.
Those opposed to gender quotas say that they don’t promote real equality, risk attracting inferior talent and are condescending toward women.
My problem with inclusion quotas is that they don’t tackle the real issue at hand, which is the need to change the mindset of industry leaders who hold similar views to those of Mr. Salinas Pliego.
Faced with systemic prejudices and severe gender disparities, 30 percent of working women in Mexico feel that they are stuck in their profession and do not have opportunities to grow, get a salary raise or receive appropriate recognition from their employers and peers.
The message is clear. You can try to reach out and attract female talent, but you’re setting yourself up for failure if that talent is brought into a hostile environment and diseased by machismo that can’t be cured by a quota. In fact, having a quota system could actually exacerbate discrimination by men who think quotas give women an unfair advantage.
Conscious businesses that truly want to make a positive change need to do more than just debate quotas or consider special concessions for working mothers that would enable them to thrive professionally. Rather, businesses should promote a cultural change that values talent regardless of gender, and that helps employees modify the often unequal gender roles at home.
Businesses must also understand that their decision to promote gender equality should not be viewed as a public relations campaign. It simply makes sense for businesses to attract, grow and retain the best talent available to them, regardless of gender. Business leaders should look to the numerous studies that have proven that a gender-diverse workforce provides better business results.
As the European Project on Equal Pay posits, there is extensive research showing “a strong correlation between a strong record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability.” Catalyst, a U.S. nonprofit, found in its 2011 research that there is a 26 percent difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between companies in the top-quartile of women board representation and those in the bottom quartile (with zero women directors). According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the profitability of Fortune 500 companies with three or more women executives is 5 percent higher than that of their competitors.
Rather than simply implementing quotas, businesses must ensure that their male executives learn these important facts. Ongoing gender inclusion efforts, such as flexible work schemes, should not be discarded or undervalued. But if companies in Mexico are serious about effectively capitalizing on women’s professional potential, they should start with their own employees.