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From knowledge to reality: Leveling the playing field for women

What a coincidence that during the same week, the IMF published “Women, Work and the Economy”, the Clinton Global Initiative announced numerous initiatives to empower women and the IDB hosted Jackie VanderBrug to kick off a speaker series highlighting influential professionals who promote women in the private sector. While long overdue, the issue of gender is getting the traction it deserves.

MIF_woman entrepreneur_compressed

In my career at the IDB and before, I have collaborated with many female professionals. In fact, over the years I have reported directly to four women – each experience lending a glimpse at effective styles of leadership and unique ways to get our job done. Those experiences and many more have demonstrated that women could make a much bigger contribution to our achievements and the development of our region if more gender-conscious policies and practices were in place to level the playing field.

There is a growing body of thought leadership supporting this. In “Women, Work and the Economy,” IMF Chief Christine Lagarde called on policymakers to target solutions that give women equal opportunities to participate in the labor force. Workforce gender gaps contribute to a 27 percent loss in GDP per capita.

Many of you have heard about the McKinsey study published last month, “Why top management eludes women in Latin America.” The private sector report revealed that now 60 percent of Latin American executives believe companies with diverse leadership teams, those including significant numbers of women, generate higher financial returns. In recent years, the percentage of respondents in Latin America that listed gender diversity as a top priority nearly doubled (from 21 to 37 percent). And today the region’s figures are on par with global numbers.

While this might be indicative of change to come, reality still lags behind. Among our clients and partners at the IDB, we still see few women on top executive teams – experiential evidence of mine confirmed by McKinsey findings.

So where is the disconnect?

In the IDB’s work with the private sector, we seek to do more both organizationally and operationally. In fact our agenda and McKinsey’s recommendations coincide on quite a few points: promoting recruitment and career advancement programs, offering flexible working conditions and supporting networking, role modeling and mentoring.

Role-modeling is one of the reasons it was so important to have Jackie speak. Her career reflects a drive for social change and impact, displaying a record of courageous leadership. She has championed the very issue of how to move the needle towards greater female contributions to our societies, and she has coined terms like “women-omics” and “gender lens investing” to encourage decision-making that supports gender equality while seeking financial returns.

Her work with global female entrepreneurs and recent article on the topic share many synergies with the IDB’s, as our private sector clients are increasingly interested in evaluating financing gaps and productivity and designing more gender-specific tools and financial products. A CGAP blog this week by MIF General Manager Nancy Lee also delves more into how access to finance can grow women’s businesses.

That said, perhaps it is not a coincidence after all. Perhaps it is finally coming together.

At international financial institutions, as at private companies and other public agencies, we are increasingly deploying the resources needed to level the playing field in our offices and through our work, especially in developing countries where gender differences are most stark. Our collective design, implementation, measurement and, if necessary, calibration will be what allows us to make gender equality a reality.


Hans Schulz

Hans Schulz es asesor independiente de inversiones sostenibles emergentes. Previamente, se desempeñó como vicepresidente interino del Sector Privado y

Development Impact

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