This years’ Global Board Diversity Tracker highlights both the progress and setbacks toward diversity in boardrooms across the world. In the five Latin American countries we examined—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico—we observed both improvements from our 2020 report and challenges that persist.
We divided our Latin America data into two clusters of companies. The first cluster encompasses companies with a market cap of €8 billion or more, which is the cap we have used globally for the Tracker over the last 18 years. However, as the table below shows, this cluster is a smaller set of companies and may not paint the full picture within each country.
The second cluster encompasses companies with a market cap of at least €500 million, enabling us to expand the number of organizations analyzed for a broader overview of Latin American boardrooms.
In this deep dive, we focus on:
(benchmark against historical data)
(expanded number of companies in the region)
Globally, companies are slowly bridging the gender gap inside the boardroom, with the number of board seats held by women increasing 3.7 percent from 2020.
When looking at our cluster of 54 companies with an €8 billion or higher market cap, the five Latin American countries we analyzed in this year’s Tracker saw a 2.9 percent increase in board seats held by women compared to 2020—slightly below the global average. However, progress differs among these nations. Three out of the five countries we studied made improvements, while two had lower performances.
Colombia stood out this year, outperforming not only its Latin American peers but several other countries globally. Women on Colombian boards now account for 24 percent of board seats—an 8.8 percent increase from 2020. This growth puts the nation among 16 others whose performance in female board member representation grew at a rate above 5 percent since 2020.
What explains this uptick? Colombia, like the other Latin American countries in this study, doesn’t have diversity quotas for publicly listed companies in the private sector. However, the country enacted a bill 12 years ago establishing equal participation of women in high-level state offices, requiring that at least 30 percent of public offices be occupied by women.
For Ana Maiguashca, co-director and member of the board of directors at Banco de la Republica, the prevalence of female government officials could potentially be inspiring a mindset change. “In government, the participation of women is very high, very powerful women,” she said. “And that also means that when the private sector sits down with government, you're going to find a powerful woman to interact with. That already starts changing your brain.”
Broadening our analysis to the 11 Colombian companies with a €500 million or higher market cap, women account for 20.8 percent of board seats, and only three companies have no female directors. Here, we also see two female leaders holding the executive chair position, which is an exciting signal of progress.
Women board seats
Brazil also made improvements. In this cluster, women now hold 18.2 percent of board seats, a 3.1 percent increase from 2020—signaling that some companies are committed to raising the bar on gender diversity.
In this cluster, women hold 14.8 percent of board seats (125 out of 1,093 seats), and 74 percent of companies have a female board director. However, out of the 128 companies analyzed in this cluster, 30 have no women on the board.
For Luiza Helena Trajano, chair of Magazine Luiza, the board plays a fundamental role in paving the way for more diversity at the top levels of the organization.
Chile was also among the countries that made progress, yet we recognize the small sample of companies that meet this criterion is not representative of the entire country. In the six companies in this cluster, women hold 11.5 percent (or six out of 52) of board seats—up from 4.8 percent in 2020 .
In the 31 Chilean companies in this cluster, women hold 14.2 percent of board seats (34 out of 239 seats). Additionally, 65 percent of these companies have at least one female leader on the board, and women hold 9 percent of non-executive chair positions.
In the last eight years, women deemed “less visible” have earned board seats as a result of intentional DEI efforts. Vivianne Blanlot, board member of Colbún S.A., CMPC S.A., and Antofagasta PLC discusses how boardroom skill demands have evolved.
Argentina is the only Latin American country that saw a decline in the number of board seats held by women in the last two years, dropping from 10.5 percent in 2020 to 9.5 percent in 2022. At the same time, 83 percent of Argentinian companies have at least one female director on the board, which is the third-highest for this cluster among the five countries we analyzed.
On one hand, there is a slight decline in the number of board seats held by women in this cluster. On the other, this broader cluster of companies reveals that Argentina has the highest percentage of companies with a female board member (88%) of the Latin American nations studied. Women hold 15.8 percent (12 out of 76) of these seats.
Women hold 9.4 percent of board seats in Mexico, on average—a 1.4 percent increase from 2020.
In this cluster, women hold 9.9 percent of board seats, or 70 out of 709 seats. Among the five Latin American nations analyzed, Mexico has the lowest number of companies with a woman on the board (62%), with 40 of 65 companies having no female representation.
Addressing the gender gap in Latin American boardrooms will require that organizations see past old perceptions of female workers as not giving “the right care” to their families or as power-hungry and ambitious above all else. Latin America still assigns family responsibilities mainly to women, so allowing for flexible options and fostering co-responsibility at home are key enabling factors in raising the number of women on boards in the region. This reality also underscores how critical it is for chairs and executive leaders to mentor and develop an executive pipeline of female leaders across every organization. This will help build talent who will ultimately become board-ready.
“When I was chairwoman of the National Petroleum Company in Chile, I really allocated a lot of resources to hunt for female talent,” said Maria Loreto Silva, independent director at Barrick Gold. “As a result, 50 percent of our top executives were women. And they were very, very talented, very prepared. As chair, you need to make a strong decision if you want to improve…I would also say to the new female executive and board members to take advantage of any opportunity that is presented to them. That is very important in Latin America because many women quit in the road up.”
Chairs are also instrumental in enabling the entire board to seek out educational opportunities on diversity and the value it adds to the boardroom. As these boards appoint members from minority groups, they will feel more equipped to adjust their dynamics and ensure inclusion.
Ana Maiguashca, co-director and board director of Banco de la Republica, describes her “aha” moment when she realized that her pathway to leadership had been different than most people simply because of her gender—and what she could do about it as a leader in her field.
Latin America still carries the stigma of being a male-dominated region, and that’s largely reflected in our data. But the debate on diversity often takes on the gender angle—which is a critical marker of diversity, but it shouldn’t be the only one.
Expanding the parameters of what diversity means will require chairs to have open discussions with the full board and ensure that companies are creating a pipeline of qualified, diverse leaders, including women, minority groups, and individuals with diverse backgrounds who could eventually serve on a board.
One barrier to increasing the talent pool of board-ready directors is that boards typically seek former CEOs and CFOs when adding new members. Looking at the 219 Latin American companies in our €500mm MarCap cluster, this means that the pool of diverse leaders who qualify is tiny. We found that only seven of the 224 CEOs in this cluster are women (3.2%), and only 20 of 212 CFOs are women (10.4%). Conversely, when zooming in on the smaller €8bn MarCap cluster, we found there are no female CEOs in the companies studied.
Out of the19 companies analyzed as part of the €500mm MarCap cluster, the country with the largest representation of female CEOs is Colombia, with one out of 11 (10%) CEOs being a woman, followed by Brazil, with five out of 110 (4.8%). Argentina and Mexico had no female CEOs at all in the companies analyzed in this study.
To bridge the talent gap, some boards are reassessing the requirements for new directors to join. But this doesn’t mean they are targeting less qualified candidates. “Boards are also looking for people who have different ideas about society, about strategy, about the future of the world,” explained Vivianne Blanlot, board member of Colbún S.A., CMPC S.A., and Antofagasta PLC. “If you look at the women who have been incorporated on boards in the last few years, there is a mixture of people who work in companies, in the public sector, and in universities.”
Undoubtedly, societal issues such as stark economic inequality, lack of access to high-quality educational opportunities, and intolerance toward minority groups pose tougher barriers to entry into a workforce that is often homogenous. To actively change the racial-ethnic makeup of their workforce and foster the new wave of Black executive leaders, some companies are taking proactive steps.
To fully leverage the benefits of a diverse board, directors must be intentional about whom they appoint. Can this person’s skills and background be complementary to the board’s current directors? Even if they haven’t followed the traditional CEO/CFO pathway to the board, it may be worth assessing and developing their leadership profile. Sometimes the missing link to a more effective board may not be the obvious choice, but one that brings a new outlook—provided they get the tools they need to effectively serve.
Diversity also means different things to different people. Another dimension to take into account is diversity of thought, which has been getting more traction in the region. Previously, most board members were white men over the age of 60. Now, with new skills needed and investor demands, boards are also considering younger directors who can add value on change, innovation, and digital capabilities.
Cogna Educação is one company that added intentionality to enhance and scale its diversity efforts. “At Cogna, 60 percent of our board members are from a minority group,” said Rodrigo Galindo, the company’s chair. “These highly qualified directors are women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community. Our initial goal was to have a representation level of minority groups of 33 percent, but we surpassed this goal, so obviously it is a board that will defend diversity causes, because the board itself is diverse.”
Brazilian retailer Magazine Luiza created a trainee program aimed at Black talent. The idea emerged after an internal assessment uncovered that despite having a high share of Black employees, few held top-level leadership positions at the company. In only two years since its creation, the initiative dramatically increased the pipeline of Black talent who will become senior executives. The program also became a reference for companies around the world looking to replicate its model and successes.
Watch to learn more:
But what makes a chair value and foster diversity? For Sergio Rial, chair of Santander Brasil, it’s the quantity and quality of professional experiences acquired throughout directors’ careers. “If they haven’t been exposed to several experiences, the tendency is for them to be monochromatic as a chair,” Rial said. “It is important for them to have faced discomfort, which is what keeps the curiosity cell alive. This propensity and history—of learning in the midst of adversity—will make the executive, when they get to a chair position, value different perspectives.”
With uneven progress on board diversity across Latin American countries, boards will have to commit to bringing on more diverse candidates in the future. However, they can ensure the conversation starts now among current directors to set the stage for newcomers. “Chairs have an important role in stimulating the process in the board of directors, from educating them on the proper language around diversity to setting an agenda, to encouraging directors’ participation in external forums aimed at discussing various DEI issues, among other initiatives,” said Rodrigo Galindo of Cogna Educação. “This is an empowerment process. The more knowledge provided, the more empowered everyone is, especially minority directors, to actively exert their voice on the board.”
Board dynamics are different in each company. What most of them have in common, though, is a shared commitment to achieving the company’s mission. The board chair should infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion as a topic of conversation into every meeting, because the more engaged members feel about it, the more likely they will be to embrace differences as new directors with varied backgrounds join the board.
Especially in Latin America, where the gender gap is so large, Sergio Rial of Santander Brasil worries that some boards do not value female directors’ perspectives in the same way they do male directors: "The chair should foster the spirit of discomfort, and bring to the board people who generate discomfort, learn to live with discomfort, look for people who are going to be ‘trouble.’”
When invited to become Defense Minister in Chile, Vivianne Blanlot thought she wasn’t the right fit. But as she came to learn, having the discipline and a clear oversight of challenges and goals was exactly what the country needed—a lesson she later brought to the boardroom. Watch now
Blanlot discusses how boardroom skill demands have evolved and how in the past 8 years women who were "less visible" started to get on boards as a result of advocates ensuring women's talents didn't go untapped. Watch now
Working hard and quietly doesn’t work. Female professionals need to raise their profile and make their voices heard in the workplace so that they’ll rise to leadership positions, Vivianne Blanlot argues. Watch now
Ana Maiguashca describes her “Aha!” moment when she realized that her pathway to leadership had been different because of her gender–and what she could do about it as a leader in her field. Watch now
Ana Maiguashca explores why Colombia is ahead of its Latin American peers when it comes to gender parity in the boardroom, and how the public sector is inspiring change across private companies. Watch now
Ana Maiguashca on why emotion can be a positive force capable of driving meaningful change to foster a more inclusive board culture. Watch now
Maria Loreto Silva, Board member of Barrick Gold Corp. and Aguas Andinas SA, on the learnings throughout her leadership journey and her advice to aspiring female board leaders. Watch now
Maria Loreto Silva, Board member of Barrick Gold Corp. and Aguas Andinas SA, on how companies can get started on the diversity journey and the role ESG plays in fostering it. Watch now
Luiza Helena Trajano, Chair of Magazine Luiza, talks about the power of diversity and how the company is fostering a pipeline of Black executive leaders. Watch now
Luiza Helena Trajano, Chair of Magazine Luiza, discusses how management styles are evolving to embrace diversity and what Brazilian boards can do to foster diversity. Watch now
Rodrigo Galindo, Chair of Cogna Educação, examines how board chairs can establish metrics and pathways for a more inclusive board culture. Watch now
At Cogna Educação, 60 percent of board members belong to some minority group. Board chair Rodrigo Galindo discusses the value this diversity generates for the organization. Watch now
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