World Economic Forum on Latin America 2011

  • Five Regional Challenges, One Solution: Women

    Thursday 28th April 2011 - 12:30pm - 2:00pm

    Download PDF

  • How can empowering girls and women radically impact five acute challenges facing Latin America?

    The following dimensions were addressed:

    • Talent and education
    • Health and nutrition
    • Leadership
    • Employment and business performance
    • National competitiveness

    Key Points

    • Taking advantage of the underutilized investment in women’s education can help Latin America face the worldwide talent crunch.
    • Women in leadership positions benefit companies and countries. Quotas might be helpful.
    • The gap between education and attainment needs to be closed. Businesses and governments should encourage flexible labour policies.
    • Access, quality and empowerment are needed to improve women’s health, with positive impacts for the rest of society.


    Latin America has succeeded in closing the education gap between women and men, with women now more educated than men in many countries. But women continue to lag in economic and political indicators, showing that, contrary to earlier belief, education is not enough. Changes in the workplace and the wider world make this gap an increasing problem, not just for women, but for companies and countries. Changes in technology are creating an increasing talent mismatch and a bifurcated economy, with highly trained professionals in high demand, but less educated workers becoming superfluous. This worldwide trend is happening especially quickly in Latin America. In some highly skilled professions in Brazil, labour shortages have led to wage inflation of over 25% a year. 

    Women in Latin America, despite having on average higher educational levels than men, have lower workforce participation. More highly educated women than men are outside the labour force. These women are the most evident and underutilized resources for countries to tap as they confront a talent crunch. Marriage and especially motherhood reduce workforce participation in Latin America, but this need not be the case. In some countries outside the region, such as Israel and Hungary, mothers have a higher level of workforce participation than childless women. Policies should encourage flexible workplaces. Companies should examine their policies for ones that, even if unintentionally, make it harder for women to balance work and family. Subsidized day-care centres can help women remain in the labour force and often have great benefits for children.

    Women’s under-representation in Latin America’s labour force is particularly severe in leadership positions. Studies performed by Scandinavian countries and the United Nations show multiple advantages to corporate and national governance when a significant number of women are in leadership positions. Facilitating the inclusion of women in legislatures and corporate boards can be a competitive advantage. Although controversy surrounds the subject, quotas to ensure women’s participation have had good results in several countries. A focus on women’s health brings competitive advantages, as healthy women tend to have healthier children who attain higher levels of educational and economic achievement. To improve women’s health, especially in the key areas of maternal mortality rates, chronic diseases and malnutrition, access, quality and empowerment are needed. Financial resources must be available for women to access quality healthcare, and they must have the power to make decisions over their own health and bodies. Chronic diseases not only impact women as victims, but women also often must leave the workforce to care for sick or aging relatives. With chronic diseases spreading rapidly in Latin America, which also has a rapidly aging population, addressing these issues is crucial to women in the workforce and to the region’s overall well-being and economic competitiveness.

    Session Panellists

    • Laura Alfaro Maykall, Minister of National Planning and Economic Policy of Costa Rica; Young Global Leader
    • Maria Cristina Frias, Member of the Board and Columnist, Folha de São Paulo, Brazil
    • Ricardo Hausmann, Director, Center for International Development, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, USA; Global Agenda Council on Competitiveness
    • Jonas Prising, President, Americas, ManpowerGroup, USA
    • Mirta Roses Periago, Regional Director, World Health Organization, The Americas, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Washington DC; Global Agenda Council on Chronic Diseases & Well-being

    Opening Remarks by

    Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

    Moderated by

    Laura Liswood, Secretary-General, Council of Women World Leaders, USA; Global Agenda Council on Women's Empowerment


    This summary was prepared by Dan Horch. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum. Copyright 2011 World Economic Forum

    This material may be copied, photocopied, duplicated and shared, provided that it is clearly attributed to the World Economic Forum. This material may not be used for commercial purposes.

    Keywords: women, education, health, competitiveness, talent 



Related Issues

Global Gender Gap Corporate Gender Gap

Moderated by

  • Laura Liswood Laura Liswood
    Secretary-General, Council of Women World Leaders, USA

    AB, California State University, San Diego; JD, Davis School of Law, University of California; MBA, ...


  • Mirta Roses Periago Mirta Roses Periago
    Special Envoy NTDs, USA

    1969, Medical degree, National University of Córdoba; diploma in Public Health and certificate of s...

  • Maria Cristina Frias Maria Cristina Frias
    Member of the Board and Columnist, Folha de São Paulo, Brazil

    Studies in Philosophy, São Paulo University; studies in Psychology and Journalism, São Paulo Catho...

  • Ricardo Hausmann Ricardo Hausmann
    Director, Center for International Development, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, USA

    PhD in Economics, Cornell University, US. 1985-91, Professor of Economics, Instituto de Estudios Sup...

  • Kamla Persad-Bissessar Kamla Persad-Bissessar
    Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago

    Studies, University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Hugh Wooding Law School; BA; diploma in Educati...

  • Laura Alfaro Maykall Laura Alfaro Maykall
    Professor, Business, Government and International Economy Unit, Harvard Business School, USA

    1992, BA in Economics, Universidad de Costa Rica; 1994, Licenciatura, Pontificia Universidad Catolic...

  • Jonas Prising Jonas Prising
    Chief Executive Officer, ManpowerGroup, USA

    MBA (equivalent), Stockholm School of Economics. Since 1999, with ManpowerGroup: Managing Director, ...