Despite the compelling body of evidence suggesting that investing in women’s economic empowerment is a sound business strategy, we have not yet reached the point at which the private sector embraces this concept fully; not globally and certainly not in my region, Latin America.

Every day hundreds of women across the Americas have used their energy and talent to build businesses from scratch and make them blossom into robust and sustainable endeavours. This outcome is in and of itself a cause for celebration, but the feedback I receive daily from these entrepreneurs also confirms that their economic empowerment goes far beyond their individual success stories – it enables them to build a more prosperous future for their families and play a substantial role in encouraging social, economic and cultural progress of their communities.

However, we still see too many companies in Latin America that are not making any efforts to foster economic opportunities for women and support their full participation in business and commerce. Or, worse, companies that pay only lip service to this goal by introducing cosmetic changes, meaningless programmes or toothless policies.

This task cannot be a box to be checked mechanically at the annual review of performance objectives. Full gender inclusion must represent an integral part of the way every company and corporation works.

I call on all my peers in the region to engage in serious initiatives with specific goals and metrics in order to change the prevailing attitudes and practices that block the professional advancement of women, whether as independent entrepreneurs or as executives carving a career path in the corporate world.

The World Economic Forum’s Mexico Gender Parity Task Force that I currently co-lead with my countryman Carlos Danel, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Compartamos, seeks to enlist 50 companies in Mexico to create a level playing field for women by improving their access to professional and economic opportunity, including how these companies can integrate more women-owned businesses into their supply chains. This example illustrates, but is not limited to, the kind of effort that will move us forward towards a new paradigm.

The private sector must act immediately to stop women being undervalued and underused. What we do today will determine the kind of Latin America we will have tomorrow.

Author: Angelica Fuentes is Chief Executive Officer of Grupo Omnilife-Chivas and is a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Women’s Empowerment.  

Image: A woman celebrates the New Year at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro REUTERS/Pilar Olivares