Argentina

Christine Liguori Cedar1, Associate
Paul Hastings (Washington, DC)

Introduction

Although gender equality appears to be at the forefront of political and social issues in Argentina, the country still experiences significant gender inequalities in large corporations. Notably, Argentina was the first country in Latin America to adopt a system of political quotas requiring all political parties to include a minimum of 30% female candidates on ballot lists in national elections.2  Argentina also made history in 1974 when Isabel Peron succeeded her husband to become the world’s first female president.3  Then, in 2007 and 2011, Argentina elected and then re-elected its first female president, Cristina Fernandez de Kircher.4   

The country’s achievements in gender equality have not been as impressive in the private sector, however. Although the percentage of board positions held by women in Argentina has grown since 2012, that growth staggers in comparison to international averages and other Latin American countries like Chile and Brazil.5 According to one board diversity report published by Egon Zhender, women held only 6.8% of board positions in Argentina in 2016.6  Moreover, a 2017 Global Gender Gap analysis of gender equality worldwide rated Argentina at only 0.55 out of a 1-point rating system for women’s ability to advance into leadership roles in the economy.7 

The greatest obstacle to women’s advancement in the business sector in Argentina appears to be the male-dominated work culture, rather than the country’s legal landscape. While Argentina’s government, judiciary, and various private enterprises have worked to create significant opportunities for women to participate and succeed in the economy, there are currently no large-scale movements or codified efforts that specifically address gender inequality in the corporate boardroom. However, Argentine law and society appear to be evolving in the direction of greater equality for women in corporations.

The Stats

According to the 2017 Grant Thornton International Business Report, 15% of senior management team members in Argentina are female.8  Although this percentage reflects an improvement from 2007, when women occupied only 10% of senior management positions, it also reflects a notable decline from 2013, when women held 18% of senior management positions in the country.9  When focusing exclusively on large Argentine companies, the percentage declines even further: one study from 2011 found that women represent only 4.4% of senior management, 6% of board seats and 3% of general management positions in Argentina.10  As previously mentioned, these statistics have not improved much in the last few years; as of 2016, women still held only 6.8% of board positions in Argentina.11

Legislative Framework

Argentina does have legislation that protects and promotes equality for women in the labor market.12  Although it does not specifically mention women, the Argentine Constitution provides for equality in access to work and employment for all people.13  In addition, Argentina considers international treaties to be controlling law in the legal hierarchy just below the National Constitution, and therefore women benefit from Argentina’s membership in international conventions, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.14  These international conventions focus on improving “the de facto position of women” by requiring member parties to ensure there is no direct or indirect discrimination against women in their laws and to ensure that women are protected against discrimination in both public and private contexts.15 Although these conventions ensure that women are guaranteed certain legal rights, such as the right to work and the right to equal pay, they do not typically mandate specific protections against gender discrimination in the workplace. At best, they broadly encourage member states like Argentina to implement “preferential treatment or quota systems to advance women's integration into… the economy… and employment.”16 However, Argentina has yet to heed that advice.

Title VII of Argentina’s national labor law also provides a number of specific rights for women, including protection against termination for change in marital status and pregnancy, provisions for child care leave, and prohibitions on women working from home so that women are not required to work instead of caring for children.17  Unfortunately, these legal protections often have an opposite effect. For example, an employer is required to provide a woman with paid maternity leave both 45 days before and 45 days after the birth of her child and is required to keep the woman’s job open in anticipation of her return.18  The employer faces harsh penalties if he or she fails to do either.19  Because of these costly provisions, employers tend to avoid hiring women altogether.20

Additionally, the Comprehensive Protection Act prohibits violence and discrimination against women in all areas of a woman’s life.21  The law is aimed at multiple facets of inequality, including discrimination in the workplace, that threaten a woman’s access to employment, recruitment, promotion, and job stability through change in marital status and pregnancy.22  Not only does this legislation carry penalties for acts of discrimination, but its presence promotes awareness of the obstacles faced by women in the labor market.

In 1991, Argentina received worldwide praise for its decision to impose a political quota that resulted in greater participation of women in local politics.23 Then, in 2017, the Argentine National Congress passed a law requiring all future lists of candidates for Congress to alternate male and female candidates.24 This initiative, combined with the system of political quotas already in place, confirms the legislature’s commitment to pursuing gender equality. And although these legislative actions will only impact equal opportunity in Argentina’s houses of Congress, they may signal the potential for greater or perhaps broader legislative focus on gender equality in the future.25

Unfortunately, similar legislative quotas do not yet exist for women in executive leadership in public or private corporations.26 While Argentina does have a voluntary Corporate Governance Code, it does not contain any provisions addressing gender equity in the boardroom.27  It does, however, impose a voluntary “reply or explain” disclosure, which requires listed companies to include with their annual report a separate report on their level of compliance with the voluntary Code and how they are achieving its recommendations. The purpose of the Code and the reporting requirement is to further the goals of enhancing transparency in Argentine companies, imposing greater responsibility on directors and managers, and ensuring equitable treatment of minority shareholders.28

Cultural and Societal Influences

Despite this legal backdrop, certain cultural and societal norms still influence women’s access and opportunity for advancement in the workplace. As has also been the case in other nations, traditionally men have been viewed as “breadwinners” and women as “homemakers” throughout Argentina’s history.29 These same attitudes and patriarchal tendencies still persist today.30 Indeed, according to one 2012 study, 59% of Argentine men and 36.9% of Argentine women believe that women should take care of household chores, children, or the elderly.31

In many ways, these gender norms and stereotypes seep into cultural attitudes regarding women at work. In fact, social norms often prevent women from even entering the workforce in the first place. For example, women make up only 40% of Argentina’s labor force32 despite equaling men in terms of total population.33 Moreover, the Equipo Latinamericano de Justicia y Género (Latin America’s Team of Justice and Gender), a Latin American organization that supports gender equality, reported in 2011 that only 4.4% of applicants to large corporations were women.34  Thus, as one publication observed: “The main problems concerning labor discrimination against women in Argentina are not legal, but are social and economic…. [M]ost problems arise before a woman is even hired. These problems are less visible, harder to fix, and manifest themselves more broadly within societal and economic prejudices against women workers.”35

With such entrenched gender stereotypes, and a general lack of private initiatives designed to support women’s employment, women in Argentina surely face a number of barriers both in entering and advancing in the workplace.

Private Sector Initiatives

Although political quotas and the voluntary Corporate Governance Code may be the impetus for further regulation of Argentine companies, it appears that there is only nominal legislative focus on creating gender equality in corporate board rooms in Argentina. That said, there have been small steps by individual Argentine corporations that indicate a trend favoring gender equality.

Private companies and non-profit organizations are undertaking efforts to achieve gender equity. For example, in 2010 the World Bank partnered with 11 large corporations, including Coca-Cola Argentina, Avon Argentina, and Wal-Mart Argentina, to design and implement a program focused on gender equity.36  The program targeted gender equity in human resources policies, such as recruitment, promotion, and training, as well as professional development, work-life balance policies, sexual harassment, and a non-sexist company image.37  The benefits of this World Bank program were two-fold. Not only did the perceptions of gender equality improve at these 11 companies, but the program developed a clear, exportable model for other private companies in Argentina to address obstacles specific to the law and culture of Argentina.38  As these types of projects expand, more private companies may seek to achieve gender equality on their own initiative without government intervention.

Conclusion

Although Argentina still has social and culture obstacles to overcome, its evolving legal system and private sector initiatives seem to indicate that the country is taking valuable steps toward greater gender parity in the workforce. Because gender disparities in Argentina are greatest in the hiring process, it may be some time before the effects of these initiatives are reflected in the boardrooms of large companies.


1 With thanks to the previous author, Melissa Kessler.

2 Detras del Numero (Behind the Numbers), Equipo Latinamericano de Justicia y Género, www.ela.org.ar (last visited Mar. 18, 2018). See also Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer, Making Quotas Work: The Effect of Gender Quota Laws on the Election of Women, Legislative Studies Quarterly, XXXIV, 1 (Feb. 2009) (“…the Argentine law was the first by a democratic state that applied to all political parties and, consequently, offered the greatest opportunity to increase women’s representation in the entire legislature, not merely in one political party’s legislative delegation.”)

3 Rachel Kubi, Female Leadership in Latin America, Politic (Feb. 26, 2012), http://thepolitic.org/the-anomaly-of-female-leadership-in-latin-america/.

4 Mark P. Jones, Cristina Fernández de Kirchnerlock, Encyclopedia Britannica (Feb. 14, 2018), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cristina-Fernandez-de-Kirchner; Mimi Whitefield, Women Still Face Gender Gap in Latin American, Caribbean Politics, Miami Herald (Oct. 20, 2011), www.miamiherald.com.

5 2016 Global Board Diversity Analysis, Egon Zhender 5, https://www.egonzehnder.com/gbda.

6 Id.

7 The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, World Economic Forum 65 (2017), http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2017.pdf.

8 Women in business: New perspectives on risk and reward, Grant Thornton 10 (Mar. 2017), https://www.grantthornton.global/globalassets/1.-member-firms/global/insights/article-pdfs/2017/grant-thornton_women-in-business_2017-report.pdf.

9 Argentina: la mitad de las empresas no cuenta con mujeres en puestos directivos (Argentina: Half of Companies Have No Women in Management), América Economía (Mar. 07, 2011, 7:54 PM), http://www.americaeconomia.com/negocios-industrias/argentina-la-mitad-de-las-empresas-no-cuenta-con-mujeres-en-puestos-directivos.

10 Sexo y Poder (Sex and Power), Equipo Latinamericano de Justicia y Género, Publicaciones, www.ela.org.ar (last visited January 18, 2012).

11 Egon Zhender, supra note 5.

12 See Gabriela T. Mastaglia & Valerie Oosterveld, Women’s Rights Under Labor Law: A Comparative Study of Argentina and Canada, 19 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L.J. 915, 919-923 (1997).

13 Id. at 919.

14 Id. at 923 (Argentina codified its entry into the Convention under Law No. 23.179).

15 See, e.g., General recommendation No. 25, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (thirteenth session, 2004), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/General%20recommendation%2025%20(English).pdf.

16 General recommendation No. 5, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (seventh session, 1998), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/recommendations/recomm.htm#recom5.

17 Mastaglia & Oosterveld, supra note 12 at 928-32.

18 Arturo Bronstein, National Labour Law Profile: Republic of Argentina, ILO, http://www.ilo.org/ifpdial/information-resources/national-labour-law-profiles/WCMS_158890/lang--en/index.htm (last visited Aug. 30, 2018).

19 Mastaglia & Oosterveld, supra note 12, at 930-31.

20 Id. at 934-36.

21 Law No. 26.845 (Apr. 14, 2009) was implemented by Decree No. 1011/2010 (July 20, 2010).

22 Enrique Caviglia, Reglamentación de la Ley de Protección de las Mujeres (Regulation of the Law on Protection of Women), Cronista (Sept. 27, 2010), http://www.cronista.com/contenidos/2010/09/27/noticia_0004.html.

23 The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, supra note 7 (explaining that Argentina has a legislated candidate quota of 30% on all ballots, as well as voluntary political party quotas).

24 Daniel Gutman, In a Historic Step, Lawmakers Impose Gender Parity in Argentina’s Congress, Wire (Dec. 1, 2017), https://thewire.in/external-affairs/historic-step-lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress.

25 But see Kery Boyne, Note, UN Women: Jumping the Hurdles to Overcoming Gender Inequality, or Falling Short of Expectations?, 17 Cardozo J.L. & Gender 683, 701 (2011) (“Despite the fact that Argentina was the first Latin American country to adopt a quota for female participation in Congress, laws that are aimed at the promotion of gender equality or the protection of women’s rights fail to fully address the underlying social determinants [that] contribute to the feminization problems.”).

26 Women in the boardroom: A global perspective, Deloitte 14 (2017), https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/za/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/za_Wome_in_the_boardroom_a_global_perspective_fifth_edition.pdf (noting that Argentina has no gender quotas in effect for women on boards).

27 See Synthesis Report: Voluntary Corporate Governance Codes in Latin America, The 2007 Meeting of the Latin Am. Corp. Governance Roundtable, Organisation for Econ. Co-Operation & Dev. (Oct. 2007) and Argentina Approves Corporate Governance Code, Latin Am. Priv. Equity & Venture Cap. Ass’n (Dec. 10, 2007), http://lavca.org/2007/12/10/argentina-approves-corporate-governance-code/.

28 The Code’s nine chapters address: 1) the loyalties and responsibilities of the Board of Directors; 2) the responsibilities of the Chairperson of the Board; 3) the requirements of individual board committees; 4) responsibilities to the shareholders; 5) conflicts of interest; 6) information transparency, fluency, and integrity; 7) audit procedures; 8) dispute management and settlement; and 9) interest groups and social responsibility.  The Code does not address the representation of women on the Board of Directors. See Country Report: Voluntary Corporate Governance Code in Argentina, World Bank (Oct. 2007), http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/4/3/39741335.pdf.

29 Carol Marina Tojeiro, The Key to Unlocking Argentina’s Economic Potential? Women’s Inclusion in the Labor Force, Cornell Policy Rev. (April 4, 2018), http://www.cornellpolicyreview.com/argentinas-economic-potential-womens-inclusion-labor-force/#post-4184-footnote-1.

30 UN Special rapporteur challenges Argentina to step up protection of women in “machismo culture”, UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner (Nov. 21, 2016),  https://www.ohchr.org/FR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20903&LangID=E.

31 Tojeiro, supra note 29.

32 Labor force, female (% of total labor force), World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.FE.ZS (last updated Nov. 2017).

33 The World Factbook: South America :: Argentina, CIA (demonstrating that as of 2017, 50% of Argentina’s population aged 15-64 was female and 50% of the population was male) (data as of Aug. 20, 2018).

34 Sexo y Poder (Sex and Power), supra note 10, at *3.

35 Mastaglia & Oosterveld, supra note 12, at 935-36.

36 Argentina: Gender Equity in the Private Sector, World Bank, Report No. AAA46-AR 14-14 (May 10, 2010).

37 Id. at 16.

38 Id. at 22.