Colombia

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

According to a recent report by Deloitte, at 13% the Republic of Colombia has the highest percentage of women on boards of directors in Latin America.2  This is noteworthy in light of the regional average of 7.2%.3  It also reflects a significant increase in the number of women serving on public-sector boards, which has increased 15% since 2014.4  While Colombia may lead Latin America with regard to women directors, there remains significant opportunity for improvement in access to professional opportunities for women in Colombia, including on corporate boards and in senior executive positions.

Legislative Framework

According to UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, Colombia is well on its way to achieving “a system of laws and public policies aimed at ensuring women’s rights and opportunities.”5  In 2011, for example, Colombia enacted its first national anti-discrimination law, which prohibits and indeed criminalizes any discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political ideology, or ethnic and cultural origin.6  Although Colombia’s judicial branch upheld the law as constitutional in 2013, there has yet to be any serious prosecution, or advancement of further workplace-specific rights, under the stewardship of that law.7

The Colombian government has also promulgated several laws geared toward increasing female participation in the public sphere, including a policy focusing on improving life and equal opportunities for women in rural communities,8 providing equal opportunities for women,9 and addressing violence and discrimination against women (the definition of violence includes the concept of economic violence due to female status).10

Colombia also maintains an overarching national policy that supports gender equality.  In 2002, President Álvaro Uribe Vélez introduced a National Development Plan that authorized the Presidential Council on Equality for Women (CPEM) to build and enforce national policy aimed at promoting the social equity of women.11  Both then and now, two of the Council’s main goals are to promote the presence of women in the labor market and to increase political participation by women.12  In 2010, Colombia re-affirmed its national policy toward gender equity in the National Policy on Gender Equity for Women created as part of President Juan Manuel Santos’s National Development Plan.13  This program is geared toward furthering opportunities for equal participation of women in society, and includes a forum for discussing women’s issues such as reconciling work and family life, reducing the unemployment rate, affirmative action, entrepreneurship, access to resources, and job training.14

While there is no quota system for corporate board participation by women in Colombia, there is a 30% quota for female participation in public political institutions.15  In fact, in 2018 Colombia exceeded that target when it announced that, for the first time in the Republic’s history, half of the country’s cabinet members would be women.16  Although the use of quotas to augment female participation in the political arena is a relatively basic concept, it does suggest an increasing awareness in Colombia as to the importance of participation by women in leadership positions.17

Non-Governmental Organizations

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) committed to increasing professional opportunities and corporate leadership opportunities for women are also very active in Colombia.  For example, the Women’s Network was founded in 1995 by Isabel Londono as an association for professional women working in Bogota; it has over 6,500 members.  In 1999, the Women’s Network merged into the Foundation of Women for Colombia.  The Foundation works to develop professional opportunities for women.  In March 2011, for example, it held a conference for female CEOs in Colombia.  It noted that 4% of CEOs in Colombia were women, compared with only 3% of CEOs in the United States.  The Foundation also promotes women’s participation in U.S. MBA programs and has participated in Harvard’s Dynamic Women in Business program.18

In addition to the Foundation, the World Corporation for Colombian Women (CMM), which was originally formed in 1989 to promote micro-credit, is now dedicated to female economic and social advancement.19  CMM is another example of a Colombian organization working to increase participation by women in the workforce and in the nation’s economy.

Other Social and Academic Initiatives

In addition to NGOs, local students and academics are contributing to the debate on gender equality in Colombia.  In 2017, for example, CESA, a leading business school in Colombia, compiled and released the country’s first gender equality ranking.20  According to this study, companies that employ women are 26% more profitable.21  The study also revealed that women occupy only 34% of senior level management positions in the country.22

Professor Sandra Idrovo Carlier from the INALDE Business School of Colombia is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in Colombia.  She has often spoken on the issue of corporate governance and the need for greater gender diversity in high positions at private (i.e., non-governmental) companies.  Indeed, in a 2009 interview, Professor Carlier explained that companies are losing the benefits and opportunities provided by inclusion of women on boards or in other senior positions because of misconceptions that women are not as committed or prepared as men and are not as good at negotiations or networking.23  She stated that, to truly effectuate a change in female participation and equality in Colombian corporations, there must be a change in culture.24  Professor Carlier has been internationally recognized and was a featured speaker at the March 2012 International Seminar on Women and Leadership, Higher Level Female Talent, held in Miami by El Instituto Panamericano de Alta Dirección de Empresa (IPADE Business School).25

Similarly, Colombian businesswoman Yolanda Auza Gomez, President of Unisys de Colombia and General Manager of Unisys LACSA, also promotes female participation in business, and has been recognized as one of Latin America’s top 25 businesswomen.  Ms. Gomez launched a mentoring program for young business women through the Colombian Chapter of Women Corporate Directors International.26

Lastly, the Externado de Colombia University, through the Business Administration Faculty, has introduced a “Women Breaking Barriers” program, which seeks to maximize the professional development of Colombian women in administrative positions.27  To that end, the program arranges for 25 high-level women executives to mentor an equal number of students.  The program also offers conferences on management skills and assistance with business management, team management, and organization.

Conclusion

While Colombia leads Latin America in the percentage of women on corporate boards, there is significant room for improvement in professional opportunities for women in Colombia, including on corporate boards and in senior executive positions.  There are several NGOs dedicated to furthering professional opportunities for women and increasing the visibility of gender parity on corporate boards in Colombia.  Colombia’s continued efforts to further female participation in corporate leadership are worth following closely going forward.

1               With thanks to the previous author, Candice Castaneda.

2               Women in the boardroom: A global perspective, Deloitte 17 (2017), https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/za/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/za_Wome_in_the_boardroom_a_global_perspective_fifth_edition.pdf.

3               Id. at 13.

4               Id. at 17.

5               Columbia commits to strengthen gender equality policies, eliminate gender disparities in education, reduce female unemployment, implement a plan on ending gender-based violence (updated), UN Women, http://www.unwomen.org/en/get-involved/step-it-up/commitments/colombia (last visited Aug. 30, 2018).  See also Status of Women’s Rights in Columbia, UN Women, http://lac.unwomen.org/en/donde-estamos/colombia (last visited Aug. 30, 2018).

6               Wilda Escarfuller & Adam Frankel, Racial Apartheid Persists in Latin America, America’s Quarterly (Oct. 11, 2013), https://www.americasquarterly.org/content/racial-apartheid-persists-latin-america.

7               Benjy Hansen-Bundy, Constitutional Court Defends Anti-discrimination Law, Columbia Reports (April 11, 2013), https://colombiareports.com/constitutional-court-defends-anti-discrimination-law/.

8               Ley N. 731 (2002) (Colom.).

9               Ley N. 823 (2003) (Colom.).

10             Ley N. 1257 (2008) (Colom.).

11             Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Colombia Addendum, United Nations, Economic & Social Council, E/C. 12/COL/5 (Jan. 9, 2009), pp. 53-56, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cescr/docs/E.C.12.COL.5-ENG.doc.

12             Id.  See also Consejería Presidencial para la Equidad de la Mujer, http://historico.equidadmujer.gov.co/En/Paginas/Main-objective.aspx (last visited Sept. 2, 2018).

13             See Política Pública Nacional de Equidad de género para las Mujeres y el Plan Integral para garantizar a las mujeres una vida libre de violencias, Equidad de la Mujer, Gobierno de Colombia, http://www.equidadmujer.gov.co/ejes/Paginas/politica-publica-de-equidad-de-genero.aspx (last visited Sept. 4, 2018).

14             Id.

15             Deloitte, supra note 2.

16             Anastasia Moloney, Colombia Shatters Glass Ceiling with Gender-Equal Cabinet, Reuters (July 26, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colombia-women-politics/colombia-shatters-glass-ceiling-with-gender-equal-cabinet-idUSKBN1KG2HM.

17             Ley N. 581 (2000) (Colom.).

18             Mujeres Colombianas Presidentas, Fundacion Mujeres Por Colombia (March 8, 2011), http://www.fundacionmujeresporcolombia.org/2011/03/08/mujeres-presidentas/.

19             Corporación Mundial de la Mujer Colombia, http://www.cmmcolombia.org/ (last visited Sept. 4, 2018).

20             Gender Equality: Women Working for Less, Bogota Post (Oct. 17, 2016), https://thebogotapost.com/2016/10/17/gender-equality-women-working-for-less/.

21             Id.

22             Id.

23             See e.g., Sandra Idrovo, Conclusiones Medellin Ciudad Cluster Camara (2009) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqp8fGapq2g.  See also Sandra Idrovo Carlier, Consuelo Leon Llorente, Marc Grau Grau, Comparing Work-life Balance in Spanish and Latin-American Countries, Eur. J. of Training & Dev. (2012), Vol. 36 Iss: 2/3, pp.286-307 (illustrating the type of research completed by Professor Carlier regarding issues relevant to women in the workplace).  Professor Carlier’s collaborators for this article were professors from Spanish universities.

24             Id.

25             Seminario Internacional Mujer y Liderazgo, Talento femenino más Alta Dirección, El Instituto Panamericano de Alta Dirección de Empresa (IPADE Business School (March 2012)).  See also Sandra Monserrat Idrovo Carlier, INALDE, Claustro, https://www.inalde.edu.co/claustro/sandra-monserrat-idrovo-carlier/  (last visited Sept. 4, 2018).

26             See Latin America’s Top 25 Businesswomen, Latin Business Chronicle (Mar. 3, 2010), www.latinbusinesschronicle.com/app/article.aspx?id=4023; Latin America: Female Boardroom Blues, Latin Business Chronicle (Nov. 7, 2011), www.latinbusinesschronicle.com/app/article.aspx?id=5218.

27             Women Breaking Barriers, a Commitment to Gender Equality, Universidad Externado de Colombia, Sch. of Mgmt., https://www.uexternado.edu.co/en/school-of-management/mujeres-rompiendo-barreras-una-apuesta-por-la-equidad-de-genero/ (last visited Aug. 31, 2018).