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

Despite being one of the largest economies in Latin America1 and home to many of the region’s businesses,2 in Mexico women only occupy approximately 6% of board positions.3  However, the percentage of women in senior leadership positions in Mexico is growing: a 2017 report shows that the number of businesses in Mexico with no women in senior leadership has fallen from 52% to 38% since the beginning of 2016.4  In addition, approximately 25% of Mexican firms have ownership that includes women.5

Cultural Backdrop

Gender roles, a culture of “machismo,” and discrimination in Mexican society may explain the lack of women in corporate leadership positions.6  Mexican women are expected to assume primary responsibility for household management and the rearing of children.7  In addition, studies suggest that the level of early childhood education and care publicly available in Mexico is not yet of sufficient quantity or quality to serve the needs of Mexican women wishing to return to work.8  Therefore, many Mexican women executives find it difficult to reconcile their professional lives with their family lives and often feel that they must choose between having a career and having a family.9

The culture of “machismo” in the workplace is also a significant barrier to women’s professional advancement.10  In the 1980s, for example, it was common practice for employers to require women employees to sign a resignation letter when hired, so that the employers could fire them quickly if they became pregnant.11  Although resignation letters are no longer legal, women continue to face “subtle discrimination all the way to sexual harassment” in small domestic companies, as well as in large multinational corporations, in Mexico.12  Gender discrimination is so prevalent in Latin America that 61% of female executives reported that they have experienced discrimination.13  For example, Ivonne Monteagudo, a former Senior Vice President of Sam’s Club Mexico, recalls overhearing a male manager decide to fire a female employee rather than a male employee, because the former did not have to support a family.14

In addition to the machismo culture, cronyism in Mexican society has historically hindered progress towards gender equality in the workplace.  The Inter-American Development Bank reports that “cronyism and connections are a more accepted mode of doing business in Latin American than in the rest of the world.”15  In fact, as recently as 2016, Mexico ranked as one of the top ten economies for crony-capitalism in the world.16  Male directors and CEOs tend to hire friends and professional contacts when vacancies arise and, as such, it is difficult for women to break into the business world unless they are politically connected or part of a family-run business.  Indeed, many of the women directors of Mexican companies serve on the boards of their family businesses.17  Despite these historic tendencies, the call for reform may be strengthening in Mexico: not only has popular opinion surged against cronyism18 but President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently ran on a platform that pledged, among other things, to curb the country’s corruption.19  Although it is still too soon to assess the impact of these trends on women in the workplace, they at least represent a potential positive force for change.

Legislative Framework

As of 2016, women held only 5.7% of corporate board seats in Mexico as compared to the regional (Latin American) average of 7.2%.20  Yet despite this comparably low percentage, Mexico does not currently have any laws or regulations establishing gender quotas for boards of directors.21  However, the Mexican Government recently announced its intention to amend its regulations to require publicly traded companies to disclose the number of women on their boards and whether they have implemented gender equality policies.22

Moreover, Mexico has several laws that promote gender equality, including equal pay for equal work laws, maternity laws, and equal opportunity laws.  Under the Mexican Constitution, men and women are equal before the law23 and all citizens have the freedom to work in a lawful profession of their choice.24  The Constitution also enumerates a number of equal rights, regardless of gender, including the prevention of discrimination against working mothers.25

Mexican federal labor law and its laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment also align with international standards.  More specifically, discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, nationality, sex, age, disability, health conductions, religion, immigration conditions, opinions, sexual preference or civil status is expressly prohibited under Mexican law.26  The law also clarifies that workplace or sexual harassment is grounds for a just cause termination.27  Lastly, employers are now expressly prohibited from requesting pregnancy tests as a hiring condition, and they cannot require a woman to resign, supposedly voluntarily, due to pregnancy.28

In addition, other public sector trends have kept women’s representation at the forefront of Mexico’s political discourse in recent years.  In Mexico’s 2012 presidential election, for example, Vazquez Mota, the first female presidential candidate in Mexico’s history, often spoke about the need to increase women’s participation in politics and business alike.29  And in Mexico’s July 2018 elections, the country achieved its highest-ever levels of female representation in both houses of Congress.30  With women holding 49.2% of seats in Mexico’s Senate, it is now the upper legislative chamber with the second-largest female representation in the world.31

As demonstrated by these legislative initiatives and the public debate, there is some support for more public sector efforts targeting gender inequalities in the workplace, including on boards of Mexican companies.

Corporate Governance Code

The Mexican Corporate Governance Code offers voluntary recommendations on corporate governance for private and public companies.  It was drafted largely by the Committee on Corporate Governance and, at the time of its 1999 inception, was “the first of its kind in Latin America.”32  The Committee on Corporate Governance was composed of members of the Mexican Stock Exchange, the Mexican Bankers’ Association, the Mexican Institute of Finance Executives, and the Mexican Institute of Public Accountants, as well as the industrial, retail, and service sectors.33  Notably, none of the drafters were women.34

The purpose of the Code is to increase transparency consistent with international standards and to increase competitiveness and investment.35  The Code has five sections: (1) Board of Directors, (2) Evaluating and Compensating Directors, (3) Auditing, (4) Finances and Planning, and (5) Stockholder Information.  Regarding board composition, the Code recommends that boards have 3-15 board members, of which 25% should be independent directors.36  Although the Code is voluntary, the Mexican Securities Law requires that 25% of public company board members be independent directors.37  The Code does not include a recommendation for gender diversity with regard to board composition, nor does the Code discuss term limits or other restrictions limiting a director’s independence after a certain number of years served.

Private Sector Initiatives

There is also potential for private sector reform in Mexico.  For example, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now considered an imperative for many Mexican companies.38  Although CSR is not a legal requirement, its growing recognition has led to greater transparency from Mexican companies on social, environmental, and ethical issues – including diversity of representation.  In fact, the Mexican Stock Exchange (BMV) created a new sustainability index in 2015 to help measure and encourage the growth of Mexican companies that are prepared for future social, environmental, and economic challenges.39  One factor, among many, that results in a favorable sustainability index score is the number of women on a company’s board of directors.40

Individual organizations are also recognizing the economic impact of gender diversity.  In 2016, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation along with the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico hosted an event in Mexico City that focused on the promotion of women in business as a means of achieving a more prosperous Mexican economy.41  Research presented at this event showed the many benefits of investing in women in business, including the “multiplier effect – when women reinvest a large portion of their income in their families and communities.”42  These findings build on prior reports from the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, which found after surveying 24 transnational companies that 75% of such companies reported “better results by having women who serve on their executive committee.”43
The American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico also discovered that many transnational companies have adopted various programs to help retain women employees in Mexico, including flexible hours, maternity and paternity support, mentoring programs, women’s networks, and programs promoting respect and diversity inclusion.44  The majority of the programs are available to all employees regardless of gender, even though they may be specifically intended to increase the participation of women in the workplace, to help reconcile work with family life, and to promote leadership and diversity.45  Perhaps because of these programs, working women in Mexico are more likely to work for a global firm as opposed to a non-global, domestic firm.46

Several local and international women’s organizations have also developed initiatives to increase the presence of women in board rooms.  The Mexican Association of Executive Women is a network of business women from small, medium, and large businesses.47  Its mission is “the search for unity of executive women and the support of their participation in better opportunities of employment and wealth, while achieving equity and justice in a democracy.”48  Women Corporate Directors, which has a chapter in Mexico City, advises boards on the participation of women in the work force, trains women for board service, and claims to have helped facilitate the placement of more than 500 women on corporate boards, private boards, and advisory boards around the world.49

Lastly, civil society in Latin America, and in Mexico specifically, is helping to promote and support women in corporate management positions.  For example, the PanAmerican Institute for High Business Direction (IPADE), a private university in Mexico and one of the leading business schools in Latin America, has a Research Center for Women in Senior Management.  The Center focuses on three primary areas: (1) analyzing and promoting the stories of women who have successfully achieved balance between their personal, family, and professional lives; (2) identifying and promoting businesses that promote a commitment to developing female leadership and managers; and (3) making an impact on education, public policy, and culture on these topics.50  The Center frequently releases research and publications and in 2017, in honor of IPADE’s 50th Anniversary, it released a book on the evolution of “the business woman” in Mexico, as well as the challenges of promoting female talent in management.51


Although women have made some advancement in the workplace, Mexico continues to lag behind much of the world in gender equality on corporate boards of directors.  The private and public sectors have commenced reforms to promote women’s participation in the workforce; however, cultural stereotypes continue to hinder progress.  There is some movement to effect change through legislation; however, the Mexican Corporate Governance Code has yet to implement requirements that would directly or indirectly increase the number of women in the boardroom.
Professional women’s associations and organizations in Mexico are striving to increase access for women to management and board positions.  However, until Mexican society realizes that maintaining the traditional gender roles not only hurts women who aspire to climb the corporate ladder, but also harms the country’s economy overall, women will have to continue to fight for their seat at the boardroom table.

1               Where Will Latin America’s Growth Come From?, McKinsey Global Inst.4 (Apr. 2017); Mexico Overview, World Bank, (last updated Apr. 16, 2018).

2               The Latin 500 Ranking 2015, Latin Trade (July 7, 2015),

3               Women in the boardroom: A global perspective, Deloitte 18 (2017),; Latin America: Female Boardroom Blues, Knowledge@Wharton (Oct. 19, 2011) reprinted in Latin Bus. Chron. (Nov. 7, 2011),  See also Irene Natividad, ‘There is no denying the effectiveness of quotas’: why Europe will surpass the U.S. in changing the face of the corporate board, Bus. Library (Fall 2010), (stating that of twenty-three Mexican companies surveyed by Corporate Women Directors International, 52% had female directors and 5.8% of all directors were women).

4               Women in business: New perspectives on risk and reward, Grant Thornton 11 (Mar. 2017),; Women in the Workforce: Mexico, Catalyst (Oct. 27, 2017),

5               The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, World Econ. Forum (2016),

6               See Amy Stillman, Machismo persists in Latin America despite rise of female presidents, Fin. Times (Mar. 5, 2014),; Interview with Ivonne Monteagudo, Women, Machismo and Opportunity: Women and Business Leadership in Mexico, in Focusing on Latin Am., Int’l Museum of Women, (last visited Aug. 27, 2018).

7               Tierra de Hombres in Las CEOs más Poderosas de América Latina, América Economía, (last visited Sept. 4, 2018) (discussing the view of Carlos Alcérreca, Dean of Administration and Accounting at ITAM of Mexico, on the changing roles of women in companies).

8               See Silke Staab & Roberto Gerhard, Childcare Service Expansion in Chile and Mexico: For Women or Children or Both?, U.N. Res. Inst. for Soc. Dev. (May 2010),$file/StaabGerhard.pdf; The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD (2017),

9               Latin America: Female Boardroom Blues, supra note 3.  See also Nathanial Parish Flannery, In Mexico and Around the Globe Women are Moving into Senior Leadership Positions, Forbes (Mar. 26, 2012),; Why top management eludes women in Latin America: McKinsey Global Survey results, McKinsey (Aug. 2013),

10             See, e.g., Interview with Ivonne Monteagudo, supra note 6.

11             Latin America: Female Boardroom Blues, supra note 3.

12             Interview with Ivonne Monteagudo, supra note 6.

13             Latin America: Female Boardroom Blues, supra note 3.

14             Interview with Ivonne Monteagudo, supra note 6.

15             Theresa Braine, Latin America Business Puts Few Women on Board, Women’s E-news (Aug. 29, 2005),

16             Our Crony Capitalism Index: The Party Winds Down, Economist (May 7, 2016),

17             Tierra de Hombres, supra note 7.  See also Flannery, supra note 9 (describing how Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala was thrust into a board position at Grupo Modelo only after her father, the former controlling shareholder, died without a male heir).

18             Economist, supra note 16.

19             A Left Turn in Mexico, Wall Street J. (July 1, 2018),

20             Deloitte, supra note 3 (citing The CS Gender 3000: The Reward for Change, Credit Suisse (Sept. 2016)).

21             Id.  However, Mexico has had a gender quota in place for governmental positions since 2002.

22             Francisco Garcia-Naranjo G, Corporate governance and directors’ duties in Mexico: overview (last updated Dec. 1, 2017),

23             Constitution of Mexico 2018, art. 4,

24             Id. at art. 5.

25    art.123 (providing equality for workers regardless of gender, including no strenuous work of pregnant employees, paid maternity leave 6 weeks prior to and after birth, job retention during maternity leave, two extra rest periods of 30 minutes to breastfeed, and women’s entitlement to nursing aid and infant care services).

26             Diana J. Nehro, Mexico Labor Reforms Increase Protection for Employees and Clarity for Employers, SHRM (Feb. 12, 2013),

27             Id.

28             Id.

29             Flannery, supra note 9.

30             Robbie Whelan, Women Test Mexico’s ‘Macho’ Political Culture With Big Electoral Gains, Wall Street J. (July 12, 2018),

31             Id.

32             Corporate Governance Code for Mexico, Eur. Corp. Governance Inst. (ECGI) 1 (Sept. 26, 2002),

33             Id. at 1, 2.

34             Id. at 13-14.

35             Id. at 1.  See also Country Report: Voluntary Corporate Governance Code in Mexico, OECD 2, 4 (Oct. 2007),

36             Código de Mejores Prácticas Corporativas, Consejo Coordinador Empresarial 14 (2006)  This is the revised, and most current version of, the voluntary Corporate Governance Code for Mexico.

37             Luis Lavalle Moreno, Comments to the New Securities Law, Martinez, Algaba, Estrella, de Haro y Galvan-Duque, S.C. 8 (Feb. 2006),

38             Garcia-Naranjo G, supra note 22.

39             Social Responsibility, Grupo BMV, (last visited Mar. 23, 2018).

40             Sustainability Guide: Toward Sustainable Development of Companies in Mexico, Grupo BMV 32,

41             Exploring Opportunities for Private Sector Engagement and Impact: Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment and Workforce Development in Mexico, U.S. Chamber of Com. Found. (Feb. 2016),

42             Id.

43             American Chamber Mexico, Best Practices in Diversity and Labor Inclusion, slide 2 (2011),

44             Id. at slide 4, 5, 20, 23, 29, 32, 37.

45             Id. at slide 3.

46             Today’s Mexican High Potentials at Work Report, Catalyst (July 2014),

47             Asociación Mexicana de Mujeres Empresarias A.C., (last visited Aug. 28, 2018).

48             Id.

49             Women Corporate Directors, (last visited Aug. 24, 2018).

50             IPADE Business School, Research Centers, Research Center for Women in Senior Management, (last visited Aug. 28, 2018).

51             IPADE Business School, Research Centers Commemorative Collection, (last visited Aug. 28, 2018).