LATIN AMERICA NEWS (IPS) —– In Argentina there are more and more women in management-level positions in the public and private sectors, although they still have to forge their way amidst gender stereotypes, while shouldering the double burden of home and work responsibilities.
After earning a university degree, ML started her career as a telephone operator in a bank, working part-time during the hours when her first son was in primary school.
“Later I applied for positions with longer hours and more responsibility, which made it possible for me to move up the ladder in the bank. But I always had to show that I was available, even though I had two kids,” ML, who is now 50 and is executive director of the bank, told IPS, asking that only her initials be used.
“In order for women to reach decision-making levels at work, men have to take on ‘women’s roles’ at home.” — Andrea Ávila
[/su_pullquote]Her story is similar to those of many of the 31 women executives from private companies interviewed in the report “Gender in the workplace: gaps in access to decision-making posts” in Argentina, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The study, which analyses official data from 1996 to 2012, reports that women hold three out of 10 management or executive positions in Argentina.
“Although inequality in access to decision-making posts persists, there have been positive changes,” the director of the study, Gabriela Catterberg, told IPS.
In Argentina, women in high-level positions in companies are 45 years old on average, have children over the age of six, and are mainly married or in stable relationships.
Andrea Ávila, the executive director for Argentina and Uruguay in Randstad, a Dutch multinational human resources consulting firm, fits that description. She told IPS that the increase in the number of women in senior positions is the result “of the demonstrations of women’s efficiency…and above all, of a changing mindset, which is gradually abandoning patriarchal notions.”
Growing access by women to university had a great deal to do with the change: 52.7 percent of the women in management or executive positions have university degrees, compared to 34.6 percent of the men.
“It is revealing how much leverage the completion of higher and university education has given women,” said the UNDP representative in the country, René Valdés, at the presentation of the study on Oct. 23.
Another interpretation is that in order for women to reach these positions, “much more is demanded of them in terms of education, than of men,” he said.
The strides made are particularly obvious in the public sector, where 50.3 percent of management-level positions are held by women, thanks to affirmative action measures and strong maternity benefits.
In the private sector, despite the progress made, women hold only 28 percent of the high-level posts.
“In the world of the private sector, meritocracy prevails,” Lidia Heller, an expert in women’s leadership in the workplace, told IPS.
Merits that ML had to constantly demonstrate. For fear of being “penalised” for her pregnancies, she returned to work immediately after giving birth both times, “to remain active in the market.”
According to official surveys, 76 percent of Argentine women in stable relationships are the ones in charge of the household tasks.
In the case of women in senior positions, they are still the ones responsible for organising the household and the family, although they have the support of domestic staff.
There is a “tension” between women’s personal and work lives, Catterberg said.
In decision-making posts, 82 percent of men are married or in a stable relationship, compared to 66 percent of women. Furthermore, 40 percent of men in these posts have wives without paying jobs, while 43 percent of the women with management-level positions have husbands or partners with similar jobs.
“Women have the ability to handle several things at once. But you leave your husband a list: pick up your kid at school, take the clothes to the dry cleaners, pay an account, boil the potatoes – and he’ll forget something for sure,” ML joked.
Ávila said, “There’s something that happens to all of us who are passionate about our jobs, and that is that we don’t see it as a job, we don’t see it as work, as something that has to be circumscribed to a specific place and schedule.
“The key is enjoying everything and complying with all the different roles, being well-organised and making good use of your time,” she said.
In the report, women executives talk about machista or sexist stereotypes at work.
“When I’m with my three male partners and other people come in, they generally talk to the men….They only listen to you when they notice that you’re saying something intelligent,” says one of the women interviewed in the UNDP report.
“For trips, they would choose men because they figure they’ll be available,” ML, the banker, told IPS.
She said she travelled for her job, but felt “guilty and had mixed feelings.” On one hand she enjoyed the adrenaline of seeing her career take off. But on the other, she was worried about missing out on important moments and aspects of family life. “I had to travel a lot and that meant giving up family things,” she said.
Heller, the expert on women’s leadership in the workplace, said “cultural changes” as well as specific legislation were needed to eradicate prejudice.
“Cultural conceptions about what men and women should be and do are translated to the workplace and interact with economic and productive demands and constraints,” said Ávila.
What is needed is “a change in mindset…because although men want to go to school events, help the kids with their homework, do the shopping and even cook ‘milanesas’ (breaded fried steak), the overriding feeling is still that they are helping out, rather than fully sharing responsibilities,” the executive director said.
“In order for women to reach decision-making levels at work, men have to take on ‘women’s roles’ at home,” she summed up.
According to UNDP statistics, Argentine women are in a better position than average in Latin America and the Caribbean where, in the 500 biggest companies, women make up less than 14 percent of members of the board and only hold between four and 11 percent of decision-making posts.
Catterberg said public policies are needed to “reconcile” the different roles and responsibilities, especially with respect to the care of children under the age of three. She also called for an extension of maternity and paternity leave, and an overhauling of business hiring and evaluation methods and criteria.
“It’s not just a question of hiring more women,” said the director of the study. “It implies understanding that women’s and men’s priorities at work change depending on the stage of their lives.”
Stages that should be taken into consideration when it comes to travel abroad or transfers, evaluating performance “by result, not by the hours spent on the job,” and taking into account the availability of women managers and executives to start an international career between the ages of 50 and 60, Catterberg said.
Ávila’s company has already adopted measures that also benefit the men, who in general are relatively insensitive to gender issues. Training programmes are held during working hours, and long before the end of the workday, so it won’t interfere in their private lives.
“It is important to communicate that respect for reconciling roles is not limited to women but to everyone in the company independently of gender, age and civil status,” Ávila stressed.
Verónica Carpani, a Labour Ministry adviser, proposes greater participation for women in negotiations with trade unions and businesses.
“Where there are more women, gender clauses are included,” she told IPS. “Women have to gain access to talks and negotiations so that more women are heard. If we don’t do it, no one will.”
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes