The Crucial Role of Women in Business in Latin America

Since I assumed responsibility for Latin America at Pfizer a little over a year ago, I've been encouraged by the media attention given to the growth of the Americas and the progress of Latin America as a region. One specific area that deserves acknowledgement as a significant influence in the rise of Latin America is the increasing economic contribution of women in the region.

According to estimates from the World Bank, more than 70 million women have joined the workforce in Latin America over the past 20 years. They have played a critical role in achieving the poverty declines of the last decade. In fact, the same report notes the growth in women's income in Latin America accounted for 30 percent of extreme poverty reduction in the region (2012 World Bank Report - The Effect of Women's Economic Power in Latin America and the Caribbean). I have seen, first-hand, the economic power of women in action as a board member of The Committee of 200 (C200). C200 is an organization comprised of the world's most successful female entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, with the mission of empowering women to achieve success at the highest echelons of business.

In preparation for our 2013 C200 Annual Conference, I had a discussion with Ambassador Melanne Verveer (Former United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues). Although there is a large volume of research that shows women's economic participation is a driver of growth, we have yet to tap the full potential of women in the formal workforce in Latin America or elsewhere in the world. Ambassador Verveer emphasized that governments and the private sector, through their policies and priorities, need to recognize that women's economic participation translates into greater economic competitiveness and prosperity. And she's right. For example, when Pfizer began operations in Colombia 60 years ago, 40 percent of the workforce were women. Today, we rely on a workforce in Colombia that is 60 percent women, predominantly in executive and managerial positions, including the country's general manager.

In addition to diversifying their own workforces, companies can also contribute to women's economic empowerment by diversifying their supply chains. This translates into an important business benefit because women influence more than 65 percent of global spending. I recognize there are strong diverse and women-owned businesses that can effectively support our needs; however, they may not have access to channels to communicate with us. To address this, we work with an organization called WEConnect International, which identifies and certifies women-owned businesses. To date, Pfizer has identified more than 175 of its suppliers in Latin America as women-owned. By prioritizing diversity within the supply chain, Pfizer and other large multinational companies empower underrepresented groups and simultaneously incentivize existing suppliers to climb on board.

The great strides made by women in Latin America and around the world are undeniable but there is still much to be done. Given the progress today, it's exciting to think about the potential advancements and successes of women, and the resulting impact on economic growth.

Fabry, Susan. "Women Dominate The Global Market Place; Here Are 5 Keys To Reaching Them." Fast Company, 11 April 2011. Accessed on August 19, 2013.
• Women influence more than 65 percent of global spending
2012 World Bank Report
• Women have played a critical role in achieving the poverty declines of the last decade, with their labor market participation rates growing 15 percent from 2000 to 2010. (pg 7)
• Growth in female income accounted for 30 percent of extreme poverty reduction (pg 14)
• With more than 70 million joining the workforce over the past 20 years, their income alone reduced extreme poverty by 30%