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City AM blog: How the financial services sector in Latin America is tackling gender imbalance

Financial inclusion is increasingly being seen as a valuable tool to promote social progression and economic prosperity.

Latin America has a female-led workforce yet female representation in corporate boardrooms is low. But that contrast is creating a precedent for change, with banks, individuals and social organisations all rallying to improve financial inclusion and gender representation.

In a recent episode of DiverCity podcast, Angela Hurtado, JP Morgan’s managing director and senior country officer for Colombia, and Juan Carlos Mora, chief executive officer of Bancolombia, discuss the drive to make meaningful change to underserved groups across the region.

When looking to promote systematic change, a top-down approach is often prudent. Mora says that when he was appointed as Bancolombia CEO six years ago, the all-male board of a company that had 62% female employees was clearly a shortcoming to be addressed. Immediately, he took action by appointing two women to senior positions.

“I can say how different the dynamics are on the board when you have diversity,” says Mora.  Conversations incorporated different views enabling boardroom-level discussions to evolve and  Bancolombia is aiming to improve female participation in middle-management positions, further cementing the pathway to the boardroom.

Progression within an organisation is also a key tenet to Hurtado’s view on social inclusion within the financial services industry. She helped found Women in Connection, a non-profit that promotes education through the lens of diversity.

She says that promoting “corporate policies” on fostering career progression for people from diverse communities has been central to Women in Connection’s work so far.

“When you have a clear path for companies to go on the journey, it’s going to be easier to set some targets to follow and to recognise,” adds Hurtado. 

And a quick look at the statistics suggests change is happening.

“We are coming from around 16%-17% of women participation in boards of directors in Colombia,”  says Hurtado. By the end of 2021, the number was closer to 19%, something Hurtado recognises as an important improvement.

But more ambitious goals are already being planned, with a corporate commitment to achieve at least 30% female participation on boards of directors being widely adopted – that is the level at which “you feel that there is real diversity on the board,” says Hurtado. 

For Mora, the correlation between diversity, social progression and good business management is obvious, and starts with addressing our biases.

“It’s good for society. It’s good for business. So, we have to do it,” he insists. 

Hurtado acknowledges there is still a huge space for improvement, but efforts to address biases and promote diversity within corporations is creating leaders who understand and promote change – characteristics that filter into social and financial inclusion campaigns.

And the most compelling reason for change is summarised in Hurtado’s closing remarks, “Diversity is bringing in a better way to solve problems around the globe. This is the way to do it.”