25 abril 2018

Future leadership in the Latin American and Caribbean region? Women are ready!


By Victoria Cárdenas Simons*

Gender equality has gone from being a pending challenge around the world to an urgent task. Women are raising their voices across the globe to demand greater equality of opportunity. And the world is listening. In the workplace, this translates into ending sexual harassment and closing gender gaps in the areas of workforce participation, equal pay and leadership roles.

Women’s leadership has advanced in Latin America and the Caribbean has stood out, especially in the public sector. The region is the only one in the world that has featured six female heads of state simultaneously exercising power in 2014 – from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. Today, women hold Vice Presidential positions in Panama, Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and soon in Costa Rica. In addition, the region boasts the second highest number of women parliamentarians.

However, progress has not been equal across all countries, with some even experiencing setbacks. Is there a critical mass of women prepared to take on this challenge? My answer is a definite yes. The leaders of the future are ready. I know this for certain, as I know many of them personally.

On April 27, we will celebrate the graduation of the first class of Women Emerging Leaders of the Public Sector in Panama. This initiative is sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank IDB in collaboration with the Government of Panama, and with the academic support from the INCAE Business School. Since its launch in October of 2017, the program has drawn the active participation of 30 Panamanian women leaders, representing five ministries: Foreign Affairs, Economy and Finance, Government, Agricultural Development and Security. I have been able to confirm the drive, talent, ability, passion and commitment these women have demonstrated to the progress and growth of their country.

Why Panama? In Latin America and the Caribbean, women typically occupy some 25% of the seats in Congress, in Panama the figure is higher, at 29%. In addition, more Panamanian women graduate from universities than men, though they are not absorbed by the labor force in the same percentage.

I am especially pleased to see that the participants in this program are developing their careers in sectors of government that are traditionally not led by women, such as Security and Economics.

“This program has helped me to evaluate myself as a professional, supporting the importance of effectively communicating ideas, management and achievements with my team and superiors,” said Nereida Pérez, of the Ministry of Agricultural Development. Meanwhile, Farrah Urrutia, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shared the following: “The program has helped me to identify how I exercise leadership within the organization and how to position myself to be more effective in achieving my professional goals … and I hope this program will continue forging women leaders in the country. ”



The program for Emerging Women Leaders of the Public Sector, which was also held in the Dominican Republic and will soon be launched in Peru, is inspired by the Emerging Women Leaders Program originally developed for the IDB staff. The program has been carried out in six cohorts with a total of 162 graduates; soon the seventh program will be launched. We are very proud of our achievement: more than 50% of the graduates have been promoted, and many have taken on new professional challenges, positioning themselves as the leaders we need both in the Bank and our region.

The moment to boost and accelerate women’s leadership is now. They are ready. We must continue working in a concerted fashion across all sectors to support their development and open up new paths for their advancement.

If you are like me and want to boost women’s leadership in the region, click here and discover your next challenge.

To read the original blog post in Spanish, click here.


Victoria Cárdenas Simons, has been Chief of the Leadership and Employee Development Division in the Human Resources Department at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) since 2013.  In this capacity, she has developed a comprehensive academy of learning programs for Bank executives and supervisors, as well as technical and administrative/support staff.  She leads the flagship program for Emerging Women Leaders, has been adapted to the Latin American and Caribbean region for women across the public sector. She is also in charge of the Leadership, Mentoring, Diversity and Inclusion, On-Boarding, Languages and Culture, Communications, and Career and Performance Management programs.

Victoria has over twenty five years of experience in human resources management, organizational effectiveness, and leadership development with international organizations, governments, and the private sector. Prior to Joining the IDB, she worked at the World Bank where she held a variety of executive positions including  Manager of the Leadership and Client Engagement Programs, Manager of the Global Staff Mobility Unit, and Manager of the Young Professionals, Junior Associates and Internship programs. She has a B.A. in International Affairs and a Masters in Human Resource Management from George Washington university.  She also has several certifications including Leadership Coaching from Georgetown university and on Systems Coaching from the Coaches Institute.

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