Sheila La Serna, chief legal officer, Profuturo AFP

The legal profession presents some challenges and opportunities for diversity and inclusion, since we have a special purpose: to attain justice and societal peace for the world. Maybe this is very idealistic, but in a world where conflict is commonplace, we need a lawyer profile. The corporate lawyer should be concerned about having a more diverse and inclusive organization, to understand their clients.

Capturing the zeitgeist

When I engaged in the private practice of law 20 years ago, nobody would talk about diversity and inclusion. We didn’t have maternity leave, we didn’t have a home office so you would have to stay very late in the law firm, and being a workaholic was the rule. 20 years later, things have changed. A new sense of societal demands for women and LGBTQIA+ communities has been captured within the legal profession, and now it is more concerned about diversity and inclusion in general, making the lawyers happier people, and we now have, for example, maternity leave for parents, and a soft landing after having your baby.

However, in 2016, there was a report issued by Women in the Profession (WIP) Peru, a group I am part of, about the proportion of partners in law firms by gender. I was very shocked with the results – we didn’t have parity in the partnerships of law firms; maybe 30% maximum were women.

Aside from the legal profession in law firms and in-house teams, we have academic panels, where until maybe 2017 or 2016, we had all male panels on academic legal topics. It’s something
that is changing – some companies and legal in-house teams have stated to set aspirational quotas of at least 30% women in panels.

Agents of change

I’m very engaged on diversity and inclusion topics – I really want to be, both as an individual and together with all the people around me with the same goals, to be an agent of change in society. I am a member of WIP, and Women CEO, a corporate organization that has a main goal of least 30% of women on boards by 2025. Unfortunately, even public companies that report to the market on their independent directors and so on have a great gap in terms women occupying the C-suite and leadership roles. I think the legal profession is a key profession for diversity, since they are legal and counsel to the whole company on these matters.

When it comes to my team, we are about 85% women. We get together every other day, and I try to have a special one-to-one meeting with each one at least once a month, about whatever makes them worry at the office or at their homes, just to hear their needs. I’m conscious that every person is different and sometimes they do not like to talk en masse. So, I have a very direct relationship with every member of my team.

In the pension fund industry, we participate as shareholders in meetings and committees for different investments that we are in. When we appoint directors, we try to make sure that at least one woman is included by the headhunters. When we look ourselves for directors to represent the pension funds through our in-house research, we like to always make sure that at least one woman is considered in the final group of three that is to be voted on.

I’m part of the inclusion committee at Scotia Bank. It’s one of the oldest diversity and inclusion committees in the financial sector in Peru and has been operating for more than ten years. It has a member that represents each of the different affiliates of Scotia Bank in Peru, and we try to hear the voice of every company, every member of the committee, and then try to issue similar standards and policies on gender and equality in the metrics, events, and workshops that we have.

In Scotia Bank, we have a culture of welcoming everyone. This is not limited to women, this is also extended to different ideologies, experiences, profiles, perspectives, and sexual options. And that diversity has proved to be one of our best assets because, during the pandemic, there was a lack of trust of the government, to the private sector, specifically the financial sector and pension funds, and so this has made us resilient with our clients, they will stick with the relationship because they feel comfortable, and that the corporation has empathy for them.

Pillars of inclusion

In the inclusion committee, we focus on three different pillars: gender equality, disability and the LGBT community. So these are the three pillars that support our different policies. Our strategy on diversity and inclusion fosters a culture of respect, of valuing all the differences and giving equal worth to equal talent. We recognize that we are all different biologically and physiologically, but, in terms of work and salary and opportunities, there should be no difference. That made us issue some policies on wage, salaries and to have equitable compensation packages.

In terms of the selection of staff, we try to do it very fairly in terms of diversity and inclusion. For example, when you apply for a job at Scotia Bank, you won’t have a chart to mark whether you are a woman or man, we only focus on what really matters – if you’re experienced, whether you have values that fit with ours. In our panels for the selection of staff, we have at least one woman and we have always a woman candidate or LGBT candidate as well in the selection (if they voluntarily mention what their sexual preference is).

We have inclusive communication – we have an inclusive language manual that helps us to address the different internal communications in a way that is open and diverse for everyone. We won’t say, ‘Hi there, women’, or ‘Hi there, men’, we would say, ‘Hi there, team’ – very slight words that we use to avoid discrimination and making people uncomfortable.

Check the X-ray

We also track the different initiatives that we have, because whatever you have on paper, you have to measure to make sure it is working. So we have an X-ray report on the different metrics that we use: for example, the number of women versus men that are scaling the corporate ladder, the number of women that have access to promotions. We conduct annual research where we ask people to tell us if they want to become an ally, or how they feel about the fact that Scotia Bank is focused on the LGBT community, if they really want to support the LGBT community. So we have a database of people who will really help us in closed groups to foster the initiatives targeting the LGBT community. Year by year, the percentage of people supportive of the LGBT community is increasing more than 20%.

We have a mandatory quota on disabled people. You can always accuse yourself, saying ‘Notwithstanding the fact that I have looked for disabled people to fit this job description, I haven’t found anyone.’ But we try to do our best, and include people with different types of disability, for example, auditory, visually or physically disabled people. That’s something we are very proud of. We’re still working on accessibility. I don’t think there are a lot of companies here in Peru that have special products for disabled people. But, for example, in Scotia Bank we have an app that reads the different functionalities aloud in Spanish, so you don’t have to actually read the app to make a transaction with the bank.

We have different programs to empower women, to break the glass ceiling, such as leadership skills, networking, and different models that you can engage in. They’re all virtual.

Those are some of the things that we’re working on, across the large spectrum of work we have done for diversity and inclusion.

Erica Barbagalo, head of law, patent and compliance Brazil and LatAm BP for Crop Science, Bayer

When I was younger, I used to work in companies that were majority male or participate in groups where I was the only woman. At the time, I didn’t realize the difficulty I had in expressing my ideas or my thoughts. I didn’t feel I could talk, because I would be the different one, and I wanted to fit in, so I used to try to talk and act and think the same as the rest of the group.

Now, looking backwards and with experience, I can see how many opportunities I lost because of that. And how many opportunities the companies lost to have a different perspective, an approach that could be more effective, or a better discussion – if I had just mentioned ‘that idea’, if I had just opposed ‘that concept’, it would have been much, much richer, I would have been happier.

Nowadays I feel much more empowered, and I perceive the women around me to be much more empowered and engaged. They are open to voice their problems and thoughts, domestic or professional. It’s ok to be yourself, and not spend energy trying to be something else.

One experience that struck me in the past was coming back from maternity leave. That was a real tipping point for me – I think coming back from maternity leave is always very impactful for women, and for me it was not different. But when I got back, they didn’t have a place for me to take my milk to the baby, I had very difficult arrangements for getting to take the baby out of nursery. I was confused and insecure, and I didn’t have any support specifically for that. But at the same time, I didn’t feel secure to talk about it, because it could be understood as though I was not able to fully contribute.

I remember at that time there was an important project going on and it was a project that should have been assigned to me, because it fit under my responsibility. But the group that was negotiating the contract asked my manager to put someone else on it, because I had a small baby. Nobody asked me if I could do it; they just assigned it to another person. And I didn’t oppose. It was very frustrating. But my leader did oppose it, and assigned it to me, after checking with me, and she also offered her support.

I remember the first day we met with the client of this project. We were discussing the agenda, and I was vocal in saying, ‘I have to leave at this time because I have to collect my baby from nursery.’ My colleagues looked at me angrily, because I was supposed to be 24/7 with the customer.

But the customer looked at me and said, ‘Great, I also have a kid and I want to be home early to meet with him, so the meeting will be finished by that time.’

And that happened every day – he was the one calling off the meeting. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I just had to say it.’ Needless to say, the project finished in a timely manner, and was a success.

There had been no impact resulting from our agreed agenda – on the contrary, we ended up being very effective during the meetings, as we had a daily deadline.

Learning to use your voice

That was one example that made me realize that most women don’t talk, and that we have a lack of women in leadership teams. So, I wanted to try to create these groups. At Monsanto, I supported the creation of a group called ‘Women Network’, a project resulting from a leadership training that aimed at fostering women’s careers. It evolved, it changed, got engagement at a global level and is the Business Resource Group (BRG) for gender equality, which I’m the ambassador for in Brazil.

At Bayer, there is great awareness and commitment to inclusion and diversity. In Brazil, we have a diversity and inclusion steering committee formed by senior leadership. HR broadly coordinates the agendas, budget, initiatives and trainings, and coordinates the five different business resource groups: the one I sponsor is for gender equality, race, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ and generations. Each group has a sponsor, two co-leaders, and is formed by volunteers who dedicate time for activities to promote awareness and engagement related to their specific group, as well as intersectionality. We have one or two members of the Brazil law department in each of these BRGs. Globally, the legal department created an I&D (inclusion and diversity) committee that will support the leadership team in the inclusion agenda, among other actions.

Over the past three years, my group has focused on different aspects of gender equality, such as initiatives to be supportive to make it less likely for women to leave when they have kids, foster women careers by empowering them, acting in specific actions for different business or functions, as demographics show the need. For instance, one of the biggest business areas
in Brazil is agriculture, and data showed we have few women in the sales team, so we thought about and promoted actions that can help identify opportunities for them to progress in their careers.

Last year, we launched a tool for contributors to denounce domestic violence, which also provided support to the victims of said violence. It started with the pandemic, when we realized that the number of cases had increased tremendously in Brazil, and across the world. We partnered with a specialized company to offer that tool, and professional support for the women. We have also just launched a project to fight harassment in the workplace, which consists of enhancing the awareness about what is not tolerated, and creating a network to listen and support colleagues who experience harassment.

Another current focus is on intersectionality. Our BRG focuses on gender equality, but we are working together with the other groups to promote inclusion in a broader sense, so that we don’t talk about ‘women’, but ‘all women’: black women, transgender, those with disabilities, and of all ages.

We also have programs for mentoring suppliers to implement efficient inclusion and diversity policies. In the legal department, for instance, it is a requirement for the law firms to provide data to confirm diversity in the teams. Having effective I&D policies is a differential for hiring law firms in Brazil.

Tone at the top – and the bottom

At Bayer overall, and in Brazil in particular, I think that we have done a tremendous job in improving I&D culture; it’s a company value, and is part of our DNA. Although there’s a lot to be accomplished, we live our awareness and values, and people are really engaged and intentionally more open and inclusive.

It’s a global movement, as Bayer’s headquarters announced last year our global commitment to I&D, which, among other things, is to have half of the leadership occupied by women by 2030. Maybe that sounds like just a number, but it’s an implicit message for all that shows we are on the right path for fostering I&D.

Now that the awareness has been created, there is more consciousness, and also demands from the bottom up. As an example, we have a recurring program for trainees where we welcome and accelerate talent that will be in the pipeline for leadership. At the beginning of last year, we launched a program dedicated exclusively to black people. We received a lot of applause, criticism and threats from the media, but internally it was so well received. The employees were very supportive of the need for creating these opportunities, and were proud of this initiative. Another important aspect of this case is that it shows how the leadership have embraced and supported this concept, as the original idea came from a group of employees, and, at the end, the support came from employees all over the company.

The legal team

In Brazil, we have a legal team that is majority women, and we have representatives of other minority groups, although we currently lack black employees. We recently had an open position and we required of the talent acquisition team that at least half of the candidates on the shortlist should be black, and preferably women. First, the notice was in English, which we have reviewed: we can be flexible on that and then provide English classes. If we want talent, we have to be intentional, as the best lawyer could be a person that hasn’t had the opportunity to attend English classes or study abroad.

Every quarter, we have a meeting with the whole legal team and, in all these meetings, we bring someone from the I&D community to talk to us. We started welcoming the HR I&D manager to walk us through the I&D strategy and to share demographics, then we brought in members of the other BRGs groups to enhance our awareness and to enlighten us about their initiatives and how we can support them.

Maria-Leticia Ossa Daza, chair of the Latin America practice, Willkie Farr & Gallagher

My experience breaking barriers throughout my career has led me to be very conscious about the culture that we are building within the Latin America Practice Group at Willkie. A part of this is leading with empathy and compassion. I understand some of the unique challenges that face a diverse group of individuals, and aim to build an environment where we are all open about these hurdles and work together to help one another. I believe that the culture we have created is great for our team to thrive and helps us to provide clients with the best work possible.

Another way that this has shaped the group’s culture is that we are constantly looking for ways to lift up others and give them the opportunity and support to try out new things and be in the spotlight, especially when it comes to women, people of color and other diverse groups. I see it as my job to encourage those coming up behind me to take chances and be seen. This leads to greater professional fulfillment and inspires others beyond our firm to hopefully do the same amongst their teams.

I think that important actions can be taken at every level of the talent pipeline to help support the next generation of leaders to thrive throughout their careers. These can be grouped into retention and recruitment.

On retention: Developing a mechanism to receive feedback on how the culture supports women and other underrepresented groups is critical. This feedback can provide incredible insights and build trust. However, I would caution that this can’t be performative, and there need to be deliberate efforts to make changes based on the feedback. Another way is to build in and celebrate the mentorship efforts within the organization. If you can celebrate those who take the time to mentor and champion women, I genuinely believe this will lead to progress.

In recruitment: I think that having a robust and inclusive culture is an essential first step to continue attracting diverse talent. As a leader, I view it as my responsibility to be a vocal advocate for inclusion and find ways to support its benefits publicly. Today, with the battle for talent being at its most competitive, we need to ensure that we are out there on the public record making our contributions.

In the Latin American context, we are seeing a significant influx of women in leadership. I look throughout the region and see so many talented organizations doing great work to combat the bias that has limited our potential as a global business community for so long. I feel hopeful that this will continue and that other regions will look to Latin America for best practices on gender parity in the future.

The first piece of advice I would give is that you shouldn’t be afraid to chart your own path. For many of us, our paths will look different than those who came before us because we are different than traditional leaders of the past. This means that this path might feel lonely and awkward at times, which is okay.

Also, it’s critical to get comfortable calling out bias wherever you see it. I would always try to ensure that you are doing it with respect, but it’s important to exercise that muscle.

Unfortunately, as women and individuals of color, we will face bias. The more experience we have engaging in these courageous conversations, the better equipped we will be for the future. I also believe that you shouldn’t feel like you have to address this alone. All organizations are grappling with building inclusive cultures. Take the time to share your concerns with senior leaders that you trust because we are here to support you, but we can’t help address problems unless we are aware of them.

Another key area where I work with my mentees is getting comfortable being authentic at work, while acknowledging it can take courage. For some, this could look like developing a personal style and sharing cultural norms that celebrate who we are. It can also mean sharing information about what is going on in our lives even if it feels vulnerable. The reason that it’s so critical is that research shows that those who develop deep connections at work are more productive and feel more fulfilled. One comprehensive study showed that the number one predictor of a successful team is the psychological safety of that team, or in other words a team’s ability to feel safe to take risks and to be vulnerable in front of each other. I don’t think we can develop these deep relationships if we are hiding our true selves.

Lastly, I would also share the importance of making time for the things that bring you joy. Joy is the antidote to burnout, and it keeps us creative and connected. I think that we often feel that to be successful, as long as we put in the long hours, we will reach the top. That has not been my experience. It is also essential to maintain a multidimensional life that can fuel us for the marathon that is our careers. Building a habit of prioritizing joy is a key life lesson, especially in a business that relies heavily on interpersonal relationships among your team and client base. We are in the people business, after all.

Valéria Schmitke, Regional general counsel, Zurich Latin America; co-founder and president of Idis

Three years ago, I was discussing how the insurance sector was behind in terms of D&I with three company lawyers who were senior managers in legal departments (Ana Paula de Almeida Santos and Vera Carvalho Pinto). We decided to create Idis, an institute to improve that, so we gathered some volunteers, and we work on awareness, we do events and training and we help companies to implement their D&I programs.

Nowadays, we work across five pillars: gender, focusing on women; LGBTQIA+; race and ethnicity; generations, focusing on people above 50; and people with disabilities. All the leaders have experience in that area of diversity.

But I want to create a pillar about other areas of diversity, as well. We work a lot on the traditional pillars for D&I because we still have a lot to do. But there are many other biases that people have, and we need to at least make them aware that this can prevent some people truly contributing to the company. For example, I talk a lot nowadays about ‘fat phobia’, because some companies don’t hire overweight people. They think they are slow, or they are lazy. But actually, when we do very intellectual work, such as in financial markets, we are not running a marathon!

Finding your cause

We now have 35 volunteers, and the companies sponsor us. It has been quite a journey – very rewarding. I believe in voluntary work because it’s important to dedicate yourself to something bigger. It’s not about forcing anyone to engage in any voluntary work – I always say, for example, if the company had a program of “let’s do exercise, let’s go biking”, I would not engage in that because it’s not my cup of tea, it’s not what sparkles for me. What makes me willing to engage is D&I or social responsibility or environmental issues. This sparkles for me. If the company offers employees some possibilities for voluntary work, this creates more loyalty to the company, because even if I receive an offer from another company, I will not go because I will lose that part of my life that is important to me.

For my personal development it has also been great because I am learning to lead by influence, not by power. My team knows (even though I don’t tell them) that I will evaluate them and I can dismiss them. But when you lead an organization of volunteers, it’s all about influencing, recognition and supporting. For me personally it has been quite a journey. All of them are very much engaged and I’m proud of this thing – it’s probably the best thing I ever had in my life.

We all went to law school searching for Justice with a capital J, and D&I for me is a matter of Justice more than anything, and of respect. I think legal departments have a key role in diversity and inclusion, because we search for Justice.

Influence in action

Secondly, we are consulted about everything, including internal policies. When you are looking at a hiring policy for example, you can influence to have more rules about D&I. I’ll give you an example. If you are hiring a new lawyer, you can ask for résumés of both genders. I’m not saying that you must hire a woman, but at least you have to interview a woman. And you can try to have blind interviews, not knowing if it’s a woman or a man. When interviewing someone, I try to not open the camera – I say let’s talk by phone, because then I will not look at the person. If the person is good-looking or not good-looking, if they are black or white, I will not see.

Everybody has biases. Everybody. So, first of all, we need to be aware of our biases, and secondly, we need to try to avoid our biases. I was talking with a general counsel before the pandemic and there was a very important congress in that country, where it was a form of recognition to send someone to participate in the congress. I said to him, “What about this lady?” And he said to me, “Oh no, she has a baby, I think she won’t go, even if I give her this recognition.” And I said, “Did you ask her?” “No, I didn’t.” “So you ask her. Because whether she will go and leave the baby at home, or go and take the baby with her, it’s her decision, not yours. So if she deserves to receive this recognition, the mere fact that she has a baby is not something you need to take into account.”

We need to be vigilant. This is the point. If you are in a meeting and someone cracks a joke or makes a comment that’s offensive to any person – even if there is no one of that group there in the meeting – you need to point it out. You need to educate people. This is something that has changed over time and, I must tell you, for me it has been a journey as well. Many years ago, I would not be concerned about that. But now, I am a different person.

What corporate lawyers, more than anyone, need to be conscious of, is that we are not there to be popular. We are not there to be friends of everybody. We are there to be the annoying person that tells the truth. We need to point it out when someone is wrong, when they are going down a path that’s not the correct one. It’s our mission, including about D&I. It’s not only about law, it’s about ethics – and D&I is part of ethics.

Closing the gap

In Brazil we have economic inequality which is very much connected to ethnicity. Brazil was the last country in Latin America to abolish slavery and even nowadays, in Brazil, to be Black is almost to be poor. So, when you have a proactive action to have more Black people in your company, you need to close the gap. You don’t demand a first-league university, you don’t demand English is used, you don’t demand the full package in terms of knowledge. You need to hire people and close the gap.

It’s the same for people with disabilities. In Brazil, there is a law requiring companies to have a percentage of their employees with disabilities, and the spirit of the law is that the companies help to close the gap of those people – sometimes, perhaps, they could not go to a particular school for example. So, the company will hire them and give training to them. But, often, the companies are not so eager to do that. But big companies have a responsibility, and legal departments have to influence in this direction.

If I can work 10 years more in diversity and inclusion, I will work. I believe this will be my legacy. More than making money and have wealth, I need to leave something behind. I will be happy when 56% of all people in companies in Brazil, including senior management, are Black people. I will be happy when 50% of the senior management of companies are women. And I will be very happy when an LGBT person does not have to hide their sexual orientation, because then we will have a truly respectful environment. I will be happy if a person above 60 is still valued as a good asset to the company, who can contribute with their experience. I will be happy if companies truly develop people with disabilities. 15 years ago, I was at another company, and I had a deaf person in my team. But I was not prepared, I was not trained to deal with that person. I was not taught sign language, nothing. I didn’t know how to manage that person. I believe that companies have to train managers how to deal with people with disabilities.

Paying gratitude forward

So, we have a long way to go. I know during my lifetime this won’t change. But I have the dream of developing at least my sector, the insurance sector, a little bit. Nobody in university has ever said, ‘I will work for an insurance company!’ But insurance is very challenging, you get to know qualified people, it’s a good work environment, and I would like to make the insurance sector more attractive to young people. So they look at the insurance sector and say, ‘Look how many good things they are doing in terms of D&I, the environment, wellbeing, and other initiatives. I would like to work for the insurance sector.’ I am very grateful to the insurance sector. I have had many opportunities in it, and I want to leave something good behind to the sector.

Claudia González Montt, general counsel and external affairs, SMU S.A.

Because I am a woman, it’s very important to me that, in an organization, women have equal treatment and equal opportunities to anyone else. Diversity and inclusion means being recognized for my talent, ability, my individual characteristics and it’s important that, based on those, I can compete and develop with equal opportunity.

The importance of inclusion

But having a diverse team in an organization is not enough to get all the benefits that diversity brings. There must be an inclusive and open environment that guarantees this equal treatment and opportunity. I heard in a training session that diversity is when they invite you to the party, but inclusion is when they invite you to dance. If you don’t work on inclusion, you won’t have the environment that you need to develop your career as a woman or as a minority. You need a safe place where you can express your ideas, your different viewpoint. In my experience at different companies, women can help to develop the business because we have different perspectives than men.

For many years, I have participated in D&I initiatives, for example leading D&I committees, developing minority support programs, developing diversity management models, and participating in mentoring and sponsorship programs.

Work-life balance

I love mentoring, especially when the mentee is a woman starting out in her working life, because you can share your experience, and help other women to open up the workplace and develop their professional career; give some advice about how to balance personal life and work. I’m married, I have children and for me this part is very important, because I need to have a very good personal life in order to give a very good work performance. I need this balance in my life. Through mentoring, I can give young women tips or advice to help to balance personal life and work and about the importance of co-responsibility in caring for children.

That’s a big challenge because, traditionally in Chile, men work and women stay at home. It’s part of our culture. Unfortunately, the pandemic has impacted women more than men in terms of employment, and also due to the increase in childcare. Co-responsibility is a new concept for us and we need to work on that, to involve more men in work at home.

Only 14% of board members of IPSA companies (the top 30 companies with the largest stock market presence in Chile) are women. However, there has been an advance because, ten years ago, this precedent was close to 4%. In the legal field, things are not very different. Although today there are more women lawyers working at law firms, at the partner or general counsel level, there are very few. We are proud that SMU is one of the two IPSA companies in the country led by women. Our chair and vice president of the board are women, and we have three female board members.


In our company, D&I is a priority. It’s included in the company strategy plan, it’s one of our pillars, and the company has a management model based on our code of ethics. We have a cultural code called ‘CERCA’, which means Closeness, Excellence, Respect, Collaboration and Agility. Our culture is very important, because it tells us how we do business, and through actions and activity in the company, we seek to influence employees, their family, our clients, suppliers and the community. We have different programs in the company to support different groups, for example women and people with disabilities.

The legal team

The legal team promotes and lives the values of the company in terms of diversity and inclusion. I think we are an example for other teams. 59% of the legal team and 67% of the legal top management are women. My team has actively supported the creation of policies, procedures, and action plans related to D&I, protection of human rights and sustainability for the whole company. We have supported this process with the people team and have prepared training in these kinds of matters. The company has many activities, and my team supports all of them in their creation and organization, not only as participants.

The team has participated in a sustainability volunteers’ program. We have promoted female talent by giving them visibility, for example three women from our team represent the company in trade associations.

During 2020 and 2021, the team participated in a development program implemented for the first time in the company, which includes mentoring and sponsorship activity. We had the opportunity to put forward two women and one man as mentees, and I mentored two women.

I think as an in-house legal team we can contribute a lot. For example, we have experience of working with diverse teams from other areas, we have colleagues not only of different genders or groups, but also from different professions. This allows better collaborative work and knowledge exchange, and we share all that experience and good practice with everyone and, of course, with our external lawyers. I think we can help our outside counsel to promote these matters.

We are a client of many law firms and we contribute by giving visibility to talented women lawyers and in hiring law firms led by women. For example, in the last year we hired a law firm led by female partners for an important company matter, and we had an excellent result and developed an excellent relationship with them.

It’s very important for me, for my team, and for the company, that those who work for us share our special culture. When we hire a new law firm, as a woman, I always like to know how many female partners or minority group members the law firm has, and I share with them the importance of having women in the team.

In my opinion, in-house life is more diverse than private practice, because we are part of the company and we have relationships with other areas, other professions. SMU has many initiatives related to flexible work, different schedules to help everyone, not only women, and different thinking in everyone to try to have the same diversity in the company as in the society. My company is a retail company, we serve clients in society, and we need to have more diversity in our teams to better serve our clients.

Alexandra Blanco, general counsel, Pro Mujer

In Bolivia, unequal access to justice undermines the possibility of equality in society. As a university student, I volunteered with a human rights organization that worked in a women’s prison here in Bolivia. Most of the women that I worked with were survivors of gender violence, and it quickly became clear that many women were in jail simply because they did not have the money to afford a lawyer, not because they were likely responsible for a crime. Most of these women did not know their rights, so we worked with them to explain their human rights, help them with their legal cases, and share information on what their futures might look like.

It was obvious to me that the system had failed these women and that they needed a way to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and violence. For me, the answer was simple: help women support their families and themselves so that they could leave violence behind and start a new life.

This chapter of my life defined me. I knew that I wanted to continue to fight for women’s rights and women’s empowerment. At Pro Mujer, we spend every day working to make these objectives a reality.

Closing gender gaps

The gender gaps in the financial sector are alarming. Globally, only 6% of investment capital goes to companies led by women, and 70% of women do not have access to capital to start a business. In Latin America, women’s access to funding is even bleaker. Covid-19 has further exacerbated the situation – the progress made over the last 10 years in terms of achieving equality in the labor market has been erased, and rates of gender-based violence have exploded. In Bolivia, the figures are sobering: every day, a woman is killed by gender violence, and only one in three cases is ever reported.

Gender equality contributes to poverty reduction and boosts the economy. According to McKinsey, closing the gender gap would result in an automatic increase in global GDP of 11%, and GDP in Latin America would increase by 14% if women were encouraged to participate in the economy and received the support they need to do so.

Data show that if you give a woman access to loans, they tend to use the money to support their family and be more productive than men. In 2021 alone, Pro Mujer disbursed US$269 million in loans to women who were unable to access traditional financial services. Pro Mujer uses a holistic approach to positively impact women’s lives. We go beyond just financial inclusion and access to microfinance loans, offering access to health services, digital inclusion initiatives, and skill-building opportunities.

In 2021, we provided 400,000 health services, including 3,000 free mammograms in Mexico, preventive health services for breast cancer and cervical cancer, access to a chatbot for diabetes prevention, and access to contraceptives.

Pro Mujer’s community health workers also play a critical role in our health and well-being initiatives, as they are able to reach women in rural areas where hospitals and doctors are scarce. Each community health worker is trained to detect risk factors in their communities and refer women to a health clinic, if necessary.

Over the past few years, Pro Mujer has also ramped up its focus on digital inclusion. Today, 67% of women have access to the internet. We strongly believe that digital tools will allow us to offer more financing and training opportunities to more women.

In addition, we are working together with US Vice President Kamala Harris as a member of the Partnership for Central America and have committed to increasing our impact in the Northern Triangle, reaching more than three million people with our services. To meet this commitment, we will be opening an office in Guatemala.

Gender lens investing

Pro Mujer is committed to strengthening the gender lens investing ecosystem in Latin America by creating investment strategies, sharing best practices with investors that want to create impactful social change, and offering technical assistance to private companies to help them get gender smart.

In 2019, Pro Mujer partnered with Deetken Impact to launch the Ilu Women’s Empowerment Fund. The Fund invests in a diversified portfolio of high-impact businesses that support women in leadership and governance, offer products and services that meet the needs of women and girls, develop gender-sensitive value chains, and support workplace equity.

In 2021, the Ilu Women’s Empowerment Fund was awarded funding from USAID to develop the ILU Women’s Empowerment Program. This program seeks to increase gender equality in Latin America and the Caribbean through three main components: incremental capital, technical assistance and knowledge sharing, and advocacy.

Within the framework of this program, we launched the Ilu Toolbox, an open-source platform featuring more than 30 resources to help companies address gender gaps and implement strategies to attract gender lens investing.

Identifying the appropriate legal mechanisms

In the past, the role of general counsel was more to put out fires. These days, the general counsel is a key business partner that should be involved in an organization’s business decisions from the very beginning of its operations. Pro Mujer is always working to expand its impact footprint and empower more women. Our role as a legal team is to identify the appropriate legal mechanisms so that Pro Mujer can expand its footprint through alliances and support more women. Latin America is very politically volatile, and we must navigate a lot of legal challenges in order to continue our work.

At Pro Mujer, the legal team must go beyond the role of legal advisor to make sure that the organization is able to continue to impact and empower women. The most rewarding part of the job is going out into the field and hearing the success stories. Knowing that we have had an impact on the lives of our employees and clients is truly gratifying. We have supported women who are survivors of gender-based violence and have empowered them to start a new life. One specific success story that has stayed with me is that of a woman who has been a part of Pro Mujer for more than two decades. Twenty-four years ago, she started to sell boots in the streets of El Alto; now she owns a factory.

The role of in-house lawyers is different today than it was 20, 30 years ago. Now we are the dealmakers of the organization, and we must become thought leaders for our organizations – we are not in the back office anymore.

Not just any policies: The right policies

As members of the legal profession, we must think about the impact we can have and the critical importance of supporting women. In Latin America, many women do not have access to the courts or to fair laws, and the region is very behind in everything to do with dealing with gender-based violence. There is a lot of space to improve the laws, but it is also necessary to ensure equal access to the court system – because you can have perfect laws, but if women cannot access the justice system, those laws are useless. I think there are a lot of opportunities for lawyers to be proactive, to make our voices heard, and to identify how we can help improve women’s lives.

Something that concerns me is the fact that a lot of people do not speak about sexual harassment. When I started my career, many years back, it was something that you had to live with. I sadly have personal stories about sexual harassment; as a woman, it was just something you were expected to deal with when you navigated in a men’s corporate world. Today, times have changed, and although sexual harassment is no longer acceptable, there is still a long way to go.

As members of the legal team, we are involved in creating company policies, and these policies must include gender inclusion and diversity. I strongly believe that gender inclusion must be mandatory in every company’s internal policy—gender inclusion should not be optional. It is our role as inside counsel to make sure that the policies not only exist, but also that the right policies are in place and are effective.

Anna Martini Pereira, partner, Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Having a diverse team brings different points of view to the table where a specific solution or point is raised because of the unique perspective of an individual based on their life experience and identity. I have been in situations where someone raised a point that was within my blind spot, and without which the group would not have reached its ultimate decision. I also believe that diverse teams have the ability to be more creative and innovative in their way of thinking leading to better decision making overall.

A diverse team also tends to share more and therefore tends to be more involved and more engaged. Better engagement results in teams with strong talent retention. Beyond being good for performance, it also results in a better work environment, better culture, happier employees and gives you more access to a better talent pool – it’s a good cycle to be in.

Another key aspect to the importance of diversity is when it comes to leadership positions. When younger diverse talent sees people who reflect their own diversity in leadership, they see people that they can identify with and feel more represented and willing to stay for longer in an organization. For example, if you are a woman and see other women in leadership positions, I think there is a sense that you can trust that your own perspectives will be better represented because similar life experiences create an empathy.

Beyond gender, I think the importance of representation goes for all traditionally underrepresented groups. If you have people in leadership positions with different identities, backgrounds, etc., it creates a greater sense of trust that anyone that works hard can succeed, regardless of their background. In addition, this trust become cyclical because once you succeed you want to stay and help lift up those who are coming up behind you. All of this creates a better environment, group of talent and overall performance, as studies have shown.

When it comes to how we serve our clients, having diverse teams is also incredibly important because studies show that diverse teams consistently outperform teams that lack diversity. It is also critical that we are able to demonstrate value alignment with our clients when it comes to fostering an inclusive culture. Many clients are demonstrating that diversity is a top priority. Therefore, law firms that in the best case scenario are seen as extensions of that in-house team, must be able to further reinforce that.

María José Van Morlegan, director of legal and regulatory affairs, Edenor

To me, diversity and inclusion means the possibility for anyone to have the opportunity to participate, or to make an improvement in, their career on an equal basis with anyone else.

I belong to a percentage of the population that could do that – I am at director level after a long career of 25 years – but the conditions that we had to accept at the start of our careers are quite different to those we are trying to achieve nowadays. For example, if I had to go to an interview 20 years ago, I was compelled to wear a skirt: I remember that in my first interview as a junior associate. And nowadays, when I hire someone, I don’t care if that person has put on their résumé that they’re a man, or a woman or whatever.

Follow the rules

I think that certain practices regarding diversity have to be implemented with rules so that change can work. While we’re still talking about the idea, nothing will change. And I think that for my team to comply with this goal, and with my beliefs, I need to directly set some rules considering diversity.

Last year, Argentina passed legislation compelling public sector companies to give 1% of positions to transgender people. If you’re a private company and you achieve that 1%, you have certain tax benefits.

But last year, the Public Registry of the City of Buenos Aires (PR) tried to compel organizations to give at least 50% of board seats to women, but that regulation was attacked by certain private associations and the resolution was struck down.

There is certain view held within the corporate landscape that says, ‘ok, we can have a good corporate governance program, and let me do my job, let me decide who I want and when I want certain changes to my board or management level or key officers – but do not impose that through a law. I don’t want to reject a man just because a law says I have to comply with giving 50% of seats to women’. That’s the discussion that has been set for bills regarding quotas today in Argentina, and we are expecting to see what can be done.

In summary, we are not in the top countries for prioritizing diversity in Latin America. We are trying to improve this, but the private sector is not convinced.

Using that seat at the table

I’m a member of the Argentine Chapter of Women Corporate Directors (WCD). This is an international association, with chapters around the world, where women that have certain board seats in listed companies, have meetings and offer job opportunities to other women at any point of the corporate ladder. For instance, if a company in England needs someone bilingual who has expertise in the energy sector, WCD shares information around the world, and the search starts between us to find résumés.

In addition to that, since I am a member of the board of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, and a trustee of Caja de Valores S.A., I participate in certain meetings with the government and try to participate in the development of legislation concerning all of this stuff.

I arrived at Edenor in July 2021, so I have only been here for six months, and one of my goals was to work on our new corporate governance code, including specifically a chapter on diversity. Likewise, we are working on a sustainable bond to be launched probably in 2022, and one of the measures of the sustainable bond will be diversity.

Previously, Edenor didn’t have any key officers as women, and now, out of ten at the table, there are three women. Any vacant role at the company has to be opened with at least three candidates and at least one should be a woman.

The most difficult part of this is with engineers. We have an industry where it is so difficult to find electrical engineers, and it’s even more difficult to find electrical engineers who are women. So we are working with certain universities to provide seminars, trying to seek women that could be interested in exploring the energy sector. We have a program that we call ‘Women in Edenor’, and in that program we try to focus on including more women in the company at the different levels we seek. My team is comprised of 100 people and 65% are women. For any new lawyer or student that would like to work with us, I follow the three résumé rules, and that one of these should be a woman.

I think that in-house lawyers can play a significant role in driving diversity and inclusion, because when you work at a listed company, you have a lot of opportunities, through complying, for example, with the rules of the SEC, or the London Stock Exchange, which helps you to have a significant role in diversity decisions throughout the company.

Carolina Forero Isaza, North Cluster Board Attorney and LATAM Vaccines Lead, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

I love the way the DEI team at Johnson and Johnson puts it: you belong. I love it because it’s about feeling comfortable to bring your true self to work.

It’s indispensable to have everybody’s point of view – if you have customers, patients and stakeholders all over the world, it’s important to have a wide variety of people inside the Company.
But, in addition to that, I think when you’re comfortable being yourself, you’re more creative. You feel better about raising your hand and shouting out your ideas and about participating. I also think when you’re comfortable being yourself, you’re better engaged.

Getting the culture right

We always think about our law department culture as one of camaraderie. We get invited to speak, with colleagues from other countries, about the future of our law department and how to make it better, and we’re always focused on making sure that, even as our department has grown over the years, we keep that camaraderie culture. I think we’re succeeding in that process, and I think that’s a very good grounding for DEI.

We have periodic training on different topics, for example, on unconscious bias, on building trust, and on many subjects related to DEI.

We also have Employee Resource Groups – we have groups that champion women, we have the ‘open and out’ group, which is a group that supports the LGBTQIA+ community, and we recently launched a group in Colombia that is supportive of indigenous communities.

We have been learning from the US team, which has been very active in examining racial inequality and social injustice; we’ve had book-clubs, we’ve had movie discussions, we’ve had experts come to talk to us.

Something that we had recently, that I thought was incredible, were some talks by experts on menopause, which is something that is part of being a woman, but we sometimes take it for granted. We are taught about giving birth, about being a mother, and about many things, but not about something that is so inherent to our lives as menopause. That, I think, is how inclusive our law department is.

Living DEI day-to-day

In the law department at Johnson & Johnson, one of the members of the leadership team of our general counsel is always responsible for DEI, and at the regional levels we also have leaders of DEI initiatives and DEI committees. We have some programs and initiatives that are global, and others that are regional. DEI is part of our strategic planning in the law department, and people report on our DEI efforts regularly.

We have some global objectives that we have to complete within the year – so there is some training we have to complete, we have to make sure that our goals include DEI goals, and in our conversations with our leaders, we report on how we met or did not meet those goals. But we also have a DEI committee at the regional level and, at the LatAm law department, we have our own strategic planning that we have to present to the global council. We report to them at least every quarter, and tell them how we’re doing, what we’ve finished, what we didn’t, and whether we completed our plan or not.

I think our law department leaders have made the law department really live DEI; it’s not something to check the box, but it’s really in our way of thinking.

Appreciating difference

I had a chance to lead the law department DEI group for Latin America a couple of years ago. We wanted to make sure that we respected everybody’s holidays, so we made a calendar to make sure that no regional meetings were ever scheduled during special holidays for different people in the group.

We tend to all speak Spanish in the meetings and leave our colleagues in Brazil on the side, so we tried to work on that by balancing the meetings – having some parts in Portuguese and some parts in Spanish. We even shared some glossaries of words in both languages, so we could all feel more comfortable.

We had an initiative called ‘beyond the label’, where with each LatAm law department newsletter, we got to know one of our colleagues – so, for example, someone might be the IP lawyer, but they are also interested in wildlife conservation and had a chance to live in Africa in an elephant nursery. We’ve had things like that, to connect at another

It might not be rocket science, but these are things that keep us on our toes and thinking about how we’re different.

The importance of listening

On a personal level, I think being constantly reminded of the importance of listening is key in DEI. Lawyers are used to talking a lot and, in a way, we may not be so good at listening. I think the best way to make sure that everybody feels welcome, and that we hear everyone’s voice, is if we learn to listen.

I think legal strategies benefit greatly from other points of view, so I always discuss the important strategies with the business, with our marketing director, with our general manager, and I think that’s also inclusion. And that comes together with leaving aside the legal language – I like to think of myself like a translator, translating legal language into business language.

Amanda Lee Cotrim Lopez, senior legal director LATAM, ADP

Latin America is a melting point for ancestries, ethnicities and races, making it one of the most diverse regions in the world. It is also a region where minorities face significant barriers to employment. For example, recent studies show that around 90% of board seats are occupied by men. If women are not represented on boards of those huge companies that are listed, it’s hard to claim a true commitment to diversity.

ADP’s executive team in Latin America has a 40% women representation. This is well above the market average in the region. ADP was recently recognized by Great Place to Work (GPTW) as a top employer for women in Chile and Peru.

We were able to reach to this point because of the tone at the top. ADP has taken several affirmative actions to make sure diversity and inclusion is part of our DNA. In ADP, diversity and inclusion is not an HR only issue. The leadership team strongly supports D&I actions.

ADP has a global diversity and inclusion office, with dedicated associates. The D&I office works closely with HR and leaders of business units. The leadership is highly engaged and involved in diversity and inclusion globally. In Latin America, each senior leader sponsors a Business Resource Group (BRG). Since I joined ADP, I have sponsored iWIN’s activities in Latin America.


iWIN (International Women’s Inclusive Network) is ADP’s BRG with a focus on gender equality. iWIN currently has around 7,000 members across 16 countries around the globe. That is a big chunk of ADP’s 60,000 employees.

iWIN’s activities are conducted by a global board comprised of 25 ADP associates and by local chapters distributed in different regions and countries. iWIN organises events to create awareness, education and training – on unconscious bias, for instance. Our main goal is to make ADP a more diverse and inclusive place, not only in the workplace, but we also think about how we can impact the business and the communities close to us.

Doing the right thing

At ADP, the legal team plays an important role in terms of providing the business a perspective on what is the right thing to do. One of ADP’s main value is ‘integrity is everything’. Integrity is about doing the right thing all the time. In this sense, diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do.

When the legal team organizes the compliance week and trainings in Latin America, we educate our associates on anti-bribery and other relevant compliance aspects, but we also take the opportunity to discuss conduct, respect and inclusion. We create opportunities to discuss with associates about being inclusive and respectful with their colleagues at work, with family members, and when using social media.

Keeping an open eye

Corporate legal departments play an important role in promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal market in Latin America. We can influence the private practice market as clients and exchange experiences through our network groups.

When diversity and inclusion is part of your agenda, you will constantly call attention to inequalities, share practices to improve D&I awareness. It is important that in-house counsel keep an eye on what law firms are doing in terms of diversity and inclusion: if they have their own policies and if they are taking real actions towards their associates.

In Latin America, we have our eyes open to prioritizing discussions about minorities, either on the compliance training, hiring process, or when choosing a service provider.