Ana Silvia Dias Haynes, General counsel for Brazil and Latin America, Essilor Group

Essilor’s general counsel discusses the changing landscape of diversity and inclusion in Latin America

Latin America is a diverse region, with over 660 million people of various ethnic groups and ancestries: Amerindians, white, mestizos, African descendants, Europeans, among others. It is essential to all companies and their workforces to continuously reinforce the need for diversity and inclusion in their work environments and, most importantly, in the Latin American boards and senior management positions, which data indicates are more than 90% occupied by men, mostly from a similar ethnic group. Diverse groups have raised their voices to increase awareness and fight for their rights and needs in the last 20 years.

However, with the ‘new’ diverse groups, such as LGBTQIA+ groups, you see very different positions. In larger cities, such as São Paulo (Brazil), Mexico City (Mexico), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Bogotá (Colombia) and Lima (Peru), you have more respect and more protection of such rights. However, if you go less than 100 kilometres into the interior of these countries, that situation changes significantly, and people are much more provincial and less open. While governments have passed laws accepting various rights for these groups that were long awaited (such as same sex marriage), and principal media channels have supported many of those changes, there is still a big divide amongst those in society that live in the large city centres and the populations of more remote interior areas.

Historically, legal professionals were quite reserved about the topic of diversity and inclusion. In the last five years, this has changed very positively. Law firms are openly promoting diversity and a free environment. This change was supported by the new generation of lawyers, who wanted to see those values and principles embraced and actually lived in the work environment, whether in-house or in a law firm. Law firms had to rethink their standards of what they were looking for in a lawyer. Most law firms, now more than ever, know the true value of having lawyers and paralegals with different backgrounds, and even different qualifications and experiences, that bring new ideas to the legal solutions and advice provided to their clients.

Bringing diversity to life

At my workplace, I can proudly say we promote diversity through many different actions. One, most importantly, is to respect diverse people and their rights. Another is to talk about it openly and have training sessions to raise awareness and consciousness of how important it is for any company to bring diverse teams to work together collaboratively, respecting each other, and promoting innovation. Day-to-day, these actions translate into a very positive work environment, where people learn from each other, bring new experiences and ideas without fear. People have the freedom to succeed and change. I truly believe that promoting diversity is a tool to reach greater performance in terms of solutions and products, and ultimately makes people happier.
We have many internal programs supporting diversity and inclusion, such as having more women in management positions at all levels. We believe we are at the beginning of a journey, but we are, every day, bringing that to life.

Removing the filter

Five years ago, we first recognized that we needed to do more in terms of having a diverse legal team in Latin America. We were pretty much all from the same background, very
similar in terms of life choices and, although we were, at the time, divided equally between men and women.

As a team, we thought: what could we do better to be more diverse, and to support diversity and inclusion? First, we had a training session with one of the internal ambassadors, and he opened our eyes to simple actions that we could do as part of our daily routine, and when recruiting people, which would have great impact in promoting this value.
We can proudly say we are a much more diverse and united team. We have embedded diversity in our actions within our team and beyond, when selecting our external advisers and new people for our team, for example.

We look at each other as professionals who work hard together to deliver visual health products and services, focused on our mission. And we don’t judge.

Influencing others

I believe that, as lawyers, we have a huge role to play in diversity and inclusion, because we interact with multiple teams, partners, customers, external advisers and their respective communities. We are their trusted advisers; we are responsible for ‘opening their eyes’ to this important value. We also interact with government authorities and organizations. If we understand the influence we exercise during those interactions and use those to support diversity and inclusion in the respective workforces, together with our other colleagues (such as the leaders of organizations and HR, to name a few), we can be a motor for change in Latin America and other regions.

Many people are still blind about the benefits of such change and know nothing about the consequences of not respecting such values. We have historically embraced cultural and ethnic diversity, we are people moved with different and unique passions for life, which makes us who we are as Latin Americans. Why not take our diversity values to another level?

The result will surely be having a happier and more inclusive work environment, where people enjoy their work and learn from each other, putting aside any pre-conceived ideas or prejudice that can prevent us from performing well collaboratively.

As of 1st April Ana has been appointed GC for Asia Pacific and India.