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

A veteran legal leader with seats on various external boards, Maria Van Morlegan gives her views on the importance of diversity mandates to deliver change in Argentina

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.