For many years my main interest has been women’s advancement, women’s participation in decisión making processes, women’s equity, women’s opportunities, in sum, justice and women’s issues.
As a psychologist I began working on abortion issues, more than 30 years ago: how to protect women, how to provide health services for women with unwanted pregnancies, how to help them deal with the dilemmas these decisions brought to their lives in a country that prohibited abortion in all cases then. I also became involved with what we called incomplete families, that is single mothers due to men’s abandonment or inexistence.
In 1990 I moved to the Business School and the issues were more related with work-life balance. That was my first research subject at the school, the new dilemmas that women faced.
And in 2002 I began interviewing women in top management positions. I became fascinated with their stories, to the extent that I had trouble writing my report as part of a collaborative research Project about women presidents and vicepresidents in private sector companies in Latinamerica: everything they shared seemed relevant to me.
Yet the most interesting result of this Project was finding out that Colombia, as compared to the other 6 Latinamerican countries being studied, had the highest percentage of women in upper management positions. All my research since then has been led by this finding. With a group of researchers, we interviewed 10 women in each of 17 Latinamerican countries. One of the findings was the relevance of gender stereotypes in preventing or delaying women’s advancement.
Presently and for the past 5 years, I have been concentrating on identifying how to address those gender stereotypes at the educational setting, mainly at our Universidad de los Andes. In parallel to this I have analyzed several private organizations that have introduced several programs to change these cultural values and outlooks. Yet, and paradoxically, at the educational settings things seem to be more difficult to change because change about these issues is not seen, apparently, as relevant as many other educational issues. So I find myself introducing several impact happenings to develop awareness at our university, with certain frustrations that come with making a dent in your own environment.
There are some results to share and to be proud of: some students, men and women, begin to develop awareness about their upbringing, about the huge amount of silent messages that they have swallowed unknowingly. Some deans are beginning to take measures to change the data, the issues are becoming part of the scenery.
However I still feel there is too much road ahead!! My biggest concern is how can we make things move faster.
Next semester I am planning on developing some instruments to help organizations measure their gender unbalances at the different human resources processes: recruitment, selection, development, performance appraisal. I would like to see what we can learn from common practices “out there” and how can we promote them at our university too.
I am now more convinced than ever that we have to purposefully include two “actors” in all this mission:
- Men at all levels and
- Foreign cultures