Shift and scale: Transforming supply chains to empower women


 “Opening doors and evening the floor for women”


By Yessica Trejo; HEC Paris

Panel with Luis Miguel Gonzalez, Editorial Director, El Economista, Luisa María Alcalde Luján, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Government of Mexico, Paula Santilli, CEO Latin America, PepsiCo, Elizabeth A. Vazquez, President, CEO, and Co-Founder, WEConnect International


More than 50% of the working population are in the informal sector, the majority is composed by women. Women in the informal sector face several challenges, like low wages and lack of social security.

In order to reduce population in the informality in Mexico, an alliance was established between the government and the private sector in Mexico. This alliance has the objective of training workers in productive and economic activities, mainly in rural areas. This program has managed to reach 600,000 beneficiaries, from which 57% were women.

PepsiCo participated in this program by providing tutors and allowing 160 unemployed youth to work within the company - two thirds of which were women.  This program gave the company an important lesson - their recruitment process was very narrow, the profiles HR was trying to find, were limited. This was learnt because one of the participants had a Bachelor in Geography; by the traditional recruitment process, this CV would have been automatically dismissed. By allowing this participant into the company, Pepsico learnt that diversity is beneficial for the company, recruitment processes should be more elastic and focus more in the skills sets rather than just in knowledge.

Promoting women as employers is as equally important. As many of these women can’t find jobs, they decide to start their own business. Entrepreneurship sometimes is driven out of passion and sometimes out of necessity, but it provides a solution not only to the unemployment of the entrepreneur, but to many others by the creation of new jobs. Focusing on women in Latin America, in Elizabeth Vazques’ words: “Women, who are particularly talented in many social, environmental, management and problem-solving skills, have the ability to fulfill the gaps our world currently has”.  This is the case of women in Colombia who have been victims of the FARC, they had no opportunities, had suffered violence. Pepsico helped them to create a cooperative   around banana plantations, to sell this product to the company. Under their management production increased by 180%. According to Paula Santilli, when women are given the right opportunities, they shine and they manage to do things right – and the door can be opened by maintaining women’s reproductive rights and allowing flexibility to manage career and family commitments.  The panel also discussed empowering men to be involved with child and household care so as not to burden women with the second shift.  Per Ms. Santilli, “men need flexibility at work as well if we expect them to have larger roles in childcare.”  This change takes time and our sons need to be educated to be more supportive and involved in the future. 

How else can we ensure “right opportunities”? For Paula, training women is giving them power. Luisa Maria Alcalde agrees with Paula, and adds that women should have “open doors and even floor”, there should be clear recruiting processes and constant training. According to Elizabeth women can be trained as much as we want, but if they don’t have access to markets and market intelligence no difference is done.


Private sector should try to source from entrepreneurs; in Mexico small businesses are the engine of growth, that is why entrepreneurship should be incentivized. 75% of entrepreneurs fail to keep their business running during the first year of operations, financing to small businesses has to be more accessible.  The moment that women in Mexico have access to funding, education and opportunities, economic growth will shoot. Ms. Vasquez brought up the pertinent point that we can have wealth and assets, but entrepreneurship often is the key to success for many women in lower socioeconomic societies.  When women from poor or rural socioeconomic communities spend time and money in their communities, evidence shows that both their male and female children are healthier (by measurement of height) and complete further education than if men are the sole bread winners. 

The panel highlighted that our role as individuals is to be more conscious of how we spend our money - our shopping decisions should be informed and beneficial for the economy, the environment, they should contribute to closing the equality gap, our consumer decisions can have an impact in the world.

Paula concluded with a phrase that emphasizes the privileges of women in that room and made us aware of the responsibility those privileges place on our shoulders.: “We are in a privileged role, it is our duty to send the elevator downstairs and bring the rest with us. Our job is to pave the way so that other women have privileges too.”

 This article is part of a series on #WFAmericas. Watch the full session on YouTube.