09/24/2013 01:24 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

Women in Leadership: A Question Without Borders

One of the questions I am asked most often about my role in Latin America may surprise you. It's not about the evolving economy, the rapidly expanding middle class or even whether Brazil will be ready in time for the World Cup. No, the question I get asked most often is: What is it like for a businesswoman in Latin America?

So when McKinsey recently issued a global survey on "Why top Management Eludes Women in Latin America," I -- and others -- hoped to find some answers.

The first line sums things up nicely:

"Gender diversity is gaining ground in Latin America, yet women in the region are still greatly underrepresented in top management -- even though they are more likely than men to say they want to advance their careers."

The good news is that more executives in the region now say gender diversity is a top agenda item at their companies, despite reporting few women on executive teams. Male and female executives disagree as to why women are underrepresented. Most men believe that women leave voluntarily to spend more time with family and/or cite a concentration of female employees in departments with comparatively lower promotion rates.

Women most often cite a lack of sponsorship and perceptions that women have less ambition than men. Interestingly, responses from female executives suggest they are as ambitious (or even more so) as their male counterparts -- 79 percent choosing to advance to C-level management compared to 73 percent of men.

The good news is that an impressive 60 percent say they believe that companies with diverse leadership including significant numbers of women generate higher financial returns. Interestingly, this belief is held most strongly in Mexico, despite the country having the smallest representation of women on executive committees compared to other countries.

Yet while the survey serves to answer many questions, it also causes one to linger: If you work in one part of the world, why should it really matter about what goes on in another?

Regardless of region or reason, the evolution of women in leadership positions is incomplete until it is truly global. The challenges faced in Latin America are not entirely dissimilar from issues faced in other regions... but that's the point. Issues relating to the rise of women are both local AND global and, as such, global companies must work to address the issues on both fronts through targeted programs. The results will vary from country to country, but making it a priority for the business is key to success.

Like a number of other global companies, Edelman is committed to working toward improving the representation of women in its senior ranks. To help us achieve that goal, we established the Global Women's Executive Network (GWEN) to ensure that we have a culture in which women want to stay and excel to those senior most levels. Globally, we provide opportunities to hear -- and learn -- from female leaders both within and outside the firm and the regions where we live. I continue to marvel at the enthusiasm and support from colleagues around the globe who recognize the importance for greater gender diversity across the company. When we improved our maternity and family leave policy in the U.S., the applause surprisingly reverberated from parts of our network that were not even affected.

In the coming weeks, the World Economic Forum will release its Global Gender Gap Report for 2013, ranking more than 130 economies on how they are capitalizing upon their female talent pool, hoping to help answer how multinational companies can close the economic gender gap and move from practice to implementation.

As for my answer to the question I am most often asked, I offer that my experience as a frequent visitor to that part of the world has been without incident, having faced no greater challenges inside the region than outside. Having said that, for women working in the region, clearly more needs to be done. Of course, we should all hope that, one day, in a far more perfect world, we won't need any research measuring what it's like for women in management. Yet, until then, I do hope people keep asking -- and, most importantly, keep caring -- about the answer.

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