Ruby Asturias is a Partner and Director at Pacheco Coto Guatemala. The first of an upcoming series of guest contributions, for International Women’s Day she tells us about her experiences of being a woman lawyer in Latin America.
Many people have observed that, in Latin America, women are still battling for their place in a legal profession that, a few decades ago, was a men’s only club. Today I would like to confirm, without hesitation, our very real presence in the industry – and that we are here to stay!
After almost 20 years of practice as a lawyer in Latin America, a cultural arena that has traditionally been male-oriented, working at some of the most prestigious Central American firms (Consortium and Arias & Muñoz), I had the honour of founding Aczalaw in 2000. A regional, Central American law firm, it began my entrepreneurship project by setting a clear example for diversity, with 55% of members and more than half of partners being women, and raised awareness that the Latin American legal practice was in the process of an unheralded change.
I have to confess that, as an international practitioner in the region, every time we visited other Latin firms in countries like Colombia, México, Chile, Brazil, Peru or Argentina, our colleagues were intrigued by the high female population of our organization. There were even cases where direct questions were raised about it. This was so shocking for many international Latin American firms because for decades they didn’t consider women for partnership or have them in leadership positions where important decisions were taken. We were definitely making an impact!
The truth is that there already is a large, talented population of female associates in Latin America who are being recognized for their positive qualities of efficiency, multi-tasking, intelligence and organizational skills! The problem, however, is that there are several Latin American countries where only a few law firms – or in some cases, none at all – have promoted women to partner level or appointed them to leadership positions. Gradually though, firms that traditionally had a high proportion of male partners are understanding how women offer a diversity of thought and alternative point of view that is essential for business development. It is doubly beneficial that our wonderful gender is able to contribute to the industry, creating a more inclusive workplace for everyone and improving business. The importance of having women as partners and leaders is based mainly on the projection that such a position can give to women, such as the respect that is acquired for a woman that is contributing with excellent ideas from a leadership position. This results in more awareness of diversity when it comes to policies and important decisions that are made on a daily basis by law firm management.
On a positive note, it is clear that Latin legal profession is changing more and more each day:
- Women lawyer groups/networks are emerging and letting the world know where we stand in the profession (such as Jurídico de Saias and Abogados MX)
- Multinational clients and big international corporations are demanding diversity within the law firms they work with
- Leadership positions within the legal industry are being embraced by women
- In general, the Latin community is recognizing the need to have women on board
At present, I am a partner and director at Pacheco Coto Global, a law firm that has been characterized by the absence of women in its partnership. Entering this male-only world has been an overwhelming experience for me as I realised that I would, once again, have to prove myself. The challenge has, however, been an incredibly enriching one for the partners and I, presenting an opportunity to reaffirm why a combination of men and women are so important in leadership positions. Without hesitation, I can firmly say that the benefit comes from the diversity of thought and the difference of view that is a result of a variety of life experience that women bring, compared to men alone.
As in any situation where an established order suddenly undergoes a radical change, it was essential to overcome any misconception that could lead to interpret that women are trying to supersede men. Thus, we had to establish a way of complimenting each other, making it possible to generate an aggregated value that is only feasible with an active and creative presence of diverse leadership. How did we manage to create this atmosphere? Throughout the process, we shared our thoughts through objective and accurate explanations that provided concrete evidence of how a creative and original business model can be projected and executed in the legal industry.
For decades, traditional masculine traits happened to be thought of as a good leadership. The time has now come to recognise the value of traits traditionally associated with women, and to understand that they are essential for leadership positions in the 21st century.
My experiences as a woman, wife, mother and professional have made me truly value the opportunity to be a leader in the Latin American legal industry. They have also ensured that I take very seriously my position in trying to convince the legal profession that women are more than capable of fulfilling professional roles and can combine with men to create dream-teams.
In the end, it is not about counting gender heads and obsessing over statistics, but making a difference by creating an opportunity for women everywhere to showcase the full range of their talents.