The world of labor from the perspective of a woman

Author: Fatima Iniestra

When one thinks of the world of labor, it is not the same for everyone. The experience is not the same for all of us. But, what does this depend on? Seeing it from a binary point of view and from the perspective of gender I am confident today, without fear of being mistaken, that the world of labor is very different for a woman. It is not easy for anyone, there are definitely few lucky people, don’t get me wrong, but even though it sounds like a cliché, society still holds men as the standard. The strongest and the largest are no longer the leaders, nor they should be. The concepts of gender are evolving but there is still a long way to go, particularly in Law Firms. Many companies seek to meet a gender quota but, is this a good or a bad thing?

On September 20, 2022 I had the opportunity of attending an event at the IMEF (Mexican Institute of Finance Executives) with Jimena Sánchez, a partner of the De la Vega & Martínez Rojas, S.C., Law Firm: the event was called: “The Importance of the Inclusion of Women in the Business Sector”. When Jimena invited me to attend, I honestly thought that I was not going to see anything new, but I soon changed my mind.

It was a session with a group of women who made me feel small in every way, they were clearly admirable. When they started talking, they reminded me of what it is like to be a woman in the world of business. The difference between men and women was discussed: in regard to salaries, hierarchy, social and labor aspects in all senses. They told their stories about how difficult it is to be a mother in the world of business:

“It sometimes seems as though you have to choose between enjoying your children’s lives or focusing on your professional growth, it seems to be impossible to do both. You feel guilty”, one of them said .

“After work you have to go home and take care of your family. It becomes very hard. You have to do it”, mentioned another one.

“I got very far, but when I turned my head, my son was already fifteen years old. It becomes a competition with men; even with your own husband.”

I listened closely and I thought: I perfectly understand what they feel because it is very tough to know that you have to prove your worth all the time for the simple fact of being a woman in the world of labor; you always have to give that extra that nobody asked you to give because it is imposed by society.

Another one of the attendees told us about her experience in human resources and her dealings with unions to reach an agreement in regard to the days to be given to the employees as paternity leave: “I was sitting at a table with only men; I was flabbergasted when they asked for fewer days than the ones I was offering because the men had to get back to work, what did they needed to stay at home for.”

Then the issues of sexual harassment started, veritable horror stories that are now so common. It is hard to defend yourself sometimes. I couldn’t possibly summarize everything that was discussed that day nor everything that I learned, everything that I felt. The intergenerational coexistence between women who work in different fields is amazing. I want to acknowledge that I met very strong, very intelligent, very capable women that day. They reminded me of another sense of being a woman.

De la Vega & Martínez Rojas, S.C. is the leading Firm in Labor Law in Mexico and lawyer Jimena Sánchez Argoytia is its head of Labor Consulting. Jimena is not only the leader of this very important area, but she is also the only woman among the Law Firm’s partners, and she is under 40 years of age.

I thought that Jime was not going to give me the opportunity of talking with her, but she paid me all of the attention in the world, for which I am thankful from the bottom of my heart, and which also surprised me greatly, because this lady does not have any free minutes in her agenda.

What is it like to be the only female partner? “It is a challenge. A professional woman is expected to do the same as a man and at the same time to fulfill her role at home. How can you reconcile this? you end up falling short with both of them”, Jime told me. “Another challenge translates into the economic part; even when you work equally hard, or even more, there are things that you cannot do because of those limitations. If you are married you cannot travel, go on business lunches, you cannot do things that they (men) don’t even worry about and this generates an emotional burden because you sacrifice days with your family, it generates guilt in you. You feel guilty for pursuing your dream, there are burdens placed by society, you are judged.”

When you see Jimena, you also see a mother; it is hard to explain if you don’t work with her, but her two children are the priority and they have never stopped being that. I have always wanted to ask her what it is like for her to be a mother and a lawyer at the same time: “you don’t have enough hours in the day to fulfill both roles. You learn to prioritize and to do what is urgent. In this role, you always have to work hard with your partners, peers, clients, but there are times when you will be unable to do this because you are with your family and vice versa. I try to schedule my children’s activities to avoid moving my commitments around, but it is a struggle. There is always an emergency at lunchtime. You don’t have fixed working hours, and this complicates the family’s dynamics; 90% of the time, it is impossible not to affect these dynamics.”

Jimena has an interesting dynamic with her work team. “My leadership style is strict, but humane, that is my method. I don’t like to humiliate people, to put them in evidence, I don’t work like that. I want to understand why people fail. Sometimes lawyers forget that we work with human beings. You have a very important responsibility of connecting with people and understanding what stage of their life each one of them is at in order to connect and thus assign tasks. Each person has different capabilities and skills, and it is the duty of a leader to guide a person toward the achievement of professional success.”

The talk with Jime ended with: “The truth is that you find all kinds of things along the road. There is pride, there is envy, there are people who believe that because you are a woman, you are a nobody. but there are also good people who empower you, who believe in you, who acknowledge your capabilities and guide your way; the same thing that you try to do with your team. In all of the labor world you have to learn to say no, and you must be able to identify which is the best place, professionally speaking, for you.”

On the other hand, I had the opportunity of talking with a Human resources Director at the national level whose team is composed mostly by women. I asked him the reason for this situation point blank, and he had no problem in answering: “It is not intentional, I have had the luck of it being this way and it is a pleasant experience. In my opinion, it is exactly the same to work with women or with men. It is not my intention to meet the famous gender quota, the important thing for me is aptitude, whether the person is a man or a woman.” His answer seemed a bit generic to me, so I insisted in my question: “Common sense is a factor that plays a very important role in human resources, and I believe that it is more highly developed in women, I believe that they are very good at managing time”, he continued, “I have very good experiences in regard to leadership. Women are very good at working in teams because they see people’s qualities, they motivate, they improve morale and they guide. I see the maternal instinct come out, which helps people to develop and build trust.”

I asked him about his relationship with them as their hierarchical superior, as boss and his perspective in regard to their family life. He mentioned that they are good at combining their family life, that conflict is not caused, that they self-manage their development, that they know how to balance their family and work life perfectly. I see the two types of leadership as being similar, women’s’ style, however, is more participatory, they are more empathic (and here he emphasized that this characteristic is very important in the area of human resources), and men’s’ style is more oriented toward meeting specific objectives, defined goals, because we were educated this way, it is an inherent social matter, don’t get me wrong, this helps a lot.”

While saying goodbye to him, he thanked me for the interview and the last thing that he mentioned was “my relationship (with women) is the same as with any other employee, I don’t do anything differently, there is no reason for me to do so. My everyday job is to seek equal development for everyone.”

I was struck by how much a person working in human resources takes the different leadership styles between men and women into consideration.

On this topic, there are scientific studies that prove that they, in fact, have different leadership styles. In their article “Women in Management Review”, Sarah Burke and Karen M. Collins published studies that discuss gender differences in leadership styles and management capabilities; these studies show that women tend to use the leadership style known as transformational, which tends to improve morale, motivates, guides through inspiration, among others.

According to the study, the transformational leader:

  • Prioritizes development over objectives
  • Invests a high amount of time in coaching
  • Considers that communication is the key to success
  • Motivates his or her team to achieve their goals
  • Assigns tasks to his or her team in accordance with their capabilities, talents, what they enjoy doing and their strengths, not workload.
  • Are good communicators and tend to be transparent with their work team
  • They seek to inspire confidence and security
  • They remind their team members of the importance of their work

Therefore, we should ask ourselves: Is the gender quota necessary or unnecessary? Does it truly exist?

From the moment that you start working there comes a point in which you get confused about what is valid in regard to gender. Unfortunately, we don’t always see it as something that is wrong until we stop for a minute and analyze the situation: it is an unnecessary difficulty, why should it represent an additional challenge.

Today I see younger people at the Firm who feel more comfortable with the leadership style of a transformational leader, who makes no distinction of gender within his or her work team, but rather of capabilities and I don’t know whether this is the general rule, but it gives you a little hope, at least.

I know incredible women, I work with many of them, I have been in contact with female lawyers, Directors, Managers, Entrepreneurs and Businesswomen. There are more and more women at the top, it is no longer a gender quota, it is them earning their place.