Women leadership gaps and the challenges around a male dominated industry in Chile

Gloria HuttA woman of many talents, expertise, and wide-spanning careers, we were honoured to speak to Gloria Hutt, Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Chile (and a former Steer colleague), as part of our inspiring International Women’s Day seminars. Tying in with this year’s theme of ‘choose to challenge,’ we asked Gloria to shed some insight into how she manages to balance her demanding roles, family life and personal projects, as well as sharing her thoughts on the current gaps for women in leadership, particularly in Chile. 

Gloria’s words of wisdom stem from an extremely fascinating and varied background. She was once a professor for the Master’s in Public Policy program, a transportation vice minister, a member of the board of freight and passenger’s companies, and a founding member, coordinator and general manager for the Evópoli political party. She has previously worked for fishing industries, libraries, schools and even had a TV show! She mentions how being a woman engineer gives you access to lots of tools and opportunities (and they aren’t necessarily always bad).

Gloria explains how historical facts strongly suggest that the lack of opportunities for women began a very long time ago. The first real opportunity was presented during World War I and II, which massively brought women to work, although not specifically to showcase their capabilities but as a necessary measure.

Gloria speaks of a primitive example that clearly indicates the existence of these very large gaps in society. She admires Gabriela Mistral’s story, a dedicated educator and the first Spanish American author to receive a Nobel Prize in literature in 1945. Mistral defended the rights of children, women and the poor, the freedom of democracy and the need for peace in times of social, political, and ideological conflicts, not only in Latin America but in the rest of the world. However, at the time, she had no right to vote for the president of the country until 1952. This highlights the importance to call attention to some objective situations that make it necessary to have a special day for women and legislation around the sizable difference in gender gaps.

Throughout her diverse career, Gloria has spoken to numerous women across different countries, and in many cases, the same patterns repeat. Women have a significantly higher probability than men of:

  • Being harassed in public transport
  • Experiencing violent interaction with their partner
  • Not finishing a career in technology
  • Receiving lower salaries for the same job
  • Not being elected for the ‘Board’ of the company
  • Taking responsibility for the illness of a relative.

“As Minister of Transport and Telecommunications, this is something that is of real concern to me. We recently completed a successful bid to deploy 5G, and we will require technical capabilities to develop the potential of 5G within mobile technology. However, in Chile, the proportion of women in STEM (with higher education) is 9.1% compared with men at 47.2%, which unfortunately leads to an unbalanced probability of women developing this new 5G technology in the coming years. If the future is technology, then we are implying that these gaps in STEM will continue to exist, and valuable talent will be lost repeatedly. A balanced condition is unattainable without specific actions,” Gloria admits.

Gloria shares with us a personal travel experience of a time she visited the channels of Patagonia where she came across an interesting narrative about the local tribes named ‘The Chonos’. Dating back to 500 years, the women were tasked with simultaneous responsibilities such as; diving in the cold waters to obtain seafood to feed their families, taking care of the children, the fire and the paddles while men stayed visible and fished from the front of the boats. Gloria questions whether this is any different even after 500 years, and why it still feels as though some behaviours are difficult to change. “Women still face a major barrier in accepting opportunities due to the pressures of family responsibilities.”

“The objective for women is to develop their capabilities, feel well and at peace, contribute to the world and fight on an even playing field. We need public policy based on quotas and public support. I was not always positive about quotas, but without the legal push to change the situation, it’s not going to change or it will take a long time to change so we need to build a structure of law and regulation to create a balanced approach,” Gloria correctly emphasises. 

Undoubtedly, the access to the top is different. Women still must build the road and fight against prejudices. Men have the networks, and that is what makes the biggest difference. Respectively, neither case is negative, but they are different and that’s the kind of scenario that needs improvement. While Gloria herself has never experienced any explicit discrimination, she has somewhat faced difficulties overcoming challenges and achieving objectives. “The situation has improved in the last 30 years – now there is full conscience of discrimination and unbalanced conditions and it’s much easier to speak about women’s rights. This was not the case 30 years ago and that continuous legal push is essential, Gloria claims.

Gloria departs us with a simple word of advice – “be curious and never stop learning.” She believes these are the key stimuli in giving you the power to approach every problem.


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