Voices of Impact: Angelica Fuentes on gender equitability
Angelica Fuentes: Proud Mother. Business leader. Impact Investor. Women’s Advocate.
At 11, Angélica Fuentes began her career with a summer gas station job, pumping gas and cleaning windshields. By 29, she became the CEO of Grupo Imperial – a family business now positioned as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector.
Angélica’s trajectory since has been, unsurprisingly, impressive. From being the first and only woman President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association to the President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) to CEO of Mexico-based multinational Grupo Omnilife/Chivas, to the founder of a cosmetics and beauty product line based on a philosophy of female financial and personal self-empowerment, Angélica is one amazing individual.
Throughout her entire career, Angélica has used her influence to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. All her companies have been corporate leaders in Mexico in terms of gender equity practices. In 2014, she founded the Angélica Fuentes Foundation dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment throughout LATAM, and in 2019, Muvop, a microfinance institution that targets those who lack access to credits and provides an e-learning platform focused on personal empowerment and financial education.
How did you become passionate about poverty eradication and women’s rights?
For me, women empowerment and gender equality are everything; it is my mission in life. I don’t work on behalf of women simply because I am a woman, but because I see great inequities and feel committed to correcting them.
For hundreds of years, women have been relegated to menial roles in the best of cases and have been brutally abused in the worst of cases. It is necessary to bring women to a level of parity with men in order to create a more just world in which both women and men enjoy the same access to opportunities.
Gender inequality is not only an attempt against human rights but has negative consequences for the development of society. I am convinced that gender equality is a fundamental piece of truly sustainable development.
Closing gender gaps would help reduce poverty, create jobs, foster social development, and spur growth and innovation. Women’s economic empowerment means greater agency, opportunities, and control over resources, which contributes to poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Additionally, greater gender equality is a potential solution for other problems women often face, such as gender violence.
The key goals of development and progress cannot be separated from gender parity. I believe that the decisions that shape our world must include the vision that women bring, as well as that of men. It is not only a matter of two heads think better than one, but two complementary visions can help us to better understand our complex reality more completely.
In your opinion, what does a future full of true gender equity look like? What does a future of gender equity mean for society and business?
I believe we are in a paradigm shift regarding the place of women and girls in society. We are overcoming the attitudes and perspectives in our cultures that continue to enforce archaic stereotypes about the roles of men and women. Many women are conscious that gender does not have to decide who they are and what they want to become. Enough is enough. The feminist movement is stronger now more than ever because we are not going to tolerate abuse, discrimination, and violence anymore.
I now have two young daughters, and I have dreams for their future, and for the future of more than half of the world´s population: A future where men and women are treated equally and have the same opportunities. A future in which women are free to make their own decisions and develop their full potential. A future of gender equity means a brighter future.
This isn’t only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do if we want to generate and accelerate development. To put it in blunt terms: any company or society that undermines women is shooting itself in the foot. Gender equality and women empowerment can change women’s lives, which in turn transform families, communities, and organizations.
As an impact investor, what advice do you have for brands hoping to grow their businesses while still doing good?
The sustainability space is growing globally. More and more private equity and venture capital managers are raising impact funds. I perceive an increased willingness to get involved in impact investing and social enterprises. I am convinced that impact investing is the future and a potential solution to the most urgent global challenges. Now, more than ever, investors and entrepreneurs around the world are not only interested in obtaining financial returns, but in making a measurable social impact.
My advice for brands hoping to grow their businesses while still doing good is to adopt a more active role as agents of change and to never forget that direction. Traditional forms of investment have resulted in growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth and are not able to solve the social and environmental problems that our society faces. In the same way, a paternalistic approach to solving social problems lacks the potential and resources for high-impact and sustainable solutions. Social/environmental and financial returns are not mutually exclusive. We must leverage a more collaborative effort to accelerate the power of capitalism and shape a more sustainable world.
If you could give advice to young professionals – particularly females – hoping to go into traditionally male-dominated professions, what would you tell them?
The single most important lesson I have learned, in business and life, is that I compete against myself. This means I work very hard to be better today than I was yesterday by challenging assumptions, developing the ability to be self-critical, and adopting an attitude of perpetual learning.
I suggest following these principles:
- Believe in yourself
- Work hard
- Have a plan
- Dare to risk
- Don’t be afraid to fail
This last statement is particularly important for women. We have been socialized to believe that failure is unacceptable, so we prefer to stay in the safe zone. But thinking conservatively and playing it small will never help you achieve ambitious objectives. I believe there are no mistakes but opportunities to keep on learning and improving. A key for success is not being afraid to fail, and work hard with determination and discipline.
My advice to female professionals is to: Believe in yourselves! Believe in your own talents and skills. Work with courage and tenacity to achieve your goals. Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it. Trusting yourself will give you the freedom to feel and create. Walls fall down when you nurture your self-confidence. Don’t hide your talents, let them flourish! Use constructive criticism to identify your areas of opportunity and work on improving them. You might stumble, but never give up. Do not give up on your right to decide your own path. Always remember that gender does not define you; therefore, it should not decide anything for you.
You are free to pursue your dreams. Allow yourself to be happy, allow your heart to feel. Find the strength within yourself, you already have the power.
A lot of companies are focused on gender equality and inclusion at a high-level headquarters perspective, but what’s so important about getting deeper and ensuring that there’s gender equality throughout all aspects of their business (such as throughout their sourcing and supply chain practices)?
Gender equality brings enormous benefits to society as a whole, and makes businesses thrive. It is not only a matter of justice but a smart decision to spur growth within your company:
- Companies with women in decision-making positions achieve better financial results than those who do not.
- Organizations with better financial performance had more women in leadership roles.
- As women’s importance within the consumer market grows, businesses that include them in leadership positions gain a wider perspective of their target markets and the way they spend.
- It has been shown that diverse teams are beneficial to any business, as they are better able to offer a wider perspective in every situation and capable of comprehending our complex world in a fuller manner.
- Closing gender gaps spurs growth and innovation.
In the private sector, we do not have to wait for changes in the law; we can implement socially responsible policies today, right now. When businesses transform their workplace practices and culture, it has a ripple effect on society. It’s like dropping a stone in the community pond. The business sector can have a transformative power in changing culturally entrenched gender stereotypes.
What kinds of practices and initiatives have you seen work the best for companies hoping to work toward more gender equality and inclusion?
Of course, it is important to implement corporate-level policies within an organization that promote gender equality such as:
- Policies that retain women’s talent and foster better reintegration after having children. These include maternal/paternal leave, daycare, and breastfeeding schedules/infrastructure.
- Policies such as Home Office and Flextime can allow a better balance between professional and personal lives.
- Elimination of gender bias in selection, recruitment, and promotion processes.
- Develop environments that are free from discrimination, harassment, and violence.
- Mentoring and networking programs.
- Equal pay.
Nevertheless, I have identified four aspects that are fundamental for the success of these actions:
- A commitment from company leadership to gender parity.
- The inclusion of men in the design and implementation of actions to promote gender equality.
- Training programs for women to tackle the gender barriers they face.
- Precise indicators and monitoring strategies – you cannot change what you cannot measure!
Any last thoughts?
In Spanish we have a saying: “poner mi granito de arena”. This means that with my efforts, I am adding my “little grain of sand” to improve the quality of life for girls and women. The task of achieving gender equality is monumental; there is so much more to do. Cultural stereotypes, particularly those regarding gender roles and expectations, are deeply entrenched and extremely difficult to overcome both in the public and private spheres. But I am convinced that no action, as small as it might seem from an individual, CEO, or company, is insignificant.