As the Senior Director of Regional Marketing for Zebra in Latin America, David Añón is often the odd man out. Marketing, like other communications-centric professions, have long been dominated by women. That’s not conjecture, just fact. (Backed by multiple studies, such as this one.)
But that’s not an experience to which Alessandro Matos can relate. As the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Zebra’s Latin America (LATAM) and the Caribbean operations, he leads a region that is powered by over 400 employees. This includes an expanding sales team of 122, which he estimates was split 58% male and 42% female at the end of fiscal year 2021 (FY21). That’s why he is joining David in advocating for more women in his region to join the workforce and for men to help #BreakTheBias that women are better suited for certain types of professions. He wants to see a better gender balance in his sales organization and in sales, period. And he never wants women to feel they aren’t smart, skilled, or strong enough to have a career – that their job is to stay at home and raise a family.
Both David and Alessandro acknowledge that it’s difficult to affect change outside Zebra, especially given the cultural teachings and centuries-old familial expectations that influence women’s life choices from a very young age in Latin America. That’s not going to stop them from trying, though. They know the value that women bring to the table in board rooms, the field, and everywhere else that sales and marketing professionals shine. They can also confirm that gender does not define success in any role. Men can be effective marketers, just as women can be effective sellers and executives. There are deeper-rooted factors that influence an individual’s performance in highly strategic, communication-based roles such as sales and marketing.
Here's an excerpt of our recent conversation…
Laura: Alessandro, you have been in sales most of your career, which tends to be imbalanced in terms of gender equity. Many reports indicate that men make up about 60% of sales roles across all sectors. Why do you think that is?
Alessandro: Though I have a formal academic background that includes marketing, I have been mostly in sales leadership roles for most of my career. Based on my experience, I have lead teams with a greater percentage of men, even across the various industries I’ve worked in. As you mentioned, there exists some historical societal and cultural elements that have contributed to this phenomenon, and I’d dare to say that in a region such as LATAM it is even more prevalent. I am a Brazilian of Italian immigrants. I spent much of my childhood in very rural areas of Brazil – actually the Amazon. It was common, and I’d say normal, to have the men work outside the home, while women did unpaid work maintaining the home, raising kids, and keeping everything running. This is a typical scenario across the region, though – through accessible education, childcare, heightened access to information, travel and even social media – we are seeing positive shifts in the percentage of women entering and thriving in the workplace.
Laura: Interestingly, annual studies indicate that women meet their sales quotas at a higher rate than men. Is that something you’ve seen as well?
Alessandro: LATAM has been the leading growth region for Zebra for the past six consecutive quarters, and what I think is notable is that, during this year’s Sales Kick Off LATAM Awards, the women dominated. In fact, this year’s top sales achiever awards (yes, multiple) went to Perla Guilbert, who is an outstanding sales professional. That said, I do believe that sales quota achievements are a result of various combined factors, not necessarily gender.
Laura: With women clearly capable of succeeding in sales roles, what do you think it will take to drive greater equality in the field?
Alessandro: Greater equality in the field has a direct correlation to the commitment organizations have in their hiring and career advancement practices. I believe Zebra is taking great strides in this area as it is in general with inclusion and diversity (I&D). Take recruiting for example. In LATAM, we are currently expanding the sales team with various new hires. I look for talented professionals that are going to bring exceptional value to my team. We are all aware that diverse teams are more dynamic, productive, and higher performing. Women professionals are exceptional resources that have great determination and grit. I want a strong candidate pool that has a cross-representation of diverse talent, from there the best is selected – female or male. Making sure the hiring practice is inclusive is key.
From a career advancement standpoint, I think Cynthia Abrego is a prime example of how very possible it is for women to balance the scales. She leads our ID Solutions/Supplies business in LATAM and is a strong member of my leadership team. Cynthia, who recently celebrated her 25th anniversary here at Zebra, led her team to an outstanding FY21 and is an amazing leader who is strongly supported by her team. I would love to have more women like Cynthia on our team, and showcasing successes like hers will be key to recruiting other women.
Laura: David, you are on the other end of the spectrum in the sense that most marketers are women. One recent report indicates that women make up two-thirds of the marketing workforce. Since we’re talking this month about how to #BreakTheBias, I’m curious why you think women are more likely than men to pursue a marketing career (especially as a marketer yourself).
David: I have worked on teams where I was the only male and led all-female teams. I have also led large teams of nearly 100 members that were approximately 80% female. Currently, my team’s composition is 27% male and 73% female.
To understand the result of this gender disparity, it is important to analyze the root causes. If you look at some historical elements, including cultural and societal ones as Alessandro alluded to, education is a key driver. Being educationally tracked by stereotypes is a big contributor to the results we see manifested across careers and industries. As kids, we are heavily influenced by our parent(s), family members, educators, counselors, political and religious leaders, even celebrities and sports figures. Traditionally, boys were placed in wood shop, engineering, science, and mathematics-focused courses while girls were tracked to the humanities, home economics, dance, and the arts. This of course was a direct consequence of “tradition” and is a form of biasness. Education has surely come along way, but there still is a lot of work that needs to be done.
Now, marketing too has evolved greatly. From the “pretty” qualitative visual for a corporate party of the past to the data-driven quantitative contributor to the overall business performance. Today’s marketing is robust and definitely more scientific. I believe it’s a hybrid left-brain, right-brain field that benefits from a trained creative thought applied to structured business challenges. At Zebra, marketing has a seat at the larger influencer and decision-maker table. Therefore, more and more females are adding to the diversity, whether in sales, marketing engineering, and others. This is absolutely contributing to our success.
Laura: I know both of you have seen more women promoted within your organizations in recent years, with some moving into executive leadership roles. Has the dynamic within your organizations changed as more women have begun to drive strategy and manage program execution?
David: I don’t think the dynamic has necessarily changed. But then again, my team has always had very professional and knowledgeable females.
I am glad to be able to support the growth of women on my team, though, and I was proud to see two females recently promoted on my team. Ana Cabrales, a vital member of my leadership team, was promoted of Director of Solutions Marketing – LATAM. In fact, she’s the first in-market Director in LATAM for Zebra. Maria Camila Garcia, another key member of my leadership team, was promoted to lead all our marketing strategies across Distribution, Sub-Distribution and Broadline Technology Resellers. Combined, they handle the largest portion of our business and funding. These two professionals are great examples of hardworking, dedicated and strategically creative leaders – who happen to be female.
Alessandro: Across the four territories (NOLA, SOLA, Mexico and Brazil), we have prominent female leaders. For example, Mexico, our largest territory has two strong leaders: Pilar Seoane, who oversees the Channel Sales team, and Blanca Benitez, who was recently promoted and manages our group of Key Account Managers. These are two examples of the great female talent I’m proud to have in LATAM. (By the way, Mexico led the region in growth in FY21.)
Laura: Do women have certain skills you feel they undervalue or strengths they underestimate, especially when it comes to choosing a profession or defining their career paths?
David: Though things are definitely changing for the better, I recognize there are significant social and cultural factors that impact women, and especially young women who perhaps aspire yet don’t feel enabled or have the opportunity. This isn’t an easy thing to change, as it’s generational and has a lasting impact. However, as an optimist, I see great opportunities for women. As the parents of a bright young Hispanic female who is about to finish her Master's degree, my wife and I have always stressed the importance of education to our kids and not limited them in their aspirations. My daughter understands that her knowledge, abilities, and work ethic are elements that will help in her career. We taught her to be confident, outspoken, and compassionate. She has been taught to never undervalue or underestimate herself. If she doesn’t know, we have taught her to ask, seek help, or do the research.
Alessandro: I believe this has to do more with influence, opportunity and visibility than undervaluing or underestimating oneself. But like David mentioned, things are changing. We are seeing more women in the workforce, women in STEM, women entrepreneurs, and women in prominent leadership roles across multinational companies. Today, women have more female role models than ever before, and this I believe gives them a lifting aspiration – an “I too can do that attitude.”
Laura: What more needs to be done – on a regional and global scale – to educate, recruit and then support the professional development of LatinX women?
Alessandro: I think more companies need to follow the lead of Zebra, where several things are being done to ensure the advancement and equality of women. In LATAM, we work closely with human resources (HR) to recruit a variety of talent and encourage all employees to set-up their individual development plans. We even provide professional development opportunities through programs such as Degreed and the Zebra Education Network so they can access educational resources, including specialized tracks and courses that allow them to expand and refine their skillsets.
David: I agree with Alessandro’s comments. Additionally, I think our overall I&D initiative is making a great impact. Take our Women’s Inclusion Network, for example, and the great things that employee resource group (ERG) is doing. In fact, I’d say that WIN paved the way for the other ERG groups, such as the LatinX inclusion network UNIDOZ which I co-founded and co-lead with Stephanie Perez. We have been developing some collaborations with various ERGs, and our WIN collaboration is a great way to empower Hispanic females – that double minority. It’s definitely a model that other organizations could emulate to make equally impressive strides in reaching and supporting women.
Laura: How much does geography contribute to gender inequality in the workforce, if at all? For example, do you believe LatinX women based in the U.S. are more likely to secure well-paying jobs than women who live in Latin America – even if they have identical education and experience?
David: That’s a difficult question to answer because it isn’t really an apples-to-apples comparison. Many societal factors can contribute to the gender disparity in the workplace and that can be seen at varying degree across geographies. The same can be said between someone living in a rural area versus an urban area, in the North versus the South, Colombia versus Mexico, etc.
Alessandro: Yes, this is a difficult situation to address as there are many variables. With that said, I believe Zebra takes great care in ensuring we are competitive in our compensation and benefits across all geographies.
Laura: What do you think is contributing to ongoing gender biases or inequalities in the Latin American workforce? Why aren’t higher-paying jobs as accessible to women? Or why aren’t women pursuing the ones that are available? Are there cultural values or expectations? Concerns about the ability to balance personal and professional responsibilities in certain types of roles?
Alessandro: More and more great female professionals are entering the workforce. Education is fundamental and their pursuit to achieve their aspirations is a great thing to see going on. My team has a higher percentage of females that the company average – but that isn’t because of some statistic or quota to achieve. I have great professionals on my team, and the fact that they are women is secondary.
David: That being said, Alessandro, the fact that you do have a high percentage of females is perhaps a result of that societal shift in females advancing in education and entering the workforce. If not for that, you may not have such strong female representation on your team today.
Laura: Have you seen newer generations within the LatinX community rethink predefined gender roles? If so, are there any geographic differences in this mindset? Or do you think there’s a widescale movement to ensure equal opportunities from an education and jobs perspective, regardless of where women live?
Alessandro: Yes, I absolutely see this rethinking you mention. Take a look at the political landscape in Latin America. Unlike the U.S., which only now for the first time in history has a female Vice President, Latin America has had prominent females leading countries as Presidents and other roles for many years.
David: Interestingly, if we think of the term LatinX, it really is not as highly adopted as what a non-Hispanic might think – at least within the Spanish speaking community. That being said, the opportunities and advances in education are paving the way for females to further ensure equal opportunities regardless of where they live.
Laura: Is there something more you think individuals or companies should be doing to help #BreakTheBias regarding gender roles in the workplace, especially within the LatinX community? How do we convince women – or even men – who have always been told “this is a woman’s place” in society or a family that such thinking is misguided? That women can do anything they want and they will be fully supported.
David: I believe in the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” It’s one thing for a company to promote a cause and develop logos and talking points in support of a change movement. It’s another to demonstrate it in its culture and overall mission. Zebra is living up to its commitment in I&D, so it is up to all of us to be allies and sponsors and be consistently engaged.
Alessandro: As a leader, I encourage my team and demonstrate my commitment to this type of cause through my actions. I support WIN and women, as well as initiatives intended to help #BreakTheBias, in how I run the region every day – not just through an email verbalizing my support or issuing a call to action. I’m the executive sponsor of UNIDOZ, as well, but not just to check a box. I want to foster growth and opportunities for other Hispanics (male or female). I mean, this is my responsibility as a senior leader and as a Hispanic overall.