Mercer CEO is Emotionally Invested in Pushing for Gender Equality in the Workplace

As a father and grandfather to two generations of daughters, Mercer’s Julio Portalatin is personally invested in the success of women

Julio Portalatin, President and CEO, Mercer. Photo by Sheila Barabad.

Nearly thirty years ago, Julio Portalatin held his newborn daughter in his arms and wondered how he could make the world a better place for her. He wondered how he could ensure there were no barriers to her success, no matter what she chose to do. Last year, that same daughter gave Portalatin his first granddaughter. This time, he held the baby girl and thought about whether or not the world had really changed for women in the past thirty years.

Much has been written about how having a daughter impacts the way men treat women, but studies like 2011’s “Like Daughter, Like Father: How Women’s Wages Change When CEOs Have Daughters” confirm that when a CEO is emotionally connected to the advancement of women, real change happens. For example, the study found that when a male CEO has a daughter, the average salary for a female employee within the company rises, and the gender gap begins to close.

Portalatin’s commitment to diversity is twofold. As a father and grandfather to girls and as one of the few Latino CEOs of a global organization, he is personally invested in but highly cognizant of the fact that hiring, retaining, and promoting diverse talent isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

“When something is good for business, it’s good for shareholders and it will begin to pick up steam,” Portalatin says. “How many studies have there been proving that diversity is good for business? Diverse people, diverse opinions, diverse skillsets, diverse backgrounds—all lead to more thorough decision making. There is example after example that a business will be more successful—financially and otherwise—when it utilizes diverse teams. We know this, but putting the right practices in place is where the struggle is.”

Respect for diversity is one of the core values of Mercer, a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement, and investments. Not only is it reflected in the company’s own workforce, from the executive team on down, but in the work it does for its clients. A prime example of this is the firm’s latest study, “When Women Thrive: Businesses Thrive”, which takes a decidedly different approach to the topic of gender diversity.

“Diverse people, diverse opinions, diverse skillsets, diverse backgrounds—all lead to more thorough decision making. There is example after example that a business will be more successful—financially and otherwise—when it utilizes diverse teams.”

Often, studies on this topic report the same dismal numbers, offering little in the way of solutions that provide tangible results. What Mercer’s team found is that standalone programs and siloed initiatives do not advance gender diversity, so what the study does is outline specific approaches that support the career, health, and financial well-being of women across every phase of their professional journey.

“As a leading talent consultant working with twenty-eight thousand clients that employ millions of people, Mercer is invested in helping our clients thrive. Advancing female talent is something we know allows businesses to thrive, but we didn’t want to just add to the chorus of saying we need to do a better job at hiring, retaining, and promoting women. We wanted to offer deeper insights into how to get it right and provide a clear path for doing that,” the CEO says.

The study outlines key ways that business can impact real change for women in the workforce. First and foremost, it confirms that broad, enterprise-wide focus is linked to sustainable change, meaning that organizations that focus on broad and holistic approaches to support female talent have more comparable talent flows for women and men than those that do not.

Another key finding states that accountability is not enough; leadership needs to be engaged in promoting and managing diversity. “When Women Thrive” found that leadership engagement is essential, and leaders who are involved in diversity programs have more women at the top and throughout the organization.

Perhaps surprisingly, the survey reports that not only are programs that support women’s needs not enough, but that they may actually slow the trajectory for women in the absence of proactive management of their careers. The concept of “actively managing” things like pay equity and diversity efforts is what leads to real, sustainable change, and that requires going beyond making passive commitments.

“If nothing else, the study clearly pointed to the fact that the best of intentions don’t lead to better results,” Portalatin says. “If you don’t look at co-existing issues and get to the core of why these disparities exist, you’re not going to properly support women or diversity in general. Also, in terms of business, you’re going to fall behind. This study is a call to action. We must do more to ensure better business outcomes.”

Mercer execs weigh in on “When Women Thrive,” a new study that supports their principles of diversity and inclusion in business.

Read insight from Mercer senior partner Cindy Gentry HERE
Read Q&A with Mercer chief people officer Marcel Modica HERE