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DEI Challenges in Latin America – Things to Consider

As we prepare for the Latin America Summit on May 11 and 12, I wanted to raise awareness regarding the challenges and complexity as we think about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Latin America region.  As you and your organizations work to create more equitable and culturally acceptable environments, the concepts and practices can be particularly complex when applied to Latin America, where the history and intersection of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences create a unique set of challenges. To view our panel on diversity at the Summit, please review our agenda here.

In order to set the proper direction for the future, we should understand and respect history - and it’s no different when it comes to DEI.   One of the key challenges in Latin America is the region's history of colonialism and slavery. European colonizers enslaved millions of indigenous peoples and Africans, creating deeply entrenched racial hierarchies. Although slavery was officially abolished in the 19th century, its legacy and impact continue to affect society and institutions to this day. An additional factor is directly linked to the fact that Latin American countries have some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, and this inequality is largely structured along racial and ethnic lines. White and lighter-skinned Latin Americans tend to be wealthier and hold positions of power, while Black and indigenous people are often marginalized and excluded.

Cultural diversity also challenges DEI efforts across the region.   Latin America is home to a vast array of different cultures, languages, and traditions, and navigating this diversity can be difficult. For example, many indigenous people in Latin America have their own languages and customs, and efforts to promote Spanish or Portuguese as the dominant language or to impose Western-style education systems can be seen as a form of cultural purge. Similarly, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion can sometimes overlook important differences between different groups or fall into a "one-size-fits-all" approach. As stated earlier, history is important in determining meaningful roadmaps to change.

A third challenge to DEI in Latin America is the competing interests of different stakeholders.  In many cases, political and economic elites hold significant power and are resistant to change. In some cases, they may actively oppose DEI efforts if they perceive them as a threat to their power or privilege. As is common in many parts of the world, there are also competing interests between different marginalized groups, who may have different priorities and agendas. For example, there may be tensions between indigenous people and Afro-Latino people over access to land and resources, or between women and LGBTQ people over issues of gender and sexuality. The various cultures in the region may see these things differently and must be respected and approached with refined intention.

Despite these challenges, there are also many reasons for optimism when it comes to DEI in Latin America. There is a growing awareness of the importance of these issues, and many organizations and individuals are working to promote cultural understanding, challenge stereotypes, and create more inclusive environments. Governments have also taken steps to address DEI issues: for example, Bolivia's constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and guarantees their representation in government.

Moving forward, it is important for DEI efforts in Latin America to be context-specific and culturally sensitive. This means acknowledging the unique histories and traditions of different groups and considering their priorities and needs.  It also means recognizing that DEI efforts are often deeply intertwined with issues of power and privilege, and that meaningful change will require challenging entrenched and long-standing practices of inequality.

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Authors: James E. Jones

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