Breaking Cultural Barriers, One Action at a Time

Even though it was almost 20 years ago, Anizia Barragan remembers very well what happened during her first year as an account executive with FedEx in Mexico. She had landed the job while she was still working her way through college.

“Within three or four months, I started to look into ways I could grow,” she says. “I got involved in a program designed to get people ready for management roles. I started working on my own development program, and within nine months, I was promoted to district sales manager. I became a manager before I got my college degree.”

“At that time, it was not easy in the Mexican culture for women. There was a strong belief that the higher ranked positions were for males only.”

~ Anizia Barragan, managing director, Sales, FedEx Express Mexico

Today, Barragan is a managing director, Sales, for FedEx Express in Mexico. Her territory covers the southern half of the country, and she manages more than 100 people. And she’s convinced that she’d never have been able to rise through the ranks at any company other than FedEx.

“At that time, it was not easy in the Mexican culture for women,” she says. “There was a strong belief that the higher ranked positions were for males only.”

Women still face obstacles in their efforts to rise through the ranks of the business world, even in the most advanced cultures. But FedEx remains determined, everywhere it operates, to foster opportunities for more women to work and lead.

In fact, our Latin America/Caribbean division (LAC) recently launched a formal, long-term effort to increase women’s access to education and training across Latin America. The goal is to inspire a new generation of female entrepreneurs.

The company commissioned Ipsos, the global research think tank, to study the education and development of women entrepreneurs in Latin America. The report concluded that female entrepreneurship is rising in the region, but that it still could grow faster if women had sufficient access to training and education.

“This platform of expanding access to education and developing their skills is just a very natural consequence of how our understanding has changed,” says Marilyn Blanco-Reyes, vice president, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, for the LAC division. “If women have made the strides they’ve made without so much access, how much more could they accomplish if they are given the tools they need to ensure their success as entrepreneurs?”


Learn more about our efforts in the People & Workplace pillar.

“Expanding women's access to education is just a natural consequence of how our understanding has changed. How much more could they accomplish if they are given the tools they need to ensure their success as entrepreneurs?”

~ Marilyn Blanco-Reyes, vice president, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, LAC Division

So FedEx has made outreach to women a key business priority in Latin America. Blanco-Reyes knows from her own experience how important it is for young women in Latin America to have access to education and to be encouraged to take advantage of that access. She grew up the daughter of Cuban immigrants who came to America as a result of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Although her father, Gustavo Blanco, encouraged her every ambition, she grew up having to overcome cultural obstacles.

“The natural order of things was that the guy with the tie made all the money, and the lady with the skirt stayed home,” she recalls. That’s why she’s so proud of her division’s serious focus on empowering women.

Barragan is equally proud of her work as a leader in LAC’s effort.

One example is an ongoing series of FedEx “tours,” in which FedEx executives travel across Mexico to work with entrepreneurs and small businesses. The tours give executives such as Barragan a chance to help local women build their businesses and careers. “We go to different cities across the country, and we train women. We do forums for women,” Barragan says. The goal is for FedEx women leaders to form real relationships with budding female entrepreneurs across Latin America — to become mentors for these younger businesswomen.

“We want to follow up with meetings to share experiences, to help and support the growth of these women,” Barragan says.

Cultural barriers to the advancement of women have been shrinking in Latin America for a couple of decades, but in other parts of the world, progress has been much slower. But no matter where women live, the importance of mentorship consistently plays a huge role in their ability to advance.

Consider Namrata Sawant, who is in her 16th year with FedEx and today serves as managing director for Human Resources, FedEx Express Europe, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and Africa. She credits her own rise in the business world to the good fortune of finding a female mentor early on.

Sawant entered the workforce in India about eight years before joining FedEx. At her second job, as a general sales agent for a major international airline, Jet Airways, based in Mumbai, Sawant found herself reporting to a female executive, Joan Saint-Prix. “I thought she was ahead of her time,” Sawant says. “I saw that she was able to very, very efficiently and effectively handle many portfolios. She believed you could contribute to anything and everything within an organization. I found a lot of qualities I admired in this lady, and so I tried to ignite all those in me.”

Saint-Prix "was a complete role model,” Sawant says. “A lot of what she taught me, a lot of what I observed and heard, actually shaped my practices. And it molded me as a person.”

“Typically in most places in India, a female is supposed to just cook and look after the family and children. But that mindset is changing.”

~ Namrata Sawant, managing director for Human Resources, FedEx Express Europe, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and Africa

Today, Sawant makes it her business to do the same for others in parts of the world that still place huge cultural obstacles in front of ambitious women. In India, that means outreach, in addition to mentorship. She visits local communities and lets young women know that they might have greater opportunities than they realize.

Sawant tries to provide the same kind of inspiration for young women that her mentor gave to her. “We can bring about more awareness,” she says. “We must reach out to the underprivileged to try and influence them. We should show them the importance of education and how education can help them differentiate their status, to show them how to advance from where they are to where they can be.

“A lot of people in India still live in very conservative, very orthodox kinds of environments,” Sawant adds. “Typically in most places in India, a female is supposed to just cook and look after the family and children. But that mindset is changing. So we look at how we can influence that mindset change and where it is we can make an impact.”

There’s ample opportunity for women in India, where

of employers say they are struggling to fill job openings.

Source: Catalyst India WRC