STORY INLINE POST
On March 17, 2021, Katherine Tai, a veteran US trade attorney, achieved the improbable, some might say impossible. She was unanimously confirmed by a US Senate vote of 98-0 as the 19th US trade representative, the first woman of color to hold the position. Prior to her confirmation, Tai advocated for stronger labor rights conditions in the USMCA agreement as the chief Democratic trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee. In the agreement, the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism (known as the RRLM and detailed in Annexes 31 A and B) defines the consequences for North American companies who fail to comply with the conditions for Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining laid out in Chapter 23, the Labor chapter. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Tai listed “strongly enforcing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement” as one of her Top 5 priorities for the position.
On July 7, 2021, Tatiana Clouthier Carrillo, Mexico’s minister of economy; Mary Ng, Canadian Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade; and Katherine Tai met in Mexico City to commemorate the one-year entry into force of the USMCA. While these leaders discussed trilateral concerns during the meeting and were joined by male colleagues, their female camaraderie and clear intent to closely collaborate across borders to resolve issues affecting North American trade were showcased on the global stage.
During the meeting, US Trade Representative Tai stated, “This agreement is about relationships and relationships are dynamic, just as our global economy is dynamic. The way that we interact with each other, the mechanisms that we have for cooperation, for building together, and for managing our frictions is an ongoing process. From my perspective, yes, the pandemic has been a real curveball but we are here for each other and that is the purpose of the USMCA and we will continue to implement it throughout its lifetime.”
With these words, the world was provided with a powerful example of what differentiates women’s leadership traits from that of men. Women demonstrate a more collaborative and inclusive leadership style and, according to the groundbreaking research of Nancy Adler, Global Leadership: Women Leaders, female global leaders often “symbolize hope, change, and unity” when elected and “are driven by vision, not by hierarchical status.”
In an article written for the Harvard Business Review titled “Ways Women Lead,” Judy B. Rosener observed that men are more likely than women to describe their leadership style as “transactional,” which she explained as viewing “job performance as a series of transactions with subordinates — exchanging rewards for services rendered or punishment for inadequate performance.” In contrast, the women interviewed for her study were described as having an “interactive” leadership style “because these women actively work to make their interactions with subordinates positive for everyone involved. More specifically, the women encourage participation, share power and information, enhance other people’s self-worth.” In short, women leaders are needed in a world facing uncertain times and at a time when they have been disproportionately negatively affected by the pandemic. Throughout history, women have had to conform to the world of work constructed by and for men. The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore that women have paid a considerable price for having to operate within this construct.
At the July 2021 NASCO, North American Strategy for Competitiveness Organization, Continental Reunion in San Luis Potosi, USMCA labor reform implementation and progress were highlighted as central to North American industrial success. Luisa María Alcalde Luján, Mexico’s minister of labor, gave the audience a clear example of effective female leadership by information sharing and laying out the benefits associated with Mexico’s progress on this front. In her presentation, “The New Labor Model and the North American Region,” Alcalde Luján articulated in detail the cooperation at the federal and local levels to validate 1,426 collective agreements by talks with 780,959 Mexican workers through 3,498 consultations to date. Updated government statutes, the implementation of advanced technologies, better working conditions, and higher salaries in Mexico will bring its labor force into sync with its North American partners.
In her conclusion, the labor minister stated, “This is not creating normative change. This is a cultural shift, an enormous cultural shift for Mexico.” This monumental reform for the country and the continent would not be possible without the transformative, visionary leadership of women. As US Representative and attorney Bella Abzug stated at the State of the World Forum in 1996, “Women will change the nature of power; power will not change the nature of women.” It is obvious that strong women leaders will play a central role if North America is to reap the full benefits of the USMCA. Multicultural teams have been proven to deliver more robust solutions to complex challenges due to their differing perspectives and experiences. Harnessing the combined strengths of women in the US, Canada, and Mexico and reducing competition between our countries will enable us to fully realize an inclusive future as the most competitive trade bloc in the world today.