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Recap: Women's Economic Empowerment in Brazil

Fiamma Zarife spoke at #womenASCOA. (Image: Mario Miranda Filho)

Fiamma Zarife spoke at #womenASCOA. (Image: Mario Miranda Filho)

May 23, 2018

Leia um resumo em português.

“Gender inequality is one of the hottest topics in the business world today,” said Fernando Alves, vice chairman of the Board of Amcham Brasil, in the opening remarks to AS/COA’s Latin American Cities Conference in São Paulo, in partnership with the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce. This year the conference focused on women’s economic empowerment in Brazil, and discussed issues from how to set actionable goals to diversify the gender balance in both the public and private sector, as well how to change the cognitive bias inherent in both men and women.

AS/COA’s President and CEO Susan Segal highlighted the importance of having women in leadership positions during her remarks. For example, in Latin America and Brazil, women hold only about 8 percent of companies’ board seats and only about 5 percent of the executive director positions she said. Yet, their purchasing power globally is only growing and is expected to reach 75 percent by 2028.

Why are diverse companies better off? “Because happy employees perform better,” Dow Chemical’s Fabian Gil said matter-of-factly in the first panel of the day. Moderated by McKinsey’s Paula Ramos, the discussion honed in on the barriers keeping women from male-dominated fields like technology and engineering. The lack of role models in leadership positions is a primary issue, according to Adriana Carvalho of UN Women, who also pointed to the low representation of women in the Brazilian Congress which stands at 10 percent. Carvalho also urged women not to neglect their political power, because whether you are negotiating for your salary or your space, you need to always sell yourself.

For Medtronic’s Miguel Velandia, closing the gender gap in the workplace will have to come from a mix of policies at the top and also the lower ranks of employees. Velandia gave as an example Medtronic’s MAC group, an acronym that stands for “men advocating for change,” in order to promote and generate awareness in helping female colleagues progress at the company. Gil offered Dow Chemical as an example as 60 percent of its leadership is female. These kinds of affirmative actions are still lacking in the country as a whole, said Twitter Brasil’s Fiamma Zarife. She added that such gender diversity policies are necessary not only for the better financial performance they generate, but also because such policies attract and retain talent, especially a younger workforce that is more concerned about working in a company “with a purpose.”

Watch a video of the takeaways from the table leader discussion at the conference.

The second and final panel of the day, moderated by Mattos Filho’s José Eduardo Carneiro Queiroz, honed in on the next steps Brazil could take to empower more women in leadership, with advice for young professional women. The country needs to move from discussing the reasons why gender diversity is important to how, said MasterTech Founder Camila Achutti.

One way is to set goals, suggested Oliver Wyman’s Ana Carla Abrão, who added that “the private sector understands goals very well.” But there may not be a single, one-size-fits-all recipe, noted EXAME’s Cristiane Mano, and companies may have to decide on the right measures to take on a case-by-case basis. Society, overall, also has to work to change stereotypes and expectations surrounding motherhood and female professionals, according to Rede Mulher Empreendedora Founder Ana Fontes. “The problem is that, often, it is imposed upon us that we have to be either or,” she said. “But we need to have the conditions to be whatever we want to be if we want to be both.”