Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market

Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market

Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market
Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market

Note from BW of Brazil: In general, when people speak of the issue of discrimination in not just a few sectors of Brazilian society, but rather a common practice in the country itself, people will automatically dismiss the idea as just “mimimi” (whining). But the people who take such an attitude wither don’t know the facts, are in denial or in fact, know the truth but, for whatever reason, cannot admit it. 

Today’s piece speaks specifically on Brazil’s job market and the nuances of attaining gainful employment that affect the black community in ways that often don’t apply to whites. Studies such as those carried out for the report below hint at the fact that, not only does the society as whole know of the existence of a mechanism that actively maintains such privileges and penalties, it also supports its maintenance as the normal order of things. 

Barriers of discrimination prevent black ascension in the job market

Afro-descendants occupy only 4.7% of the management positions of large companies

“We don’t accept ‘pessoas de cor’ (people of color).” The phrase was very common in ads of employment until 1950, as described by Abdias do Nascimento in the book O genocídio do negro brasileiro (The genocide of the black Brazilian). It ceased to be used as of the following year, when the Afonso Arinos Law categorically prohibited racial discrimination in the country. But, as the author himself remarked, “everything remained the same,” as the advertisements began to require “boa aparência” (good appearance) (see note one) of people, a mere euphemism for the previous restriction.

It has been almost 40 years since one of the most important voices for the rights of Afro-descendants in Brazil published the work. Since then, selective processes have grown sophisticated and companies have erased the discrimination in their ads. They know it doesn’t go well. Some also adhered to diversity programs, while Brazil established a strong quota policy in competitive examination of public universities. Even so, the barriers of discrimination persist. (Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market)

Brazil currently has about 53% of the population made up of pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns/mixed race), according to the IBGE classification. But only 4.7% of Afro-descendants are in director positions and 6.3% in management positions in the 500 largest corporations in Brazil, as shown by a survey of the Instituto Ethos and the Inter-American Development Bank last year. When one breaks it down by sex, the discrepancy is even greater: black women are only 0.4% of director positions and 1.6% of management positions.

“If the country continues at the same pace, it will take 150 years until the distribution of these vacancies is in line with the reality of the population,” predicts the CEO of Ethos, Caio Magri, based on almost 12 years of research.

Question of bias

For the rector of the Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (Unipalmares), José Vicente, the discrimination today is well above the request of “boa aparência”. It has to do with a “biased” attitude.

“It is a mental and psychological question, in which what appears to be threatening or negative tendentially is excluded as a possibility. This may not be decoded in a job posting as it did before, but the phenotype continues to guide the choices. At the end of a selection, when there is a physical presence, this look manifests itself,” evaluates Vicente.

According to him, this logic is also present in the much-echoed discourse among recruiters that it is difficult to hire skilled blacks. However, in view of the democratization of access to higher education in recent years, this situation has changed significantly without being accompanied by recruitment rates.

“The qualification also complies today with the fundamentals of “boa aparência,” he concludes, emphasizing that there are a million blacks in universities. “Businesses need to move away from the politically correct discourse and turn it into an objective reality.”

The owner of two companies, Hugo Leonardo Russel, 34, has already faced suspicious looks due to his age and black skin, since the business environment is mostly made up of white men over 40 years of age.

“It happened that people came to a meeting and asked who the owner of the company was, and I was already there. And when I hand out my card, many show a look of surprise,” he reports.

Spaces denied

Behind the creation of his two companies, one of deliveries and one that specializes in fast recruiting, there is a lot of effort. In addition to several courses and college, Russell was concerned with building good networking and making impeccable presentations at meetings.

“That was important so that, in speaking, I could turn the game in my favor,” he says. “I always knew I had to be more than perfect to overcome predispositions to my respect.”

Successful, Russel is accustomed to frequenting five-star hotels and fine restaurants. And the looks and attitudes that surround him in the corporate environment also accompany him in these places.

“A waiter already asked my 4-year old daughter what team I played for. When there’s a black man in these spaces, people think he’s a musician or a futebol player,” he notes.

As the director of the Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Afro Brasileiros (Institute for Research and Afro-Brazilian Studies), Elisa Larkin, affirms, black people are only accepted in areas related to entertainment, sports and music. In careers such as law, medicine and foreign trade this space is denied.

“This comes from many things. For most of colonial times, the music and amusement of wealthy families were performed by the slaves. And there is a whole set of stereotypes, by which the black is credited with a lack of intellectual ability,” she analyzes.

An example of the denial of protagonism to blacks percolated in the social networks in recent days, with the case of teacher and master’s student Luana Tolentino, from Belo Horizonte. In the street, an unknown woman asked if Luana if she was a faxineira (cleaning lady). Her response? “No. I’m taking my master’s. I’m a teacher.” She relayed the episode on Facebook, accompanied by a reflection.

“In the social imagination, the idea is that we blacks should occupy only functions of low remuneration and that demand little education. When it comes to black women, our place is expected to be that of the maid, cleaning lady, general services, nanny, paper collector,” she wrote.

Luana says that the repercussion of the text showed her that there are many people willing to understand how and why blacks are still treated as second category.

“On the other hand, I received many comments denying the existence of racism and saying that it’s okay to be a cleaning lady. And there really is not. The problem is that people feel that our lives should always be dedicated to serving and cleaning,” she replies, considering that Brazil lives under a mistaken belief that there is racial democracy in the country.

Episodes such as this, as Elisa Larkin puts it, reinforce the challenge that the causa negra “black cause” has to penetrate the unconscious of the population.

There is a consciousness so embedded in a social broth of discrimination that it does not have to be an explicit or conscious attitude. And often this will happen precisely at the job interview,” she says.

Portal of opportunities

While equality hasn’t come, entities mobilize to democratize the access of the população negra (black population) to the labor market. One of the most recent initiatives is the portal At this site, Afro-descendants can register their resumes free of charge and apply for the job vacancies advertised. In the same way, companies interested in reducing racial inequality in their workforce can advertise their opportunities without paying anything. According to the dean of the Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (college) and creator of the portal, José Vicente, the goal is to present thousands of young, qualified black people to the job market.

“The racial issue is not a problem of the black, it is a problem of the whole Brazil. It needs to be placed on the agenda of all social dimensions, since everyone has duties and responsibilities in relation to this. Civil society, the business, the political, religious environments, and the state need to take on these demands,” he says.

And if various social policies are on the ropes due to budget cuts, Ethos president Caio Magri points out that companies can and should increasingly make a difference. To encourage this, the entity created the Business Coalition for Racial and Gender Equity, which stimulates the implementation and improvement of public policies and business practices. (Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market)

“Companies need to keep striving to diversify their staff. This, in turn, provides recognition and results, since a plural team is more creative and productive,” he says. “On the other hand, a civil society that is organized and attentive to these issues is fundamental to pressure the business sector.

Professor Marcelo Paixão, who teaches about ethnic-racial inequalities at the University of Texas at Austin, recalls that a study conducted with data from the 2010 Census already indicated that, among the hundreds of occupations classified in the Código Brasileiro de Ocupações (Brazilian Code of Occupations), blacks only had more favorable remuneration in 5% of them.

“This occurred in the less prestigious positions in which, paradoxically, being black can be a factor of greater competitiveness. I am talking about occupations such as construction pawns, garbage collectors or domestic employment, obviously very dignified forms of work, but seen in a way that is little valued by society in general,” he ponders. (Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market)

In the analysis of Paixão, Brazil presents a low degree of aversion to racial inequality. People tend to consider this problem as something not only normal, but a desired natural state of things. And the reason for this is rooted in culture, history and the way in which inequalities as a whole are evaluated normatively by the whole of civil society and the Brazilian State.

“These dimensions contribute to hamper actions that could lead to a reversal of the current scenario,” he emphasizes.

Interest of the Companies

That is why Paixão thinks it so important to keep this subject on the agenda of civil society, the political system, the media and academia. Likewise, it is imperative that the private sector position itself more proactively.

“The main employers in the Brazilian labor market are private companies. The adoption of policies for diversity should not be seen as merely compensatory. On the contrary, affirmative action in the private sector, which by definition would have to be adopted voluntarily (as opposed to quotas in universities, where there is a law to do so), it should be seen by companies themselves as part of its corporate governance principles and management model. And, as such, with potential systemic effects for the entire economy and society,” he concludes.

Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market
Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market

60% of blacks say they have already suffered from racism in the job market, says research

According to the survey, 92% of them believe that there is racism in hiring of candidates

About seven in 10 (67%) black professionals already had the feeling of missing out on a job because of their color. This is what the study released on Tuesday, 25, by the consulting company Etnus indicates. The study interviewed 200 residents of the city of São Paulo between May and July of this year.

According to the survey, 92% of them believe that there is racism in hiring candidates and 60% have already experienced prejudice in the workplace. The data also reveal that racism and the fact of being black are among the main difficulties that these workers face in the market. This motive received 34% and 31% citations, respectively.

Only the lack of professional qualification exceeds, cited by 43%. Not speaking English appears in the fourth position (25%). (Barriers of Discrimination Prevent black ascension in the job market)

Seven out of 10 respondents, a number that corresponds to 70%, associate the claim that the “candidate should have boa aparência” with images of the black woman with straight hair and the man with a shaved head. More than half, 53%, admitted having made aesthetic changes to do an interview or be accepted into the workplace.

“The consequences of racism interfere directly in the quality of life and productivity of workers, by ‘psychosomatizing’ in their bodies, contributing to the illness of talent, and also making it so that the income is not as developed as much as it could be,” said Fernando Montenegro, founding partner of Etnus and creator of the study, in a note.

57% of black professionals surveyed consider that referrals or submitting resumes to acquaintances who are already employed at the company is the most effective option to succeed in the search for a vacancy.

Among the benefits, the leading one is the medical plan, cited by 87%. Then comes the meal voucher, with 73%, the food voucher, chosen by 45% of the survey respondents and the transportation voucher for more than one transport, with 38%

Source: Sindogeesp, O Povo


  1. Up until about 1950, advertisements for employment opportunities in Brazilian newspapers would blatantly declare that potential employers had a preference for hiring persons of white skin. Typically, the ad in those times would read “prefere-se branca (i.e. we prefer white women or a white person), but starting around 1950, increasingly, ads would use the code term “boa aparência”, meaning good appearance, i.e. persons whose appearance didn’t denote African ancestry. As people became more conscious of racism, the use of the term “boa aparência” attempted to shift from a more explicit form of racial preference to a more aesthetic standard but with the same objective: the exclusion of Afro-Brazilians. “Boa aparência” meant that a person shouldn’t possess any of the features associated with persons of African descent, including kinky hair, dark skin, wide noses, etc.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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