Black Brazilians are advancing in the undergraduate programs that most train executives, but are still invisible to companies

Isamar Santos - ''It's difficult to see black people in leadership positions in this area''

Note from BBT: It is clear that things are changing for black Brazilians. After two decades of affirmative action policies, more access to higher education and internship programs by numerous large companies, Brazil is beginning to see black people holding down posts and positions that in the decade as recent as between 2000 and 2010 wasn’t possible. On the other hand, in many ways it seems that while the changes are obvious, the nation as a whole doesn’t seem ready to accept these changes.

In some ways, it’s understandable. After all, in Brazil, black people have been in the positions of service for so long that it’s been naturalized in the public mind. As such, when people see black men wearing suits, people will often  assume that he is a doorman or the personal chauffeur of some important company executive. If black men or women work in the offices of dentists or doctors, they will be assumed to be the assistants rather than the actual dentist or doctor.

This image of servitude is so strongly associated with blackness that even when black Brazilians attain the education and skills necessary to take on very important positions, it will often be assumed that they lack the capabilities to perform in such environments.

The lack of black presence in such areas also contributes to these perceptions. Some years ago, a study showed that only 5.3% of leadership posts of large Brazilian companies were occupied by pretos (blacks) or pardos (browns). The numbers were even worse for specifically black women. As of the year 2017, Rachel Maia was the only black woman CEO in the whole country.

In terms of image, black visibility is a huge, but necessary transition for Brazilian society to make, as black progress and ascension will continue in the decades to come. And if Brazil is to really see itself as a country in which they ‘are all equal’, the faster people accept that there are black cooks, chauffeurs and maids as well as well managers, executives and entrepreneurs, the better off the society will be.

As I am a realist, I know that, regardless of what people say, there are still millions of people who still can’t accept this. The piece below demonstrates this.

Blacks are advancing in the undergraduate programs that most train executives, but are still invisible to companies

By Alexandre Rodrigues, Ana Carolina Diniz, Camilla Pontes and Suzana Corrêa

A recurring argument used by Brazilian companies to explain why less than 10% people in executive positions in a country are black when they represent 56% is that there is a lack of qualified professionals. In fact, black and brown people are still a minority in legal, management, marketing, engineering, and technology courses, which are the main sources of top company executives. But they do exist. And they’re not few.

A survey conducted by the Extra newspaper on data from Enade, the exam taken by graduates of courses selected by the MEC (Ministry of Education), shows that in 2018 and 2019, pretos and pardos, meaning blacks and browns, were about a third of those who completed Civil Engineering, Computer Engineering, Business Administration and Law degrees.

According to HR consultants, the courses are among the most approved in trainee programs, which train future business leaders.

In the last decade, quota policies in public universities and scholarships and credit in private universities have increased the presence of blacks in higher education. But this has not happened in the offices of companies, where they are still concentrated at the base, in operational functions. Research shows that there are many blacks already trained in the market, but underused.

This dissonance, highlighted this year by anti-racist movements around the world, has made the labor market the new field for affirmative action.

Liliane Rocha – ‘’This current society, which has black intellectuality, with master’s degrees, doctorates and experience.”

Under pressure, corporations that said they had difficulties even attracting black candidates to their selections are starting to create programs to increase racial diversity at the top, such as trainee programs exclusively for blacks.

Founder of the specialized diversity consultancy company Gestão Kairós, Liliane Rocha saw the demand for companies seeking professional help to hire black talent increase 50% this year. A consultant for giants such as Ambev and Via Varejo, she says that the task is not difficult if the selection criteria change:

”I always tell managers: update the look to make a 2020 management, for this current society, which has black intellectuality, has blacks trained, with master’s degrees, doctorates and experience.”

In 2018, blacks exceeded 50% of enrollments in public universities, which continue to concentrate more than 80% of the courses with the highest scores (5) in the Enade. The participation of black and brown people is much smaller in these top courses, as we saw in 2019, but not insignificant.

Enade reports show that black and brown students account for more than 20% of the graduates in some courses of excellence in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where the largest companies in the country are located.

And their performance on the test does not differ much from that of whites, even having a higher average in some cases. Even so, they are not even 3% of the directors or board members, according to a survey of 532 companies conducted by the Talenses/Insper consultancy.

Sofia Esteves, founder of Cia de Talentos, one of the largest HR consultancies in the country, attributes the invisibility to the selection model of large companies, which favors requirements more common among whites for leadership positions, such as a renowned university, the ability to speak fluent English, and experience abroad.

Besides this, black professionals don’t have the same networks as whites and still face the so-called unconscious bias, which tends to raise the requirements for blacks based on prejudice, even if unintentionally.

When companies reprogram their way of recruiting, they begin to see diversity, says the consultant, a pioneer in the selection of trainees for multinationals in Brazil:

”Before, the name of the college recognized as a good technical trainer gave an advantage in the selection, as well as English and experience abroad. You only chose people with the same profile. In the last few years, companies have started to realize that talent does not have a school surname. It comes from the person, from the life story.”

Before graduating in Production Engineering from a public municipal college in Macaé (Rio de Janeiro state) in 2018, Stephany Ribeiro, 30, had already been a cashier at a pizzeria, worked in a store, and had given private lessons in Portuguese.

In college, she went through several internships and believes that each of these steps helped in her preparation for the job market.

This year she was approved for a vacancy in the GE Renewable Energy trainee program, for which there were ten thousand applicants. In every experience, she had to prove her ability on a daily basis:

”To engage the maintenance team and prove that I had knowledge took time. In one internship, during a meeting with customers, one of them asked me to get him a coffee. Nothing against the profession of the person who serves coffee, but people still don’t see black people in other places, such as engineering.”

Claudia Costin, director of the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s (FGV) Center for Excellence and Innovation in Education Policy, says that black students are still a minority in the best public university programs because, generally, they face more socioeconomic and basic education-related difficulties.

Early entry into the informal and precarious labor market further reduces the possibilities, says Claudia:

”Higher education has already taken important steps, such as affirmative action, but it is still essentially white. We have not yet educated for an inclusive vision, in which differences are celebrated.”

Isamar Santos – ”It’s difficult to see black people in leadership positions in this area”

Isamar Santos, 28, started studying Business Administration at a private college in 2015 thanks to a 100% scholarship from ProUni (see note one). She switched to Accounting because she thought she would have better chances of getting a job.

While still in school, she started working as an attendant in a company and was soon transferred to the controller’s office because she was in college. There she found the inspiration to go further:

”It’s difficult to see black people in leadership positions in this area, but I was very lucky because, in my first experience, I found black women in high positions. They became my reference,” says Isamar, who, after recently graduating, is already employed as a senior assistant in an accounting office and is getting ready for a graduate course in foreign trade.

Jenifer Pereira, 25, is the first in her family to attain a college degree, in Mechanical Engineering. She entered the course at a private institution in Niterói, across the bridge from Rio, in 2014 with Fies (see note) two funding.

Shortly after graduation, she was hired in May by White Martins, a manufacturer of industrial gases, where she was doing an internship, but the achievement was not easy. Since the first day of class, she already perceived herself as “an outsider”. She was one of the few women, the only one of black origin.

When it came time for her internship, she saw that most of her white classmates had an advantage that made a difference:

”They had contacts. A friend of the parents or someone in the family would recommend them and they would get into the companies. I even asked them to refer me, too, but it didn’t work. I had no other way but to look for the companies, searching on the websites, taking resumes. Some wouldn’t even let me go there to hand it in.”

When I got an interview, I always had to face the same uncomfortable questions:

”I was only asked if I being a woman and beautiful would feel comfortable working with several men. They didn’t ask about my skills. It was very tiring because I had a good resume, but I didn’t know what else I had to present. So, I decided to look only for companies that had programs that valued diversity.”

One of the companies she looked for was White Martins, which has increased the number of openings in its college internship programs to accelerate racial diversity in the training of future leaders. By 2020, the percentage of blacks among interns reached 40%.

”I think that, besides everything else, this concern teaches you to know how to respect others. Today I work with older consultants, who ask my opinion about a project,” says Jenifer, who now helps out with the family’s bills.

For specialists, training future black leaders is important, but there are already a lot of underused prepared people. The proportion of people with higher education in jobs that don’t require a diploma is higher among black people and increased with the crisis, precisely during the period in which they gained more space in universities.

A study by IDados consultancy shows that, between 2015 and 2020, the share of underutilized black men with a degree rose from 33.6% to 37.9%. Among white men, it rose from 27.2% to 29.6% over the period. The rate for black women increased from 27.3% to 33.2%. Among white women, it went from 24.9% to 27.8%.

A study by economist Naércio Menezes and other Insper researchers concluded that white men from public universities have an average salary of BRL 7,900 per month, much higher than that of black men from these institutions (BRL 4,700) and more than double that of black women with the same education (BRL 3,000).

”Other factors contribute to the explanation, but the main one is the discrimination rooted in our society. Several studies show it,” says Menezes.

“As a lawyer and executive, I don’t see many black professionals, but I graduated with other black colleagues. Companies should admit the problem and identify what can be done to change institutional racism.”

“The further I moved up the career ladder, the less I found black people. Today, I see more in the company and try to help prepare them for leadership positions. The new generation is more racially literate.”

“Whenever I see companies that say there are no black senior professionals, I say, ‘Where are you looking? We’re 56% of the population, there’s no way you can’t find one for a position.”

Source: Yahoo Notícias


  1. Prouni, Programa Universidade para Todos, or University for All Program is a Brazilian Federal Government program created with the objective of granting partial or full scholarships for undergraduate courses and specific training in private institutions of higher education.
  2. Fundo de Financiamento Estudantil (Fies – Student Financing Fund)
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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