Note from BW of Brazil: As loyal readers of this blog know, the issue of racism in Brazilian society is a major theme covered on this blog. And this topic continues to be an important subject for the understanding of existing inequalities in the country. One of the main problems in dealing honestly with such a delicate topic is the denial that so many continue to have when any attempt to have an honest dialogue about the subject comes up. You have those who flat off deny that racism exists. Then there are those who admit it exists but that it’s not a big problem. There are also those that know it exists and admit to knowing people who harbor such sentiments but absolutely deny personally harboring such sentiments. And then on top of all of that, there are those who are unaware of how many areas of life can be affected by racism.
When many people think of racism they simply consider the idea that one person may not like another due to their race. Or calling someone a monkey. But as scholars of the topic know, the topic goes much, much further than that. For example, we know that people get passed over for jobs because of race, can be harassed in restaurants due to their mere presence, be followed around in stores and malls, face exclusion from beaches and some would argue even face challenges in securing long-term relationships. Of course most Brazilians would just dismiss these experiences, observations and denouncements as just vitimismo (playing the victim) but for those of us who have experienced this first hand and/or are really interested in the reality, consultant Patrícia de Jesus breaks down how such discrimination functions in the job market and how, as black Brazilians are more than half of the population, companies that continue such practices are actually shooting themselves in the foot and how they can remedy this problem.
‘Companies with diversity policies understand the customer better’
Ethnic-racial diversity expert, Patrícia de Jesus argues that companies that include minorities in their staffs are better able to gain a market share
By Nayara Fraga
On a cold Monday in the winter of 2005, Patrícia Santos de Jesus, then 25 years old, came to work with a different look. Instead of cabelos cacheados ou escovados (curly or processed hair), she wore a trança estilo afro (African-style braids) (a hairstyle that demanded four hours on a Saturday at the salon). Her colleagues thought it was beautiful, with the exception of the director. “Patricia, esse cabelo é sujo, ele não representa o ambiente corporativo (this hair is dirty, it doesn’t represent the corporate environment), she heard from the boss. “It doesn’t represent the dress code of the company. Go home to remove the braids.” Patricia refused. Shortly after her wedding, she was fired.
A graduate in pedagogy, with a postgraduate in people management and MBA in administration, Patrícia, today, works so that such episodes don’t to occur in companies. As an organizational consultant specializing in ethnic-racial diversity, she helps companies find qualified blacks and orients companies such as Carrefour, White Martins and Monsanto in adopting diversity policies.
Although still timid (mainly in Brazil), the interest of the companies for the theme, according to her, is growing and has motivations, including, financial. A McKinsey study shows that companies that invest in ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors. Besides that, The Economist accentuated the theme having launched a list (the Global Diversity List) with companies that stand out against discrimination based on gender, skin color and sexual orientation in the workplace.
With Época NEGÓCIOS, Patricia, who was a lecturer at TEDxSão PauloSalon, talked about the racial issue in the corporate environment and the challenges she faces as a consultant.
Why should companies care about the racial issue?
The company that doesn’t work with ethno-racial issues in the next ten years will stop making profits. In Brazil, most of the new middle class is black. This brings more possibilities of purchase, of consumption. Advertising agencies have already noticed that. You see more blacks in the advertisements (1), don’t you? Alongside this there is a growing worldwide wave of self-esteem in this population. There is a movement of “let’s assume who we are”: black hair, braids, clothing with afro print … In Brazil too. In 2001, Brazil, at a UN conference, assumed that there was racism in the country and pledged to mobilize itself. University quotas were the first step, a very important step to begin the discussion of the difference between whites and blacks. Then came actions for inclusion in various spheres, such as the Racial Equality Statute, the Day of Black Consciousness…The self-esteem of the community grew.
Is this increased self-esteem accompanied by consciousness raising in companies?
In a good part of the big ones, I see that it is. Especially in the case of American multinationals. Although blacks account for 14% of the American population, they occupy power spaces in large corporations. There are managers and black executives of big companies, not to mention Obama…So, yes, I see companies that accompany the racial consciousness movement and want to value black people…But there are many racist Brazilians. You see, Luanna was fired because of her braids [last year, 35-year-old Luanna Teófilo, a communication agency official, said she was discriminated against because of the braids in her hair; she created a Facebook page, the “Tira Isso,” (meaning ‘take those out’) but had to take it down after a court ruling.] The racial democracy in Brazil is a myth. There are a lot of people who come to me and say, I can’t get a job because I’m black. I remember once when I was volunteering at a recruiting NGO [early 2000’s] that a pharmacy network made it clear that it did not want blacks as candidates. I found it funny. I, in a condition as a black woman, with my cash in hand to pay for a product at the pharmacy, will they stop selling it to me?
To what extent does diversity help the company gain a market share?
The company whose staff is diverse cultivates different looks. That is, it is more likely to reach different types of clients, to talk to a consumer that it hasn’t talked to before. Companies need to think about this. There is a big movement in the black community about our consumer side: “Do I not see myself [in that brand]? I don’t buy. It doesn’t represent me? I don’t buy it.” A company that has a diverse internal audience will therefore have a better view of the customer, resulting in greater profitability.
What is the difficulty of a company in being more diverse?
Although the company has a policy of diversity, the decision to hire is the manager’s. This is the biggest difficulty: the manager’s gaze. I have been through situations where I indicated several students for a vacancy, with the profile required by the employer, and none were selected. When I ask why, the answer that comes is never technical. It’s always subjective: “I didn’t like her”… It’s complicated. I once met 132 engineers for a trainee job in 15 days. Thirty-seven moved on to the next phase, and I talked to the 37 in person. Do you know how many were hired? None. Another point is that, sometimes, even for a opening where English is not necessary, they end up hiring those who have English on their resume. So I try to work hard on the candidate’s self-esteem before they go to the interview, so he doesn’t feel intimidated. You must know how to talk about yourself. I’ve heard: “I went to participate in a selection process and there were 20 whites…” Yes, it’s like this. I know of a company with 2,500 employees that has no blacks.
What should a company do to become more diverse? Where does it start?
The company has to be diverse in a general way. You have to sit down and take a census to see what you don’t have. Which minorities are excluded? In the 500 biggest and best, 90% is male and white. That is, a woman is missing, a black person is missing. Faça o teste do pescoçoFaça o teste do pescoço (Do the neck test). Look at your side, at work, and see who works with you. The idea of diversity can also be spread through trainings, manual, code of conduct. The issue of diversity in the company can also be raised through the formation of discussion groups. This helps to work towards the empowerment of minorities. Currently, in a supermarket chain, I do coaching too, to train blacks to take leadership positions.
Source: Época NEGÓCIOS
- This depends on how one looks at it. Compared to a few decades ago, it’s true that one sees more black Brazilians in advertisements, but they are sill extremely under-represented in ads, commercials, etc. Companies in Brazil continue to prefer having their products represented by the European phenotype as there is a fear that a black face continues to represent poverty and will scare away white consumers.
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