Overcoming experiences with racism and sexism, five powerful black women reveal the keys to success


Persistence, dedication, entrepreneurial spirit, courage and discipline on the job are the secrets of these super powerful women

by Adriana Reyes

Work trips, professional lunches, agendas full of commitments. Occupying an executive position in a company or open one’s own business requires dedication, discipline and preparation, conquests based in years of study, dedication and a lot of reading.

Changes and new conceptions of the world have been accompanied by the labor market. If prior executive positions were occupied almost exclusively by men, today it is increasingly common to find women in positions of leadership, a sign that the labor market has accompanied the modernization of concepts and professional advancement of women. These changes, of course, permeate contemporary family life that go through through a time of redefinition.

More than competence, the professional that assumes an executive function needs to have persistence. It is common reports of women receiving lower salaries than their male counterparts and that experience discrimination due to still bearing the stigma of the weaker sex. It couldn’t be more outdated. And if it’s already quite complicated for women in general, the situation is even more difficult for black women, who also experience with racial prejudice. Being an executive is a choice that involves sacrifice. But there are rewards. The main one, confirmed by all unanimously, is job satisfaction. The countless hours devoted to work are justified by the results of efficiency and a special feminine touch. Here are five successful executives who tell through their trajectories what are the five steps to get there.

“In college there were almost no women. It’s necessary to believe in your potential and persevere.” – Laudely Aparecida Sampaio

Entrepreneurial spirit

Wanting to occupy a position of leadership is the starting point for any executive. Early on, the businesswoman Zulma Vital Nunes Pereira, 54, knew she would be owner of her own business. The inspiration came from home: her father owned a mechanic shop. But until opening her business, Zulma had a long path of education. She studied Philosophy and Letters in Belo Horizonte (state of Minas Gerais), studied French, typing and secretariat technique.

Zulma worked as a teacher and came to compete for a vacancy of secretary in a multinational company. “I remember that I only managed to work temporarily in that function, even with my excellent training. Once I competed for a vacancy with a blonde candidate who was far less prepared than me. Of course she got the job and I realized that the problem was prejudice,” she says.

Zulma Vital Nunes Pereira
Zulma Vital Nunes Pereira

Refusing to become discouraged, she moved to Sao Paulo and decided to open a language school with three friends. But as soon as the business prospered, the partners asked to buy Zulma’s stake in the business. After the shock, the entrepreneur sold the part that belonged to her and opened a new school. Again, once settled in the competitive market, she received a proposal from other members to sell her share. This time, the prejudice came more directly. “I even heard of one of them that I must have done something very bad in another life to be born black,” she recalls. Zulma bought out her partners and opened the Purpose Centro de Idiomas (Purpose Language Center), which she manages today. “We black women, we can’t be mediocre. The area of business is difficult and, as women and blacks, we are doubly questioned about our capability. Education is the only way to be the best,” she advises. “More than courage, you have to have persistence to win.”


It’s not enough just to have an entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to get there: it’s necessary to persist, which, in some cases, may mean insisting, as did Vanda Ferreira de Souza, 57, a teacher and ombudsman of Petros, the Pension Foundation of Petrobras. “Despite being the daughter and granddaughter of a street child and having been born on the outskirts of Niterói (state of Rio de Janeiro), I studied piano since childhood. One day, I was invited to play in a recital, but one person ruined my joy. Seeing that I am black, the stagehand delayed my entry to the end of the attraction.”

Vanda Ferreira de Souza
Vanda Ferreira de Souza

Fortunately, this sad episode was reversed in giving Vanda incentive to become a militant of the Movimento Negro (black rights movement). She studied, graduated and became a teacher, with talent and insistence, received recognitions. She held positions in the Secretariat of Education of Rio de Janeiro, as the coordination of a group that operated in the penitentiary. Even with the whole experience and a successful track record, Vanda realized how important it was to study. She entered the university and completed the course in Pedagogy.

Today, Vanda applies all her experience to help retirees of Petrobras, who bring their complaints to her. Taking advantage of the space that she has to advertise and promote events highlighting the black history and culture. “I always find a way to do campaigns in favor of blacks. It’s the way that I found to show my face,” she says happily.

“Education is the only way to be the best. More than courage, you have to have persistence to win.” – Zulma Vital Nunes Pereira


There is no successful type of work that doesn’t require effort and dedication. That’s how civil engineer Laudely Aparecida Sampaio, 47, became a partner of the paving company Soleil Engenharia e Tecnologia Ltda (Soleil Engineering and Technology Ltda). But she had to open her own space. Despite having the encouragement of her father who was also an engineer, Laudely had to deal with the fact of being an exception: “In college there were almost no women. Blacks, then, don’t even think about it,” she recalls. For the same reason it was not easy to get a job in the area. It came only after an internship, which earned her the post of technical responsibility of a company. In 1998, the company was split in two and she had the opportunity to become a partner and managing her own business.

Laudely Aparecida Sampaio
Laudely Aparecida Sampaio

In addition to the many hours of dedication, Laudely had to learn to defend herself. “I went through embarrassing situations because of being female and black. Once, I was overseeing a job and the engineer in charge asked if I had no clothes to wash and a husband to take care of at home,” she recalls, ignoring the comment and doing her job. This, incidentally, is a lesson that Laudely is keen to pass on. The difficulties appear. Therefore, it is good to be prepared for when they arise. “You have to believe in your potential and persevere.”


Organizing time and planning career paths only brings results if the woman makes use of discipline. This is a lesson that the director of research at Research International, Maria José Alves, or simply Mazé, 55, learned early on. “I always took my studies seriously and so I could show my differential,” she says.

Maria José Alves
Maria José Alves

As an adult, Mazé worked in a bank, where she was not promoted simply because she was  black. “My manager used to say I was competent, but I was black. This served as an excuse for not promoting me,” she recalls. Mazé was not discouraged and soon got a job at a company that did research for advertising agencies. At that time, she had already studied Literature. There, because of being an excellent secretary, she had the opportunity to show her talent as an executive. “I could only hold this position by demonstrating commitment to my duties,” she believes. It teaches that discipline is won with a lot of effort. “Today’s businesses require English, Spanish, and one must know the job well,” says the executive.

“I always took my studies seriously and so I could show my differential. I could only hold this position by demonstrating commitment to my duties.”  – Maria José Alves


Having butterflies in the stomach when making an important decision is part of the universe of successful professionals. At the moment of choice, it’s often necessary to have the courage to take a deep breath and move on.

The journalist Eliana Alves, 39, owner of Enter Assessoria de Comunicação (Enter Communication Advisor), went through a situation like this. Born in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Eliana saw her life improve as a teenager, when her father passed a public competition. At the time of the campaign for Diretas Já (Rights Now) in the early 80s, she discovered her passion for journalism. She went to college and after graduation she came across a market with few opportunities. “I went over a year unemployed. Until one day I saw an ad of a vacancy in the press department of the Confederação Brasileira de Desportos Aquáticos (Brazilian Confederation of Water Sports). I was approved and I started working there,” she recalls.

Eliana Alves
Eliana Alves

The turn in Eliana’s professional career came when the confederation got a sponsor and needed to increase the sector in which the publicist worked. Earlier, a third party had been contracted to do the job. Then the publicist resigned and it was Eliana’s chance to start her own company, already with her first client guaranteed. “Since 2000 I’ve lived another reality. Now I’m a businesswoman, but also an executive. I have to worry about taxes and bureaucracies. I wasn’t used to it. However, I feel fulfilled,” she confirms.

Source: Raça Brasil

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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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