Note from BBT: Today’s piece is a story that I wanted to cover when it first became a hot topic back in September, but due to other job commitments, this story and several others got put on the backburner. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to post it as it is certainly an important incident in understanding racial issues in Brazil today. It’s also a necessary piece to re-visit due to another recent tragic event that once against focused the lens on race, racism and racial inequality in the country. All of this, again, in a country that has long declared itself free of racial issues with recent statements by both the President and Vice-President confirming their belief in this mythology.
At the center of this piece is the popular Brazilian electronics and furniture retail network, Magazine Luiza and its leadership decision to open initiate a new program to hire only black Brazilians for key leadership positions in the company. To realize why this is such a big deal, first understand that the owner of the Magazine Luiza company is Luiza Trajano, who is now recognized as the richest woman in Brazil and currently occupies the number 8 position on the list of Brazilian billionaires.
In 2020, Trajano jumped from the 24th position of richest Brazilians to the number 8 slot with a fortune of BRL 24 billion reais. In 2020, 238 people make up the list of Brazilian billionaires with only 46 of them being women. Trajano is the only woman to make the top 10 of the country’s richest billionaires.
Needless to say, to see a woman of such importance and power make such a decision is a game-changer and the reactions of many Brazilians shows the big deal that this really is. Ever since the introduction of affirmative action measures to facilitate the increase of black and brown Brazilians into the nation’s best institutions of higher learning, the society has been divided over the practice. The reaction toward quotas and the new hiring/training policy of the retail giant shows that behind the rhetoric that “we are all equal”, a large percentage of the nation remains very uncomfortable with taking actual measures to assure that the country in fact treats all of its citizens equally.
The reaction is pretty typical. As long as beauty contests, fashion runways, television personalities, political positions, magazine covers, the judicial branch, university campuses and nearly every other area of Brazilian society remains all or predominantly white, there’s no problem because, again, all Brazilians are equal. The minute it’s time to actually make everything equal, all hell breaks loose.
All I can say is, welcome to Brazil.
Magazine Luiza’s trainee program will have only black candidates
The retail giant’s initiative is a response to the movements for inclusion and diversity; applications were opened in September and accepting candidates
In the year in which the movements for inclusion and diversity gained unprecedented importance, Magazine Luiza opened registration for its 2021 trainee program – and will only accept black candidates. “The objective is to bring more racial diversity to the company’s leadership positions, recruiting university students and recent graduates from all over Brazil, at the beginning of their professional lives,” says the company.
Currently, the retailer’s workforce is 53% preto e pardo (black and brown). But only 16% of them hold leadership positions. “The alert aroused by this low participation made Magalu decide to act, offering opportunities for those who are just beginning their careers,” reinforces the company.
For the consultant and MBA professor in the area of Human Resources, Jorgete Lemos, the initiative comes at a time when social and racial differences were widely unmasked, both because of the pandemic and because of the American anti-racist demonstrations. Movements like the Black Lives Matter have come back strongly all over the world this year, following the assassination of the American George Floyd.
According to the expert, in addition to being sensitive to a concern that is global, the retailer should have gains at the tip of the pencil. “Companies favor their own business when they reduce inequality”, guarantees Jorgete. Several academic studies prove the financial gains when the staff is more diverse. In addition, for her, the country’s economic development will only come when the black population is included economically. “We are talking about about 57% of the population.”
Alessandra Benedito, professor at the Law School of Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) and researcher on racism and its effects on the labor market, draws attention to the fact that processes of this type help the professional growth of young people hired.
For her, affirmative actions are, by nature, temporary, with the aim of reducing historical inequalities. “Affirmative action is not permanent. They must exist while the exclusion process exists.”
Enrollments for the Magalu trainee program started yesterday and professionals trained between December 2017 and December 2020, in any higher education course, can participate. Knowledge of the English language and previous professional experience are not part of the pre-requisites for selection. This is also important as often times, when applying for certain employment positions, Afro-Brazilians are quickly eliminated from consideration due to not being able to speak English at an advanced level.
The selection process will be divided into six stages starting with online tests. Then, candidates will go through the step of recording a professional presentation video and interviews with the human resources department.
Those who follow through on the process will be interviewed by area directors and then by the executive board. The finalists will participate in a conversation with the company’s president, Frederico Trajano. The 2021 trainee program was developed in partnership with consultants Indique Uma Preta (recommend a black woman) and Goldenberg, Instituto Identidades do Brasil (ID_BR), Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares and the Comitê de Igualdade Racial do Mulheres do Brasil (Racial Equality Committee of Women in Brazil).
Trainee program for blacks sparks controversy
The initiative sparked a wave of protests for and against the company on social media, sparking discussions about racism and inclusion policies.
On Sunday, September 20th, the hastag #branco (white) was one of the most talked about subjects on Twitter. Many netizens accused Magalu of “reverse racism” with whites. Others came out in defense of the company commanded by Luiza Trajano.
One of them was the president of Fundação Cultural Palmares, Sérgio Nascimento de Camargo, who went so far as to say the company’s decision is “racism” against whites. Camargo, who is black and identifies himself as right-wing, has already argued that there is no “structural” racism in Brazil.
Congressman Carlos Jordy, co-leader in the Câmara (Brazil’s Congress), said on social media that he is seeking representation in the Public Prosecutor’s Office against the company so that a crime of racism can be investigated.
Magazine Luiza responded to the deputy saying that the company was calm about the legality of the program. “Inclusive, affirmative actions and inclusion in the professional market, of people discriminated against for generations are part of a 2018 technical note from the Public Ministry of Labor”, wrote the company in its official profile.
Labor judge Ana Luiza Fischer Teixeira de Souza Mendonça was another who criticized Magalu’s initiative. The magistrate considers that the proposal violates article 5 of the Federal Constitution. “In my Constitution this is still prohibited,” she said.
Federal deputy Benedita da Silva (PT) countered Judge Ana Luiza Fischer. “It is unacceptable that a judge does not know how to distinguish discrimination and racism from affirmative and inclusion policy. In a country with so much historical debt to blacks, affirmative action is essential. Again, congratulations @magazineluiza!”, she wrote.
YouTuber Felipe Neto was also in favor of Magazine Luiza’s initiative. “If the company said it was only going to hire white people, would it be racism?” Yes. “And only black people, isn’t it racism?” No. “I will never understand that”. It’s that instead of studying and talking to black people, you prefer to watch video of flat Earth and conspiracy theory,” he wrote.
Candidates from all over Brazil can participate in the program, as long as they are available to move to São Paulo. If the selected one is from outside the city, he/she will receive aid in re-locating.
Those selected will receive a salary of BRL 6,600, a hiring bonus salary, among other benefits.
Carlos Jordy: Affirmative actions, such as quotas, exist and are even foreseen in the law for admission to education and public service, despite directly disagreeing with RACIAL quotas. However, the action of @magazineluiza is not an affirmative action but to prevent the hiring of non-black people.
Lu of Magalu (in@magazineluiza) – Sep 19, 2020 – In reply to @carlosjordy
We are absolutely confident about the legality of our 2021 Trainee Program. In fact, affirmative action and inclusion in the professional market, of people discriminated against for generations, are part of a 2018 technical note from the Public Ministry of Labor.
Daniel Silveira@danielPMERJ: How do you create and feed racism? Magazine Luiza teaches you. From the series “Divide to weaken, weaken to conquer.”
Jonathan Vicente@jonathanvicente: People outraged by Magazine Luiza’s initiative, if you knew about racism in selection processes. Imagine entering an environment / company where less than 5% of the place is black in a country where more than 50% is black. Excuse me, right!
Bia Ferreira@iglesbiteriana: Magalu opens trainee for blacks. The whites, foaming at the mentions of the tweet, criticize an alleged “reverse racism” in the decision, as they say they are in favor of equality. Funny that I didn’t notice this thirst for justice when Itaú made a trainee program and the approved ones were these: