“We can’t lower our standards to hire blacks”: Fintech startup NuBank co-founder apologizes after controversial statement

Note from BBT: Today’s report is another throwback to a controversial incident that went down a few months ago, in October of 2020. As I didn’t get a chance to cover it at the time, I still feel it was necessary to feature this story because it’s very revealing of the racial situation in Brazil today, both in the sense of the decades-long atttitude toward black Brazilians in the labor market as well as the new policies to address these old standards.

This story is sort of a complementary piece to another report I wasn’t able to cover around that same time, but equally important. In that story, the head of one Brazil’s top companies and the country’s richest woman announced a special program for black candidates to train to become managers in the company, the retail giant, Magazine Luiza. The reaction was expected. Brazilians hit the roof. “Reverse racism”, everyone cried, but as others pointed out, it has never been a problem when white people were always the preferred candidates for employment.

This sort of attitude toward black Brazilians in the job market can be traced all the back to the ending of the slavery era. Between the 16th and 19th century, Brazil enslaved between 4-5 million Africans for use in all sorts ways, but when it came time to end slavery and transition into free labor, suddenly these same black people weren’t good enough as companies passed over the black labor force and employed the millions of European immigrants that were flooding into the country between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

Through the first half of the 20th century and beyond it was common to see employment advertisements in Brazil’s newspapers which openly stated a preference for white people in these positions. In the last few decades of the 20th century, companies became more sophisticated in its preference for whiteness and opted not to appear so openly racist in its hiring practices.

Instead of advertising “preference for whites”, they began to use the thinly veiled racist phrase saying that candidates for employment had to have “boa aparência”, meaning ‘good apearance’. Although not blatantly mentioning color, everyone knew that this phrase also meant “preference white” as the nation as a wholeheartedly believed that persons with a European appearance were more attractive than non-whites. 

With this history of discriminatory hiring practices that has been thoroughly documented in numerous books and reports, it’s amazing that Brazil as a whole still rejects any policies that make up for the centuries of discrimination that is responsible for the often times shocking disparities between black and white Brazilians.

Which brings us to this latest situation, again, from October, but very important for any future discussions on race and job market.

Cristina Junqueira, co-founder of Nubank, in interview on ‘Roda Viva’ program

Nubank founder says it’s hard to hire blacks and doesn’t want to ‘lower the level’

By Karol Gomes

The participation of Cristina Junqueira, co-founder of Nubank (see note one), in the Roda Viva program from Monday, October 19, had a negative impact on social networks. This is because the bank co-founder said that she has “difficulty in finding suitable black candidates for the requirements of vacancies in the company”.

She also said that she invests in free training programs, but that she cannot “lower the level”, suggesting that there are no black professionals qualified for her company’s vacancies.

Nubank is a Brazilian startup in the financial services segment

In the interview, Junqueira admits that Nubank has a problem of racial representativeness, but says that her team works to get around the situation. “We have been looking for various positions for some time, including a vice president of marketing to work with me. I’ve been looking for a long time and it’s difficult. Nubank recruiting has always been difficult,” she says.

The journalist Angelica Mari, from Forbes Brasil, then asks if this “high level of demand” can’t be a barrier for minorities. To which the executive then replied: “It’s no use in also lowering the level. That’s why we want to invest in training. We created a free program, which is called diversified, that we are going to teach data science to people who want to get into it, and we are going to empower these people,” she said.

After the negative repercussions of her comment on the program, Junqueira published a video on Linkedin apologizing for saying that hiring black professionals is difficult.

“I wanted to apologize, I don’t think I expressed myself in the best way. It is super important that we have clear communication. I would like to thank all for the feedback that is coming, the repercussions that this is having, because everyone has something to learn,” she said.

Note: So after the negative reactions to the co-founder’s blunder, less than one month later, Junqueira changed her tune and NuBank announced that it too would also create a program to diversify its workforce. As I’ve said before, it seems that a lot of Brazilian companies suddenly seem game to jump on the new diversity bandwagon. 

NuBank co-founder releases apology via LinkedIn

Translation of post above: Speaking of racial inclusion is not simple, especially as a white woman. In an attempt to explain the educational support actions that we have at Nubank to various underrepresented groups within technology, I ended up expressing myself badly. I appreciate the feedback that is coming and I apologize for the way I spoke. As I said in the interview, there is a lot we need to do on racial diversity issues and this is a commitment we have made at Nubank.

Nubank announces BRL 20 million investment in diversity and racial inclusion action

After controversy, Nubank announces BRL 20 million for diversity and racial inclusion action

Courtesy of Dinheiro Rural

Nubank published on Thursday, November 12, an open letter in which it commits itself to an action plan to promote racial diversity and inclusion, inside and outside of the company. The commitment, which involves 19 measures, has an initial investment of BRL 20 million and includes the opening of an office in Salvador, the first of fintech in Brazil outside of São Paulo, which will function as a hub for technology and customer experience.

The letter is published almost a month after the company became involved in a dispute over racial issues. On October 19, during participation in the TV show Roda Viva, on the TV Cultura network, Cristina Junqueira, co-founder of the fintech, said that Nubank didn’t have affirmative policies for hiring black people, as Magazine Luiza did recently in its trainee program. According to her, the company’s level is high and a policy like this could “lower the level” of the company.

The statement had bad repercussions on social media and the company acknowledged the error, first in a video published by Cristina Junqueira on its social media, in which she apologized, and then in a letter released days later by the company’s three founders. At the time, they announced that they had entered into a partnership with the Instituto Identidades do Brasil (ID_BR) to “broaden our understanding of the topic, establish our public and ongoing engagement and accelerate the promotion of racial equality on Nubank”.

In a letter, available on the company’s blog, Nubank admits that it has made little progress on the racial agenda throughout its history and says that it has already started a review of all its Human Resources practices, from selection and recruitment to the evaluation of performance, “in order to eliminate biases and barriers that contribute to the under-representation of black men and women”.

The opening of the office in Salvador, according to Nubank, will help bring more diversity to the company’s workforce and better understand the reality of millions of customers in the Northeast. In addition, among the 19 actions listed in the letter, it is planning to launch a diversity and inclusion training program with content recommended for all levels of the organization, with the first session scheduled be held later that month.

“We were very excited about the engagement and energy of everyone at Nubank to learn more about the topic and take action. We are committed to training and attracting black men and black women leaders to our positions of leadership, management and council,” says Cristina, in the document.

The fintech will also begin, in 2021, a formal mentoring and acceleration program focused on black employees and other underrepresented groups. A seed investment fund will also be created for national startups founded and/or led by black entrepreneurs, in partnership with accelerator and social organizations.

“We want to positively influence the technology market with the training of a new generation of black programmers, increasing the representativeness of these professionals in Nubank and across the industry,” says Edward Wible, also a co-founder of the company.

The fintech’s CEO and also one of the founders, David Vélez, said in the letter that the company has learned a lot in recent weeks from conversations inside and outside the company. “We understand our responsibility to accelerate change and we are happy to take our first steps on this very important and urgent agenda to combat structural racism,” he says.

Source: Hypeness, Dinheiro Rural


1. Nubank is a Brazilian startup pioneer in the financial services segment, acting as a credit card operator and fintech with operations in Brazil, based in São Paulo and founded on May 6, 2013 by David Vélez. In 2014, the company launched its first product, an international credit card with the Mastercard flag, without annuity and completely managed through an application. In 2017, Nubank also launched its benefits program, Nubank Rewards, and the former NuConta, now called Nubank’s digital account, which is already used by over 12 million Brazilians. In 2019, it started offering loans to some customers. Source

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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