Note from BW of Brazil: The past decade has brought about many changes in terms of access of black Brazilians to middle-class status. As education is perhaps the only mechanism to escape poverty in Brazil (save sports and entertainment), the system of affirmative action policies have allowed thousands of Afro-Brazilians to realize dreams that only decade simply didn’t seem possible. While these policies have indeed diversified classrooms of higher learning institutions, this increase simply emphasizes how far behind black Brazilians were and continue to be in comparison to their white counterparts in attaining solid middle-class status. The article below shows that access to leadership roles in Brazil’s top companies has clearly improved, but as Afro-Brazilians make up more than 50% of the population, diversity policies still have a ways to go.
Climbing for black executives gets a little less difficult
Promoting diversity in business has increased the presence of black executives. But, in order to accelerate this process, it’s necessary to increase access to higher education of African descendants
by Omar Paixão
Edgar Antunes dos Santos, of IBM: support of the company for equal opportunities allowed professional ascension
São Paulo – On the agenda of the strike that stopped banks back in October, along with requests for salary adjustment, one of the demands of bank trade unions drew attention: the filling of at least 20% of vacancies with black employees.
It was the first time that the promotion of racial diversity has been included in the flags of the category. “The few blacks hired by banks are less likely to be promoted. You rarely see a black male manager or a black female manager,” says secretary of social policies of the Sociais da Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores (National Confederation of the Financial Branch (Contraf), Andréa de Vasconcelos Freitas.
This reality is not restricted to financial firms. Only 5.3% of leadership posts of large Brazilian companies are occupied by pretos (blacks) or pardos (browns), according to an Instituto Ethos survey of the 500 largest companies in Brazil.
This happens in a country where over half the population is African descent (preto/black or pardo/brown), according to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). This picture has been worse. Ten years ago, only 1.8% of Brazilian executives at the top of the corporate hierarchy were negros (pretos and pardos).
Behind this slight improvement, there are a number of changes: from greater access to higher education to a new attitude of companies when it comes to diversity. Measures that should make professional advancement of blacks who are now entering the labor market less difficult.
“The generation of black executives who began their career in the 70’s has a history of individual ascension, while the younger, who entered the market starting from the early 2000s, are already a part of a generation that benefits from affirmative (action) policies,” says Pedro Jaime Coelho Jr., professor at the Centro de Ciências Sociais da Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie (Center of Social Sciences of Mackenzie Presbyterian University), who has researched the history of black executives in his doctorate.
The history of the superintendent of Mais Shopping in São Paulo, Marco Antonio Ferreira, 47, is emblematic of how many black executives in previous decades skirted the barriers that hindered their professional growth.
“It is very common to reach the top positions, blacks receive support from a ‘padrinho (‘godfather figure’ or sponsor)’ (1) , who sees the potential of that person and decides to invest in him,” explains Andréa Souza, professor of the department of administration at PUC (Pontifícia Universidade Católica or Pontifical Catholic University) of (the state of) Minas Gerais and researcher of the theme.
In the case of Marco, the padrinho was a former boss who perceived his capacity for leadership and negotiation at the time they both worked in the Central of Supplies of Guarulhos (2). In 2004, the former boss invited him to take over as superintendent of a shopping center of which he was a partner.
Marco remained in that position until 2011, when he received the proposal from Mais Shopping. “If I didn’t have his help, I would not have shown my value to the market nor come to where I am,” he says.
Another way in which some black executives reach the top of the hierarchy of Brazilian companies, according to the researcher Andréa Souza, is coming from large families who elect one of its members – those with the greatest potential, in the opinion of the parents – to receive the best investments education.
Thus, they acquire a more solid training and pass through the filter of companies, which select professionals graduating from the best colleges in the country and with a second language.
Bonuses and inclusion
In the last decade, however, with the spread of social responsibility practices, the theme of the inclusion of blacks gained relevance in enterprises. To do this, companies have created committees of minorities – arguing actions, targets and timeframes to achieve diversity in the teams.
Itaú, for example, a specific program of training for young African descendants was developed, recruited directly in the universities. Today, 23% of the company’s 3,500 trainees are black. A good part of the most advanced companies in the policies of inclusion of blacks in leadership are multinational.
This is the case of IBM, which brought to Brazil the concern with diversity present in the matrix. The trajectory of the executive Edgar Antunes dos Santos, 40, area director of sales management support for Latin America, illustrates the power of such corporate incentive.
He joined IBM 16 years ago as a pre-sales specialist. Since then, he has been promoted eight times. “The big difference of IBM is not giving more opportunities to blacks, but giving the same opportunities,” he says.
Abroad, many companies have adopted even bolder actions to accelerate the pace of racial inclusion. At Sodexo, for example, the results achieved in this area influenced the payment of bonuses to executives. In the United States, where blacks account for 12.6% of the population, 9.4% of the executives of the 100 largest companies are African descendants, according to the organization The Executive Leadership Council.
In that country, black presidents, like Ursula Burns of Xerox, and Don Thompson, of McDonald’s, show that it is possible to overcome the historical barriers of prejudice. But companies’ inclusion policies alone do not reverse exterior obstacles in the corporate environment.
In Brazil, one of the greatest obstacles of the ascension of blacks is their low qualification with a concentrated undercurrent of this population in the lower classes. “The failure to include blacks at the top of professional career is linked to his non-insertion in many other areas,” says José Vicente, Faculdade Zumbi dos Palmares (Unipalmares College), created to give African descendants more opportunities to go to college.
It is a picture that has begun to change with the advancement of affirmative policies such as racial quotas in public universities. For specialists, the qualification is the best way to dismantle stereotypes and ensure equal opportunities. “We must invest in education to combat prejudice,” says Ana Paula Azevedo, of Garcia Azevedo an HR consultancy firm in São Paulo.
1. Reflecting on a long held standard of racial relations in Brazilian society in 1955, sociologist Roger Bastide wrote that “there was the necessity of the interference and protection of an influential, white godfather/mentor for the negro to obtain a good job” and to overcome society’s barriers. Cited from Bastide, Roger. “Introdução”; “Manifestações do preconceito de cor”: “Efeito do preconceito de cor”. In Bastide, Roger; Fernandes Florestan. Relações raciais entre negro e brancos em São Paulo. São Paulo, Editora Anhembi, 1955.
2. Guarulhos is the second largest city in the state of São Paulo and a suburb of São Paulo city itself. The population according to 2006 data was 1,283,253. It is 12th largest city in Brazil and also the most populous non-capital city in the country. Source