Why are black executives still an exception? Rachel Maia, of Pandora Jewelry, is the only black woman CEO in Brazil

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Rachel Maia, of Pandora Jewelry: the only black woman CEO in Brazil (photo: Germano Luders)

Note from BW of Brazil: The lack of black people in the position of CEOs in Brazil’s top companies is a topic this blog has addressed in past posts but there’s still a LONG ways to go before even a minimum improvement can be made in the numbers. Of course I knew this, but I would never have imagined that at the current rate it would take about a century and half to reach equality. I first introduced Rachel Maia to readers back in 2015 and she has appeared in a total of four pieces including that first one. But Maia’s accomplishment is on par with that of Sonia Guimarães, the first black Brazilian woman to earn a doctorate degree in physics. You see, Rachel is the ONLY black woman executive of the top 500 companies in all of Brazil! What?!? Really?!?! I had no idea of this when I first featured her back in June of 2015. But why is this so? Why are black executives in Brazil so rare? Well, with all of the coverage this blog has done on the efficiency of Brazilian racism, it’s not really hard to tell, but let’s check out the story below and dig a little further…

Why are black executives still an exception?

More than 55% of Brazilians are Afro-descendants, but only 4.7% occupy executive positions. What we can do to fight prejudice at work

By Anna Carolina Rodrigues

One hundred and fifty years. With the current rhythm of inclusion, this is the time that companies will take to match the number of blacks in their cadres to the proportion of afrodescendentes (African descendants) in the country. The conclusion is of Marina Ferro, executive manager at the head of the Human Rights Working Group of the Instituto Ethos (Ethos Institute), an organization that encourages socially sustainable businesses. “Most large companies do not have affirmative action to encourage the presence of blacks, and when they do, they are punctual, not policies with planned goals and initiatives,” says Marina.

The diagnosis may sound alarming, but just look at the numbers to see that ethnic diversity is still a serious problem in the world of work. According to the latest estimate by the IBGE National Household Sample Survey (Pnad), the black population – comprised of pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) – totaled 55.4%, equivalent to 113 million people.

In companies, however, they occupy only 4.7% of executive positions; 6.3% of managers; and 35.7% of the functional stratum, according to the Ethos survey study with the 500 largest organizations in the country. Although not having so much representation in organizations, when it comes to unemployment, the issue is reversed: 63.7% of unemployed Brazilians are black.

These statistics are justified, in part, by the lack of corporate inclusion programs that focus on black professionals. In recent years, companies have been struggling to achieve gender equity goals, employ people with disabilities and welcome LGBT professionals. All valid and important concerns, but blacks remain forgotten. Why is this? The explanation is long and goes through the history of racial prejudice that still affects the country and, consequently, the organizations.

Rachel Maia CEO PANDORA (1)
“I see curious looks when I’m at an event sitting at the table of presidents” – Rachel Maia, CEO of Pandora Jewelry

The problem stirs up academic interest. One of the books that addresses the issue is Executivos Negros (black executives) (Edusp, R$50), by Pedro Jaime, professor of sociology at ESPM and Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, in São Paulo. In the work, the specialist analyzes the rise of blacks since the 1970s and shows that, very recently, very few have broken the barriers of race and class and assumed corporate positions.

This achievement, however, didn’t help spread the fight against corporate prejudice. To the contrary, these professionals were used by proponents of the myth of racial democracy as examples of the non-existence of discrimination.

In this line of reasoning, black executives would be proof that the rise of the minority is a simple matter of meritocracy and that individual effort to achieve positions of power would suffice. That is not true. According to the author, those who managed to go far needed to have the help of “padrinhos” (godparents) (see note 1) who believed in their potential. Only then was it possible to pass through the filter of unconscious prejudice and educational prerequisites, which blacks had often been unable to attain previously.

“Under the banner of ‘somos todos iguais’ (we are all equal) (see note 2), the racial issue comes last because it is indigestible in our history,” says Leizer Pereira, executive director of Empodera, an online education platform in Rio de Janeiro that prepares low-income professionals for entry into the job  market.

The first generation of afrodescendente executives was blinded not to see or tolerate situations of racism. That was the cost of ascending. But in recent decades, some actions have contributed to creating a more favorable context for the current generation: racism and injúria racial (racial insult) have come to be considered crimes and social movements have strengthened and pressured government and business for affirmative action and contributed to empowering individuals and uniting around black identity. “Now, it’s time for young people to become protagonists of their stories,” says Professor Pedro Jaime.

Source: Exame, Bastide, Roger & Florestan Fernandes (orgs.), Relações Raciais entre Negros e Brancos em São Paulo. São Paulo: Editora Anhembi, 1955.


  1. Against all of the rhetoric of Brazil’s famed racial democracy myth, back in 1955 sociologist Roger Bastide showed that, even a university degree didn’t automatically guarantee that a black Brazilian would be shielded from the prejudice he/she would experience in the pursuit of social ascension. This was often only possible if he/she had an influential white person, referred to as a “padrinho”, or godfather, to protect him or her.
  2. A point that has been repeatedly made on this blog. The belief that “we are all equal” is one of the most common but worst phrases that is embedded in the Brazilian psyche and is constantly uttered by Brazilians, black or white, in the face of obvious racial discrimination and inequality.
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. What a bunch of crap! I wonder how bitter the writer on this blog is..If any black woman wants to be like her the CEO’s, they got to do what she did, and has done.
    Stop blaming it on racism and prejudice..

  2. It’s always been the white men telling black people they are ‘inferior’, by telling them: Hey, you blacks, go out there and claim opportunities, tell them to stop racism and prejudice, it’s because of them that you can’t and won’t succeed in life, it’s because you’re black.
    What a shame..
    Despicable article.

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