Brazilian Women: Empowered or Victimized?

Posted on February 17, 2011 by


In the latest from Financial Times’ Women at the Top series, “Gender gap narrows in Brazil,” Joe Leahy profiles a female hotelier’s experience in Brazil since the ‘80s. Outnumbered by her male counterparts, Chieko Aoki’s story is an inspiring tale of a woman rising the ranks—progress that has been mirrored by women nationwide. Leahy writes:

In the business world, Brazilian women now hold more than 50 per cent of the postgraduate qualifications in the market. They occupy as many positions as men in industries such as finance, and are gaining ground in traditional male strongholds such as construction and engineering.

Still, as elsewhere, Brazilian women have yet to gain significant ground at the top—at least in business. In October, Brazil elected their first female president, Dilma Rousseff. Yet, women haven’t fully amalgamated into the Brazilian business culture. Leahy notes:

Whereas the percentage of women on boards of directors in Norway, for example, was 44 per cent in 2009, in Brazil it was only 8 per cent, ¬according to a study conducted by the Brazilian Corporate Governance Institute.

But this comparison is misleading. In Norway, arguably the most gender progressive nation, gender board quotas are mandated. And now, Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway’s Minister of Culture, has proposed legislation extending similarly absurd quotas to film (link in Norwegian).

Mandates don’t empower women or denote progress. They perpetuate gender discrimination stereotypes—the woman as victim. In Brazil, women are braving the business world without crutches or handouts. Younger women are less encumbered by formerly prevalent discrimination.

Brazilian based Ana Zambelli, general manager of the world’s largest oil services group, aptly notes, “It’s a generational issue.” Women are forging their own niche in Brazil in business, politics and elsewhere. Mandated equality policies would only institutionalize gender discrimination.


Photo: Chieko Aoki, from Financial Times