With their own hands, women create the initiatives and positions that sexism has denied in the workplace, and companies are awakening to female leadership

by Davi Ozolin cover image Monica Garwood translatedy by Carolina Walliter

Since orchestras began using blind auditions, in which candidates play behind a screen so the panel cannot see them, a study has revealed that the number of female musicians in major North-American orchestras has increased from less than 5% to 25%. This confirms the tendency to undervalue a performance only because it was done by a woman.

This often-unintentional practice of preferring one group over another, which the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) has dubbed the glass ceiling, blocks high-achieving individuals from rising to leading positions. All minorities are confined by the glass ceiling, including women.

However, the growth of policies that foster female inclusion, training, and empowerment, alongside the explosion in female entrepreneurship, has weakened this invisible barrier and promises to shatter it for once and for all.

From the inside out

Women who find themselves in an environment that limits their potential are increasingly quitting their jobs to start their own businesses. The labor scenario has changed and developed a lot through the individual growth of these women. Sorority plays a critical role in this movement.

Sorority Funding is crowdfunding by women for women who are starting their own businesses. When analyzed by the founder’s gender, the success rate for projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo by the founder’s gender are higher among women, especially in fields historically dominated by and related to men, like tech and games. In other words, the return on investment in female-driven initiatives goes beyond social benefits.

But Sorority Funding’s influence goes beyond small businesses. For instance, Woman Angels are a group of women who invest their own money in high-impact businesses led by other women. Joined together in networks like Angel Academe, they make a significant increase in this form of investment around the world.

In Brazil, MIA (Mulheres Investidoras Anjo, Female Angel Investors) was created in 2013 and is the first group of its kind in the country. To find companies with diverse teams that are qualified to receive investments, websites like Plum Alley and SyndicateRoom select and present opportunities for investors.

Lisa Kokin
Lisa Kokin

Networks of women who support each other in the workplace battleground are blossoming from sorority and are boosted up by the ease of connection provided by the internet. The group on Facebook “Trabalho em rede: mulheres nas artes” (Networking: Women in the Arts), for instance, brings together artists to share job opportunities in the field. The group “Profissionais/Vagas Feministas” (Feminist Professionals/Job Offers), like many other groups, only accepts cisgender and transgender women, transgender men, and non-binary people into this community where members post job offers and share information about companies aligned with and committed to feminist causes. Vermelha and Arquitetas Invisíveis (Invisible Architects) are independent hubs that focus on promoting debates and raising awareness to organize actions in support of gender equality.

From the outside in

In face of female growth and achievements, institutions are launching programs to mitigate the outcomes of prejudice throughout the employment process, from recruitment to professional development. These efforts have a direct impact on the victims of the glass ceiling, but also encourage a change in thoughts and actions among those who perpetuate the culture of exclusion. Thus, the transformation comes from the environment and acts on individuals, creating a cycle for the currents of change.

Just like blind auditions for orchestras, blind recruitment is becoming popular in many companies, like Deloitte, HSBC, and BBC, which receive resumes without personal information including name, gender, age, education, and years of experience. The position of “chief diversity officer” is also increasingly common and valued — companies like Airbnb and Autodesk have one. Diversity chiefs enforce inclusive policies in recruiting and retaining talent, and conduct training sessions and workshops on the subject.

This kind of initiative has a meaningful impact on increasing the presence of women in management positions. In Brazil, the number of women in management leaped from 5% in 2014, to 11% in 2015. Although this proportion is still far from ideal, the continuity of this trend along with projects and spaces exclusively for women is quickly bringing society into an equal future.

Think Eva: A Great Moment for Women

The company Plano Feminino and the intelligence hub Think Eva, both from Brazil, work with brands that wish not only to sell to women, but also to approach their needs with depth and sensitivity. Their services include training and design of branding strategies. In 2015, the workshop Publicidade e mulheres: um novo jeito de fazer publicidade para a mulher (Advertising and Women: A New Way to Advertise for Women), taught by Plano Feminino, was sold out. The Eves, as they call themselves, have already provided consulting advice to clients like Banco do Brasil, Avon, and even São Paulo’s subway company. They also run websites where women develop their stories and inspire female readers. When it comes to content production, Think Eva is connected to Think Olga, the project that launched the Chega de Fiu-Fiu (Stop Catcalling) campaign against street harassment.

New ventures adapt to the demands of breaking social paradigms, especially those fields dominated by male stereotypes like tattooing and sports. The Pam Pam store in Londo sells only female sports shoes; Nike expanded Nike Woman chain and opened its first branch in Europe; Adidas launched China’s first women’s only store.

Deb Xavier é empreendedora, embaixadora brasileira do Women’s Entrepreneurship Day e idealizou o Jogo de Damas, projeto de mentoria para mulheres.
Deb Xavier is an entrepreneur and the Brazilian ambassador of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. She also created Jogo de Damas, a mentoring program for women.
Ingryd Guimarães is one of the artists at Sampa Tattoo, a women-only tattoo studio in São Paulo, Brazil.

Inclusion as an investment

The efforts to include oppressed individuals in the labor market bring social progress and transform the lives of under-represented, marginalized people. In addition to this obvious advantage, social inclusion also leads to diversity, a powerful profit generator.

A survey carried out by Catalyst revealed that companies with more women in top roles have a 35% higher return on equity (ROE) than companies with lower proportions of women. A study by McKinsey found the same results for Latin America. The reasons behind this difference go far beyond a shallow statement that women are better managers than men. Regina Madalozzo, Ph.D. in economics (University of Illinois) and faculty member of Insper business school, explains:

“Putting women on the board does not increase the company’s profit. But the company that makes it possible for women to rise competitively to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder opens paths to greater profitability. By doing this, the company starts to hire the best individuals. Sexist enterprises should be twice as careful: they probably discriminate against other groups that do not fit their regular management profile.”

Inclusion and diversity are no longer a desire of some, but a necessity for all. This slow process is underway and requires effort from everyone: companies, organizations, groups, and governments are mobilized towards this goal. In this scenario, your role as an individual is critical in transforming your own mindset and that of the people surrounding you. Look around and ask yourself: how many women are there in the company you work for? How many female bosses have you had? And more importantly, what is your role in this story?

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Go further

Case Study: Women and Corporate Performance

In 2013, McKinsey published a detailed study written by women on the female potential to enhance corporate performance through a Latin American perspective.

Interview with diversity chief officers

Airbnb and Autodesk diversity chiefs reveal the greatest challenges of this position, which is still new to many people. They state that to understand individuals who are different from them, they must be observant and ask questions.


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