Women, The Future of Multinationals in Brazil

Brazil senior women at mulitnational corporationsGlobally, the number of women at the most senior levels of corporations has stagnated.

But we saw something different when we met with senior women business leaders on our recent trip to Brazil.

It was impossible not to see how these women’s expertise and leadership is leaving an indelible mark on the future of multinational corporations.

Three of the women we met with are Managing Directors at Accenture, including the most senior woman at Accenture in Brazil, Flavia da Hora, and two of her colleagues, Renata Pessoa and Renata Leal. We also met with Nubia Correia, Executive Director at Ernst and Young, Vania Neves, IT Director at GlaxoSmithKline, and Sandra Portugal, Finance and Admin Officer at Hi/Telemar.

We explored how these women have achieved the level of success that seems illusive to many others; we uncovered that the key to their success is a dual focus on self and serving.

SELF  <——-> SERVE

The women we spoke with see self and serving as two-sides of the same coin, and that coin is the currency of their success.

Accenture’s Flavia da Hora responded to my inquiry about what was at the core of her success by talking about something women don’t typically disclose. In spite of her very clear and evident commitment to her clients, her team and to women at Accenture, she said:

“In my case, the correct answer is being a little selfish…

Women are so worried about what others think, what others say and what others need. I think what’s most important is for me to understand what makes me feel happy, what makes me feel ok and what I like to do every day.”

Vania Neves, at GlaxoSmithKline, responded about her successful career path very pragmatically, saying, “It was my plan.” She went on to share how an oft repeated adage of her mother’s continues to guide her: “If you want something, be ready.”

To Vania and her mother that means always being prepared for what you want. In Vania’s case, that has meant a consistent commitment to learning and professional development. She has invested and continues to invest her own time and, when necessary, her own money to learn new skills that enable her to contribute in new ways. Today, in spite of the fact that she one of the most senior corporate women in Brazil, she is working toward at Master’s degree and attends classes at night. 

It is this attention to self, to improving self, and to being true to one’s self that gave these women the strength to also focus on the other side of the coin – on service to both their families and their companies.

At Accenture, Flavia da Hora’s philosophy at work is based on serving. She talks about serving her clients, her team and her manager and how she always starts by first figuring what each person she is working with wants or needs. She views her role as solving the problems of the company, of her clients or of her team. Being known as someone who solves problems has been part of her formula for attaining roles with greater scope and responsibility. One of her colleague at Accenture, Renata Pessoa talked about the importance of building a new practice for Accenture and about making contributions to the organization as a professional woman. Instead of emulating the men on her team she brings her expertise and experience as well as her perspectives as a woman to build her team and produce results.

For these women, serving at work also includes leading initiatives beyond their specific areas of responsibility and mentoring other women. At Accenture, Renata Leal heads up Work/Life Quality initiatives, and Flavia heads up the women’s initiatives, going beyond just overseeing the programs, to personally matching mentors and mentees.

While all the women we spoke with work long hours and deliver results at work, they also see part of their role in life as attending to the needs of their family. In the words of Nubia Correia, at Ernst and Young:

“Career-only success is not success. Success means success within your self, with your family and in life, which includes your career.”

Vania talked about including her family in her career decisions and plans, (such as having them pick her up or drop her off from school or work) and factoring in the needs of her family as she makes decisions about work.

Because of the expertise that Flavia, Nubia, Vania, Renata Leal, Renata Pessoa and Sandra have built by focusing on themselves and their contributions at work, they have earned the level of flexibility they need in their schedules to spend time with their families. They don’t apologize at work for the needs of their family and they don’t feel guilty at home for wanting or needing to work. Their success comes from investing in and valuing both sides of the coin – not from tossing the coin so that sometimes “self”-wins and other times “service” wins.

The contributions, perspective and leadership of these executive women showed us that they are indeed the future of multinationals in Brazil. And their results, example, and leadership mean that some day, corporations all over the world will inevitably include gender equality at the top.

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