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In Brazil, Still a Long Way to Go, Baby

Female participation in the working world in Brazil is marked by far lower salaries than men who perform the same functions, as well as greater obstacles to pursuing a career. They are the first to be fired in times of crisis, and they face greater difficulties in finding new jobs.

These are some of the observations contained in the document, Companies’ Commitment to Upgrading Women, released September 1st by São Paulo’s Ethos Institute of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Women represent nearly half of the country’s Economically Active Population (PEA). Within this universe, nearly 38% of them are employed, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) for April, 2004. Nevertheless, despite their participation in the job market, women’s working conditions are less secure than men’s.

For Luci Ayala, editor of the manual, the working world is where female disadvantages become more apparent. According to her, “there are many indicators of this: Women, in general, earn less than men in similar positions, their careers are slower, the pace of promotions within firms is not the same, and women have less access to executive positions.”

White females earn, on the average, 20.5% less than white males, while black females earn 19.4% less than black males and 61.2% less than white males. These data, which come from the IBGE’s Monthly Survey of Employment and Unemployment for July, 2004, reflect the situation of women within organizations.

Ayala believes that the small percentage of women in executive posts is another indication of gender inequality. According to her, the Ethos Institute’s 2003 study, Social, Race, and Gender Profile of the 500 Largest Brazilian Companies and Their Affirmative Actions, shows that 58% of the companies included in the survey have no females on their board of directors.


“Only 9% of all executive positions in these companies are held by women, even though they represent 35% of the total number of employees. Only 0.1% of these posts are filled by black women, and only 3% of the companies in the survey have gender equality policies,” she points out.

Women also form the majority among those who receive the smallest salaries. “The higher the salary, the smaller the percentage of women,” Ayala explains.


According to her, women account for one-fourth of the highest salaries, more than 30 minimum wages, and “this cannot be ascribed to educational levels or years of schooling.


In education, from a formal standpoint, women have the same access as men in Brazil; moreover, their school performance is better and the number of years they spend in school, greater, than men’s, especially at the university level.”


Only 3% of the Brazilian companies have clear policies to promote gender equality, including programs to reduce salary differences and specific professional training programs to enhance women’s qualifications.


That’s another revelation of the document Companies’ Commitment to Upgrading Women. According to Ayala, “Many companies are concerned with assuring equal conditions among their employees. But it appears to us that, in some sense, equal treatment for people with unequal starting points doesn’t change this basic situation and even contributes to the reproduction of inequality,”


For her, “it is essential that commitments to gender equality integrate companies’ strategic action plans, since this is the only way to define goals and programs and evaluate results, for it to become, in fact, part of companies’ lives. Tools exist for this to come about.”

These tools are presented in the guide prepared for the manual. The guide presents a set of proposals for organizations that wish to implant or intensify their policies of social responsibility, contributing to the strengthening of women and the promotion of equal opportunities for members of both genders.

According to Ayala, the first step is to size up the real situation of the company, through an internal census or some other form of survey to determine the proportions of men and women who hold jobs in the company.


This examination should also find out who occupy executive positions, differences in salaries and career paths, and female participation in training policies. An internal census allows the company to discern gender-based reality in actual practice, as well as race relations.

The Ethos Institute suggests that the next step is for the company to establish a corporate social responsibility platform of actions, covering six topics:


1) A public commitment to equal opportunities for men and women; 2) An assessment of the gender situation; 3) A policy to promote equality for employees; 4) Policies for health, welfare, and protection against violence; 5) Commitments to the community; 6) Policies for the business chain.

The manual asserts that the best way to promote equality between men and women is to guarantee that salary, hiring, and promotion policies eliminate all possibilities of discrimination and stereotypes related to the gender, race, and color of employees.


Adopting health, security, and welfare policies for women who work in the company is also part of the effort to construct gender equality. This means establishing day-care centers, facilitating medical treatment and care, guaranteeing security during pregnancy, encouraging responsible fatherhood, preventing all forms of violence, and prohibiting discrimination.

Agência Brasil
Reporter: Fabiana Uchinaka
Translator: David Silberstein

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