Brazil's Petrobras names first female CEO
Women rise in Latin America: the Petrobras board meets today to confirm Maria das Gracas Foster as first female CEO for Latin America's largest firm.
In naming a woman to head Latin America's largest firm, the Brazilian oil company Petrobras is giving a boost to gender parity in a region that has seen women rising well beyond their US peers in politics and starting to populate executive suites.Skip to next paragraph
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Maria das Gracas Foster, a veteran of Petrobras who holds chemical and nuclear engineering degrees, has been named to replace Petrobras chief executive officer Jose Sergio Gabrielli.
Latin America has five female political leaders, meaning that more than 40 percent of the region is headed by women. But women there have lagged behind those in the United States when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder.
That is starting to change. Women have increasingly joined the workforce and attained the same education levels as men. And as women have gained visibility politically, biases have started to disappear, pushing open doors in the private sector.
"When men and women see the accomplishment and authority of women in public life, then it changes attitudes," says Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, regional director for the Southern Cone for UN Women in Brasília. "The only way to eliminate bias is to have experience."
In Brazil, women hold 13.7 percent of the top executive positions of the 500 largest companies, up from 6 percent in 2001, according to a 2010 study by Ethos Institute. Ms. Foster's role in Brazil is expected to bolster that trend, as Petrobras is one of Latin America's most influential companies.
"This is very important for Latin American women, especially since petroleum is a nontraditional industry for women," says Lidia Heller, a founding member of the Latin American Network of Women in Management.
Women are heads of state in Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and, most recently, Jamaica. Latin America has also implemented quota laws for legislatures, a trend that began in Argentina in 1991 and has spread to about a dozen countries. Women's representation in national legislatures rose from 12 percent to 22 percent between 1990 and 2010, according to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
But that push for parity has not found its way to the boardroom. According to Catalyst, a research firm in New York, in the US 16.1 percent of top board seats are held by women (see chart). The biggest economies in Latin America are much further behind, with 6.8 percent in Mexico, 5.1 percent in Brazil, and 1.9 percent in Chile.