(Bloomberg) -- It’s been a good year for female bankers with C-suite ambitions in Brazil -- the ones who work for foreign companies, that is.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. named Maria Silvia Bastos Marques chief executive officer for Brazil in February, the first woman to lead one of the firm’s local operations in Latin America. The same month, Credit Suisse Group AG nominated Ana Paula Pessoa to a seat on its global board, the first Brazilian to hold that post. And Deutsche Bank AG in March picked Maite Leite as its new country head for Brazil.
It’s a different story at the nation’s three biggest local banks, where recent progress has yet to land a woman in one of the top spots.
At those companies, just two women have been named to board seats, at Banco Bradesco SA and Itau Unibanco Holding SA, and both are descendants of the firms’ founding families. Banco do Brasil SA has none. On the three companies’ lists of the 10 highest-ranking company executives, women account for 13 percent.
“One day, looking back, we’ll be ashamed seeing how things are today in terms of diversity,” Banco do Brasil Chief Executive Officer Paulo Caffarelli said in an interview.
Banco do Brasil has no women among its top 10 executives or on its board, something Caffarelli said he’s committed to change. He vowed to have a woman at every level of the bank, including the board, by 2020, and pointed out that the company recently created an advisory board to help with the issue. Among the members are some of Brazil’s best-known female entrepreneurs, including Luiza Trajano, owner of Magazine Luiza.
According to Caffarelli, women comprise 16 percent of the bank’s third-highest rank, up from 6 percent in 2006. “The bank is advancing, but a bigger cultural change is needed,” he said.
For the nation as a whole, just 7.9 percent of board seats in the 339 publicly traded companies in Brazil are occupied by women, according to the country’s institute of corporate governance, known as IBGC. The percentage drops below 4 percent excluding women who have family connections to the companies.
“The situation is still precarious, with very few women on boards and mostly the same names,” Pessoa, who’s awaiting shareholder approval to join Credit Suisse’s board, said in an interview. “There needs to be more attention paid to promoting women, but I don’t believe in imposing quotas,” said Pessoa, who’s also a board member at media company News Corp. and French builder Vinci SA.
The foreign companies that have been putting women in top jobs at their Brazil operations still have their share of diversity issues back home. No female executive has ever run a major Wall Street bank. The proportion of women in management positions of Swiss banks lags behind that of the nation’s other companies, according to the Schillingreport 2017, with one female CEO among 34 banks.
Latin American Issues
Brazil’s financial companies have proportionally fewer female executive committee members than the global average, a 2016 study by consultancy Oliver Wyman shows. Brazil’s financial-services firms have 10 percent of women in their executive boards, compared with a 16 percent global average and 20 percent in the US. Other countries from Latin America fared even worse: Colombia has 7 percent and Mexico just 5 percent.
“As Latin Americans, we were brought up in a very sexist culture in a lot of different ways, and because of that, gender-related unconscious bias is widespread,” said Claudia Politanski, the highest ranking woman at Itau, who’s responsible for overseeing the legal, human resources and communications departments, among other responsibilities.
At Itau, Latin America’s largest bank by market value, women represent 60 percent of the total workforce. But the figure drops to 17 percent at the executive-committee level and 14 percent among officers.
The gap is starting to narrow. Women accounted for about 35 percent of all the promotions to Itau’s officer ranks last year, according to Politanski. The bank also nominated its first female board member, Ana Lucia Villela, last month, and the goal is to have at least 30 percent representation of women or minorities in all levels, Politanski said.
Of the 20 largest financial institutions in Brazil by assets, only BNP Paribas SA has a woman as CEO for its local unit: Sandrine Ferdane, a French national.
Other foreign banks with a Brazilian woman in top positions are also expanding their roles. In January, UBS Group AG said Brazil CEO Sylvia Coutinho would become the Latin America head of global wealth management.
Spain’s Banco Santander SA bumped up to two the number of women on the board of its Brazilian unit last year: Deborah Vieitas, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce for Brazil; and Deborah Wright, a former board member at Brazilian retailer Lojas Renner SA.
“The bank wasn’t looking only for diversity of genders, it was also looking for diverse abilities,” Wright said.
Smaller firms with women in top positions include BR Partners, where Andrea Pinheiro is chief financial officer and a shareholder.
Bradesco last month named Denise Pavarina investor-relations officer, and in February promoted Glaucimar Peticov to deputy officer. Both changes came following the appointment of a male chief executive officer, Octavio de Lazari. The bank’s sole female board member is Denise Aguiar Alvarez, a descendant of Bradesco’s founder.
Bradesco, which typically fills upper-echelon positions internally, thinks it’s a “matter of time” before a larger contingent of women fill those roles, Peticov said, adding that the firm has been training its leadership in diversity issues.
“There’s a clear change going on now, though not at the speed many, including me, would like,” Peticov said.
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