Closing the Gender Gap – Experiences from South Brazil, by Raquel Stein and Ana Paula Yurgel

Lean In Circle - Advogadas Gaüchas
Lean In Circle – Advogadas Gaüchas

Diversity is a word that is still not making headlines, nor being considered a top priority for many Brazilian corporations, especially in the legal market. Brazil’s continental dimensions mean that speaking of it as a whole is almost impossible, as each region has its particularities. From our experience as private counsel in South Brazil, it is clear that the road ahead will be quite bumpy. There is much terrain to explore in the diversity arena.

An example of this reality is reflected in the Chambers & Partners Latin America Guide: South Brazil. In the years since the regional ranking was created (2012), only one woman has been ranked, across all categories, as “up and coming”. Only in the 2016 edition did the number increase to two, both in band 3, in the corporate/commercial practice area. The South of Brazil is larger than the territory of France, so we are talking about a massive area with an important economy.

The harsh truth presented by these guides served as the proof needed to drive forward the initiatives we came to lead and participate in. We felt the issue wasn’t even on the table, so the first step would be to generate awareness, especially within firms, since many do not have structured HR programs that can effectively prioritize issues like mentorship and diversity.

Mentoring group, Jurídico de Saias (Legal in Skirts)
Advogadas Gaüchas & Jurídico de Saias (Legal in Skirts)

In 2013 we co-founded a lean-in circle (based on Sheryl Sandberg’s platform), Advogadas Gaúchas, bringing together women practicing law in Porto Alegre (Gaúcha is a name commonly used in Brazil to denominate people from the state of Rio Grande do Sul).The group focuses on developing skills for furthering the member’s careers and serves as a forum for networking and sharing experiences. The circle has been a success and has promoted workshops on negotiation, team-building, use of body language, as well as staging debates on the most recent studies in gender diversity and worldwide initiatives. Many members of the group been able to use the discussions and lessons learned to obtain personal and professional success across issues such as salary negotiation and maternity leave, among others. Some of the attorneys in the group report that, by having increased awareness of gender issues, it has put them in a better position to negotiate and make their points more effectively.

Women in the Legal Profession Breakfast
Women in the Legal Profession Breakfast

Advogadas Gaúchas has also, on several occasions, joined forces with the attorneys of Jurídico de Saias (Legal in Skirts – a group of female in-house counsel) and promoted, in 2014, an event in Porto Alegre  with over 80 attendees, to discuss diversity in the legal profession. In 2015, the two groups combined their efforts again and created a special mentoring programme for young women lawyers. The group is made up of 20 professionals, with mentors and mentees from several industries, both privatepractice and in-house. Each mentoring pair is together for one year, after which the programme is renewed with new participants on both sides. The standout characteristic of this programme is the possibility for in-house counsel to mentor privatepractice attorneys and vice versa, making it a unique opportunity. In addition to individual mentorship, the group aims to develop the skills of the participants by organizing events on personal branding and a social media workshop, among others.

The program has only been happening for a year but the mentees already have given extensive feedback of the positive effects of having a mentor. The idea is to have a support network, not only between the pairs of mentors and mentees, but among the group. For this reason, there is a permanent exchange of information between the mentors, with periodic meetings to discuss the progress and obstacles each has been facing and how to better use all of the participants connections to deploy successful professional strategies for the group. This was a pilot project which the group hopes to propagate with a larger number of participants as mentors and a new group of young mentees.

Women in the Legal Profession Breakfast
Women in the Legal Profession Breakfast

We also co-founded a mentoring program for young attorneys at our own firm, CMTL – Carvalho, Machado, Timm e Luz. As previously mentioned, many law firms HR departments are not structured in the same way as corporations, so we felt inclined to take the lead and propose formal mentoring, which was not only accepted but applauded by the other partners. In the inauguration of the program, guest speakers were invited to talk about key issues in the workplace and they specifically discussed the relevance of diversity. There was also a training session given to the mentors by Denise Casagrande (former HR director of Gerdau and Suzano), where the issue of bringing the focus to the mentee, and their objectives, was highlighted. The object of the program is not only to raise awareness of the importance of diversity, but also to give young professionals the possibility to be formally mentored, which we know, from many studies, greatly benefits women and minorities, aiding in the reduction of the diversity gap. The program is also a way for partners to get to know people from outside their teams, allowing for intra-firm networking, which can also create opportunities for career progression.

We started off with the need to generate awareness and have gradually moved to taking direct action. We hope our initiatives plant a seed of change in the next generation and encourage them to actively promote diversity in their careers. This is not merely an idyllic dream. It has been proven time after time that having diverse teams, and most of all diverse leaders, increases profits of companies and boosts the economy as a whole. As Sheryl Sandberg said with her usual precision: “It has been more than two decades since I entered the workforce, and much is still the same (small numbers of women in leadership positions and compensation gaps). It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled. The promise of equality is not the same as true equality”.



Carvalho, Machado, Timm e Luz Advogados