Barbara Silveira is a woman in a man’s world. She spent years working in Brazil’s commodities market, where she handled the logistics and procurement of 10% all wheat consumed in the country. But just 20% of jobs in the agriculture sector in Latin America are held by women, according to UN estimates.
She has faced challenges: one previous supplier implied to her sarcastically that “the right place for women is at home”. Not that it has held her back: Barbara rose to import manager at Braincorp, an import/export business, a positon she held for four years.
Now she is on the full-time MBA at the UK’s Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), where she hopes to develop the skills to rise further through the corporate ranks.
Barbara says business schools are important in closing the gaping gender divide in business. LUMS is at the forefront of schools’ efforts to boost the number of women in their programs: 50% of its MBA class is comprised of females, according to FT rankings.
Why did you decide to leave employment and begin an MBA at LUMS?
I felt that in order to take a step further in my career, I should learn more about the general aspects that drive businesses and have a broad perspective of corporate expectations.
LUMS got my attention due to three factors: the program content of the MBA; the rankings; and also for having a course that is “hands on”, focusing on practical experiences and not only on theory.
What strengths does the Lancaster location offer MBA students?
The location, outside [of] the main city centres, makes Lancaster a great place to study without major distractions. The beautiful Lake District is just on our doorstep and Lancaster is only around two hours away by train from London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Manchester and Liverpool are also really close by, allowing us to explore more of the UK on weekends.
Like most of my classmates I chose to live in university accommodation, so I only have to walk a couple of minutes to get to class, or to use the 24-hour-access MBA facilities that the university has to offer — enhancing the study experience even more.
Have you faced any challenges working in an industry dominated by men?
I once heard a very sarcastic comment from one of our suppliers whilst trying to sort out a problem: he told me he could not understand how women nowadays want to be involved in business, and still think they can make time to have a family and a normal life, further implying that the right place for women is at home.
The commodity trading and shipping industry has women, but not that many when it comes to commercial roles; women are usually in the execution and operational roles, and this is where I was working.
I wouldn’t say that I have faced explicit challenges, but a very interesting fact from when I started at my former company is that my boss wanted to hire a man instead of a woman for the job. A fair sign of change in behavior is that, later on, he supported the idea of hiring more women.
What role can business schools play in promoting gender diversity in business?
Many women are still afraid to put their hands up, to take credit for being good at something or to accept new challenges. By including more women in business schools, it will lead to more women embracing what they have accomplished, and even more will follow their lead through observational learning.
It will be easier and an even more natural process to promote gender diversity if there are more women and leaders to serve as examples in our society. This can be promoted on a small scale by business schools, due to the respect these institutions have.
In addition, people need to still remember that business schools are a safe learning environment for everyone. As students and humans, we are aiming for the same goal — learning — and these lessons can come from the person that is giving a lecture, or even from someone sitting next to you — no matter which origin, religion or gender the person has.
What’s it like living and working in Brazil?
Brazil is a great place when it comes to nature and beauty. I can guarantee that the city where I come from, Florianopolis, is one of the most beautiful places in the country!
Brazilian people are usually smiling and are willing to talk and help, and this reflects in companies’ behavior. It is the ideal place to balance personal life and work when you have secured a good job.
Overall, Brazil is slowly becoming a big player in the international market and many companies are targeting the country — and the Brazilian companies are targeting the rest of the world.
What are you most proud of your time at Braincorp?
I’m still impressed to think that we were responsible for the logistics and procurement of 10% [of] all the wheat consumed in Brazil for one of the main players in the food industry!
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