Opinion: Brazilian banks are not doing enough to ensure gender equality

08 March 2021

Brazilian banks do not recruit women in to the majority of their senior positions, and financial inclusion of women remains a major challenge.

In short Brazilian banks are not doing enough to ensure gender equality, argues Ione Amorin, economist and coordinator of the Financial Services program at Idec (Brazilian Institute of Consumers Protection), lead organization of Fair Finance Guide Brazil. 

It seems repetitive that every March 8th on International Women's day we discuss the lack of opportunities for women in the job market, even though it is 50 years since the beginning of the contemporary feminist movement, and considering that we have been fighting for gender equality since French Revolution. But, sadly, there are sectors reserved mainly for men, and this includes the Financial Institutions.

It may seem strange to say it because we see a lot of women working in banks, but the evaluation of the biggest nine country’s banks (Banco do Brasil, BNDES, Bradesco, BTG Pactual, BV, Caixa, Itaú, Safra, Santander) by Fair Finance Brazil, shows that in only three institutions are women the majority of employees. Fair Finance Brazil is led by Idec (Brazilian Institute for Consumers Defense) and follows international criteria from Fair Finance International (FFI). The latest revelations, published in February of this year, analyzed information from 2019 on gender issues.

And the data is even more critical when we look at senior positions, such as the Board of Directors.  None of the banks analyzed had a percentage of women in these positions that surpassed 30%. Even worse, Banco do Brasil which had had 25% female participation in the Board of Directors in 2019 (the highest), is now down to only 18.5%. 

In 2019, across nine banks, there was an average of only 5% of women in the high ranking Administrative Councils. Happily, in 2020, this number increased to 14,6%. But between the 7 members from the Administrative Council of Safra Bank, there are no women. In 2019, there were four institutions that had only men as advisors.

Investment politics and harassment

It is important to emphasize that only Banco do Brasil and BNDES have gender equality policies for companies that they finance or invest in. BNDES, for example, have contractual clauses on investments that demand that companies and their supply chain do not engage in harassment or sexual, race and gender discrimination.

Harassment is one of the problems that leads to the reduction of the number of female staff at FIs, especially those aged over 40 years. A study published in 2018 in magazine “Ciências do Trabalho”, from Escola Dieese, indicates that banks with a higher number of female staff also had higher reported rates from women of incidents of harassment.

The study also reveals that great pressure on female bank employees to sell products, indicating an exploitation of so called 'female characteristics' for example patience, and of the attractiveness of a woman, as a way to deal with clients.

Women number most of Brazil's 'unbanked'

In addition to employment, a big challenge is the inclusion of women in the financial system. Research released in May 2019 by Locomotiva Institute pointed out that 45 million (29% of the Brazilians) were unbanked - in other words they did not have a bank account in any financial institution or did not perform bank transactions for more than six months. Six out of ten of these unbanked were women. The Brazilian Central Bank data also shows in 2019 that women represent 48,5% of people with active bank accounts, while men are still the majority, with 51,5%.

Considering that the Brazilian population has more women than men, the results show that banks are not giving enough attention to the female public. A lot of Brazilian women are the head of their family and are over-indebted, surviving on the minimum. It is to these vulnerable Brazilians that financial institutions need to consider extending financial products, and promote true inclusion through financial services and affirmative policies.

Inclusion of more women in strategic senior positions, with an awareness of and empathy for the challenges women face in the workplace and in society, is a real opportunity for Brazil's banks to become change agents for gender equality.

This article was originally published in Portuguese in El País Brazil.