High executives from companies in the tech ecosystem of Latin America
From left to right: Maia Eliscovich, head of merchant acquiring at Ualá; Amanda Jacobson, chief of staff at Oyster Financial; Maitê Lourenço, founder and CEO at BlackRocks Startups; Paula Morais, co-founder at Intera; Stella Brant, CMO at Liv Up; and Viviane Sales, VP of @Work Business Unit at Creditas. Photos: Courtesy
Society

Women in leadership roles: 6 high executives on what it is like to be a female leader in LatAm

They are rising starts from companies such as Ualá, Oyster, BlackRockStartups, Intera, Liv Up and Creditas, and they told LABS what is really happening in Latin America

The best performance of female-led countries, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, in handling the pandemic crisis made a few news headlines in 2020. The topic even became the target of a study published by the Center for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, which analyzed 194 countries, and suggested that women-led countries had “systematically and significantly better” COVID-19 outcomes. They adopted lockdowns earlier, and their countries suffer half as many deaths on average as those led by men.

Setting aside this landscape to looking into the workforce in Latin America, specifically in the tech field, a survey from 2020 led by the Brazilian HRTech Revelo – the largest one in Latin America – shows that, while in 2017, women accounted for 10.9% of career openings in the area, in 2020, the number rose to a timid 12%.

By segment, the study shows that women fill 54% of digital marketing jobs, while in finance, a male-predominant area, women occupy 48% of jobs. But according to Revelo, even in careers in which they are the majority, women have low representation in leadership positions. Not half of the women (43%) who work in digital marketing are in leadership roles. The same is true in finance (42%). The survey was carried out with the platform’s entire base, which has more than 16,000 companies and 1 million registered candidates.

From the buzz surrounding companies’ supposed greater interest to promote female leaders to the most distinct challenges imposed on these professionals, six high executives shared with LABS their perceptions and feelings about what it is like to be a woman in a leadership position.

To endeavor the mission of managing personal and professional life when being a mother, fight against gender and race bias when taking over these roles, face more hurdles to raise capital, and leverage privileges to open room to more women in these sectors. These are only some of the perceptions shared by them in this kaleidoscope of stories. 

Get to know them all:

Racial diversity needs to be an ecosystem-wide commitment

Maitê Lourenço, founder and CEO at BlackRocks Startups. Photo: Courtesy

Maitê Lourenço graduated as a psychologist, but got into the world of technology “by the audacity of being an entrepreneur,” as the executive defined it to LABS. “I wanted to do things that connected people’s daily lives with the technological axis.” With a career devoted to people management and development, in 2010, Lourenço founded Cia de Currículos, an e-commerce firm in the HR area. 

The company offered services such as curriculum design, simulation of interviews, and candidates’ preparation until hiring. While searching for innovation and technology events to optimize and automate her company’s processes, the executive came across the market’s racial context through the so-called “neck test,” used by Brazilian Black activists to check, in a simple way, if specific environments, contexts, are genuinely diverse. 

“[In this test] you look around to see how many Black people are at an innovation or technology event, who are invited to speak or even the startups that are part of the core of the accelerator,” she explains.“I realized how much this environment did not value the black population since there was no representative there. That’s why I ended up entering the startup ecosystem.” The executive founded BlackRocks Startups in 2016, a Black innovation hub that connects entrepreneurs to opportunities in the startup ecosystem. 

Last year, BlackRocks launched the project “Grow Startup – Grow your business,” a startup acceleration program that focuses on scalable and economic growth in business in partnership with the bank BTG Pactual. The program selected eight Brazilian startups that have at least one Black founder. 

“When men are leading [investment funds], white men of the middle class, it is tough for them to look at the maid’s daughter and believe that she will be someone who will manage a large company, a large institution, mainly technological ones. This, I experience myself. I am the daughter of a housekeeper.”

READ ALSO: In a crowded 2020 for funding in Latin America, none of the $4.4 billion went to female-only founded startups

According to the executive, an essential step in talking about female leadership for Black women is to address why white men, in general, do not hire Black women for leadership positions. “I find it irresponsible to say that women are the ones responsible for fighting for leadership positions since they know that the market does not accept them. The data is there to prove it. We see that even if Black women graduate and do a master’s degree, they often do not reach leadership positions.”

She believes that there is no point in waiting for Black women to succeed individually in this sense when the problem is social. “We see several phrases in this sense of ‘lowering the bar’ for Blacks, among other things. I think the question that has to be asked to the leading white men is: Why don’t you hire Black women for leadership?”

Lourenço’s most significant challenge today is overcoming the idea that she is just a Black woman working in ​​technology. “At what point will people see the technical capacity beyond that context? The biggest challenge is proving that I am not just a Black woman. To prove that I have the technical capacity to hold  leadership positions, to manage an accelerator, to create an investment fund structure, among other things.”

But being the CEO of an accelerator is no easy task. “For me, it has been imperative to understand that many things go beyond what I am, it is placed within a society that is racist, and that is sexist.”

Lourenço stresses that racial diversity in companies brings profit to the institution. “There is no better way to show the impact than financially. McKinsey did a study (about it) in 2017. Sueli Carneiro, a Brazilian scholar, and intellectual brought [the same concept] in 2012, saying that the higher the racial diversity within an institution, the more profit it has.”

Beyond policies. It is necessary to transform the vicious cycle into a virtuous one

Viviane Sales, VP of @Work at Creditas. Photo: Courtesy

When it comes to inspiring women to seek leadership positions, Viviane Sales, VP of the business unit called @Work at the fintech unicorn Creditas, highlights the importance of role models and inclusive policies as implicit bias training and specific skills within companies. But according to what the executive told LABS, it is useless for the company to have a whole set of policies aimed at women if the working environment is not favorable.

“We have [at Creditas] the program ‘É da conta delas’ [something like ‘Is their business’], which promotes discussions between women, with lectures and many events. We have a specific one for women in technology and product, and we also have an event for women in data. But it is no use having all these policies and at the same time having annoying situations happening to women daily.”

Having worked for seven years at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where she built the foundation of her career in consulting and strategy, and three years at Twitter, as head of strategy and sales operation for Latin America, it was at Creditas that Sales had the opportunity to satisfy her most entrepreneurial spirit. 

Sales says that her first position at the fintech, as VP of marketing and analytics, combined her strategic, analytical, and quantitative skills – her “strongest side.” Graduated first in Brazil in Business Administration and then with an MBA in the Northwestern University, the executive led four areas at the same time: analytics (internal consulting), data science, credit modeling, and performance marketing. “We were a team of 180 people; today, we are 1700. It was three and a half years of exponential growth. We had almost no algorithms implemented, and now we have algorithms in virtually every area of ​​the company.”

But amid so many numbers, what changed the equation in Sales’ life and started to demand even more from her range of skills was her first child’s arrival in 2019. For the executive, among so many challenges faced during her career, the biggest one is to reconcile personal and professional life after being a mother. “The difference happens when you have a child. Today, I am fully aware that the work of a mother is much greater than that of an executive.”

To deal with a double shift, she says, having a support network and well-defined routines are essential. “At home, we [she and her husband] share everything 100% the same. Both of us are parents; both of us are executives. When you are a mother, a father, it is important, if possible, to have a help system, support,” she defends.

READ ALSO: Brazil’s Caixa digital bank to have a woman in charge, says Estadão

Regarding the importance of routine, Sales believes that balance also leads to better leadership. “Not only for those who have children. I think you need to have your own time for work and your own time for your personal life (…) Otherwise, it is impossible, with a child too, the time is his, not yours [laughs] You have to adapt your life to manage it. If you can’t do this for yourself, you may not be able to respect the time of people in your team.”

As soon as she returned from maternity leave in 2020, the executive’s new challenge was to take over the position of VP of home equity. “I spent ten months leading. I entered a critical moment, which was April when we hit the brakes due to the pandemic. We significantly reduced our marketing investment, so I took the business unit that was practically stationary (and led them) all the way back. In the last months, we managed not only to resume but to break records and achieved very good numbers.”

The newest endeavor in the executive’s journey is the business unit @Work, an area at Creditas that offers solutions for companies, from payroll loans for businessmen and women to a package of solutions aimed at companies’ HR, with wage anticipations, meal benefits, private pension, and an e-commerce solution. Understanding the HR ecosystem, restoring her experience with the B2B model, and structuring the team and product are some of the challenges listed by Sales in her new position.

With three leadership roles at Creditas throughout three and a half years, Sales understands that the impact of having women in leadership positions in a company’s culture starts by making room for more professionals. “When you have a woman [leader], you can bring others. In my first position [as VP of marketing and analytics], my four areas were very quantitative, areas that typically have a very low percentage of women. At Creditas, we managed to have a balance, practically half and half, of men and women in all areas. Among other things, we have a very favorable and positive environment for women, but the fact that I was leading also helped because women feel more comfortable, knowing that they will have a safe environment.”

For her, having female leaders and helping access the pool of new female talents, mainly in technology and data, is also about strategy. “The world has 50% men and 50% women, so if you don’t have representation in your company, you are not understanding half of your audience and half of the universe as it works […] Why shouldn’t you be working with half the workforce that is often even more qualified? Nowadays, there is a higher percentage of women in college.”

The exec also points out the importance of role models as crucial to inspiring other women to be leaders. “When there is a low percentage [of women] in the leadership, this makes women who are in lower roles to see themselves less in these positions; it is a vicious cycle.” Sales says that at the beginning of her career, when she joined BCG, there were no female partners. “Today is quite different, but the percentage, globally, of female partners in consultancies in general, is very low, so it is hard for you to see yourself in that leadership position.” 

To pivot the vicious cycle into a virtuous one, the tool is to promote diversity in these positions so that differences are leveraged, rather than penalized. “When you have women in leadership positions, you will also have women doing performance analysis. And then, things that maybe a man would penalize, like ‘Oh no, that person is not so straightforward,’ for example, the woman can say ‘No, she is straightforward, it is just the way she speaks.’ If you have diversity among people who are evaluating, you can see the performance from different angles. So, it is about how you leverage these differences instead of claiming everyone to be the same.”

READ ALSO: Number of players in all funding stages grows in Brazil, but only some of them lead the largest rounds

The right mix: social entrepreneurship, good opportunities, and supportive leaders

Amanda Jacobson, chief of staff at Oyster Financial. Photo: Courtesy

From Los Angeles, Amanda Jacobson studied business and psychology in the US, but it was in Mexico that the American executive found her passion and chose to set her roots in. Chief of staff at the fintech-focused on SMBs Oyster Financial since 2019, Jacobson has expertise on the whole ecosystem of entrepreneurship and investment, from incubators and accelerators to startups and fundraising. 

“Social entrepreneurship was what really captured me, so I did a fellowship in social enterprise in India after college, instead of going straight to my career (…) My job was to essentially find for profit social entrepreneurs across India, all different topics from health, to water, to women’s rights.”

After those six months of fellowship, she came back to LA to find a job, literally applying to 100 jobs over six months. “I was working at Lyft cause my car was too old for Uber [laughs].” It was in 2014 that Jacobson crossed paths with Village Capital to then find something she knew she “would be passionate about.”

Focused on venture readiness, Village Capital is an accelerator and incubator that supports entrepreneurs getting ready to raise their first investment rounds. In three years, Jacobson went from a part-time job setting up their workshops and learning everything she could on how to support entrepreneurs, while moving chairs and buying pizzas, to regional manager for Latin America. “If you take the time to focus your energy on something you love, if you become the best in the world, you will get well paid, you will get what you need out of life.”

When Village Capital was doing its first program with Mastercard in 2014, “Latin America” and “fintech” emerged as the mix that set the stage for Jacobson’s current experience. “It was the first time I heard the word fintech, and the first time I had an opportunity to work in Latin America.”

Merging her experience in finding and evaluating entrepreneurs in India with running the workshops and bringing together the mentors allowed her to lay the foundation for her path in Mexico. From the accelerator, Jacobson jumped to the other side of the coin. “I am already in the CEO, CFO offices of all these big companies – Can I ask them for money? [laughs] So, I did fundraising, and then it was when everything started moving. I started hiring a team, working with multiple sectors, moving into other regions, Argentina, Chile, Colombia. I’m really proud of the team that, after I left, it kept growing, including into Brazil. That was something really meaningful to me, to train the next set of leaders in Mexico to continue the legacy and to continue helping social entrepreneurs.”

Settled in Latin America, with expertise in the whole ecosystem and experiences as a leader, from that time on, Jacobson also had a passage on the Mexican microfinance institution Gentera where she was invited to lead their venture capital fund and run a portfolio of nine companies in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. “It was from there that, after a couple of years, I started wondering how good of an investor I could be with never having been an entrepreneur.” And that was when Oyster, the digital financial services startup aimed at helping SMEs, crossed her path.

“In Mexico, about 50% of the GDP is from SMBs, and like 99% of jobs are in these SMBs. So if I can do something to take out this one pain point and make it so entrepreneurs can focus more on what they love.” A career paved by her excitement with social entrepreneurship, good opportunities, and supportive leaders, as summarizes the exec.

In Mexico, Jacobson says that there are still many women taking care of the family, playing more traditional roles, not taking risks. “But one of the things that are coolest about living in Mexico is how much women recognize this (support from other women). How important it is to build each other up and support other women in leadership positions, and be role models, and offer support and create communities,” Jacobson celebrates. “What I have seen in Latin America right now is that it is really a golden age of women coming together and supporting each other to build businesses.”

Being an American woman in Mexico also gave Jacobson a perception of what society expects from female workers and leaders, depending on their cultural backgrounds. “Aggressive personalities and strong women leaders are more accepted in the US […] there are a lot of exceptions, but women [in Latin America] are not as aggressive and straightforward in saying their opinions.”

“I have been in leadership positions, and by having confidence in myself, people had confidence in me, so, when I have strong opinions. Puede ser chocante. That is just also part of the culture here. You don’t say no. In Mexico, it is always ‘yes’ even if you mean ‘no.’ And as an American woman, coming in and being so aggressive, I get a bit of ‘It’s ok cause she’s American, so she’s just like that.’ Still, I think that’s what enabled me to be successful, speaking my mind, and having people around me who support me.” 

From the importance of role models to entities that proactively help women organize efforts to help each other in the workforce, Jacobson also believes that giving visibility in the media, in conferences, and in education is vital to inspire women to seek leadership positions, including in the fintech sector. She mentions the importance of removing bias during hirings and interviews to ensure that women are given equal opportunities right from the start.

More diversity in leadership positions generates better products, more ideas, life experiences, and networks – but also more money. “If you look at the Kaufman study, you will see that they [women] fundraise better [laughs].” The piece cited by the exec, from The Kauffman Fellows Research Center (KFRC) points out that gender-inclusive founding teams have more success when fundraising and innovating.

“Currently, at Oyster, about a quarter of our business clients are women owned. Compared to the population [in Mexico], we have a higher distribution of women owners on Oyster’s platform. That is interesting in understanding the challenges for women going into the bank; why would they prefer a new bank like Oyster over traditional options? There is a really interesting gap, both in terms of how we move the needle in empowering more women to own businesses in Mexico, to take that risk and be supported by their communities.”

READ ALSO: Legal abortion: the feminist struggle in Argentina reaches a turning point

More than role models. It’s about the legacy

Maia Eliscovich, head of merchant acquiring at Ualá. Photo: Courtesy

Born in Ecuador and raised in Argentina, the head of merchant acquiring at the Argentinian fintech Ualá, Maia Eliscovich, majored in Economics in the US as she sought a generalist career. With passages on McKinsey in New York where she has worked with many different industries such as oil and gas, chemicals, public sector, education, and banking, she was hired by Ualá in 2018 – when she moved back to Argentina, as chief of staff.

“That was my first position. When I joined Ualá, there were around 35 people at the company, and my role was to help the CEO navigate the growth of the company […] There were many different things, but a lot of it was dedicated to raising capital.” Eliscovich participated in the fintech’s $34 million Series B round in 2018 led by Goldman Sachs and also worked on the $150 million Series C round, Ualá’s latest round that had Tencent and SoftBank, in late 2019.

READ ALSO: Brazilian singer Ludmilla is the first black Latin woman to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify

Now, as head of merchant acquiring, Eliscovich summarizes her biggest challenge as “balancing the best deliveries, ensuring that you have a great product for your users while keeping employees inspired with their daily work.”

As a Latin American woman in a tech leadership role, she is optimistic. “I think it is a really nice time for women to work in general and also in tech. More and more, specifically in the US, and now more in Argentina as well, people talk about the need to have women in these types of companies, to have diversity, and other minorities that are not properly represented.”

While the tech ecosystem slowly opens up to bring more women in leadership roles, she believes that female leadership positions’ significant impact on a company’s culture lay on legacy. “What is most important and that I focus a lot on is not really about me, or it’s not really about other women in the senior team. It’s about the women that will come after us. Women working in different roles look up to the company and visualize whether they could stay at the company long term.

Eliscovich tells that, from her own previous experiences in other firms, it was challenging to face that most people in the market for longer than her matched older men’s stereotype. “That really made me wonder how I was going to stay in that place long term and whether there was room for someone like me in the long term in that company.” 

An experience that made her realize the importance of showing – via examples – that women can do senior roles. “Women can navigate between being mothers or aunts or cousins and be part of their family life while also working. When we put that out, we show that we talk a lot about being who we are and what we do with other people in the company.”

But for her, it is not just a matter of role models. “Role models help open conversations help. But I think I would have never been in my position if it wasn’t because our CEO decided that it was important to have more women leaders in the company.”

In her view, diversity is not going to happen by accident. “It is not like we are going to wake up one day and suddenly ‘oh, is 50/50 [women and men]’. You have to have support from the management team and the investors and the CEO, so I think it is a combination of both.”

To navigate the challenges of balancing personal and professional life as a leader, the exec mentions the importance of not relinquishing to someone else the ownership of your time. “That has been how I operate with my teams, and every time I say that, I care a lot more about the work getting done than about you being at a particular time connected.”

“It has become especially harder during the pandemic; everybody asks you for weird things at weird hours because we are all online watching Netflix probably. For example, I avoid texting someone on the weekend because if someone wants to do their work on the weekend, it won’t be me making them do it. Setting boundaries, remembering that it is about results, not about facetime, and letting people choose how they want to get their work done, I think is really important.” 

While the remote work triggered several discussions on more flexibilization at work and different work organization forms, it has also put issues in the spotlight. “There’s a statistic posted by the Lean In Organization: if you look at what people lost their jobs during the pandemic, it is all women, because men have been rehired but the women that have lost their jobs.” 

For Eliscovich, the widening of such a gap is boosted by the working from home measures. “They [women] realize there are a lot of things that they could do at home; they have the added responsibility of homeschooling their kids. I think that employers should think really carefully about how they’re going to enable women in their teams with children or that have responsibilities at home, to make sure that they have the flexibility and the understanding from the company to make it work. I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on employers to make it work.”

Superwoman? No, it’s about being able (and allowed) to seek balance

Stella Brant, CMO at Liv Up. Photo: Courtesy

Before becoming the chief marketing officer and partner of Brazilian food tech Liv Up, executive Stella Brant started her career at an in-house agency, a marketing department, where she became fond of strategy and brand creation to change the company’s culture. Soon after, she started working at Ambev, when it was still called Brahma. She spent 21 years in the firm, including regional, local, and global roles, with stints in several brewing company brands. 

“I started my career in the field and then went to the central administration, and then the global headquarter, where is more about strategy and brand building. It was in Sao Paulo, after four years at the company that I started to take over the management of brands and then innovation. I built this leadership over several positions in these 21 years in Ambev and mainly with a very strategic look, building these brands linked to innovation and disruption,” she says. 

The transition of two decades of a stable career in the traditional industry to the world of startups, in 2017, with 99, “was an act of boldness and courage,” as described by the executive. “Nobody did that at the time. So the question I heard the most was, ‘Are you sure it’s worth it?'”

“It was about courage and resilience. I believe that every woman has this adaptability in life. Not only because of the ability to think on your feet, but women needed this to be able to break barriers,” she says. Brant believes that startups and the world of technology are a favorable environment for innovation and breaking structural barriers. 

“When I made this move for 99, there were 12 people in the leadership: all men but me. I remember the first meeting we had; it was a Monday night in my first week. I looked at the room and thought, ‘Seriously, am I the first woman here?’ because I didn’t know that until I got in.” 

Last year, she went through a new transition: for Liv Up, in the middle of the pandemic. “On the first day of the official quarantine, I announced that I was changing companies,” she says.  

For Brant, the concern that Liv Up has with diversity and inclusion was “fundamental to be able to see how promising this company could be and how they were not looking for just a female marketing professional, but rather a complementarity in the team, bringing new skills, new visions, and this is very important for innovation because without diversity there is no innovation.”

Support groups for women entrepreneurs are, in her view, “an extra force.” “There are times when you really want to give up; the market is so backward in terms of recognition and opportunities for women. So we have been helping each other a lot, not only in terms of support and opportunities but in being able to disseminate knowledge, exchange information, and promote meetings (now virtual gatherings).”

Today, Brant has a 100% female team under her direct leadership. And yet, she recalls the countless times in her career; she literally heard that she couldn’t take on some job because she was a woman. “I had to go through such a huge endeavor to prove that I could sit on that chair and spent lots of energy. To have an example of incredible women who are doing and winning and this daily support through meetings brings a great value because you can’t think of being in a position where you don’t see yourself in.” 

Brant commits to participate in forums, classes, lectures, and interviews, even with a busy schedule. She believes this is necessary to give visibility to what women in leadership can do in terms of innovation. “It’s an agenda that I make a point of keeping.”

Since leaving Ambev for 99, and now, for Liv Up, Brant has seen a rise in the number of women who ask her to talk and have coffee together. “I get a lot of messages saying, ‘wow, you inspire me. How good it is to have a woman leader. I see some changes happening.'” 

“It is not just about having a woman [in the leadership of the company] to talk about diversity, but more about having a way to impact the company structure, sales, in building the business itself. I see that this triggered a feeling of pride for women at Liv Up to gain strength that the things they believe can also be said, regardless of whether it’s about diversity, but about anything in the company.”

Maternity and leadership 

When Brant was on maternity leave, she attended an internal Ambev campaign giving an interview. The conversation’s summary became the ad’s title: professional, mother, and woman, not necessarily in that order. “That for me was a spark, that as much as it was removed from the interview, knowing that I could not always put a priority, but having three priorities that alternate in order, was very comforting. I realized that this was the key, to seek balance and not to be a superwoman, because nobody is. Being able to balance things by placing something, at each time, as a priority every hour.” 

Remote work allowed her to get closer to her children, who are eight and ten years old. Before the pandemic, Brant could only have breakfast with them and sometimes managed to put them to sleep during the week, “which gave me the anguish of ‘I am not seeing my children growing up during the week.’” After ten months in home office, Brant says that remote work ended the guilt she felt because of her children. 

“Although I’m not with them all day, the fact that, between one meeting and the next, I can go there, kiss and stay with them a little, help them with their homework. That changed my life completely, brought a sense of balance and a real possibility of being more present in other things.”

For her, the key is to juggle family and work responsibilities, balancing acts so that these priorities are interspersed in a way that she feels present in each role. “If I am with my children, I am with my children. If I am working, I am working. From time to time, they come here, and I say ‘mom can’t now, she is working,’ and they understand,” she says. 

But, according to the exec, that only happens because she chose people around her who share the same thought and who want to see her success. “I have an extremely participative, involved husband who shares all the roles very well. (…) If I didn’t have my husband’s support, I would hardly be able to dedicate myself as much as I do to work. This all together makes us able to have more balance, and we take turns in these roles so that children do not suffer and we can have a life outside of work.”

A fair amount of resilience and an extra one of inspiration

Paula Morais, co-founder at Intera. Photo: Courtesy

Having a digital business was something that Paula Morais wanted since she was studying law in Bahia, in the Northeast of Brazil. Her first step was to look for a job in marketing agencies in Salvador. She was hired by one of them, where she spent a year working with customer relations and starting to understand e-commerce and logistics, while studying the tech universe. Right after this experience, she co-created a marketplace called Talugo (an OLX–alike platform). Because it was not financially sustainable, she left the project a while later. Sometime after that, she received an exchange scholarship in Vancouver, Canada, where she got involved with education initiatives. 

There, she worked at RED Academy, a school that trained professionals for the digital market. She returned to Brazil to create a school for front-end, back-end, full-stack web developers in Salvador and Feira de Santana’s cities. 

“The business created a lot of value for those who joined it. For every ten students who did it, eight left the school with a job, including low-income people who got their first job with an average salary of BRL 3,000 to 4,000, which is super cool for the region. But adherence to the web school model was low, and the individual had to pay for it,” she says. 

Without generating revenue in the short term, Morais decided to change the business model. “I never had the opportunity to be an entrepreneur without earning. So for me, there was no such thing as learning for two years only then to find out what the business model was.” 

The idea was to make companies pay to train people instead of people paying to graduate since firms had a need to fill vacancies in tech and a difficulty in hiring. That’s when HRTech Intera was born in April 2018. 

“We pivoted the technology school in this attempt to make the business work. Intera was born at first as a company based on a business model of educating to recruit. But from so much talking to HR experts, we changed the business model and took education out of the process. It became a talent recruitment company for the digital market. That’s when we got our hands on market fit and started to grow a lot,” she says. 

Morais has her own share of experience when it comes to spotting the investment bias. She couldn’t raise funds from VCs in 2019, but in 2020, her male partner did. “There is an unconscious sort of gender bias, and there is less confidence around the business led by a woman, very much because of not having many women in the scene.”

Currently, most of Intera’s leadership and employees are women. “We have a lot of Black representation, too. All companies are now raising this flag, going in this diversity direction. And this was born with Intera from the beginning, largely because we have this representation in the leadership,” she says.

Co-founder of Intera, Morais was once CEO, but today her male partner holds that position. Today, I lead the sales and customer front within Intera. I’m not in the position of leader of the company as a whole, despite always being part of the decision-making process. And it is a super responsibility; we are in a moment of hyper-growth in the company, we have grown 200% compared to last year. Being a digital business entrepreneur is something 24/7; it is not the usual 9/5,” she says.

“It is juggling really; being able to reconcile this with family, relationship, with yourself, taking care of yourself. There is a great deal of complexity in this role, but the thing is: we chose a lifestyle of leaving behind a legacy in Brazil, of creating something big. And that choice runs through a lifestyle as well.”

Morais recalls that there is a rooted culture, a historical heritage of a sexist and patriarchal society. Although minorities have been gaining space in the labor market, the process still goes on. 

“It is not easy; not everyone bets on you, including the majority saying you will not succeed, that it doesn’t make sense, that it is an illusion, that it is romantic. Especially when you talk about a business that you believe in and it is not only for the money (…) Something like ‘poor thing, you think you’re going to change the world.’ I heard it fifty times until the day I saw the same people who told me that knocking on my door asking for a job,” she says.

“We look ahead, and we see men. It is only when we look down that we see more people like us. I had a really hard time until I achieved everything I have so far. And it’s a matter of resilience. I don’t particularly like the media; I don’t like exposing my life. But at the same time, I face that, as I would like to have seen someone like me today, inspiring me to do more, saying that it is possible, that there is a way out, I do that. There is no right or wrong; there is only giving up halfway or understanding that something no longer makes sense. You find some way outs. I wish more women were telling me this when I was there, having a hard time, in the first two, three years of the company.”