How Coworking is Helping Fight Workplace Sexism in Brazil

In a country where sexism in the workplace is not only prevalent, but also widely accepted, there was a need to create a space that would support women and help them grow professionally. This is the story of Feminaria, the newly-opened women only coworking space in Sao Paulo.

Sexism is an issue that’s haunted Brazilian culture for many years. In 2011, women saw hope when Dilma Rousseff was elected as Brazil’s first female President, and then again re-elected in 2014. This year however, things moved backwards for women; Rousseff’s impeachment back in May raised again sexism questions and led to a female outcry.

On the bright side, it seems like Brazilian women are not willing to go back in time. Even before Rousseff’s impeachment, the feminist movement in Brazil had been gaining strength. According to Agência Brasil, Brazil’s National Public News Agency, “between January 2014 and October 2015, the number of searches conducted for the term ‘feminism’ in Google, rose by 86.7%.”

For Brazilian women, the Internet has become one of the primary resources where they can find support and voice their indignation towards sexisms, lack of equal opportunities, and lack of women rights.

Sexism in Brazil

“There is no shortage of women who give up promising careers as a result of the sexist situations they have faced in the professional environment.” – Ana Carolina Moreira Bavon

Brazil has a male-dominated culture. Traditional gender roles are still highly prevalent in the South American country and there is strong sexual division of labor. The business world is led and mostly occupied by men, and domestic duties are the sole responsibility of women.

The report Trabalho, Autonomia e Igualdade (Work, Autonomy and Equality) by the Brazilian Secretariat for Policies for Women states that women spend more than 27 hours per week in domestic duties, while men report spending less than 11 hours on household related chores.

What makes the state of sexual division of labor in Brazil so frustrating is the fact that women represent 55.5% of enrollment in higher education, and 53.8% of enrollment in professional education (Trabalho, Autonomia e Igualdade). Yet, according to Ana Carolina Moreira Bavon, founder of Feminaria coworking and Legal Consultant, only about 28% of women who graduate are able find decent opportunities in the job market. And of these, only about 14% have higher or leadership positions within their companies.

Because Brazil’s professional environment is still predominantly occupied by men, the 28% of women that are able to find a decent source of employment are exposed to sexism in its several forms, including mansplaining, manterrupting, and gaslighting, says Moreira.

This, combined with the rigorous hours women spend in domestic duties makes it a challenge for women to maintain their professional career paths and it also hinders their professional mobility. At least this is the case when it comes to traditional working models and corporate environments.

Which is why many Brazilian women choose the entrepreneur path towards professional growth.

Entrepreneurship and Women in Brazil

Brazil has one of the highest rates of entrepreneurship in the world. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) of 2014, reported that “Brazil’s level of early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA – 17.2%) puts it 10th of the 31 efficiency-driven economies studied in GEM 2014. This is higher than Germany (5.3%) and the US (13.8%)”

The study “Critical incidents among women entrepreneurs: Personal and professional issues”, states that “52.2% of new entrepreneurs, those whose enterprises have been operating for less than 42 months, are women. For established entrepreneurs, with businesses operational for more than 42 months, this number is 42.2%.” According to the study, these percentages are on average higher than other countries, with an average are of women entrepreneur being approximately 33%.

The GEM 2015/2016 report shows that almost half (42.9%) of Brazil’s entrepreneurial activity is necessity-driven, which means their main objective for embarking on entrepreneurial projects is to generate income, substituting or complementing their salaries (GEM).

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This necessity-driven scenario is especially the case for women entrepreneurs, who opt for self-employment as a means to better balance their personal and professional lives, to have their own personal source of income, as well as a way to escape sexism.

Feminaria The Facebook (Support) Group

The entrepreneurial career path doesn’t come without its challenges. The “Critical incidents among women entrepreneurs” study cited above, claims that “the main challenges they (women) face in their professional context are: difficulties concerning acceptance, lack of affective and social support, difficulty operating on the international market, problems balancing personal, family, and professional matters,” among others.

Ana Carolina Moreira Bavon, Founder of Feminaria

Ana Carolina Moreira Bavon, Founder of Feminaria

This is where Feminaria first came in.

Feminaria was created on April 13, 2016 by Ana Carolina Moreira Bavon. It started out as a closed Facebook group where women could share knowledge and support each other’s professional relationships. Moreira tells us that “the network was created to give a voice to female owners of small-scale enterprises. Feminaria’s purpose was, and still is, to support women on their paths towards professional development.”

“I saw a need for a space where women could exchange experiences, views, and knowledge. I wanted to create a space where we could all collaborate and help solve different doubts that women can have about rights, laws, and operating a business.”

The group was a big hit among professional women in Brazil, and a month later Moreira decided to create a Facebook page where successful female business stories could be shared and discussed.

The closed group currently has 5,200 active members and Feminaria’s website has around 6,500 followers.

But the virtual space wasn’t enough. At least not in Moreira’s view.

Continued on next page. Casa Feminaria: A Brazilian Businesswoman’s Safe Haven

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