What the Women of Brazil Can Teach the World About Leadership


Last month, Smith College Executive Education and Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC) partnered on the first women-only executive education program of its kind in Latin America. What we learned about women leaders in Brazil and Latin America was remarkable!

Smart, driven, willing and able to step up to the leadership challenges they face, the women who attended the FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program struggle with the same sense of isolation and the same barriers to advancement as women executives report around the globe. But in Brazil, where until recently women needed the permission of their father or brother to travel, women tend to face deeper barriers rooted in a machismo culture. As a woman in a Latin American focus group remarked, “If you choose to work, you’re expected to keep quiet about it at home and not make too much noise at work.”

FDC-Smith Women Global LeadersAt Smith, we realize that single-gender education is still a bit of an anomaly. So it was no surprise that the 31 women from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico who attended the FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program approached the all-women classroom with some skepticism. But by the end of the program’s first day, the women already understood the importance of Smith’s signature all-women learning environment. Before the FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders program, many participants had never been in a learning environment where they could speak freely, be taken seriously, and not be interrupted. The Smith single-gender learning model supports women’s natural collaborative and participatory conversation style, allowing women the opportunity to speak up more and take greater risks in order to get the full benefit from their educational experience.

We always learn something new at the close of each program, and the FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program was no exception. After spending a full week with these amazing women leaders of Brazil and Latin America, we realized that the FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program was different from the other Smith programs run in the U.S. The difference comes down to this: The women who attend our programs in the States have already claimed their power and work with Smith to refine it. The women of Brazil and Latin America are just now realizing that they, too, have power. And their drive to claim it, use it, and move themselves, their companies, and their countries forward will soon become a tidal wave.

The next FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program will be held from August 30 to September 4, 2015 at the FDC Aloysio Faria campus in Nova Lima/MG, Brazil. To learn more about the FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program, visit the program website or email leadership@smith.edu.

About Smith College Executive Education

Smith's signature all-female learning environment ignites the power of women and provides an exceptional networking forum where participants share insights and perspectives with a cohort of talented and high-powered peers.
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