Gender Equality: Renata Chagas, from Neoenergia Institute, defends the role of companies


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First interviewee of the #DeixaElaTeInspirar podcast series, produced by Neoenergia, Renata Chagas, CEO of Neoenergia Institute, spoke about the importance of female entrepreneurship  


"I believe we have to use our leadership position to bring about changes and inspire men and women to desire a fairer world". This is what Renata Chagas, Neoenergia Institute’s CEO advocates. Leading initiatives that seek to encourage the reduction of gender inequality, the executive was the first interviewee in the podcast series #DeixaElaTeInspirar (Let her Inspire You), in which Neoenergia female intraprenerus tell their life and career stories, already available on Spotify. Under her leadership since 2015, the Institute executes projects that leverage actions carried out by women and, this year, held the first editions of Impactô Women – for social acceleration – and the Inspirar Award – which recognized initiatives led by women in Pernambuco and Rio of January. 

In the interview, Renata Chagas states that companies have a fundamental social role in this process of change for more gender equality. Check out the main excerpts: 

Female entrepreneurship represents an important way to ensure financial independence for women, reduce vulnerability to violence and even promote social transformations in peripheral Brazilian communities. How do you see this process for women today in Brazil, is there room for it? 

There's room and we're going to fill it. But, to fill it, it needs to be talked about, discussed, debated, it needs to be on the agenda. This requires a society that sees that gender inequality is a reality and that it needs to be changed. Only from the knowledge of reality we can move to change something. That's why it's important to bring up the topic, which is what we're doing here. Bringing data, evidence, personal experiences, reports from other women. Thinking about initiatives for women. Educating our children so that they see differences exist, of course, and they are healthy, but that the basic right must be equal for boys and girls, men and women. 

You have an important position in a large company, which is Neoenergia. How do you, a woman, assess that Neoenergia Institute's projects contribute to this gender entrepreneurship? 

When I say that society needs to mobilize to change reality, I am also including companies, institutes and foundations, government authorities, citizens, everyone. We must understand that companies also play a social role. And, at Neoenergia Institute, which has the role of being Neoenergia's social action arm, we have been thinking more and more about projects that place gender entrepreneurship at the center of the wheel. All of our projects directly contribute to one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we classify as priority, but we also have cross-cutting SDGs, and Gender Equality is one of them. We, who are in the communities, looking at the most vulnerable, see the struggle and strength of women on a daily basis, and we want this to be a driver for increasing the reach of projects, for building more powerful networks. We have also prioritized the Institute's partnerships with organizations led by women, such as Andréa Gomides' Ekloos. Some impact businesses that went through Impactô are also acting as our service providers for communication work, for example. We aim to build networks with these women. 

Talking about communities, based on your experience, how do you believe that female entrepreneurship promotes effective impacts in these locations? 

In the most vulnerable communities, women play central roles in caring for the home, children and food. On the other hand, they suffer from abandonment, from the lonely upbringing of children, from domestic violence. This does not only happen among the poorest, it is an illusion to think so. But, as the Institute's mission is to transform the lives of the most vulnerable people, then empowering women in communities means providing them financial independence, autonomy, reducing their dependence on the husband who is often their aggressor.  

At PLIS – Social Impact Leaders Program, we met Sarah, she was one of the social leaders who participated in PLIS 2021 and who founded Aya Education, an online English school designed and nurtured for black people. She started her journey in social entrepreneurship because of her concern about being the only black woman in the environments she accessed because she spoke English. In 2013, focusing on teaching black people, she developed her own methodology. 

At Coralizar, we have female scientists at the forefront of innovative coral restoration research, such as Dr. Paula Braga, from the Federal University of Pernambuco. In Flyways project, Juliana Bosi, a woman, PhD in ecology, evolution and conservation biology, she is the project coordinator since 2015.  

There is also the Women's Association of Nazaré da Mata, led by Eliane Rodrigues, from Pernambuco. She conceived and founded Amunan, the first institution in the Mata Norte of Pernambuco, to fight for the human rights of women. She still lives in rural areas, works in the Rural Workers Union, lives with poor women who have suffered from domestic violence, with physical violence prevailing and the obligation to care for and raise their grandchildren, as their daughters ended up working as maids in Recife . Initially, devising strategies for the woman to leave the house and to express herself freely, without the threatening look of her husband or partner, was a great challenge. Today, she has projects in the area of building up women's financial autonomy, in culture. 

Gender equality is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN in Agenda 2030. Do you believe these goals are important for companies and society? For Neoenergia, through your Institute, what are the main actions? 

I have no doubt that the UN agenda encourages the whole world to think together about the challenges and solutions required. It is not just an agenda for people, nor just for companies, it is a collective agenda, and as such, it is expected that it will have a better and broader reach and result as well. In the case of Instituto Neoenergia, we have been developing projects in different pillars, such as education, biodiversity, culture, social action, but all of them are directly connected to the SDGs, and our challenge is increasingly to understand how we can increase our contribution to the SDGs. They are at the core of all our initiatives and projects. 

The presence of women in leadership positions is very important. For you, what is the importance of your role and that of other executives as intrapreneurs at Neoenergia? What are the benefits of increasing representativeness for the company and inspiring young women in the company? 

In a job interview, in the last phase, the vice president of a multinational company asked me the following question: you and your husband are in a comfortable situation, he is a doctor, how can I be sure that you will not stop working overnight to care for the children? It was a question so loaded with prejudice that I was in shock. And at that moment, I decided that fighting for women's equality would be my banner, so that other women would never hear it in the near future. So, I believe we have to use our leadership position to bring about changes and inspire men and women to desire a fairer world. Let's remember that men still fill the majority of leadership positions in companies and there is no, let's say, scientific reason for that. This is the result of a model of society, centered on men, on the father who goes out to work and the mother who takes care of the house and the children, which has been reflected in the companies. 

About the market, what is the role of the private sector to encourage female intrapreneurship within organizations? How does this movement reflect on the external environment and, consequently, what are its benefits for the country's social development? 

Corporate Social Responsibility is for indoors too, not just outside. In this sense, I believe the Human Resources area of companies has a key role in promoting equal internal opportunities, in training men and women, in promoting the agenda with events, debates, conversation circles. Of course, all this must come from senior leadership, so it's not HR's work alone, it needs to be a true agenda for the company, it needs to be part of the strategy, it needs to come by example. Large companies dictate trends, point out paths, so I think we can say that changes in companies end up reflecting structural changes in society, yes.

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