Close to turning 120, the steelmaker Gerdau will have, for the first time, a woman at the head of one of its industrial operations, within a sector that is still predominantly male. A 43-year-old engineer, Michelle Robert has just assumed the position of President of Gerdau Summit, which was born with a focus on supplying parts for wind power generation and whose control is shared with the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation and Japan Steel Works (JSW). The unit is located in Pindamonhangaba, in the Paraíba Valley, in the interior of São Paulo.
With a strong presence abroad, Gerdau is today one of the few Brazilian companies to open its data related to the environmental, social and governance agenda (ESG, for its acronym in English), even before the subject gained the spotlight in the country, with the increased pressure from investors. In addition to providing more transparency, the company has been working in parallel with internal programs to help train professionals in search of diversity, including gender. For Summit’s leadership position, however, the decision was to attract Michele, who had been with General Electric (GE) for 18 years, already in a leadership position. “Finally, Gerdau will have a woman at the head of one of its industrial operations, which is consistent with the transformation of the company, which is in full swing. Companies need to have more examples at home (in terms of diversity). It is necessary to have a reference ”, comments the executive.
The mother of two daughters, one 13 and another 15, Michele moved to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, at the age of 18, when her father, who worked at Ford, was transferred. There he entered the university in the course of mechanical engineering, at the Technological Institute, in a room with only four women in a sea of boys. The studies ended up being completed in the United States.
Michele will face, 25 years later, a similar situation in the plant he will command. In the team of 700 people, about 90% are men. The idea is, little by little, to start changing this proportion.
Michele arrives at the Gerdau Summit already with some goals. In addition, of course, to help boost diversity, the plan is to “double or triple” the operation, which seeks to diversify its operations – something that the pandemic has shown to be necessary. Today, with a focus on wind energy cylinders, the unit is already in the process of approving products to serve other sectors, such as mining and sugar and alcohol.
Pyramid. Gerdau has invested in programs at its bases to leverage diversity in the company, which currently has 30 thousand employees. Since January, the number of women directors who report directly to President Gustavo Werneck – who, since taking office almost three years ago, has put the issue on the ESG table both inside and outside Gerdau – has gone from zero to three. From last year until now, the percentage of women in leadership positions has gone from 18% to 20.4%.
In addition to initiatives that seek to bring more diversity, such as a trainee program in which 50% of hires were women and an internship program aimed at blacks, Gerdau will link goals related to the ESG theme to the long-term bonuses of company executives.
The global director of People and Social Responsibility, Caroline Carpenedo, who started her career at Gerdau 15 years ago as a trainee, says that, in this trajectory of seeking more diversity in the company, some of the human resources processes were changed. For the selection of most of the positions, for example, information such as the name and address of the candidates was removed. Another measure was to stop requiring English for posts where its use is not necessary on a daily basis, and to offer the course in cases where the language is necessary in career moves. “We have been working on giving the tools,” he says.
Caroline comments that in this search for a more diverse company, planning is necessary. For this type of progress, in addition to starting to prepare the base of professionals, Gerdau established a clear goal for the company’s leadership: when preparing the succession map, it is necessary to have at least one woman. If the reading is that no executive is ready, you need to get your hands dirty to prepare the candidates. Gradually the numbers of the sector may start to change. In Brazil, the steel industry employs 112 thousand people, of which 66.7 thousand are permanent employees, according to data from the Aço Brasil Institute (IABr). Of the total, only 9% are women.
“At a time when ESG issues are becoming increasingly relevant, an advance in this agenda by companies, in addition to being necessary, has been closely monitored by investors”, comments the research analyst specialized in ESG at XP , Marcella Ungaretti.
FGV professor Claudia Yoshinaga points out that it is an important milestone to see women assuming leadership positions in sectors historically considered to be male. “There are countless surveys that confirm the benefit of diversity, not just gender, for companies, bringing different perspectives, more productivity and innovation.”
Fernanda Magalhães, from O Estado de São Paulo – 11/25/2020