Brazil's tech sector lacks diversity beyond gender

As well as women, black and LGBT professionals are also minorities in the industry.

As demand for skilled professionals in technology soars in Brazil, organizations across the country are still failing to attract women and also ensure diversity overall.

When it comes to gender, female participation in the industry has grown 60% in the last five years - from 27.900 women in 2014 to 44.500 in 2019, according to government data on employed and unemployed professionals.

However, women still represent only 20% of the country's technology professionals and 21% of technology teams in Brazil have no female representation, according to the Brazilian Association of Information Technology Companies (Brasscom). That is despite the predictions from Brazil's Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea) that women should outpace men in terms of participation in the Brazilian workforce in the next decade.

The lack of diversity goes beyond gender alone: more than half of the Brazilian population is made up of women and 27% of the population is made up of black women, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

But 32.7% of technology teams in Brazil have no black professionals at all, according to the report "Who Codes Brazil" carried out by diversity initiative Preta Lab in partnership with consulting firm ThoughtWorks. According to the study, the typical technology department in Brazil is composed of men (68.3%) and white people (58.3%).

Beyond the scarcity of black professionals in IT departments in Brazil, the study has found that 50.4% of teams do not have "non-heterosexual" staff. The inclusion of indigenous people and people with disabilities is also nearly absent in Brazil: 85.4% of the participants reported there are no disabled people in their team and in 95.9%, there were no indigenous people at all.

According to Ana Bavon, founder of diversity consultancy Business4People, ensuring diversity is key to Brazil's competitiveness in the development of technology-based products and services.

"When we talk about creating technology-based offerings, we are talking about reaching out to a heterogeneous group of people - if diversity is not ensured, the commercial performance is impacted, as these offerings won't cater to all of the people using them", Bavon says.

"If we keep on having white men developing all the tech underpinning the offerings that are born in Brazil, we become less competitive", she points out. "If we can find ways to unleash the power of diversity within tech teams and turn that into offerings that can be exported, there is a massive commercial opportunity to be exploited by companies - if we fail to do that, we will just continue to swim against the current."

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Brasscom predicts that until 2024 some 70.000 new technology roles will be created every year, but only 46.000 students graduate yearly in tech-related courses in Brazil. When it comes to female representation in that output, data released by Microsoft's YouthSpark program, suggests that only 18% of Brazilian computer science graduates are female.

There was some marginal improvement in terms of creating a future pipeline of skilled professionals even before university: according to Happy Code, the country's largest coding school, there was an 80% increase in demand from girls for its programming and robotics courses - however, they still represent 25% of the company's overall student base.

"Some 65% of children who are currently in elementary school will work in professions that do not yet exist and technology will permeate all professions at some level. If girls are not encouraged to have digital literacy from the beginning, there is no way for them to compete in this new market as equals, "says Happy Code's educational technology director, Debora Inouye.