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News & Events for the Smith College Community
News of Note July 28, 2015

Smith Women’s Leadership Program in Brazil Offers Unique Business Training

group photo
Participants in the inaugural FDC-Smith Women's Global Leaders Program in Brazil. Photo by Leo Drumond/Nitro.

Being part of a new Smith women’s leadership program in Brazil led Cláudia Vassallo to realize “women are indeed different from men in work environments—and that there is nothing wrong with that.”

Vassallo, who is chief executive at CDI in São Paulo, participated in the inaugural FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program launched in 2014 by Smith’s Executive Education for Women in cooperation with Fundação Dom Cabral—Brazil’s leading business school.

In a May 17 article in the Financial Times, Vassallo said that while she was skeptical about a women-only training program at first, the training helped convince her that “I would be a more complete, productive, secure and admired professional if I embraced my femininity.”

Vassallo, a former business journalist, said the lectures and conversations she had with fellow program participants showed her she had been caught in a “common trap” of thinking that professional success meant she had to deny her other roles as a wife and mother.

Her fellow participants in the program “pointed me in a new direction,” Vassallo said.

(The full interview with Vassallo is available in The Financial Times archive.)

Iris Newalu, executive director of Smith College Executive Education for Women, said findings drawn from a study of the 2014 pilot program in Brazil, as well as other Smith women-only executive development programs, show women benefit from learning in a classroom of their peers—in this case, other women executives striving to advance their careers in the face of isolation, subtle bias and ongoing struggles with work-life integration.

Such programs inspire leadership in businesswomen and their organizations benefit from the results, Newalu said. “Businesses worldwide are realizing that they need to leverage the talents of women, but there is still a large gender gap in executive suites,” she noted. “We’re working to change this around the world.”

In addition to business skills training, the FDC-Smith program—the first women’s executive leadership program of its kind in South America—offers a classroom model that inspires greater risk-taking and confidence.

“The FDC-Smith Women’s Global Leaders Program covers business competencies like negotiation, innovation and strategic thinking to prepare women for the unique challenges they face doing business in Latin America and beyond,” Newalu said.

A second round of the program will be held Aug. 30 through Sept. 4 in Nova Lima, Brazil. The deadline to apply is August 10.