Balancing act: Lisiane Lemos on empowering Afro-Brazilian people

This vocal, active, and undeterred employee works hard to balance a demanding role and driving positive change in her community

When asked how she describes her experience at Microsoft, Lisiane Lemos says “the relationship” with the company is a “marriage where both sides are happy. Being a representative of Microsoft and leveraging the message through a lot of events contributes to my passion to change the world and to make people see Microsoft efforts to attract and retain more diverse talents.”

Paired with technology, Lemos’s personal cause has been to shift overall thinking around Afro-Brazilian talent in a corporate environment. In fact, her own journey in corporate Brazil is what helped her recognize a disparity in representation. Her time at Microsoft has helped her see the role that technology can play in evolving this lack of representation, while giving her the flexibility and internal platforms to help create change.

“When I started my career at the Microsoft Brazil office in São Paulo as Services Inside Sales, I was responsible to sell Premier Support for the public sector’s customers considering my previous experience in this industry. By the second year, I became a service executive focused to sell MCS [Microsoft Consultancy Services] and Premier to a territory including insurance, banks, and construction customers. This fiscal year, I have changed my role to a service solution specialist professional for Premier Solutions, in charge of launching Microsoft Unified Support for Scale Accounts,” said Lemos. Of course, with any industry work, you must become familiar with every nuance and ways of doing business to best support the needs of the customer, a challenge that she welcomes.

It’s in her nature. In fact, after earning her law degree, Lemos decided to follow the opportunities and took on a role in sales.

“I had never been out of Brazil, but I chose follow my dream to live in Africa and stay for at least five years. I chose Mozambique because they spoke different languages [including her first language, Portuguese], and I heard that working in business sales without knowing the language is quite difficult,” said Lemos. Unfortunately, after temporarily falling ill, she had to leave the country before she made it to her five-year mark.

Lemos returned to her hometown of Pelotas (in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) and weighed her options. After receiving offers from both Microsoft and another global leader, her dad encouraged her to follow the technology path.

“He felt it could change the world,” she said.

Soon after joining Microsoft, she quickly learned that he was right, and she was amazed at the technological advancements that the company had to offer, including Skype and Minecraft in the education sector. She recalls being a high school student in Brazil using dial-up and waiting to get online after midnight to not incur charges. At the university, she found it was better, but nothing like today’s internet.

“We take it for granted now,” Lemos said. “There are places in Brazil where people still don’t have good internet connections. They use Facebook on their smartphones and many think Facebook is the internet.”

After three and a half years at Microsoft, she believes that technology holds the key to improving her home country.

Time for some action

The 2010 census revealed a shift in Brazil’s population, where black and mixed-raced residents had become the majority, making up 50.7 percent of the population. However, Lemos notes that in the corporate space, a small percentage of this population is represented. Her mission has been to improve those numbers.

Lisiane Lemos
Lisiane Lemos speaks about the disparity between the Afro-Brazilian population compared to the number of corporate Afro-Brazilian employees across the country.

Along with other concerned Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Caribbean peers, Lemos founded the Black Professional Network, a Facebook group that quickly grew to 4,000 members in just one year. The group’s charter is to connect young black professionals with leading companies seeking to tap into their talent. She is also an active member of Microsoft’s Blacks at Microsoft group (Brazil chapter). Vocal, active, and undeterred, Lemos said that people are often shocked by her ability to successfully balance a demanding role and focus on driving positive change in her community.

“It’s a challenge to make people understand that it’s possible to be a person who champions diversity and commits to the day-to-day job,” she added. Diversity is important to her simply because it makes her “heart beat.”

Lemos’s balancing act has not gone unnoticed. In fact, a vice president at a large US-based banking corporation who she met through a women’s organization nominated her for Forbes’ annual list of Brazilian leaders under the age of 30. “I was shocked because it’s usually filled with artists, sports people, and creative people. It’s rare to see business representation, especially for black professionals,” Lemos said.

She just recently participated in a TedTalk, focusing on the ethnic disparity she has witnessed in the corporate space and the steps required to strengthen the workforce with talented, black candidates. “I talked about my journey since childhood, fighting racism, and how being at Microsoft helped me on trying to transform the Brazilian market,” said Lemos.

Always seeking ways to make change, Lemos recognizes that while there is disparity between the percentage of Afro-Brazilians in the country and a much smaller percentage in the Brazilian corporate arena, there’s a gender gap as well. However, she’s always thrilled at signs of change. For example, at a recent E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) event, she noticed women leading demos for Forza Motorsport 7, a racing video game published by Microsoft for the Xbox One console. “I was thinking, ‘this is nice because all of these years we’ve only seen men because it was a gaming thing.'”

While top companies are seeking to attract female talent, she firmly believes “we have to start seeing [our] faces in the market.”

Yet, she suggests that women should not discount their male counterparts. The goal is equality; however, it’s important to have male allies that understand that women can bring viable skills to the table and should never be overlooked.

She believes that having a different background and finding ways to positively disrupt the workspace can lead to meaningful change. She advises others to “see the things that others don’t see.”

Lisiane Lemos
Lisiane Lemos advises others to find a way to differentiate and not abandon your personal cause when standing out among your colleagues within the tech world.

As for other women who are considering the world of technology without abandoning their own personal causes, she adds that strength is key.

“Do not let people tear you down. You’re smart. You’re strong. You’re beautiful. You’re intelligent. And you can change the world.”