Women in leadership: how Promova is balancing the power

In recent decades, Portugal has seen an increase in the number of women in the labour market: they now represent more than half of graduates and nearly half of the active workforce. Although the country still scores below the EU average on the Gender Equality Index, it is progressing towards gender equality faster than other EU Member States. And that is good news. But what's even better news is that there are projects – with proven results – that accelerate this movement even more.

One of them is Promova. This project uses the momentum to speed the country to gender equality. Its approach has already proven its worth in Spain, and is now helping women all over Portugal to reach their full potential and overcome barriers on their way to the top. Read on to find out how.  


A new class of female business leaders 

Promova is a high-quality executive programme that empowers women to advance their careers and contribute to gender balance in corporate leadership. The program has been specially developed for women of leadership with the potential and ambition to be promoted to leadership positions. Participants are carefully selected and requirements include 15 years of experience and a current management position. In a full year of training, coaching, networking and cross-mentoring they are prepared to find their way to the top. 

The project is a direct replica of the Spanish project Promociona, which kicked off in 2013. Since then, almost 1 000 participants have taken part in this project, of which 51% were promoted to a higher position. The country is now launching its 7th edition. In Portugal, the first edition of Promova started this year. Of the 46 initial applications, 32 participants were selected.  

According to Margarida Barreto and Isabel Cardoso from the Confederation of Portuguese Business (CIP), these numbers say a lot about the current business climate: “There were 46 applications to the Promova Project, which reinforces our conviction that there are already a great number of companies in Portugal aware of the importance of gender equality in the top management.”  


Creating the opportunity to make a difference 

As the project promoter, CIP is responsible for Promova. The organisation was already involved in the Spanish project and has seen the success of its approach. As women in leadership positions themselves, Margarida Barreto and Isabel Cardoso know exactly where the issues – and opportunities are. “I have never felt discriminated against myself, but I understood I could add something to the management team of men. I think that we can have an impact, but we need to believe we have a role to play. We can bring our style, our perspectives,” says Margarida Barreto.  

Sandra Ribeiro, President of the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG), Operator of the Work-life Balance Programme, believes that this project provides an excellent way to bring us closer to gender in business: ”The Promova project provides an excellent chance to promote self-regulation strategies, and to help women to rise to leadership positions.”   

She explains why their professional involvement is essential: “The participation of women decreases as the level of responsibility of the positions increases, and the same counts for technology-based areas and functions. These findings are not surprising, but they are disturbing and they persist. That is why it’s extremely important that CIP assumes a guiding position on this issue: they have an enormous capacity to mobilise and influence Portuguese employers and employees.”  


A helping hand can go a long way 

The first of the four modules was initially planned to start in March 2020, but had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 lockdowns in the country. Nevertheless, the organisation managed to maintain contact with participants through online meetings and network sessions. After a year of hybrid online/offline activities, the programme will soon be completed. 

“The official evaluation has to confirm this, but we already see some great effects. We know that at least half of the group has been promoted and there have been several career changes already,” says Margarida. “When we ask participants about their experience, they all mention the coaching and mentoring programme. It offers them the opportunity to apply what they have learned, and then reflect on it.” The participants themselves are very positive as well:  


“I have three words to qualify the project: growth, innovation, evolution. The experience has been extremely rewarding. I’ve been able to see things from a different perspective, through a well-structured approach. My goal is to apply everything I have been learning and see the effects, not only within my teams but also within myself, as a professional.”  

Rita Silva, Account Manager | Teleperformance Portugal 


“On the one hand, this project offers an opportunity for development: the formative content has been very good. We are part of a group of likeminded women, from different sectors within the economy, which greatly enriches the experience. On the other hand, the project gives us the challenge of making a difference in terms of equality, where women are more represented in leadership in our society.”  

Sofia Ferreira, Marketing and Sales Manager | MSD 


A snowballing movement 

The projects in Spain and Portugal have made a great difference for many women in the labour market. But this is not just about individual cases: the more women we see in leadership positions, the more they can inspire others to realise their ambitions. “We can help others to walk the same road,” says Margarida Barreto. “We can increase awareness, change the mindset, we can help them believe. I think that’s the point: we must believe”  

This movement helps to clear the way for all women in Europe. "The importance of Gender equality in leadership positions is increasingly recognised by governments, by the European Union, and by some top companies," says Sandra Ribeiro in a recent statement. "Equality between men and women is essential for economic growth and good corporate sustainability practices, promoting talent recognition, innovation, and diversity of ideas. This means it’s not a leadership issue: it is a leadership opportunity!" 


About the project 

The Project Promova - Gender Equality Opportunities in Senior Management aims to identify and develop female talent with leadership potential, with the objective of fostering the access to top management positions in companies, thereby contributing to reduce the gender equality gap and to break down barriers, which still exist, in accessing leadership positions.  

The Project was developed as part of the Programme Work-life Balance and Gender Equality, managed by The Portuguese Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG) and is financed by the EEA Grants. It was inspired by the “Proyecto Promociona”, developed by the Spanish Confederation of Business (CEOE) and funded by the EEA Grants in Spain in 2013.  


The core goals of the project are to:  

  • Foster the access of highly qualified women to executive positions in private organisations.  
  • Strengthen the knowledge and skills of women, supporting them to become inspiring leaders who can produce innovative changes to their own careers and organizations.  
  • Build a network to connect participants with specialists and guest speakers as well as with each other.  
  • Customised mentoring with individual plans to achieve pre-established professional targets, encouraging transitions to executive positions. 
  • Actively raise awareness about the benefits of gender balance in top management positions.  
  • Raise awareness within companies, people and society about the topics under the theme “work-life balance and gender equality”  
  • Overcome cultural barriers that prevent women from competing on equal terms for top management positions.  

Find all details about this project on their website.  

Or Learn more about other activities in Portugal