The metals trading industry has long confronted obstacles when it comes to fostering diversity and promoting inclusivity. However, efforts are being made by companies to address issues such as gender inequality and lack of representation for certain racial and ethnic communities, in order to encourage diversity within the industry.
In the latest installment of HC Insider’s Diversity Champion series, we had the privilege of engaging in a thought-provoking conversation with Renata Costa Zingre, an influential figure in her role as Managing Director, Iron Ore Sales Europe and North America at Vale. Zingre shares the challenges she has overcome in her career and highlights the benefits of cultivating an inclusive and globally diverse workforce.
HC Insider: Please tell us about your career leading up to Vale.
Renata Costa Zingre: In 1998, I graduated with a degree in Civil and Industrial Engineering. I have always been drawn to math, being creative and building things, and initially I was torn between pursuing architecture or civil engineering. However, I felt that civil engineering offered a blend of creativity and technical knowledge, and growing up with my father, who is an aeronautical engineer, further influenced my interest. After graduating, I worked as an intern in construction and later joined a consultancy firm related to real estate in Rio.
Vale's trainee program was the only one that conducted interviews on Sundays, allowing me to participate while still working. Eventually, I received a call from the shipping arm. Shipping turned out to be a fascinating industry, capturing my interest from the moment I got involved in it. In 2005, I received an invitation for a six-month exchange program in Brussels, which eventually became a permanent assignment in Switzerland. Throughout the years, I have held various positions in sales, marketing, and shipping, and I have continually updated my skills and knowledge.
Last year, I attended a high-performance board program, which emphasized the importance of empowering women in boardrooms. As a board member myself, I recognize the need for formal training and staying informed on governance practices. The course provided valuable insights into board composition, roles, rituals, and the evolving trend of women's participation.
HC Insider: What attracted you to the shipping industry?
RCZ: The dynamics of the industry were captivating, especially during a time when the internet was still emerging, and we relied on systems like telex for international communication. Despite being in a junior role, I was fortunate to have a significant level of autonomy, even in fixing deals. This autonomy and the fast-paced nature of the shipping market appealed to me.
I liked seeing the actual goods being transported and understanding the physical restrictions involved. I enjoyed delving into maritime law, even taking a course on it when I joined Vale. I used to immerse myself in case law, particularly voyage charters, and would find myself absorbed in reading relevant cases, often having to remind myself to refocus on the task at hand. In negotiations, sometimes I get asked if I have a legal background due to my interest in contracts.
HC Insider: What are your responsibilities at Vale?
RCZ: Currently, I oversee the Iron Ore sales for Europe and North America. Together with my team, we manage client relationships and engage with stakeholders in this region. I’ve handled till now the back-office operations for all iron ore exports. Furthermore, I serve as the chairperson of our holding company and act as the country manager for our office. These multiple hats offer the advantage of gaining a comprehensive understanding of the entire sales process and being involved in various corporate rituals. It provides a broader vision of how the business impacts and unfolds within the organization.
HC Insider: What advantages have you observed from fostering an inclusive and globally diverse workforce?
RCZ: It's crucial for companies to have a workforce that reflects the diversity of society. The benefits go far beyond just gender and racial diversity. It's about the wealth of experiences, different backgrounds, and diverse perspectives that individuals bring to the table. Personally, I've been fortunate to be exposed to this dynamic environment, especially in the shipping industry, which has always had an international focus.
Even when I first embarked on my career, communication with people from all over the world was valued. In our office in Switzerland, we have a truly multicultural workforce with 11 nationalities represented, and my team has always been comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Speaking specifically about gender diversity, we have made significant progress. In 2019, Vale committed to doubling the number of women working in the company by 2025, and we have already achieved a 63% increase, moving from 13% to 22%. It's a significant milestone and demonstrates our company's intentional efforts towards diversity and inclusion.
HC Insider: What have been some notable milestones in your career?
RCZ: There have been numerous captivating projects and demanding situations. However, if I were to pinpoint a few, I'd like to emphasize two significant moments. In 2017, I received a call to relocate to Singapore and lead Vale’s shipping business. This role involved overseeing a team of 100 professionals from four different countries, encompassing engineering, operations, strategy, financial planning and analysis and commercial areas.
During this time, we embarked on a major project which resulted in agreements to charter more than 40 ships. It was an intriguing endeavour, as we had to make decisions regarding the ship design and consider evolving environmental standards. It was a highly stimulating experience. The second highlight aligns with my current position in Europe. Being here is a privilege, as it offers the opportunity to forge partnerships and propose innovative solutions to customers. The region is buzzing with activity, progressing rapidly toward a sustainable future. It's an exciting and dynamic environment to be a part of.
HC Insider: What were some of the hurdles you encountered throughout your career and how did you navigate them?
RCZ: A significant challenge I faced in my career was the pervasive presence of unconscious bias, especially in a male-dominated industry. The bar can often be set higher for women, requiring demanding work for equal recognition. It's disheartening to witness that we still come across highly accomplished women being undervalued and underrated. Overcoming these challenges involved introspection and awareness. Looking back at my career, albeit a successful one, I realized how often I failed to recognize the presence of unconscious bias, as it had become ingrained in our collective mindset.
Even as targets of bias, we ourselves harbour unconscious biases. Therefore, it's crucial to identify these situations, be conscious of our worth, and speak up. Engaging in dialogue, questioning assumptions, and raising awareness can help address these biases, which are often unintentional. It's a process of self-transformation and empowering others to change as well. Corporations can play a big role in changing this landscape. Vale for instance has been strongly promoting the training of our workforce on these themes and has put policies and processes in place to curtail unconscious bias.
HC Insider: How have workforce aspirations evolved with the entrance of Generation Z?
RCZ: I find this question quite intriguing. I see this generation as pragmatic idealists. They seek job opportunities where they can connect with the purpose of the companies they work for. This trend is not limited to Gen Z but has extended to people in general who desire meaningful work and a healthier work-life balance. Companies must take note of these aspirations if they wish to attract and retain top talent while maintaining high employee engagement. Interestingly, these contemporary themes, such as sustainability, interconnect with each other. Improving our planet and fostering life/work balance go hand in hand, and the skills needed for building the future we envision will likely be found within individuals who are eager to drive transformative change in society.
HC Insider: What has been crucial to your career success?
RCZ: Initially in my career, I had a strong focus on delivering quality work. However, as I progressed, I quickly realized that I couldn't achieve this alone. This became evident when I transitioned to the shipping area, where I encountered pressing and varied challenges but a wealth of knowledge as well, embedded in the people working there. It became clear that I needed a capable team to collaborate with and deliver exceptional results in a short period of time. I understood that my main role was to foster an environment where each team member could contribute with their expertise and excel.
This realization emphasized the importance of building a collaborative and talented team. Whether you're already a leader or working towards becoming one, working with others is essential. To achieve success, you have to work with people, leverage their strengths and capabilities. This approach has been critical to my own achievements.
HC Insider: What drives your passion and how has it contributed to your success?
RCZ: My passion lies in working with people and understanding their motivations on a deeper level. I have a genuine interest in how individuals function and what drives them. This passion has played a significant role in fuelling my success. When it comes to interacting with others, whether in individual settings or during negotiations, I try to empathize and comprehend people's needs and this has been instrumental to understanding the underlying motivations behind requests. This approach has allowed me to find common ground, reach mutually beneficial outcomes while preserving honesty, and establish relationships built on trust.
Renata’s top tips for career success
- Follow your passion: Love what you do and do what you love. When your heart is invested in your work, it becomes easier to excel and achieve success.
- Practice honesty: Being honest with others and yourself is crucial. It fosters respect, builds trust, and allows for personal growth. Welcome the moments where you can be transparent and truthful.
- Consider every opportunity: While it's important to say yes to new opportunities, it's also essential to be discerning. Choose wisely and be conscious of the opportunities you accept or decline.
- Cultivate curiosity: Stay curious and committed to lifelong learning. The world is constantly evolving, and keeping up with trends, behaviors, and knowledge is vital for staying relevant and successful.
- Understand human behavior: Recognize the significance of understanding how people function. Whether it's exploring neurodiversity or gaining insights into human behavior, having a deeper understanding of individuals can enhance your interactions and overall career journey.