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Brazil's Petrobras names first female CEO

Women rise in Latin America: the Petrobras board meets today to confirm Maria das Gracas Foster as first female CEO for Latin America's largest firm.

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Brazilian oil workers walk past a Petrobras drilling rig.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

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In naming a woman to head Latin America's largest firm, the Brazilian oil company Petrobras is giving a boost to gender parity in a region that has seen women rising well beyond their US peers in politics and starting to populate executive suites.

Maria das Gracas Foster, a veteran of Petrobras who holds chemical and nuclear engineering de­grees, has been named to replace Pet­ro­bras chief executive officer Jose Sergio Gabrielli.

Latin America has five female political leaders, meaning that more than 40 percent of the region is headed by women. But women there have lagged behind those in the United States when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder.

That is starting to change. Women have increasingly joined the workforce and attained the same education levels as men. And as women have gained visibility politically, biases have started to disappear, pushing open doors in the private sector.

"When men and women see the accomplishment and authority of women in public life, then it changes attitudes," says Rebecca Reich­mann Tavares, regional director for the Southern Cone for UN Women in Brasília. "The only way to eliminate bias is to have experience."

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