A Conversation with Beatriz Pupo

I first met Bea when she joined our Brazilian office as a trainee ethanol broker and analyst. Born and raised in Santos, the biggest port in South America, Bea, in true Brazilian fashion, grew up near the beach.

She relocated to our head office in Lausanne in 2009, where she joined our rapidly expanding biofuels desk. After four months there, she resigned to move to Montreal, Canada, for personal reasons. We didn’t want to lose her and took what at that time was a brave decision to ask her to stay with the company and work from home.

She remained with us as an analyst after Platts acquired the company in 2012 and moved back to Brazil with them in late 2017. She is now one of the company’s leading biofuels analysts and manages a three-person analytical team spread across the globe.

Although biofuels account for only five per cent of world road transportation fuel, they consume a significant quantity of the world’s crops – more than 40 per cent of US corn production and 50 per cent of European rapeseed production. They play, therefore, an integral role in the ag-supply chain.

But that is not why I wanted to reconnect with Bea. I had recently stumbled across one of her posts on LinkedIn and was intrigued to read that she wasn’t posting about biofuels but about mental health. I asked her over a Zoom call why she had become interested in the subject.

“It’s a tricky one,” she replied. “It’s between, ‘Do I hide away or talk about it and expose my vulnerabilities?’ I took the decision a while back to talk about it. In that way, I chose to use my personal power to impact and create community power.

“I battled with depression for a good part of my life as a teenager and young adult,” she continued. “People don’t speak about depression as society tends to class it as a weakness. You don’t hear people talking about it at all, right? But my own experience shows the more I let myself be vulnerable, the more I talked about it, the more I could develop as a person and a professional.

“I’m not saying,” she said, “that we need to be sharing everything about ourselves in places that are not meant for that, but the more I allowed myself to be human, the more I developed. And as I developed, I realised that I could use my voice as an advocate to eradicate the stigma of mental health issues.”

As part of my book project, I have interviewed more than 50 ag-supply-chain specialists over the past year. It has been a joy and a privilege to share their experiences and enthusiasm for their roles, especially among the younger generation.

However, I am sad to write that one or two of the people I interviewed were exhausted – not thriving, merely striving to survive. They tried to be positive and enthusiastic, but I saw they were making a great effort to be. I thought of Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not waving but drowning.”

“Burnout is a big issue everywhere,” Bea told me. “It is an illusion to think we can be high-performance people all the time, both at work and home, with our family and friends.

“I have learned that vulnerability and resilience go hand in hand,” she explained. “The more I allow myself to be human, open, and curious to deal with the complexities of life, the more grit I develop. My North Star is the idea that we can all be role models in our day-to-day interactions, contributing to a better world, one action, word, and thought at a time.

“I feel privileged to use my voice and story to amplify the importance of normalising discussions and creating safe spaces to address these topics.

“Being in the corporate space for the past ten years, in a high-pressure environment, has taught me many things, particularly after dealing with burnout myself. Having lived this experience, one of the key things I learnt is that the perception of our self-worth can be distorted by overly identifying with our professional selves. It is linked to burnout. Exploring a more holistic, conscious approach to well-being and life-work balance can help individuals flourish and escape this ‘enmeshed’ state.”

I asked Bea what she meant by ‘enmeshed’ state.

“Enmeshment” is a psychological term,” she explained, “to describe a situation where the boundaries between people become blurred, and individual identities lose importance.

“I recently read appalling stats,” she continued, “that 69 per cent of people say their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor—and it’s equal to the impact of their partner. Another study shows that 70 per cent of employees said that their work defines their sense of purpose.

“It can be particularly challenging at work when your reputation becomes your identity. It’s dangerous because you forget who you are, your values, and what you want. When I coach, I see many people who don’t know their values anymore and don’t know who they are.

“They need to recharge, but they don’t know how. It can be simple, right? It can be anything. It could be going for a hike and looking at the ocean. It could be dancing. But knowing who you are outside of work and what lights you up is important. Linking your personality and identity to your job can be dangerous, but it’s a common problem.”

I suggested to Bea that it’s a more common problem for men than women, particularly when men reach retirement age. I have friends whose entire identity, status, and social life have been built around their jobs. They lose all three when they stop working.

“It happens to any gender,” Bea argued. “I can see that retirement might be more challenging for men than women when related to losing your core identity. However, women have an additional problem because they are under pressure to perform at work and at home. Most household duties and responsibilities still tend to fall on women.  Gender equity must start at home. I feel women suffer more than men because they have that added pressure to be the best at work and home. They must also be the best caretakers for their kids, partners, and older family members.

“Research shows, for example, that women do a lot of unpaid work just supporting their colleagues mentally, which men don’t usually do. That can also be tricky.”

I asked Bea what advice she would give to a team leader to ensure the mental well-being of their team. What things should a team leader watch out for in terms of burnout?

“As you know,” she told me, “I have only recently taken on a leadership position. It’s very new to me, and I’m still learning. I try to be a role model. I know workload expectations can be unrealistic, particularly in a fast-paced corporate environment and industry like biofuels. So, I insist on telling my team that taking time out and having more than just their work is essential.

“As a leader, I try to walk the talk,” she continued. “What are you doing as a leader? Are you showing your team that you take care of your mental well-being? If you do, it will hopefully have a trickle-down effect.

“I try to make sure that people are comfortable telling me as their boss – or their peers – if they’re not feeling well – that a meeting is not essential or that a piece of work can wait another day. I tell them they should prioritise their well-being, which is essential to sustain high performance.”

I explained to Bea that all this is relatively new – and quite alien – to me. Growing up, my father always told my brothers and me, “Business before pleasure.” His words have stayed with me over the years. I am of a post-war generation where a man’s principal role was to provide for his family and ensure economic well-being.

I told Bea that I felt that, at least in Europe, mental well-being is now more critical than economic well-being.

“Generation Z, the 20-to-35-year age group,” she explained, “has different priorities to previous generations. Younger people do not necessarily want to earn more money but want a better lifestyle. And most important, they want to feel that they’re working for a company that shares their ethics and vision and does good in the world.

“Managers and leaders have this power to shift culture. I have the luck and privilege of working for a company that recognises the importance of well-being in the workplace,” she added.

“Retaining the workforce has become a priority,” she explained. “The younger generation is not necessarily concerned with working 9 to 5 and having a stable job and salary. They want more from life. Of course, it is a privileged cut of people who can take that decision, but I see it across the groups I interact with.”

Bea’s LinkedIn profile showed that she was a WINS (Women’s Initiative for Networking and Success) Global Board Leader. I asked what that involved.

“Its vision is for an equitable world,” she told me, “Where women have healthy representation, role models, and recognition across all levels at S&P Global, cultivating an environment that enables everyone to reach their fullest potential.

“It focuses on networking and support, career growth, retention and access to opportunities,” she continued. “It is S&P Global’s oldest and largest people resource group with over 6,000 members. We will commemorate its 20th anniversary in 2024. I currently serve as Global Engagement Leader, connecting the almost 30 regional networks which are the driving force behind WINS efforts.”

I was coming to the end of my time, but I wondered to what extent Covid and working from home had changed people’s attitudes to work.

“Did Covid make people realise there is life outside the office?” I asked her. “And was it positive on people’s mental health?”

“I think there was a decline in people’s mental health during Covid,” she replied. “Being in isolation, having to rethink everything, how you carried on, meant you had to reinvent yourself in many ways.

“On the plus side, working from home gives you the liberty to control your time, be flexible and know when you must do a little more or a little less. This liberty is not something that people will quickly give up. You can see how research shows the workforce has been telling companies that flexibility is a priority.

“We should also return to diversity and inclusion,” she continued. “Working from home is terrific for me as a parent. It gives me the flexibility to have quality time with my daughter. It has done wonders for my mental health. And research shows that flexibility is also necessary when addressing the gender pay gap.

“But there is another reason. Letting people know they can be in charge of their time and are trusted to do the work they must do is fantastic. It’s invaluable. It’s empowering.”

“Are you currently working from home in Santos?” I asked her.

“Yes, yes,” she replied. “I go to the office occasionally, but my team is not there and works remotely or hybrid. I go to the office if we have conferences, meetings, or client engagements. But I prefer to work from home. I have been a complete virtual worker since 2009.  But I must intentionally contact colleagues and stay connected even though I’m not attending the office.”

“That’s it,” I told her. “Those are all my questions.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me what advice I would give to my 18-year-old self?” she asked me. “You ask everyone else!”

“Okay. What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?”

“Meditate and cultivate deep self-awareness,” she replied. “It will transform your life and your relationship with the world.”

“It sounds like good advice for everyone,” I told her, “Not just 18-year-olds”.

© Commodity Conversations ® 2024

This is an extract from my upcoming book Commodity Professionals – The People Behind the Trade, due to be published later this year.

2 Replies to “A Conversation with Beatriz Pupo”

  1. Bravo!
    Brave women with a compelling personal story and an excellent subject choice on your part Mr Kingsman.
    The human side of this business is too often characterized as another statistic. But it is not.
    Thank you for your candid and sensitive treatment of a subject that should be understood more generally.

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