Projex Engenharia Comércio e Construções Eireli (Projex)

Danielle Thomé: Overcoming sexism in a male-dominated industry

Danielle Thomé has learned that sexism is not just a systematic prejudice in the workforce, but it is also a belief that has been internalized and is often so ingrained that people do not even recognize it. To reach their full potential, women must acknowledge it to overcome it.

At Projex Engenharia Comércio e Construções Eireli (Projex)—a construction company based in Sao Paolo that specializes in commercial and industrial works, managing turnkey projects and facilities, operating under rigid standards of quality, work safety and regulatory documentation—Danielle has spent more than 30 years dealing with the sexist hostilities and oppressive beliefs that a woman could never be successful running a business in a male-dominated industry.

Yet she has done just that: Her latest success is winning more business with a WEConnect International member buyer Johnson & Johnson to provide various civil construction services—more than 10 small- and medium-sized projects—at the client’s site in São José dos Campos. 

Danielle joined the family business at the age of 15 because she admired her father’s hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit. Starting as a receptionist, she moved through several positions and sectors until 2016 when she stepped up to the role of CEO and owner—a role that was never a given; Danielle’s father—who founded Projex in 1969—believed a man needed to lead the company. As such, her first major challenge in the business was to overcome the sexist environment that began with her own family, which took years of hard work. 

Learning about and then having Projex certified as a woman-owned business by WEConnect International in 2016 was a major turning point for Danielle. She began to understand that the discomfort and injustice she faced were realities that many other women shared within the network around the world. 

Danielle felt empowered by the WEConnect International network; it was instrumental to being able to recognize and appreciate her own value, competence and strength as a woman. This new-found confidence transformed her and by extension, her business.  

In the six years she’s been at the helm, Danielle has added six large multinationals to the company’s client portfolio—Bayer, BASF, PepsiCo, MSD, Corteva and Johnson & Johnson—through the doors opened by the WEConnect International member buyer network. The company’s business extends across Brazil in numerous industries, including agribusiness, food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, power plants, sugar and alcohol. In 2021, she led Projex to grow an impressive 70%.  

And she’s not stopping there. 

“With the certification, a new world opened for me: mentoring, training, networking, contact with other women entrepreneurs, regional conferences and matchmaking,” Danielle explains. “Each event promoted by WEConnect International is extremely valuable and has helped me and my company grow—and at a much faster rate.” 

Projex’s first WEConnect International business win came from Bayer’s chemical plant in São José dos Campos. This initial successful partnership continues with additional projects for Danielle’s team three years on. While she and her team celebrate these wins, they recognize that it takes a lot of time and effort. For example, Danielle persevered for two years to win Projex’s first bid with PepsiCo. Her fortitude and discipline paid off handsomely as the Projex team performed seven simultaneous projects for different Pepsi units across five states in Brazil.   

Danielle has come a long way since she started working for Projex nearly four decades ago—and so has the company. Her successes prove that women can successfully lead and manage construction companies—in fact, any traditionally male-dominated sphere. 

But Danielle is not resting on her laurels; she has big plans for Projex. Her goal is to increase revenues by 135% in the next three years. She also intends to support and encourage sustainability, diversity and inclusion for both her clients and employees.  

“The decades of prejudice did not deter me because I love my work,” says Danielle. “I have an unshakeable belief that yes, I could do it—and I have.”