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Women in Leadership Conference Offers Advice for Succeeding in the Workplace

May 25, 2016
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michelle villalobos

Michelle Villalobos, (MBA ’04) opened the conference with
empowering advice to attendees.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like if women ruled the world?”

With that question, entrepreneur Michelle Villalobos, (MBA ’04) kicked off a May 18 women’s leadership conference organized by the School of Business Administration. More than 100 people attended the event.

Villalobos and other speakers focused on one hurdle to leadership that often goes unspoken: “The BS story we often tell ourselves” as women - that inner voice that nags “We’re not good enough.”

“My advice: I challenge that inner voice when the voice says “You cannot do it,” said Connie Mandil, (MBA ‘15), marketing director for merchant sales and solutions for Latin America and the Caribbean at financial heavyweight Visa Inc. “I say, “Yeah, you’ll see.”

Speakers also suggested women build a “crew” of support, seek out mentors and sponsors, choose a purpose for their lives and develop a vision that can propel them forward and motivate others.

“If it is to be, it’s up to we,” said keynote speaker Villalobos, the founder of Mivista Consulting and the force behind the annual Women’s Success Summit in Miami. “We have to do this together.”

To be sure, men still rule the business world. Fewer than 5 percent of CEOS of Fortune 500 companies are women. And while women start businesses at a faster clip than men do, some 80 percent of women-owned businesses in the United States earn less than $50,000 per year, Villalobos said.

That’s partly because women are less likely to negotiate for what they want than men are. Plus, they tend to wait until they’re sure they have all the skills before seeking a new position, whereas men apply when they feel about 60 percent ready for a new job, speakers said, referring to studies.

“You self-impose these limitations if you believe you can’t do it. You have to believe you can,” said Pilar Urrego, (MBA ‘11), senior vice president and senior area manager for Florida at HSBC Bank USA. When her nagging inner voice gets loud, she often takes a walk or exercises. She also turns to her mom, sisters, co-workers and others to help balance work and children, urging the audience: “Get your crew.”

Younger women have more choices and opportunities today than previous generations had. Decades back, “even if you walked in as an MBA, they’d hand you a notepad” and assign you more grunt work, said long-time health care executive Marisa Vidal, (MBA ’82), chief operating officer and managing partner at Premier Physician Support Services LLC.  Gains at the workplace have been “very hard fought” and have often required women to be “bossy” to enter top management, said Vidal.

defining your success panel

Panelists from left to right): Connie Mandil, (MBA ‘15), Pilar
Urrego, (MBA ‘11), Norma Kenyon, Gabriela McCoy, (MBA ‘07),
Marisa Vidal, (MBA ‘82).

Still, some managers can stifle women. It’s important to find ways not to take their comments personally, said Norma Kenyon, University of Miami vice provost for innovation and moderator for the panel discussion: “You have to learn to put up the shields.”

It also helps with stifling bosses “to choose your battles,” said Visa’s Mandil, a self-described sarcastic Argentine. “Observe, stay quiet and the moment I can throw a bomb, I do it. That’s my technique.”

Mentoring at work can help women to learn the ropes, said HSBC’s Urrego. It also helps the mentors feel more fulfilled, and with “reverse mentoring,” learn new perspectives from Millennials, said Urrego.

Millennials often place greater value on freedom and flexibility than earlier generations. Yet like all women, they recognize that they can't always be on hand for school events or other time with the family, said Gabriela McCoy, (MBA '07), director of consumer insights at liquor giant Bacardi.

"Freedom to enjoy time with my kids," said McCoy, "it means quality, not quantity of time."

The Spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in a 2009 Peace Summit in Vancouver said, “The world will be saved by the western woman,” Villalobos told the conference. The Dalai Lama looked to the women who are most educated, most affluent and most capable of mobilizing resources. He recognized that women invest more of their money and time in families, communities and charity than men do, said Villalobos.

Yet women can’t fulfill their promise if they’re held back by their own limiting beliefs. The opportunity is now, Villalobos said, to shift those views, collaborating among women to wake up, step up, and lead.

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