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Summary: Inspiring Women to Lead - AS/COA's 2nd Women's Hemispheric Network Forum in Miami

2nd Women's Hemispheric Network Forum in Miami

(Image: Grupo Gort)

January 27, 2015

Welcoming Remarks:

  • Ragnhild Melzi, Senior Director, AS/COA
  • Patricia Menéndez-Cambó, Vice-President and Secretary, Greenberg Traurig LLP
  • Nancy Anderson Bolton, Senior Director, AS/COA


  • Alexandra Villoch, President and Publisher, Miami Herald Media Company (Keynote)
  • Beatriz Sanchez, Head of Private Wealth Management for Latin America, Goldman Sachs
  • Catherine Smith, SVP, Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel and Secretary, Brightstar Corp
  • Liliana Gonzalez, Senior Regional Business Director, Aortic and Peripheral Disease Management, Medtronic
  • Jackie Nespral, Anchor, NBC 6 News (Moderator)
  • Laura Maydón, Managing Director, Endeavor Miami
  • Lisa Raggiri, CEO, ToneRow and Board Member, Kairos
  • Camila Souza, Writer & Miami Community Manager, TechCocktail (Moderator)
  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Representative for the 23rd District of Florida (Keynote)

How can women climb up the corporate ladder? Is there such a thing as work-life balance? What steps must be taken to change corporate culture and empower women in the workforce? How can businesses adapt to changing business landscapes and remain competitive employers? The AS/COA Women’s Hemispheric Network’s 2nd Forum in Miami convened a select group of public and private sector female leaders who shared their personal stories and answered these relevant questions with young professionals.

Career-Paths: Taking the Road Less Traveled 

Opening the conference, AS/COA Senior Director Randy Melzi challenged the conventional belief that one ascends a corporate ladder, arguing that the climb looks more like a zigzag—up, down, sideways, and up again. This idea was echoed by many speakers, whose own stories showcased a non-linear path to success.

The first keynote speaker, Alexandra Villoch, alternated between banking and the airline industry before moving to media and sales at The Miami Herald. Her transitions were driven by a desire to try something new, constantly challenging herself and “taking the road less traveled.” Like many of the other speakers, she did not know what she wanted to do when she received her college diploma. Instead, she arrived where she did through a process of elimination, as well as networking and seizing opportunities.

Opening Remarks and Keynote: President of Miami Herald Media Company Alexandra Villoch

In the first panel, “Successfully Building your Career,” Goldman Sachs’ Beatriz Sanchez confessed she thought she wanted to be a doctor, but ended up finding her true passion in banking. Kairos’ Lisa Raggiri mirrored this in the second panel, “A Conversation with Women Making a Difference,” explaining how she began her career at a law firm, only to realize she would rather harness the lessons she learned there to start her own business and become an entrepreneur. 

A recurring piece of advice given by panelists was to look at one’s capabilities—strengths combined with what one enjoys—and go full speed ahead. As Raggiri described it, understanding that “the sky is the limit and I don’t have to have one title or be one thing, I can be whoever I want to be” was the best career decision she made.

Networking and Leading in a Male-Dominated Environment 

Networks are extremely important, both as a source of opportunities and support, said panelists. Medtronic’s Liliana Gonzalez argued that women need to integrate networking into their motto. Speakers stressed the importance of fostering relationships, and gaining mentors as well as advocates. While mentioning the pivotal role that female mentors played in their lives, panelists acknowledged the importance of having male mentors as well. Many identified their fathers as their first mentors and supporters. When asked about the most important piece of advice they had received, responses often began with “my father always told me...”

Panel: Successfully Building Your Career

In the same vein, though speakers agreed that women often work in male-dominated environments, they did not see this as an immutable fact or barrier to their career. Stating that they have often been the only woman in board meetings, conference rooms, or at the top of their respective firms, these successful female speakers reiterated two main strategies to leading in a male-dominated workplace that was first proposed by Brightstar Corp’s Catherine Smith: developing an approach and always being prepared. Gonzalez expanded on the latter strategy, arguing that resistance from men is somewhat inevitable, so women must be prepared to present their case with confidence; preparation means knowledge, and knowledge means visibility and a seat at the table.

Changing the male-dominated culture must begin in the early stages of education. Raggiri and Endeavor Miami’s Laura Maydón discussed the importance of altering the educational system, starting in elementary school. Teaching boys about gender equality and domestic chores while simultaneously encouraging more girls to enter technological and scientific fields of study will help level the playing field from the onset, they said. 

Panel: Women Making a Difference

In her remarks, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the youngest woman ever elected to the Florida Legislature, added that in order to change the culture, successful women need to back other women, as “women will always do better and go farther if they work together.”

Work-Life Balance: Myth or Reality?

Villoch pointed out that “none of us are doing one job any longer.” Many participants wanted to know if there was such a thing as work-life balance? The resounding answer was “no.” The image of a balance was traded for that of a seesaw; sometimes work takes priority, sometimes family. Maydón expressed this idea by saying: “We can do everything, but not at the same time.” As stated by Sanchez and echoed by several panelists throughout the conference “every woman needs a good wife at home.” Having a support system—whether it be a great nanny, understanding husband, involved family members, or a combination—is essential in allowing successful women greater flexibility and the ability to flourish in their professional as well as personal lives.

Another important factor identified in helping bridge the gap between work and family was the concept of “non-negotiables”—a list of conditions for choosing career opportunities. For many of the panelists, a recurring non-negotiable was to be based in one city so that their children would grow up in one place and develop a strong support system.

Family patterns are changing, demanding more flexibility not only for women, but for men as well. According to panelists, companies are starting to understand the importance of allowing employees to have greater flexibility, but have a long ways to go. The mothers on stage said they worked harder in order to be there for their children, particularly on special occasions. As Villoch put it, giving men and women more flexibility with their schedule is the connection between good business and the right thing to do.

Beyond the Women’s Hemispheric Conference: Lessons Learned 

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz closed the conference by sharing her personal story and echoing many of the other panelists’ advice: don’t wait to be asked, don’t waste time trying to be perfect because it is not possible, self-advocate, be prepared, get out of your comfort zone, determine your non-negotiables and stand by them, and be true to yourself in everything you do. In the end she concluded with her favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Keynote: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Congresswoman