Diversity Woman Magazine

FALL 2014

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

Issue link: https://diversitywoman.epubxp.com/i/385684

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Page 31 of 71

It is absolutely critical to fnd yourself in those networks that provide access to opportunities. what was possible and what I was capa- ble of doing, and what I should be do- ing. I think access is wildly important. DW: Who are your female role models? CO: My frst and probably greatest fe- male role model is, of course, my mother, who was a single mother. She left her parents and siblings behind in Puerto Rico in pursuit of a career in Washington, DC, that would enable her to provide the quality of life and opportunity for her daughter that she thought was appropri- ate. She took risk, calculated risk, and in doing so she ended up having a stellar career, rising to the highest ranks in an absolutely white male–dominated envi- ronment at the time: intelligence. She was an intelligence threat analyst for the Department of the Army. She went all the way up through the ranks, as far as was possible without presidential ap- pointment, very quickly for a minority woman. Tat was because of her com- mitment to not failing. My other role model is my 16-year-old daughter, Jordan. My daughter fnds beauty in everything. She fnds beauty in just wind blowing through the trees and possibility in everything. It's impor- tant to see that beauty and truly fnd joy in simple things, in a conversation and in learning something new. It's impor- tant to keep a youthful and joyful spirit about the world, even when contracts are falling apart, relationships at work might be tense, or you're writing a pro- posal or facing a new challenge. In all of that, you can still have joy in the very simple things in life. DW: Should gender matter when seek- ing a mentor? CO: Yes and no. My frst professional mentor was a Puerto Rican woman who saw something very special in me, poured herself into me, and taught me everything in real estate private equity at a bou- tique, ethnically diverse frm. And then, of course, I landed here at Aon Corner- stone. My entire career has been in the activity of advocating on behalf of these frms, so my network is fairly extensive. We as a corporation support organiza- tions like the National Minority Suppli- er Development Council, Women's Busi- ness Enterprise National Council, and U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. DW: What sparked your passion for advocating on behalf of women and minorities? CO: When I was in college at the Univer- sity of Virginia, I was among a very small percentage of Hispanics. I think at the time something like 1.67 percent of the student population was Hispanic, and the lion's share was Latin American nation- als able to aford an international educa- tion. Tey weren't Hispanic Americans like me, who were born and raised here in the United States. I wanted to create an avenue to increase the enrollment and access to institutions of higher learning for Hispanic Americans. I was one of the founders of the Latino Student Admis- sions Committee—and I'm proud to say that organization still exists. Te experi- ence gave me the ongoing commitment to creating opportunities for people like me, other Hispanic Americans. DW: How much does access contribute to success or failure? CO: While I can't say that it's every- thing, it is absolutely critical to find yourself in those networks that pro- vide access to opportunities, to learn- ing, that help mentor you, that open doors. New America Alliance and The Marathon Club changed my view of what's possible and gave me courage to pursue things that were outside my comfort zone. I had always done that to some extent, but when I saw these people who looked like me—many of whom had similar stories or even more challenging stories—achieving at these very, very high levels, it concretized We Mean Business > about professionalism and commitment to excellence. She was critical along the steps in my career by creating opportu- nities and ensuring that I was given the visibility that sponsors provide. She also understood, as a woman, certain things that I would face that are unique to us as women in male-dominated environ- ments, and she provided insight into how you carry yourself. Having women men- tors is important. But I've also had male mentors who have helped me grow and learn immeasurably and have helped me accomplish great game-changing things throughout my career. So I think both are equally valuable, but they can bring dif- ferent things to the relationship. DW: What do you tell the people who are coming up the ladder now? CO: Oh, the future is so bright. Te op- portunities are limitless. We can do any- thing we set our minds to. We just have to be willing to put in the work. We have to be willing to step outside our comfort zone and take those calculated risks. We must, as women in particular, support one another. When doors are open for us and we walk in, we have to keep a foot in the door so that others can continue to come behind us. And we have to take the time to look around us and recognize women who have potential, who may not have the right exposure, who may need a little more grooming. It's incumbent upon us as female executives to ensure that more and more talented women are coming up the ranks behind us and that we are leveraging our infuence to cre- ate the right opportunities and open the right doors. DW Pia Sarkar, who has been a journalist for nearly 20 years, has a career that spans newspapers, magazines, and online news sites. She currently works as a senior editor at Te American Lawyer. 30 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N Fa l l 2 0 1 4 d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m

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