Latina Pioneers: Brimming with Talent

Meet nine exceptional women who are just a sample of the many Latinas in the highest reaches of Corporate America leading the way into the C-suite

by Lourdes Mola and Jackie Krentzman

This special issue of Diversity Woman celebrates Latina women pioneers, starting with our cover subject, Rita Ferro, the remarkable president of advertising for Disney. Ferro is proof that an indifferent student, once she finds her passion, can overcome barriers and soar.

When we embarked on this journey, we cast a wide net to identify Latinas in the C-suite. Going in, we knew that not many Latinas filled these roles. But nothing prepared us for the dearth we encountered. For example, there have been just three Latina CEOs in Fortune 500 history, including one currently, Priscilla Almodovar, CEO of Fannie Mae. It can be difficult to find up-to-date data that pinpoints the percentage of Latinas in the C-suite. According to an article in the January 2020 issue of Fast Company, Hispanics (male and female) comprise 17 percent of the labor force but only 4.3 percent of executive positions, and the vast majority in those positions are men. Given that Latinas account for 30 million of the US population, how can we explain the lack of representation?

It’s not because the talent isn’t out there. Consider this group of accomplished—really, amazing—women trailblazers who are true examples that nothing is impossible. We hope you’re as inspired as we are when learning about their careers and insights. 

¡Sí Se Puede!

Elizabeth Atlee

SVP, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, CBRE

Elizabeth (Liz) Atlee oversees CBRE’s robust global Ethics and Compliance Program. Her role includes identifying risks and preventing, detecting, and correcting noncompliance with laws, regulatory requirements, policies, and procedures to safeguard CBRE’s reputation and brand. Atlee was previously CBRE’s deputy general counsel of global litigation, employment, and intellectual property and data. She has twice been recognized as one of the 50 Most Powerful Latinas in Corporate America by the Association of Latino Professionals for America. She earned her BA from Yale and JD from the University of Southern California.

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

Be daring, and as you advance, own your position. There’s been a lot said about imposter syndrome, and I think it’s become too easy to hide behind that kind of thinking. When you have an opportunity to show yourself off—do it. You are where you are because you earned it. Now own it.

What do you think is holding back Latinas from climbing the corporate ladder?

Exposure. Latinas need to be known, seen, heard, and welcomed into the rooms where it’s happening. Find a mentor and a champion and let them know that you want to be invited to that big meeting. Then prepare as though you’re running it. Any insightful observations or comments you make will help you to launch.

Daisy Auger-Domínguez

Chief People Officer, Vice Media Group

Daisy Auger-Domínguez is an accomplished executive and a dynamic leader widely recognized for her ability to guide organizational transformations on the leading edge of culture. As chief people officer at Vice Media Group, Auger-Domínguez heads a global team responsible for people operations and culture; diversity, equity, and inclusion; ESG, and corporate facilities. 

Auger-Domínguez kicked off her career at Moody’s Investors Service and has since served on leadership teams at the Walt Disney Company, Google, and Viacom. She also founded and leads Auger-Domínguez Ventures, a workplace consultancy. 

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

Your true worth lies not in the titles and credentials you accumulate throughout your career, but in the impact of your work, actions, and words.

Tethering your self-worth to artificial measures of success will deplete you. Building a life and career aligned with your values can feel replenishing and joyful. To do that, cultivate self-care practices and nurture relationships that support you in moments of accomplishment, stress, setbacks, and growth. Be clear on what you want to achieve and why, be bold and ambitious in your goals, and be willing to be accountable when you either rise to the occasion or fail.

What do you think is holding back Latinas from climbing the corporate ladder?

Entrenched biased behavioral and management systems hold Latinas and other underrepresented workers back in their career growth. Those systems show up in biased perceptions about the leadership potential of Latinas and in a lack of support, mentoring, sponsorship, and fair opportunities for advancement along critical steps of their careers. A lack of sense of belonging and psychological safety also makes it hard for Latinas to thrive in workplaces.

Ana Chadwick

Chief Financial Officer, Pitney Bowes

Ana Chadwick is responsible for the financial operations for Pitney Bowes globally, including the treasury, audit, investor relations, and tax functions.

Prior to joining Pitney Bowes, she was a finance and operational executive at GE Capital, the financial services division of General Electric, for more 20 years, where she gained global experience in the Americas and Europe. Most recently, Chadwick was president and CEO of GE Capital Global Legacy Solutions. Previously, she was controller of GE Capital Americas and chief financial officer at GE Capital Energy Financial Services. 

Chadwick received her BA in economics from the American University in Washington, DC.

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

My advice to young Latina professionals is to step out of your comfort zone and get comfortable being uncomfortable, because only then you’ll grow. A learning mindset is a precursor to career advancement. Don’t do it alone—build a network. You will need—and enjoy—the support and opportunities that come from professional connections.

What is your leadership mantra, and why?

“The art of leadership is knowing when to say no, not yes” [Tony Blair, former British prime minister]. As my career responsibilities grew, I realized the importance of prioritization. Be selective about the areas where you personally get involved and the areas where you delegate. I always reflect on this because it is so easy to say yes, overcommit, and play catch-up. Create time to think, to strategize and to influence; only then you will rise to the expectations of a leader.

Kiera Fernandez

Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Target

Kiera Fernandez is responsible for leading and advancing Target’s enterprise-wide DE&I strategy and for guiding its talent and change team and strategy. In addition to her human resource expertise, she has an extensive background in retail operations, process and project management, store operations, and team leadership.

Fernandez began her career at Target in 2001 as an executive team leader for stores, subsequently serving in a variety of leadership roles. She has piloted teams in merchandising, stores, operations, and human resources. Over the last several years, she has continued to build a career across multiple HR functions. She is a founding member of Target’s Racial Equity Action and Change committee, which is tasked with advancing DE&I work for Black team members, guests, and communities.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your career?

Be present for the important moments with family. You can’t get them back once they’re gone. I’m constantly working toward balance, because it’s important to me to drive my career and be an involved mom, wife, and family member. Early in my career, I missed special moments with my daughters because I believed that in order to reach my aspirations, I had to raise my hand for everything. And while I do love to work, I realized that I can’t get
a moment back once it’s gone.

What is your leadership mantra, and why?

My team often hears me say, “There are no small things.” To me, that means every action and choice we make has lasting impact, especially in the diversity, equity, and inclusion work I am so privileged to lead at Target. That belief drives shared accountability and responsibility across an ecosystem of partners who are essential to our DE&I strategy. We all have a role to play in shaping a culture of inclusion that is lasting and sustainable, where everyone feels seen, heard, and welcome to belong.

Elisa D. Garcia

Chief Legal Officer, Macy’s, Inc.

Elisa D. Garcia is an accomplished corporate executive and attorney with over 30 years of experience in advising management and boards of directors on legal, business, and government-relations matters. Since 2016, Garcia has served as the chief legal officer of Macy’s Inc., and as a member of Macy’s Enterprise Committee, which sets the overall strategic direction for the company. Prior to Macy’s, Garcia served as an advisor to the board and senior management of Office Depot in her capacity as executive vice president, chief legal officer, and secretary.

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

Every day there are more women and more women of color reaching the C-suite. It’s good for business, and it is great for employee engagement and feeling included. It is important to become an expert in your field or area of responsibility and spend lots of time building relationships on your team. Leave your comfort zone, take on new areas of responsibility, and become proficient in them. If someone is offering new responsibilities, it’s because they have confidence in you. But don’t be afraid to ask for help or coaching.

What do you think is holding back Latinas from climbing the corporate ladder?

[Breaking through in operations areas of businesses] requires a profound understanding of the business and how corporations work. It requires building teams and leading them and the willingness to take big risks. You are seeing more women and people of color leading finance, human resources, and legal functions than pure business roles, because you can become expert in your field and then learn how to help the business achieve its goals. That said, I encourage Latinas to take on those “line” responsibilities in the business and to learn how the company makes money. As we see more color in boardrooms, we will see more opportunities for Latinas in the C-suite.

Mónica Gil 

EVP, Chief Administrative and Marketing Officer, Universal Telemundo Enterprises

Mónica Gil leads operations, marketing, strategy and insights, and communications teams at NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises. Since joining Telemundo in 2017, she has been instrumental in establishing the company as the nation’s number one Spanish-language network. Prior to Telemundo, Gil served in several leadership roles at Nielsen, where she was responsible for accelerating growth opportunities for a wide range of blue-chip media clients. Gil earned a BA in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA from the University of Southern California School of Public Administration.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your career?

It took me many years to understand the importance of embracing discomfort and uncertainty. Career paths are different for everyone, and in my case, it was not always a linear progression. I learned that those moments of doubt were temporary, and were also points for self-evaluation and professional growth. Nothing is permanent—it’s an ebb and flow.    

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

I found it valuable to understand a company’s culture and unspoken rules. I encourage strong emotional intelligence and awareness of sensitivities, because developing those can help in decision-making and better understanding of the company’s business metrics for success. 

Nereida Perez

Global Head of Diversity, McCormick & Company

Nereida (Neddy) Perez is one of the few global leaders with experience in corporate communications and human resources management—in Europe, Asia, and Latin America—prior to becoming a leader in driving corporate change in the diversity space. Before joining food giant McCormick & Company in 2019, she worked in the logistics management, financial services, energy, and utilities industries at TIAA, Ingersoll Rand, KMPG, Shell, and other companies. Perez has demonstrated the ability to build trusting relationships with senior leaders around the challenging issues surrounding DEI and company culture.

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

Three things are critical to getting into the C-suite: (1) Get into
a position where you have responsibility for P&L of a department, (2) make sure you have an organizational sponsor who is at least two or three levels above your current grade level, and (3) no matter where you are in your career, join one or two professional associations, and take on a leadership role. At least one organization you join should be mainstream, while the other should be an affinity association focused on Latinos or women.  

What do you think is holding back Latinas from climbing the corporate ladder? 

Sometimes it is our cultural socialization and other times it is our own fear of risk that gets in the way of Latinas excelling in the corporate space. From a cultural perspective, there are things we have been told as young girls like play nice [and] work hard but don’t challenge. As adults, we then wait to be promoted or given a raise. These messages stay with us and manifest in the form of self-doubt and internal red tape that remind us we are not good enough, or make us fearful of taking a risk and asking for the job we want, can do, and are qualified for. To break free of these limitations, you have to seek role models and sponsors who have broken barriers.

Martha Poulter

Senior Vice President and Chief Informationer, Royal Caribbean Group

Martha Poulter leads Royal Caribbean Group’s global IT team both onshore and shipboard across multiple brands, including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea. Prior to joining Royal Caribbean in 2018, Poulter was executive vice president and chief information officer at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, and vice president and chief information officer at GE Capital, with global responsibility for IT strategy and operations.

Poulter holds a BSE degree in computer science and engineering from the University of Connecticut and completed her MBA at the University of New Haven.

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

I believe feedback is a critical tool as an accelerator to development. It means not accepting generic statements like “Keep doing what you are doing” or “You are doing great.” The best conversations with leaders, mentors, or colleagues come when you ask for input toward your specific career goal. Invite the conversation by asking how you can enhance your performance to get to a next role or next exciting project. 

What is your leadership mantra, and why?

I have come to better understand that for me and many women, we strive for “and.” We want to achieve our professional potential and have wonderful family lives. We want to be seen as strong leaders and authentic community members. Over time I have learned it is possible to achieve your “and” through honest prioritization of personal and professional goals. Give yourself permission to flex those goals and hold yourself only to your own standards. 

Christina Schelling

Chief Talent and Diversity Officer, Verizon

Christina Schelling is a highly influential HR and talent management expert with more than 20 years of experience in progressively more responsible, cross-functional, global leadership positions. Schelling oversees all aspects of Verizon’s talent practices, including hiring, learning, career development, succession planning, DEI, and more, for over 120,000 employees globally. Before joining Verizon, Schelling was the head of human resources for the Estée Lauder Companies’ Global Corporate Functions, and prior to that, she spent six years at Prudential and seven years at American Express in a variety of global leadership roles related to people, culture, and organizational strategies.

What is your advice for young Latinas hoping to reach the C-suite?

Harness the power of your uniqueness. Own your story and show up in a way that reinforces who you are and what you stand for. Being good at your job is table stakes. Your “how”—the deliberate and authentic way you do what you do—sets you apart.

Relationships matter. Build a network of mentors, sponsors, and colleagues who will provide honest feedback, help you grow, have your back, and push you beyond your comfort zone.

What is your leadership mantra, and why?

Stay grounded in humility and self-awareness. Be human, relatable, and empathetic. Keep it real—you can be direct, assertive, kind, and compassionate simultaneously.

Never be the smartest person in the room. Surround yourself with diversity to complement strengths and weaknesses.

Be clear on your nonnegotiables—they’re your North Star when making tough calls or unpopular decisions. DW

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