POWER SUIT: Valerie Grillo, The Ally

Google HR leader Valerie Grillo has made it her mission to be a powerful advocate for women, particularly Latinas on the rise

Valerie Grillo is a global human resources executive with over 20 years of financial services and technology experience. She has a history of leading complex organizational change, building diverse and inclusive teams, and serving as a trusted advisor to C-suite executives.  

She is currently VP of People Operations for Google’s Knowledge and Information products, which include Google Search, News, Assistant, Geo, Ads, Commerce, and Payments. Grillo joined Google in 2021 after a 19-year career at American Express, where she held a wide range of HR leadership positions.

She earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in psychology from Brown University and an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University. Grillo lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and two teenage children. 

Diversity Woman: Tell us about your family and early years. Describe a person who shaped who you are today.

Valerie Grillo: I was raised in the Bronx, New York, in a Puerto Rican family. I was very close to my extended family. Education was a strong value—my family emphasized the importance of learning and doing well in school. Education was viewed as the way to secure our future and create opportunities for ourselves.

My grandmother, who came to New York from Puerto Rico in her teens, was a role model and a big influence in my life. [She] volunteered in the New York City school system and realized there was more to be done to help students who immigrated to the US. At the age of 40, she went to college, got her master’s, and became an English as a second language teacher. Her passion to help others and the way she kept her eye on her goals, despite the challenges, have been an inspiration for me.

DW: Describe a leadership lesson you’ve learned.

VG: As a leader, you don’t need to have all the answers. An effective leader creates an environment where people feel safe asking questions, taking risks, and sharing different points of view.

DW: What obstacles have you faced in your career?

VG: I was the first or only Latina in many situations in my career. There were very few people who looked like me in leadership positions, which impacted my confidence. Luckily, I had a strong support system both at home and at work. When I questioned myself, my mentors would remind me of what I had accomplished, sometimes believing in me more than I believed in myself! They would help me to overcome my self-doubt, reminding me that I was likely the only one questioning my abilities.

I’m focused on removing this challenge for others. I mentor other Latinx colleagues and am involved in employee resource groups like Google’s HOLA community for Hispanic and Latinx employees, to share the experiences and learnings that I gained over my career.

DW: What advice would you give ambitious new Latina college graduates? Or an aspiring midcareer woman?

VG: Clearly state your career goals and what you want to achieve. Stating your ambitions facilitates more honest conversations with your leaders regarding what it will take for you to achieve those goals. I’ve found that by having these direct conversations, my leaders and mentors were better able to support me.

DW: What are you proudest of in your business career?

VG: For me, the most important aspect of leadership is developing others and helping them to achieve what they never thought possible. I’ve seen mentees and team members get promoted and grow in their careers—that is what I find most rewarding! DW

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