Integrated Talent Management that Fuels Female Leadership

It’s no longer an option. If you want to be a leader in your line of business, you must have an integrated talent management strategy in place. We talked with Marcelo Fumasoni, VP and Head of Human Resources of Latin America and Canada for Novartis who shared his experiences on corporate social responsibility and integrated talent management with us.

We have reached a point where disregarding 50% of the talent pool is inadmissible. It’s no longer an ethical or moral issue. It’s a business imperative. With a fiercely competitive global economy where women influence 80% of the purchasing decisions, organizations are forced to seriously look at the lack of female leadership at senior levels.

If you are serious about corporate social responsibility, you need to begin by evaluating your own talent management strategy. Do you have policies in place that enable your employees to shape a career path that fits their priorities? Can women and men take time off to parent their young children or care for a sick relative without needing to leave their jobs?

Do you have policies that support employees career paths? If you are serious about corporate social responsibility, you need to begin by evaluating your own talent management strategy.

Do you have policies that support employees career paths? If you are serious about corporate social responsibility, you need to begin by evaluating your own talent management strategy.

In a brilliant article, Judy Shen-Filerman, principal and founder of Dreambridge Partners, points out that many women opt out of their jobs not because they don’t want the jobs but because their companies don’t make it possible for them to keep those jobs when personal priorities change. Is your company one of them?

What does it take to retain top female leaders?

It’s sad that in 2014 we have to explain the need for organizations to develop policies that adjust to women’s realities. But if you really want to promote and retain female leadership, you must rethink your policies, business, and corporate social responsibility strategic goals. You’ll have to reframe the way in which you measure performance and reward achievement, and you will have to build a flexible culture that embraces your employees changing priorities.

It’s now more important than ever to set in place an integrated talent management for female leadership strategy.

Novartis, a large corporation with integrated talent management strategies that brings results

Marcelo Fumasoni supporting the Red Shoe Movement

Marcelo Fumasoni supporting the Red Shoe Movement

Some companies have had integrated talent management for female leadership strategies in place for a long time. Take Novartis, for example – a large pharmaceutical corporation that for over six years has directed specific efforts to attracting, engaging and developing female leadership.

In a recent conversation with Marcelo Fumasoni, VP and Head of Human Resources of Latin America and Canada, we had a chance to learn how the company is handling talent management to increase female leadership and the great results they are obtaining.

When it comes to female leadership, what are some of the challenges you face as the Head of HR in Latin America for a large corporation?

The challenge is to create an open, transparent and trusting environment where we can have career conversations with no preconceived notions on either side.

When it comes to Latin America and Canada, our challenge is to offer an attractive career proposition. For that we take into consideration family and dual career planning. The challenge is to have the ability to create roles for employees to acquire new capabilities that don’t entail moving at a time when it’s inconvenient for the employee to move.

Novartis is an organization that has been working in a permanent evolution mode regarding its own Diversity and Inclusion strategy. A key driver of a more inclusive environment has been to establish clear parameters to improve our female pipeline bench strength. You can’t leverage diversity without inclusion in the workplace and workforce!

How does Novartis handle talent management for female leadership in the region?

At Novartis we are continually fostering a culture  in the workplace that enables us to act inclusively and leverage our diversity efforts. If we can keep that ability in place, we are able to create value, engage employees, and generate the best outcomes for our patients and customers.

As a next step, we secure the implementation of policies that are in line with our talent management strategy. This means: maintain a gender balance at the moment of external hiring, equal participation in educational and leadership programs, have regular D&I internal forums where we can gather insights about how to improve the conditions in the workplace (for example, re-entry conditions after maternity, dual career planning), mentoring programs, etc.

Do you find that the double burden most women face is more or less of a problem for your employees in Latin America vs. the U.S? How does the double burden affect integrated talent management for female leadership strategies?

I understand where you are going with the question but Novartis we have been able to handle the development of an inclusive and nurturing environment no matter what country we are in. Therefore, it’s a bit difficult for me to remove myself from my reality.

I believe that the differences in both geographies could be minimized if the Talent Management, Learning and Development agenda are fully integrated and are a priority for the Executive Board of Directors.

Studies show that the fact that more women are graduating from college than men in itself won’t solve the gender parity problem at the executive level. What do you think organizations can do to move the needle faster? Any suggestions for effective strategies for integrated talent management to fuel female leadership?

Yes, I agree with these studies. Graduation alone does not change this. We need to ensure that the company recruits at the entry level on equal basis distribution of gender. When there’s an opening at the C-level, there should be inclusive recruiting actions so as many men as women are considered for the position. In addition, companies must have Human Resources policies in place to enable both genders to grow equally.

Marcelo Fumasoni on Integrated Talent Management Strategies and acceleration of women's growth within an organization

Marcelo Fumasoni on Integrated Talent Management Strategies and acceleration of women’s growth within an organization

Sometimes to accelerate (and to see results in the long run) you have to slow down. You have to build a career plan that is not the typical one. Life events and circumstances – for instance, the need for dual career and family planning – need to be taken into consideration in order to support career growth.

For example, an entry-level female employee could move at half the pace of a male just because of the family planning component. The recommendation will be to have a thorough plan from the beginning and to have a common agreement with the associate that the acceleration and career progression will be implemented at the right time for both parties.

Could you point out the most commonly-held biases against women that affect the opportunities they are offered in an organization?

Usually, the most commonly-held biases are that women are less mobile, and that they may not have the experience needed for the position at hand. At Novartis we have been constantly implementing D&I efforts for over six years and we make sure this does not happen.

One last question: What can women do to empower themselves and propel their careers?

Sometimes the most common self-imposed barriers arise from the most basic things. For example, a failure to capitalize on the opportunity to have an open conversation about mobility or timing to reach a new role could be a common derailer. That is why the culture component (trust, confidence, openness, focus on our patients and customers) is a key success factor.

My recommendation is for women to take more risks at the beginning of their corporate careers (expand roles, move to different geographies, get to know different business units, do the field work) in order to have a robust set of capabilities and experiences in place when the opportunities arise… And this actually applies both to men and women.

Corporate Social Responsibility | telecommuting statistics in the US

Corporate Social Responsibility | telecommuting statistics in the US

Integrated talent management for female leadership – strategies that work

We all know how hard it is to find great talent. Why risk losing it and incur the high cost of recruiting, training and acculturating new talent if you can come up with a solid integrated talent management for female leadership strategy?

Here are a few ideas you should consider:

  • Offer part-time, job-share or telecommuting options as an ongoing career path. This means maternity or paternity leave should be seen as a temporary choice within a career path and not as quitting a job to raise a family. Encourage your executives to take advantage of some of these options to set an example.
  • Keep in check the need for face time as a requirement for any job. Ensure that people (often women) who choose to work remotely are not penalized for doing so at bonus/promotion time.
  • With this in mind, ensure that you offer development opportunities for people who have chosen to work remotely and not only for those who come to the office.
  • Make sure that employees who are single have the flexibility to pursue passions outside the office. Oftentimes the integrated talent management for female leadership strategy only focuses on mothers trying to integrate work-life and leaves out single women.
  • Offer job-sharing alternatives so that two people are responsible for a function. These options, often implemented in admin positions, can easily be implemented in management positions as well and are ideal to encourage female leadership.
  • Offer daycare services within your organization to make it easier for new parents to return to work without worrying about leaving their young children at home. Encourage them to spend time with their kids during the day.
  • Invite women to exercise their female leadership style rather than expect them to fit within your organization’s more male-oriented leadership style. This means you should encourage and celebrate women’s tendencies to:
In a recent conversation with Marcelo Fumasoni, VP and Head of Human Resources of Latin America and Canada, we had a chance to learn how the company is handling integrated talent management to increase female leadership and the great results they are obtaining.

In a recent conversation with Marcelo Fumasoni, VP and Head of Human Resources of Latin America and Canada, we had a chance to learn how the company is handling integrated talent management to increase female leadership and the great results they are obtaining.

Celebrating women's differences and inspiring them to bring their authentic selves to work is the best way to retain your female leadership talent

Celebrating women’s differences and inspiring them to bring their authentic selves to work is the best way to retain your female leadership talent

Male Dominated Industries Need More Women Like Her!

Rosemary Rodriguez is an outstanding TV and film director who has directed many episodes of The Good Wife on CBS. An interview every woman should read, particularly women in male dominated industries.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

You know when you like a movie so much that you sit through all the credits at the end? That’s exactly what happened to me after watching “The One Percent” episode of The Good Wife. I liked it so much that I was glued to the screen waiting to see who had directed it. Was I pleasantly surprised to see it was a woman: Rosemary Rodriguez!

You would think, given that the star of the show is Julianna Margulies, who plays a strong lawyer navigating the politics of one of the most male dominated industries, The Good Wife would have many female guest directors. But no, Rosemary is the exception and not just on this show.

Film and TV are among the most male dominated industries. During the 2013-2014 season, 69% of all TV episodes were directed by white men, 17% by minority men, and 12% by white women. And only 2% of TV episode directors are minority women.

RSM Hall of Fame Honoree, Rosemary Rodriguez, one of very few women directos in a male dominated occupation

RSM Hall of Fame Honoree, Rosemary Rodriguez, one of very few women directos in a male dominated occupation

A kind, honest, hard working professional, Rosemary Rodriguez was born in Boston, grew up in New Hampshire and

married Nestor Rodriguez, a stand up comedian and radio host. (Hence her last name.) She radiates equal parts ambition and generosity. Someone who pursues big dreams with her feet firmly planted in reality. Someone with a passion for her craft who still, even after her amazing career track, has some trouble owning her success. Rosemary has directed episodes of some of TV’s most popular shows: The Good Wife, White Collar, Rescue Me (the first woman hired in five seasons), Vegas, Hawthorne, Elementary, and many, many others. She has also written, produced and directed two independent movies of her own: the Sundance premiere “Acts of Worship” and the upcoming “Silver Skies.”

We are proud to honor Rosemary Rodriguez in our Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Women in male dominated industries break the mold

Oftentimes male dominated industries have remained so because of a perception that they require men’s strength. Like construction or transportation, for example. But film directing? Why has it remained one of the most male dominated industries?

If you look at the history of the film industry, women were the first to make money. Alice Guy-Blache directed the first narrative film, and Lois Weber was an auteur comparable to DW Griffith, yet only a few have heard of her in comparison. As soon as films started to become a popular medium and there was money to be made, the guys stepped in and pushed the women aside. It’s one of the biggest money making industries and one of the biggest exports of our country. But usually, when there’s money to be made, the women get kicked aside.

In interviews, I’ve read that women executives say that women don’t want to lead 200 people and a crew in a big production. They try to put a twist to the reason for the lack of women directors, but that’s not true. Every woman director I know would relish the opportunity of doing a big Hollywood movie. There’s also a myth that there aren’t enough women directors. There are tons of women directors but many are desperately under employed.

On the set of Rosemary Rodriguez' latest film, Silver Skies, with actors George Hamilton, Jack McGee and Alex Rocco. Read the full interview! | Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez

On the set of her latest film, Silver Skies, with actors George Hamilton, Jack McGee and Alex Rocco
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez

What attracted you to this field?

I grew up in New Hampshire watching movies on TV after school. I was always drawn to the old Hollywood films. I remember the first one I ever saw was Serpico, and I loved it. I was attracted to hard-edge, realistic, 70s films. At the time I didn’t know I wanted to make movies, I just loved them.

How do you see things differently than men? Is there an advantage to being one of a handful of employed women directors?

I’m not sure there’s a difference in storytelling between men and women. But there is a difference in the way of working.

The way in which I connect with the crew and actors is a priority to me. I need to protect them, acknowledge how hard they work, make their work easier. I don’t think that’s a male way of working.

The advantage, if there is one, is being in a position to inspire and help other women who work and want to work in this industry. I also try to set an example and be a woman who hires other women.

Is there a reason for the lack of diversity in the field?

Rosemary Rodriguez, RSM Hall of Fame Honoree inspirational quote

Rosemary Rodriguez, RSM Hall of Fame Honoree inspirational quote

White people are doing the hiring. At the end of the day the guys hire people they want to go to the bar and have a drink with. As in other male dominated industries, the decision makers seek people who have the same interests, who look and sound like them. It’s scary to go past what you’re comfortable and familiar with, and when there’s money involved people avoid making those choices. It’s a bad equation when people think that hiring a woman or a minority director is risky.

Numbers-wise, there’s increasingly more money to be made with minorities, but that still doesn’t amount to what can be made with the general population, so executives are playing it safe.

Overcoming stereotypes of male dominated industries

Rosemary Rodriguez Director in action. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez #Women in Male Dominated Industries Series

Rosemary Rodriguez Director in actionPhoto Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez

What were the hardest hurdles you had to overcome to be accepted as one of the women in male dominated professions?

I once had a meeting with a woman network executive. She asked me what show I’d like to direct. When I told her, she said, “Sorry, we already have our minority hire for that show.”

From her perspective, they have one slot for a minority. From my perspective, I just want to be on her list of great directors.

That’s one of the biggest hurdles: To get hired for my work instead of being put into a diversity slot. At this point in my career, I think there’s still a little of that going on in placing me, but much less so than before.

This is a tough industry for everyone but I know it took me many more years to get my work appreciated than it would have taken a guy.

Rosemary Rodriguez supporting Red Shoe Movement

Thank you Rosemary Rodriguez for supporting the Red Shoe Movement. We love where you wear our charm!

Who gave you your lucky break?

I got a shot at directing because of John Wells (ER, West Wing, Third Watch) who had a Fellowship to help minority and women independent film directors to transition into TV directing. I owe my entire career to him and his company. The first person to hire me for an episode under this program was executive producer Christopher Chulack

Are you incorporating more examples of cultural differences and gender diversity into your work?

I’m trying. The first thing I did was write, direct and produce a feature film, “Acts of Worship,” to give the underdog a voice. It’s a movie about the realities of drug addiction, not the glamorized version of the disease we usually see in movies.  My new film, “Silver Skies,” is about older people, because seniors, just like women, also get pushed aside. In our society, when you get old, you have no more value, and that’s not true.

Also, in casting a TV show I always try to hire cast that is outside of the box.

The Good Wife — Even in male dominated industries there’s sometimes a surprise

The Good Wife, a popular TV show, has become the voice of the new feminism. A show that openly discusses the difficulties of career success for women in order to move the needle in female representation at the executive level.

You have directed many episodes of a show beloved by millions of women: The Good Wife. What would you say are your most powerful contributions to the show?

The idea of being a good girl, doing the right thing, is something that haunts all of us. How you are perceived, how not to live in a man’s shadow. I’m fascinated by the gray areas in the business world that the character navigates and her constantly having to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. I bring a lot of experience navigating moral and ethical situations like the ones the character, Alicia Florrick, is confronted with. It’s thrilling and exciting, because I feel I’ve been on the same journey.

Discover what it takes to succeed. Women in male dominated industries: Rosemary Rodriguez has directed many episodes of The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez

Rosemary Rodriguez has directed many episodes of The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez

How did you get to be part of this show?

Juliana Margulies got me to direct the show. She is an incredible, loyal woman and a good friend. From the first season, she said she wanted to get me there and she did. She looked out for me. To me, being given an opportunity by another woman has a lot of weight and meaning. We have a lot of fun working together. I think they keep asking me back because the writing is intuitive and bold and that’s sort of who I am.

You directed the episode “The One Percent” which features a female CEO who was fired from her company. What was it like to direct that episode?

As with any script, I try to connect with it. I’m very open and honest. I was able to connect with the story of the woman CEO being mistreated and fired. In the real world, you face people who mistreat you, talk down to you, disregard you and your work. To me, any script that gives me an outlet to express those frustrations gives me an opportunity to let all of that out in a healthy way.

Do you believe that a show like The Good Wife can contribute to changing the public narrative about empowering women and gender parity in the workplace?

Yes, absolutely. What’s interesting is having a female character that’s strong and beautiful. There’s never a perception, never a question that she can’t do her job because she has kids. And that perception is nagging at the world big time right now in a negative way.

Bringing your total self to work

For a few years you struggled with drug addiction. Where did you find the strength and the support to overcome that very difficult time?

There’s a misconception when you are a drug addict that you can say no whenever you want. The truth is that you’re suicidal, you want to die, you can’t say no to getting high. I was homeless for three years in New York City living like a cockroach, shoplifting, shooting heroine. I lost contact with my family; my friends wouldn’t let me stay in their homes any more because I would steal from them. I was really out there.

Suddenly I woke up in an ER and realized I didn’t want to die, that I always had a dream to be a director. I moved from New York City to Florida and got better there. I started to clean up my act when I met someone who came down on vacation from NYC. We fell in love. We saw each other four more times and the fifth time we got married.

Listen, when you get to the other side of drug addiction and you meet someone who brings you back to your dream, our meeting didn’t seem like a coincidence to me. I believe I have a lot of grace in my life.

I knew when I met him that I wanted to get back to New York and get back to the world of movies. It took us 8 years. All our money went into the movie, which was about drug addicts because I felt a passion for that. I don’t know how it happened, but my movie went to Sundance. And that was it. I was a director.

Alix, the main character of "Arts of Wisdom", Rosemary Rodriguez director - first film

Alix, the main character of “Acts of Worship”, Rosemary Rodriguez’ first film
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rosemary Rodriguez

A director is a storyteller. How do you use your own life story to help you connect with characters and the actors playing them?

My ego doesn’t get in the way of telling a good story. No matter who beats me up, nobody can take that away from me. That’s my purpose and that’s what I was put on this earth to do: to tell great stories through directing. When I’m on set directing is when I’m at my strongest. My head is clear. I’m decisive and clear.

We highly recommend reading: Women in male dominated professions and industries

Making a Career Change: the Story of Aymee Zubizarreta

Making a career change is never easy yet it can be a creative process and fill you with a joy you never experienced before. From corporate to entrepreneur and Web TV producer, Aymee Zubizarreta shares her story!

A desire to help give today’s Latina a voice in television puts Aymee Zubizarreta in the driver’s seat. Having spent most of her adult life working for Fortune 500 companies and national organizations as their “expert liaison” with the U.S. Hispanic market, Aymee, now in her early forties, has taken the keys to her future into her own hands by starting a company of her own.

If you’re among the millions of women who often feel as if the characters played on TV/online series, movies or soap operas don’t speak to or resonate with us, then you have to meet Aymee Zubizarreta— An award-winning, integrated marketing/communications professional who has spent most of her life helping large corporations successfully reach and touch the US Hispanic consumer.

Making a Career Change: the story

Just a few years ago, she decided to take a risk and become a female entrepreneur by launching the zubizarretA group, a full service PR, Marketing, Business Development and Social Media firm that specializes in helping brands meaningfully connect with the US Hispanic consumer. In doing so, she also became inspired to create and produce “Merrick Park” – America’s soon-to-be first English language, scripted series depicting modern-day Latinas for who they really are: smart, career-minded, family-oriented women who can be both caretakers and caregivers, all in the blink of an eye.

This upscale Latina web series is a far cry from the current collection of maid and overly sexy housewife roles that populate Spanish language media and barely sprinkle mainstream television shows.

Merrick Park, a web series dedicated to upscale, professional Latinas

Merrick Park, a web series dedicated to upscale, professional Latinas

Making a career change like Aymee did can be quite challenging. However, when you are in your twenties or thirties, you are more likely to be willing to do what it takes, and pay your dues. As one matures, it can become more difficult to break away from the brand you built for yourself, the network you created, the experience you acquired along the way or to do what every fresh start demands. Yet the advantage of a making a drastic career change later in life (as in Aymee’s case) is that you know who you are, what you want, and you hopefully have a financial cushion to carry you while you re-brand yourself.

What prompted you to making a career change?

I still vividly recall the day that the proverbial entrepreneurial bug began to leave its mark on my heart and mind. Just a few years ago, while attending a national Hispana Leadership Summit in Miami, Florida, I heard a fellow Latina entrepreneur recount how she had started a company in her very own kitchen and then turned it into a multi-million dollar success story. That got me thinking, “What if I…?”

When did you decide you needed a career change?

Making a career change gave Aymee Zubizarreta a new, creative outlet.

A career change gave Aymee Zubizarreta a new, creative outlet.

While working in corporate America, I made it a point to “pay it forward” by serving as a mentor for girls who had been identified by their school counselor as at-risk of dropping out of high school. It is through Women of Tomorrow, co-founded by Emmy Award winning Journalist Jennifer Valoppi and retired Telemundo Network President, Don Browne, that I found my new lease on life.

What provoked me to make this bold, “risking-it-all” career change was a burning desire to leave a legacy for the next generation of Latinas. I found myself challenging these young ladies to dream big and to accomplish anything that they set their hearts and minds to. As it turns out, the advice that I was giving them was also meant for me too.

At some point I realized that I needed to do a brand audit on myself. What did I learn, you ask? That the past 20 years of my corporate experience was in effect only preparing me for this new chapter in my career and for a drastic career change.

Is making a career change harder when you’re doing really well in your career than when you lose your job, for example?

Timing is one of the keys to success in just about everything we do in life. The decision to take a professional leap of faith needs to be done in a moment of clarity and coupled with a purpose, a passion, a vision and a well thought out plan.

Bottom line, get advice from those who know and love you. Then, think carefully, and strategically plan before you leap!

Making a career change can spark creativity

You are the creator, one of the writers and the executive producer for this series. Did making a career change elicit a sudden surge in creativity?

Having a creative outlet that helps you connect with your inner being is critical for your body of work. While some prefer to draw, paint, compose music, or play an instrument to express their creativity and talent, I began to gravitate back to where it all started for me, as a broadcast journalism graduate. When I write for the characters of Merrick Park, I am writing from within. I am able to project all those wonderful years of acquired wisdom and corporate experience onto each one of these characters.

Give us a taste of what Merrick Park is about.

In a city within a city, a group of very accomplished 30-something professional Latinas from diverse backgrounds and acculturation levels form a special sisterhood. Together they chase the same dream, celebrate conquests, and tackle similar challenges as many of today’s women living in the United States.

Today’s modern-day Latinas are well-educated, career driven, ambitious professionals who are capable of achieving their version of the American Dream.

What sets this English language web series apart from others in the mainstream media is that it finally showcases today’s Latinas for who we really are. Mothers. Wives. Small Business Owners. High Powered Executives. Doctors. Lawyers. US Congresswomen, Fashion Designers. Chefs. CEO’s of the Household and of our family’s destiny.

Successful career women are the protagonists of Merrick Park, a new web series

Successful career women are the protagonists of Merrick Park, a new web series

The three leading ladies of Merrick Park follow the guiding principle of the Red Shoe Movement. Through thick and thin each is supportive of one another, through their own personal and professional journey in life. And yes, each one of the lead characters has a true-life female role model that they can call upon for advice and support!

Bringing your skill set, experience and contacts when making a career change can make things substantially easier

For many years you specialized in creating major, national PR campaigns. What skills, knowledge, experiences from back then will you use in your new project?

The only difference between what I was doing back then and what I am doing now is that I am my own client.

All of the knowledge, experiences and skill sets that I have acquired during the past twenty years of my life are now bundled up in a beautiful, well-thought-out package, called Merrick Park.

How about the work you’ve done to help firms connect with the Latino consumer? Is any of that research going into the series?

My business partner, Maria O’Hollearn, and I have been providing consultative support to firms who desire to better align their US Hispanic PR and marketing objectives with their overall business plan. One of the most common reasons why clients typically seek our services is our team’s ability to help them better identify and then connect with what Nielsen has dubbed the “Upscale Latino.”

Even though Merrick Park was already being conceived prior to Nielsen’s findings, it only serves to strengthen the need for original content that speaks to the most important segment since the baby boomers, the upscale Latino.

Tips for making a career change

What would you tell someone ready to make a career change?

One of the main Merrick Park characters receives a gift: A pair of red shoes!

One of the main Merrick Park characters receives a gift: A pair of red shoes!

In order to be a good teacher, you have to be a great student. While others may call what I am doing a career change, I candidly view this a pivotal, evolutionary moment in my life.

Before you make a drastic career change, I highly recommend that you read Find Your Inner Red Shoes and then call a family meeting with your closest, most loyal friends and family. You’d be surprised. Sometimes, they know you better than you know yourself.

Be prepared to show them that you mean business and that you have exercised sound judgment in developing your exit plan as well as your new business strategy.

So far, what’s the most unexpected thing that came from having decided to take the plunge and go ahead with your career change regardless of the challenges you face?

One of my all-time favorite words in the English language is serendipity. For me, this word evokes so much magic, mystery and delight. I firmly believe that people and situations arise in our lives for a season, a reason and/or a lifetime. The trick is to figure out under what heading each life event or person falls under.

Once you have mastered that, it’s an epiphany – another favorite word of mine that you will hear plenty of times on Merrick Park TV.

You can connect with Aymee Zubizarreta and Merrick Park via: 



Merrick Park TV





Unusual Career Paths Often Lead to Happiness- Jim Biolos’ amazing journey!

Oftentimes people with unusual career paths are the ones who have managed to follow their dreams along the way.

How many times have you found yourself wondering whether you should take the promotion you were being offered or leave your field entirely to find your real calling? They are difficult moments when we tend to question our judgment, when we try to balance our need for security with our wish to attain more satisfaction from our work.

Choosing unusual career paths doesn’t come easily or without a cost when you have a family counting on your stability. The choice can elicit stress, guilt, and feelings of insecurity.

But sometimes taking a risk is actually your best bet if it means a better alignment of your interests with your career.It usually leads to greater happiness and when you’re happy you tend to do better at work. Jim Biolos, COO/CFO of Farylrobin, an innovative company in the footwear industry, is one of these people. He has often chosen unusual career paths and found success every step of the way.

Of how unusual career paths come to be

You have one of the most unusual career paths I have seen lately. How does someone go from Senior Auditor at Arthur Andersen to leading the launch of the Harvard Business School Publishing’s newsletter division, to curating content for a magazine focused on Japanese art and end up working in the footwear industry?

Unusual career paths usually lead to taking on challenges and a fulfilling life. Jim Biolos has been working with footwear industry designer Faryl Robin for a long time.

Unusual career paths usually lead to taking on challenges and a fulfilling life. Jim Biolos has been working with footwear industry designer Faryl Robin for a long time.

Well, it certainly wasn’t by design! The simplest way of explaining it is that through people I’ve met in my life, I was introduced to other people who were doing work that I found interesting. I followed those interests and ended up in unusual places, meeting fascinating people, doing interesting work.

When you started off your career, did you imagine you’d travel down these unusual career paths you’ve chosen? How did you manage to move from one job to the next when they all seem to be unrelated?

Looking back, I still can’t imagine the path I’ve taken! I started my career in the most traditional way I can think of. Since then, I don’t think I ever took on a job that I had done before — it was always a new situation where I had a certain collection of skills and experiences that I could bring to that challenge. Over time, I’ve developed an eclectic mix of capabilities that seem to have become more valuable to more organizations. In that way, I’m sort of lucky that I chose to part with tradition.

Working with women

When you follow unusual career paths you get to experience wonderful things. Like hosting third graders in your office. Here's Faryl Robin, the footwear industry designer, doing just that.

When you follow unusual career paths you get to experience wonderful things. Like hosting third graders in your office. Here’s Faryl Robin, the footwear industry designer, doing just that.

You’ve worked in large and small organizations. What would you say are some of the best practices regarding women advancement that you’ve seen?

The best practice, by far, is when an organization makes a concerted effort to focus on the unique needs that women have, as they advance in the organization. It sounds obvious, but organizations — large and small — have a difficult time treating different employees differently. Leadership development for men is different than leadership development for women. Yet, there are all sorts of mechanisms that encourage organizations to do just the opposite and try to treat every person the same. It sounds equitable at some level, but, more often than not, it is alienating to at least one segment of the population. The very best organizations make a commitment to understanding the diverse needs of female employees and act flexibly to enable them to be their best at work, while they live a rich life outside of the office.

What is it like to work in the footwear industry, constantly surrounded by women?

An iconic Farylrobin silhouette, the Madison (2009)

An iconic Farylrobin silhouette, the Madison (2009)

I like women…;?) So, it’s a good thing, I guess, to be around them every day. It is particularly fun to see their reaction when a new case of samples comes into the office — I never understood the unique relationship women have with their footwear. It has also helped me understand the business…and the product…in a way that I never would have hanging out with the guys. It is always great to be in environments where you are around a diverse group of people — having a mix is more fun!

Farylrobin, a unique business model in the footwear industry

What does Farylrobin do?

Farylrobin gives women confidence. That’s what we do. And we do that by designing shoes that makes a woman feel great about herself when she puts them on. We work with retailers, on a custom basis, to design shoes that will appeal to their target customer. This is different than most shoe companies. We DON’T design a collection of shoes and then try to sell the same styles to as many retailers as possible. We think retailers today need to differentiate themselves from their competition and provide something truly tailored to the needs of their customer. So, we design shoes that their customers won’t see in every other store in town. We think that’s just good business — others look at us and say we’re radical!

You’ve been with Farylrobin for almost 15 years. What do you love about your work in the footwear industry?

Farylrobin shoes are all about empowering women, making them feel confident.

Farylrobin shoes are all about empowering women, making them feel confident.

I love creative businesses. There’s nothing like being around innovative, creative minds. And the mix of left and right brain thinking — channeling creative processes in a way that achieves positive business results — is a fun challenge. It is also great to walk down the street and see the results of our effort on women’s feet — that is feedback and insight that you don’t get in many businesses.

Is there good representation of women at the top in the footwear industry?

The funny thing about the footwear industry is that it has been male-dominated. You had men owning/running the companies, men designing women’s shoes, men selling those shoes to retailers, and men in retail stores helping women pick out the shoes they want. It sounds crazy, but the women’s shoe industry was all about men until about 10 years ago. Faryl was one of the leaders in bringing women into prominent roles in the industry. Today, there are some great people at the top of leading footwear companies, like Diane Sullivan at Brown Shoe Co. But the industry still has a ways to go before there is a “good representation.”

The footwear industry is lucky to have an organization like Two Ten Foundation which helps people who are going through a rough time. Share with us what they do and why are they so unique.

Another Farylrobin iconic silhouette, the Sense (2012-13) - Read all about unusual career paths and becoming successful

Another Farylrobin iconic silhouette, the Sense (2012-13)

Two Ten is an amazing thing. It started when the center of American shoe-making was Boston, MA (today, it is Dongguan, China!). At that time, the foundation helped out people working in the shoe industry who had fallen on hard times. 75 years later, Two Ten continues to provide resources to people in need — financial assistance, scholarship, counseling — while it also tries to build communities of leaders in the footwear industry. WIFI is a Two Ten initiative to increase the capacity of female leaders. No other industry I know of looks to take care of people working in that industry – Two Ten’s truly unique, in that way. And they have, literally, saved lives.

You can reach Jim Biolos at:,, and on Linkedin

Corporate social responsibility: Best Practices and Benefits

Corporate social responsibility is not just about community outreach or the environment. It involves everything your company does and more.

When you think of corporate social responsibility what comes to mind? Your company’s community outreach program? Your organization’s tree planting efforts to compensate for your carbon footprint? Well, corporate social responsibility and individual social responsibility is that and a lot more you probably never thought about. It includes sustainability at all levels and as such it involves gender issues, the environment, financial equality, access to education, and so on.

At a recent conversation with Ambassadors, fans, and partners of the Red Shoe Movement, journalist Verónica Alvarez Puente, CEO of V-PR, a Public Relations and Communications agency focused on social responsibility, shed light into this critical 21st Century issue. Verónica, who is originally from Argentina, recently moved to Miami. She’s had a long trajectory working in this space for corporations such as Nextel and hosting her own TV program where she featured corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Corporate Social Responsibility and how it differs from Social Responsibility

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, Verónica Alvarez Puente has a long trajectory coaching large and small businesses

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, Verónica Alvarez Puente has a long trajectory coaching large and small businesses

Let’s start from the beginning. There seems to be a bit of confusion when it comes to social responsibility. Can you tell us what it is?

Social responsibility is the voluntary assumption of responsibilities and the sharing of values that go beyond the purely economic and legal responsibilities of an individual or a business.

What’s the difference between social responsibility and corporate social responsibility? Are there things we should ask our organizations to do? What are they?

Social responsibility is about how people manage their lives to produce an overall positive impact on society. Corporate social responsibility is about how companies manage their business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society.

Delving into Corporate Social Responsibility

Can you give us specific examples of companies that have great corporate social responsibility programs in place? How are they benefiting them? What’s the bottom line?

Having goals and a vision that go beyond profits is crucial to business success. Social responsibility involves putting together a real plan to serve the best interests of society.  To be fair, rather than naming specific companies that are following this path, I would prefer to name the attributes organizations must have to be socially responsible. Then I can talk about the benefits associated to such behavior.

I’d like to highlight the work of companies that are creating behavior-changing products and services, that are using renewable energy, that keep an open dialogue with their stakeholders to find out how to improve their business. Organizations that care about their products’ safety and quality, that conduct responsible sales and promotion, that keep their audiences informed so they can make adequate decisions. Companies that foster workplace diversity and equality of opportunities, that protect local employment, and encourage behavioral change initiatives. Companies that address social responsibility inside and outside their organizations because social responsibility is directly related to the business core. It involves behavior, performing better every day and showing true commitment. The truth is that corporate social responsibility requires leadership. It is not about establishing a couple of programs executed towards a specific audience, or about funding a worthwhile social cause.  It is much more than that. It requires education, guidance and expertise to be effective.

Its benefits are numerous: value creation, attraction and retention of staff, attraction of investments, costs reduction, differentiation from competitors, increased profitability, and reputation, among others. There is an emerging phenomenon called “social license”, through which communities can support or disrupt operations that they disapprove of. The importance and prevalence of social media became the bottom line for companies to quickly address behavioral change initiatives. But a quick fix is like a photo that captures a moment. And a photo is not enough. Corporate social responsibility is about the entire film, the trajectory, the long term commitment.


Bring the RSM in house! A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent. Connect with the Movement!

A sustainable, measurable way to attract, engage and promote your talent.

And what are a few simple things corporations can start implementing tomorrow that have involve cost savings? Things that don’t involve assigning a budget but rather cutting expenses.

A simple corporate social responsibility action is to turn off the lights and electronic equipment when there's nobody in the office.

A simple corporate social responsibility action is to turn off the lights and electronic equipment when there’s nobody in the office.

  1. Conduct more videoconferences and reduce transportation expenses.
  2. Require digital distribution of newsletters, programs for conferences, reports to reduce printing and paper costs.
  3. Activate an internal communications campaign requiring employees to turn off their computers at the end of the day.
  4. Invite employees to bring their own mugs and refill their cups rather than using paper cups to reduce cost of paper goods.
  5. Set up your thermostat to shut down during off business hours.
  6. Label recycling bins clearly for accurate use.

 What are five simple things our readers can start doing tomorrow to jump on the social responsibility bandwagon?

  1. Buy the food you will really eat! We tend to buy more food than we can actually use!
  2. Use dishwashers or laundry machines with full load. You will save energy!
  3. Turn off lights as you exit a room regardless of how soon you’ll be back.
  4. Recycle. Separate papers, metals, plastics, glass and organic waste!
  5. Reduce the use of plastic or paper bags. Buy a few eco-friendly bags that you can reuse and bring with you every time you go shopping.
Implementing wise corporate social responsibility practices in the office doesn't have to be complicated. A simple recycling center can be your first step!

Implementing wise corporate social responsibility practices in the office doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple recycling center can be your first step!

What are some of your own social responsibility practices?

First of all I would like to say that I strive every day to be socially responsible and to encourage others to change habits and attitudes. Some examples regarding my daily habits would be:

I replace plastic for glass whenever I can. I use glass bottles that can be refilled instead of buying plastic water bottles, for example.

I save energy in many ways. For example: I avoid overfilling the electric kettle when I only need a cup of tea or coffee; I only do laundry when I have a full load;  I turn off the lights as I leave a room and I turn off all electronics at night.

I have replaced traditional light bulbs at home for low consumption ones.

I try to use the car less so I walk everywhere I can. I save gas, carbon emissions and it is excellent exercise!

I have replaced my toilets for dual flush/low flow ones, which use much less water. Here’s an easy tip:  put a brick inside your toilet tank and you will use a quarter less of water with every flush.

I buy less. I have learned to live differently doing more with less, and when I buy, I try to buy local products. I love visiting farmers’ markets!


You can connect with Verónica Alvarez Puente at: