Posts

8 Ideas to Make the Most Out of Working from Home

It’s not for everyone. I’ve met people who look at me in complete shock and horror when I tell them that I spend most of my time working from home. To some, the prospect of losing things like the social interaction and usual distractions of a day spent at the office, is simply unthinkable.

I really can’t blame them. It’s easy to lose track of time and blur lines when your workspace is also your home. Easy to either spend too much time working or to fall into procrastination with the excuse of some chore that just needs to get done. Still, it’s achievable. And all that time that’s not wasted in traffic, commuting back and forth can leave you with some unexpected – and much appreciated – free time.

I’ve been working from home for a few years, which has given me enough time to do it all wrong and learn a little bit from my mistakes. I’m not going to say I never surrender to the appeal of my favorite couch, but I know how to prioritize and how to be productive and respect my workspace and schedule.

Working from home. Photo Credit Ella Jardim. Unsplash

Create your own space within your home. It helps keep boundaries.Photo Credit Ella Jardim. Unsplash

The Subtle Art of Working from Home

1Designate a work space. Stay out of your bedroom unless it’s absolutely necessary, that way that area can be a getaway from the workspace. If you have the room to create your own office, do it. If not, find a corner of the house and make it your own. A designated work area will also make it easier for others to respect that this is where you keep your work stuff. A concept that can seem a little bewildering to office goers.

2Have a morning routine.

Have breakfast, take care of personal calls or emails, shower and change before starting the workday. You obviously don’t have to dress up, but it helps to make the beginning of the day real. If I don’t change into street clothes, I will very rarely manage anything productive once I’m done with the more pressing work. This is how you end up with last-minute assignments that can take over your entire weekend.

3Schedule your work ahead of time. I’m easily distracted, so anything that brings a little order to my day is appreciated. Look at what needs to be done through the day and set goals before you decide when to take breaks and when to stop working for the day. It helps to have a fixed work schedule if the nature of your job allows it. It may be impossible to avoid projects that demand more and may sometimes entail working late or on weekends but administering deadlines can let you plan ahead. In order to do this, you need to set clear expectations with your boss, your clients and yourself.

4Prepare your lunch ahead, just as if you were planning to leave the house. There are two reasons this is a good idea. First of all, it makes you keep up the illusion that “you’re not home”, which can be key in concentrating. Second, it can save you time, money and keep you away from unhealthy meals and snacks. You can assign time to get out of the house and get something to eat now and then, but your pocket will probably appreciate occasionally staying in. To avoid overdoing it with the snacks, (it’s easy to fall into this trap when you’re so close to your very own fridge and pantry) prepare some for the day as well. Also? Research shows that when we choose all our meals for the week at the same time, we tend to have a healthier and more varied diet.

5Avoid family and friends during work hours. My mother has a really hard time understanding that working from home doesn’t mean I’m just hanging out at my place, a misunderstanding she shares with friends who have free time during working hours. Likewise, some friends have mentioned how important it is for their kids to understand that mommy’s working, even if she is home.  Avoiding them will not only make you more productive, it’ll help them understand that your work hours must be respected. Just as they would be respected if you were at the office. Having your own office space also helps set boundaries and avoid interruptions from your children, partner and other house guests.

6Get out of the house. Make sure that you make time to do other things, like taking a walk, going to the gym or having lunch with work colleagues. It helps you clear your mind and it’s important when so much time is being spent in your house. Remember, vitamin D is important so make time to step out into the sun. A certain flexibility comes with working from home and that can usually mean you can take that class or wander off for a couple of hours to do something that will make you happy.

7Take advantage of projects that allow you to collaborate with others. While there are many upsides to working from home, creating your own schedule and being in charge of your own time, it can be pretty isolating too. Being part of a team and the interaction that comes from it is good for our mental health and can motivate us to work harder, providing a fresh perspective that’s not always available when doing home office. Look for projects that will allow you to collaborate with other people and make time to meet up for lunch, coffee or drinks every now and then. You don’t always need to be confined to your workspace. If you collaborate with larger companies, it may be a good idea to stop by the office to say hello now and then.

8Stay in touch. Make sure you’re talking to the people you work with, especially when you’re a part of an international team with multiple time zones. Differing time zones can make it harder to keep up with everyone, especially if you’re trying to stick to your work hours. Try to schedule conference calls and video chats at times where all, or at least most of the team can join. If it’s not up to you, be open to them and try to engage and make your presence felt. It’ll help you and others to feel like a part of the team, even if you and others are working remotely.

Working from home has its advantages. You decide when to take a break. Photo credit: Free Stocks. Unsplash

Working from home has its advantages. You decide when to take a break. Photo credit: Free Stocks. Unsplash

The Benefits of Working from Home

While some people feel that working from home would affect productivity negatively, a robust two-year study held by Nicholas Bloom, from Stanford University, proved that people in a work-from-home situation actually worked full-shifts and found it easier to concentrate while working from home.

The main problem for most people is how isolating it can be. Like I said, it’s not for everyone. Some people need the very specific aspects of a more conventional work environment to be productive. However, more and more companies are finding that the rise in efficiency of their home office teams and the money that can be saved by reducing office space might be worth looking into.

If done right, home office can make you the master of your own time. It takes some effort to perfect it, but you can learn not to procrastinate, to choose the right collaborations and the best people to collaborate with. It’s all about avoiding distractions, managing your time, sticking to your priorities and building a good relationship with the people you work with.  In any case, it’s looking more and more like it could be the standard for the future, so this is a good time to start exploring the benefits!

 

Working from home. Photo Credit Emma Matthews. Unsplash

Prioritizing and sticking to your plan is an important part of being productive. Photo Credit Emma Matthews. Unsplash

Elderly parents: The one thing that works for me

As women, one of the roles most of us face at some point in our lives is caring for our elderly parents. And even if you’re not involved in the daily routine of care giving, as your parents age everyone must adapt to a new situation and embrace change.  Here’s what is working for me.

Let me first qualify my advice: This is my perspective as a daughter. And as such, I’m making everything up as I go. Just like children don’t come with an instruction’s manual neither do parents. And granted, my situation is particular, given that my parents live in Buenos Aires (where my brother and sister live as well) and I live in New York.  But many of you may be able to relate to the story even if your parents didn’t move to Florida to retire or they don’t live far away from you.

For the last thirty years my parents and I have had a consistent pattern: Once a year they come to visit me and once a year I go see them.

You got this sign

You got this sign- Photo Credit: Sidney Rae- Unsplash

In recent years, my mom’s been suffering from severe back pain. Her spine has practically collapsed and she has little cushion left between several of her vertebrae, which has limited her mobility. As walking became increasingly painful, I suggested that she get a wheelchair. Call it prejudice, push back to keep her independence, or hard-headedness, she wouldn’t budge. Of all the changes life requires as we age, this was one she wasn’t ready to make yet.

She still drives, goes food shopping and runs errands daily, and as she’s very sociable, she remains involved in many activities. The problem has been that what she can and can’t do depends on how close to where she’s going she can park her car. As you can imagine, that’s not always possible, so her activities have become more limited.

A few days ago my parents arrived in New York for their annual trip. On the second day I took my mom to an orthopedic pharmacy to rent a portable wheelchair. And as we tried the various kinds and I lifted them to select the lightest one so it would be easy to maneuver in and out of a car we found the perfect one. It was small, light, and comfortable. I said, casually:

“I think you should buy it.”

“But what would I do with it when I leave?” She asked.

“Either you leave it at my house for next year or you take it to Argentina with you,” I replied matter of factly.

And at that moment, without hesitation my mom replied:

“Let’s buy it, and I’ll bring it with me to Argentina.”

End of story. A decision that had seemed so difficult a few years ago, had suddenly become possible given the right circumstances. She was on vacation, relaxed, her mind was more open and her pain had become increasingly unbearable.

True. It was the end of one story and the beginning of a new chapter. Here’s what happened next.

Elderly parents wheelchair bound

Elderly parents wheelchair bound- Photo Credit: Steven Hwg- Unsplash

Helping your elderly parents’s adjust to changes naturally

Right after we purchased the chair, I took my mom to a strip mall nearby, where we proceeded to make several stops. I got the wheelchair out of the trunk, sat my mom down and ran around the strip mall, speeding, laughing, engaging in conversations with people who told her how pretty she was, and who tried to speak Spanish to her as they heard the two of us chatting animatedly. We went in and out of a shoe store, the supermarket, the pharmacy and a restaurant.

I get it: If someone in your family uses a wheelchair, this will all sound trivial to you. Or you may have an entirely different experience than we did. As I said, this is a personal story and it was the first time both for me seeing and pushing my mother in a wheelchair and her first time (other than at airports) out and about in one.

The next day, I enrolled one of her closest friends, who happened to be also visiting New York. She played a critical role in helping my mom feel that having the wheelchair was the best thing that could’ve happened to her. As her friend easily wheeled my mom around, took her to the pool and then to lunch, it proved that the wheelchair gave her a wider access to activities she had given up on.  They immediately started making plans to go out shopping, to art galleries and to the movies together when they both returned from their trips.

My parents and I in the Meatpacking district

My parents and I in the Meatpacking district

Two days later we engaged my dad who, for reasons of his own, had probably also been a bit reluctant to give into the idea of his wife being wheelchair-bound. We drove into Manhattan, parked the car and visited the beautiful Hudson Yards. We shopped and had lunch, took pictures, drove to the Meatpacking district and then we took a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. By the end of the day, we had clearly incorporated this new tool that would make my mom’s life easier from now on.

Of course it will be different when she goes back home. For one, the sidewalks in Buenos Aires leave a lot to be desired, but also, because it won’t be all fun and games like it is when she’s here on vacations. There’ll be doctor’s appointments and banking and all the daily things to which she’ll have to adapt with her new chair. But having taken the first step while in a relaxed environment helps.

Staying cool under pressure always helps in times of change.
Wheelchair sign

Wheelchair sign- Photo Credit: Matt Arts. Unsplash

I’m sure part of the fun was that according to my mother, I “drove” the wheelchair like I drive my Mini Cooper: Fast. But here’s my big reveal:By de-dramatizing, de-stigmatizing the fact that she now needs a wheelchair, we made it possible for her to admit it. To take the step and sit on the driver’s seat of her new situation. She could still be her social self, engage with friends and strangers alike, and be an active participant of the world around her. She could see her new circumstances in a brighter light. And most importantly, we were all part of the process rather than have her go through this change alone.

I’m sure some of her fears had to do with becoming less independent as she’d need others to take her places. (She doesn’t have the strength to put a wheelchair in and out of the car herself so she’d always need someone with her.) But by helping her experience this new stage of life in a natural, no-drama way, she was also able to see that having someone who pushes her wherever she wants to go, is not that bad. It may offer a new kind of wind beneath her wings that enables her to continue to live her best life with the necessary adjustments along the way.

Mutual Mentorship: The RSM Inter- Company Circles

Who would’ve told Nathalie Stevens that mutual mentorship would be responsible for placing her among the eight finalists of a prestigious award? Yet, that’s how it went. When attending the Red Shoe Movement Inter-Company Circle in Buenos Aires, Nathalie put in motion a process that placed her as one of the front-runners for $16,000 prize from one of the best-ranked TV stations in Argentina.

When it was announced that Nathalie Stevens had been selected for the Abanderados (Flag-bearers) award (an annual prize that recognizes Argentines who stand out for their dedication to others,) she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She couldn’t believe she had the opportunity to amplify the work of her non-profit, La Fundación de los Colores (The Colors Foundation.) Her itinerant make-up school that prepares women who live in vulnerable neighborhoods to become professional make-up artists.

Nathalie Stevens founder of La Fundacion de los Colores

Nathalie Stevens founder of La Fundacion de los Colores

Feedback from a beneficiary of the mutual mentorship methodology

“The support that the Red Shoe Movement gave us is incredible! They opened many doors to us. The group is so generous! You really practice the 7 Principles daily!” Wrote Nathalie in a note to me after she heard she was a finalist.

Although not unique, Nathalie’s is a perfect case study to use as an example of how our mutual mentorship methodology works. This is the methodology at the heart of all our programs. In this case, at the center of the Inter-Company Circles, a space where professionals of different companies meet to support each other’s careers.

In Buenos Aires, where Nathalie story took place, the sponsor of the Inter-Company Circle is Novartis Argentina S.A., a global health company based in Switzerland. Their female talent from Canada to Argentina has been part of the RSM leadership development program for a couple of years.

RSM Inter Company Circle in Buenos Aires at Novartis

RSM Inter Company Circle in Buenos Aires at Novartis Argentina S.A.

Every month, a group of 15-20 business executives from various organizations along with members of the RSM team meet for about three hours at Novartis’ offices. They share their personal career challenges and exchange questions and advice with their colleagues. Facilitated by Gladys Benaim, Director of Business Development of Argentina, each Circle is unique since the agenda is set by the participants.

It was at one of these meetings that Nathalie started down the path towards the Abanderados award. It happened when she brought along Verónica Barbera, one of the Training Coordinators of La Fundación de los Colores. Her moving story shook the group up. She had been a housecleaner for many years but after taking La Fundación’s makeup course she managed to change her life and become one of the program trainers.

It was at that Circle that she met the successful Karina Mazzocco, TV conductor of Pura Vida, a popular show on Public Television. Moved by Veronica’s story of overcoming adversity, Karina invited her to be on her show. This, however, was not the only result of that mutual mentorship encounter. Inspired by Verónica’s story, María José Gómez Silva, the Novartis executive who champions Diversity and Inclusion in the LACan region, nominated La Fundación for the Abanderados award. And so it was that through this process of mutual mentorship, where everyone gives and receives advice on their personal careers, Nathalie Stevens and her organization became finalists for the award.

Veronica Barbera trainer of La Fundacion de los Colores

Veronica Barbera, trainer of La Fundacion de los Colores

Goal of the Mutual Mentorship Inter-Company Circles

There are few places where women who are already leaders or are looking for leadership positions can exercise mutual mentoring with peers with whom they don’t work. Colleagues from other fields, and with other specialties that can contribute to their growth through honest conversations, while expanding both of their networks. The goal of our Circles is to provide a safe meeting space. Facilitated by a member of the RSM team trained in our particular methodology, they have proven to be a resource that enhances everyone’s careers.

A similar model to the Mutual Mentoring Circles that you may experience at our RSM Signature Event (Featured here) you can experience in our Inter Company Circles

A similar model to the Mutual Mentoring Circles that you may experience at our RSM Signature Event (Featured here) you can experience in our Inter Company Circles. This Circle was facilitated by Ali Curi, at our 2017 event.

Benefits for participants

1A moment of personal reflection. This monthly meeting place in which attendees agree to maintain confidentiality, is a moment of reflection on their own desires, goals and challenges that participants face in their professional career.

2Recognition of one’s own wisdom and knowledge. The methodology encourages everyone to ask specific questions to get help from the group. Making it clear that only each individual knows the right question to ask to help them move toward their own goals. It also asks for everyone to be willing to propose solutions and share experiences when it is their turn to help others. In this rich exchange, each participant identifies in themselves areas of knowledge and wisdom that they probably weren’t aware of. In turn, they find new answers that broaden their perspective.

3Increased self-confidence. As a result of practicing mutual mentorship, the participants of the Inter-Company Circle increase their self-confidence and the inclination to take on new challenges.

4Development and strengthening of everyone’s network. Regular participation allows for the development of strong networks among people who know each other’s background well, and therefore have a greater commitment and incentive to help one another.

RSM Mutual Mentorship in action

RSM Mutual Mentorship in action. This Circle was facilitated by Lucía Ballas-Traynor at our 2017 event.

Benefits for the companies in which the participants work

The participants of the RSM Inter-Company Circle are mostly women and men who work in large organizations. Given that our mission is to accelerate the representation of women in decision-making positions, we focus on this target. What is the benefit for the companies in which the participants work?

1Greater employee engagement. When individuals feel heard and find the resources to overcome challenges, job satisfaction increases.

2Generation of ideas. By sharing the specific challenges of their current positions as well as their long-term career goals, the participants exchange a host of inspiring ideas.

3Exposure to an effective model of diversity and inclusion. For the Inter-Company Circle to work optimally, a diversity of participants is required. Women and men in diverse functions, in companies that operate in a wide range of fields and cultures, have diverse educational backgrounds, social class, political, and religious inclination. Experiencing inclusiveness helps participants replicate this best practice in their workplaces.

4Amplification of the network. Strategic networks are the electrical wiring that facilitates our communications and interactions. The more solid and extensive, the better the results. This group is an excellent way to expand and strengthen the network within other leading companies. All of which encourages innovation.

5Ongoing leadership training. The fact that leaders of an organization meet consistently every month to talk about their own careers works as ongoing professional and leadership development.

6Personal agency. Participation is voluntary, which fosters the self-determination and self-leadership necessary to attend consistently.

7Inspiration. As a result of honest conversations and shared solutions, participants report being inspired by the mutual mentorship they experience at our Circles.

Mutual Mentoring in action. Circle facilitated by Cosette Gutierrez at our RSM Signature Event 2017

Mutual Mentoring in action. Circle facilitated by Cosette Gutierrez at our RSM Signature Event 2017

Benefits for the sponsor of the Inter-Company Circle

1Establish itself as a leader in Diversity and Inclusion in the market. Being the host company of the Inter-Company Circle where colleagues from diverse fields meet monthly to exercise mutual mentorship, is an excellent way to project leadership in the D & I space.

2Talent magnet. When the word spreads that the sponsor organization opens its doors to women and men of the most diverse fields with the purpose of enhancing their own careers, the organization becomes a talent magnet for both those who attend the Circle in their facilities and for those who learn about the initiative word of mouth.

3Strengthens Corporate Social Responsibility. Given the diversity of individuals who come to be part of the Circle, the sponsor has opportunities to leverage their CSR initiatives with Circle participants. A clear example is what happened with La Fundación de los Colores.

Nathalie Stevens and Karina Mazzocco met through the Red Shoe Movement Inter Company Circles where we practice mutual mentorship

Nathalie Stevens and Karina Mazzocco met through the Red Shoe Movement Inter Company Circles where we practice mutual mentorship. Karina announced the winners of the Abanderados competition in a public ceremony that was televised. Here, she hugs Nathalie when she gives her the award.

In the end, Nathalie Stevens didn’t win the $16,000 award. But the relationships she built, the exposure she gained and the amazing opportunities that opened up for her organization as a result of mutual mentorship and support are much more valuable. This is only the first step in a brilliant future for La Fundación.

If you’d like to find out about hosting our Inter Company Circles at your organization, let’s talk!

 

Be a Magnet for Career Opportunities. Learn from Beth Marmolejos!

Wonder no more how to attract the best career opportunities. Beth Marmolejos is an example of how when you build a reputation of integrity and commitment, the opportunities find you.

Beth Marmolejos at the Red Shoe Movement Signature Event striking a pose with RSM Principle 2

Beth Marmolejos at the Red Shoe Movement Signature Event striking a pose with RSM Principle 2

Beth Marmolejos is an Executive Advisor in the IT Account Management area at Anthem (the largest for-profit managed care company within the Blue Cross Blue Shield association,) and she serves as the Chief of Staff for the Women’s Inspire Network Associate Resource group. But that’s just her day job. She’s also the President of the New York Chapter of Prospanica (formerly NSHBMA,) and the Vice Chair of the Passaic County Workforce Investment Board, among several other volunteer positions she holds. Beth has received many awards from local, state, federal, corporate and non-profit organizations for her leadership and community work. She has crafted a professional life that fits her style, her passions and her goals. It is through these multiple commitments that Beth Marmolejos creates career opportunities for herself and for those in her network.

As president of the NY Chapter of Prospanica (Formerly NSHMBA) Beth Marmolejos creates career opportunities for others.

As president of the NY Chapter of Prospanica (Formerly NSHMBA) Beth Marmolejos creates career opportunities for others.

RSM— You’ve had quite a career trajectory. Tell us about some of the highlights and how you tapped into the various career opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

Beth Marmolejos (BM)— I started my journey in the business world without a degree at an entry level in the Accounting Department at Express Scripts (formerly known as Medco Health Solutions.) While there, I was able to get my under graduate and graduate degrees, 80% of which were paid for by my employer —as long I got a B or better in my classes.

It took me over 10 years to obtain my education. I was able to move within the Finance area to different roles that helped me prepare for the role of “Controller/Director” of Finance for a subsidiary that my company bought. A subsidiary worth two billion dollars. That propelled me to a leadership position and it opened a world of career opportunities for me.

In 2013 I took a leap of faith and left to work in New York City for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield under the leadership of the amazing Brian Griffin, who was a colleague of mine at Medco. The highlight of this move was that I got promoted within six months because I led a project that saved the company $1M.

Then, one of the senior leaders at Empire BCBS in NYC recommended me for an Executive Advisor role in IT as the Chief Information officer for the State of New York and Wisconsin at the Enterprise level for our Parent company Anthem.

Take note of the secret to attract great career challenges to yourself.

Take note of the secret to attract great career challenges to yourself.

How to find the most attractive career opportunities

RSM— You wear several hats. From being the CIO for NY and Wisconsin at Anthem to being the President of Prospanica NY Chapter and serving in different capacities on other non-profit boards. With all that’s already on your plate, how do you constantly find career opportunities to help you continue to grow?

BM— I don’t find career opportunities…they find me through senior leaders/mentors/sponsors who know my work, my commitment to their success and integrity.

RSM— What are some of the strategies that help you stay focused with each one of your multiple responsibilities?

BM— I have three main strategies:

  • Remain calm and focus on what you are trying to achieve
  • Surround yourself with positive people that help you stay on course
  • Don’t get distracted with things that steal your peace, keep your eyes on the price

RSM— Do you find that creating career opportunities for others is a natural way of opening doors for yourself?

BM— Absolutely! When you lift others up and help them by opening doors it creates an advantage for you. What goes around, comes around!

Make sure that you spread tons of positive energy around as you build your own career.

Make sure that you spread tons of positive energy around as you build your own career.

Learning how to network strategically is another way to open up career opportunities.

RSM— What are three top pieces of advice you’d give people looking for greater career opportunities within their organizations?

BM— Here you go:

  • Treat people with respect, be kind and a team player. That builds your good reputation which you can leverage to obtain better career opportunities within your organization
  • Be a can-do type of person – that is key to getting opportunities for senior roles
  • Be happy, positive and knowledgeable – that is a magnet that attracts people who want to work with you

RSM— Any different advice for those looking for career opportunities in a different company or who are currently out of a job?

BM— Yes, get involved in organizations such as Prospanica, of which I am the NY Chapter President, and you will have access to tons of career opportunities.

RSM— What’s the next big project you’re working on right now? 

BM— I’m focused on a couple of upcoming events we are organizing with Prospanica. Celebration of Achievements – where we will give out scholarships on 11/27/17 at Oppenheimer Funds.

And in honor of the International Day of People with Disabilities we have an event with the UN Nations at S&P Global on 12/14/17

At a personal level, my next big project is to obtain my Agile SAFe Training certification.

You can connect with Beth Marmolejos on Twitter and Linkedin

 

In Historically Male Occupation, Ilya Marotta Leads Panama Canal Expansion

Her pink safety helmet and vest have become iconic in a a historically male occupation. Ilya Espino de Marotta is the Panamanian engineer who led the execution of the Panama Canal Expansion Program. Get inspired!

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

The new Panama Canal was inaugurated June 2016. An engineering feat that enables cargo ships with a capacity of more than double the current one, to pass between the Atlantic and the Pacific, which substantially reduces transportation costs of goods. Today we spoke with the leader of the project. An interview that will change your perspective on what you can or cannot achieve even when you enter a historically male occupation or field. This is why Ilya Marotta is in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

The first Step towards a traditionally male career

RSM Hall of Fame 2017 honoree: Ilya Marotta, Executive Vice President, Panama Canal Authority

RSM Hall of Fame 2017 honoree: Ilya Marotta, Executive Vice President, Panama Canal Authority

What awoke in you an interest for engineering? How did you start your career?

I had won a Fulbright scholarship to study marine biology in the U.S. The ocean is a passion of mine. I loved to scuba dive and I loved Jacques Cousteau. A year and a half after returning to Panama, when I saw the work opportunities in Marine Biology weren’t the best, I decided to change careers. I gave up the scholarship because it was for that specialty at a specific university. So, I started to look for schools in the U.S. that had careers that would have something to do with the ocean and ships.. I was always very good at math and physics and I chose Marine Engineering because I was going to work with ships. My father told me he would only pay for four years of college and I wouldn’t have the three summers required for the sail practice. I chose a school that wouldn’t require me to sail in order to get my degree. So that’s how I applied and got accepted to Texas A&M University, which would give me the Marine Biology degree without the sailing requirement. So, I ended up studying Marine Engineering not because it was my passion but because it was close to the ocean. Once I graduated and came to Panama and started to work on the Repairing Dock of the Floating Equipment of the Panama Canal, however I fell in love with my career. It was very gratifying to design something in the office, go to the workshops where they built it, and then seeing the ship in operation with design I had made.

We could say then that you came into this career path from the sideways and you found the pleasure in it along the way.

Of course! 30 years ago we had a different mindset. Today we value choosing something that you are passionate about and that you enjoy doing. But at that time it was more like: “You have to get a job”. It was a more traditional system. So I started with what inspired me (Marine Biology), and I changed to a more practical career (Marine Engineering.)

And did you have the support of your parents, especially your father, to pursue what at that time (even more than today) was seen as a historically male occupation?

Yes, 100%. Both parents supported my choice at all times.

In a historically male occupation, Ilya Marotta inspires women in the workplace

In a historically male occupation, Ilya Marotta inspires women in the workplace

The role of sponsors in a historically male occupation

As you progressed in your career, what do you think was the role played by sponsors? Do you think they are an important factor to reach the highest levels in a male dominated profession?

It’s what paves the way, especially in a profession where there are no women. If I had not had the support of my various bosses at different stages, I would not have been able to get to where I am. The way I won the support of these sponsors is with dedication, work, ethics and transparency. Once your boss sees your professional skills, it opens opportunities.

All the people who have given me opportunities for promotion have been men. So sponsors are definitely needed, but their support is earned by the work one does.

Leading the Panama Canal Expansion, Ilya Marotta broke gender barriers in historically male occupation

Leading the Panama Canal Expansion, Ilya Marotta broke gender barriers in historically male occupation

Overcoming obstacles

What were the most important obstacles you had to overcome in your career?

I remember that when I was in the repair dam, a professional diver position for the Canal opened. I was a professional diver. I had done outside diving jobs, and I applied for the job but they did not fill it. Officially they told me that they were not going to fill the post at that time, but I knew they did not want to pick me because I was a woman. But you overcome those obstacles and learn from them. It has happened to me in other positions where I wasn’t chosen because of company politics. You have to make yourself known, because otherwise you do not move. In order to get to my current position I had to have the support of my direct boss, and my boss’ boss, because it was a position ratified by the board. One of the administrators at the time was very candid and told me that these positions are not reached by merit and professional ability. You also have to do a little lobbying. I was fortunate that my boss did the lobbying for me.

Ilya Marotta inspires you to take on challenges to prove yourself

Ilya Marotta inspires you to take on challenges to prove yourself

Advantages of women in a traditionally male profession

The expansion of the Panama Canal must have been one of the biggest challenges an engineer can face. In a male-dominated profession what do you think was your advantage as a woman to carry it out successfully?

You have to have a lot of emotional intelligence. You can’t take things personally. It is a big project, and you have to deal with many people, many contractors, and in this type of projects problems always come up. Things are not easy and simple. So when something happens, you have to look at it from both points of view: Your own and the contractor’s. I think I had the ability not to take things personally. To think that they are just situations and everyone is defending their own interests. Throughout this process of many years that we have been at work on this project, I had the ability to negotiate and be conciliatory.

In a male dominated occupation, Ilya Espino de Marotta has shattered the glass ceiling

In a male dominated occupation, Ilya Espino de Marotta has shattered the glass ceiling

What do you think is the impact of resilience, a trait that is abundant in Latin American people and particularly in women?

It is extremely important because you cannot let failures or errors discourage you. You have to always go forward, have the ability to overcome obstacles. What I always tell people is that they shouldn’t do something to prove anything to anyone. Do it because it is what you want and because you want to prove yourself that you can do it. I did not choose this career to show anyone that women can do it. I chose this career because it was something that caught my attention and I wanted to climb its ranks because I like it.

I have seen some photos in which you wear a pink helmet and vest, which highlights what is evident: that you are woman in a male occupation. What has been the effect?

It has been fantastic! Although in the beginning I did it to prove to myself that I could reach this position. In Panama women in traditionally male professions have proliferated but reaching a high rank in a male dominated career is very hard. So when I was in NY, at one of my son’s medical checkups, I told my husband, “I feel like I should buy myself a pink helmet to show that a woman can get to this position.” I saw it in a catalog and I ordered it. Now it has become an icon and fills me with pride for what that helmet represents for many other women. I get messages from women who tell me that they have sent the photo to their 9-year-old daughters saying, “Look at how women can reach leadership positions.” It was not planned, but the result has been nice. It sets you high standards, because now people expect more from me. I have to show that it’s doable, no longer just for me, but for those who see me as hope for themselves, as an example.

Ilya Marotta supports #RedShoeTuesday

Ilya Marotta supports #RedShoeTuesday

Advice for young people and women interested in entering a historically male occupation

What advice would you give to a young woman today who is deciding on her choice of career or study?

Definitely do something that you are passionate about. I had the blessing that although Marine Engineering was not my first love, over time I found in my profession something that fulfills me and I am passionate about. When you do something that you like, it brings out the best in you. Also, do not be afraid of challenges or changes. Whenever you get a chance, never think that you cannot do it. When I applied to different positions, maybe I did not know everything that they asked for, but I knew I could learn it. Finally, be a transparent person, treat everyone equally, be the same person in all environments where you work.

Any particular advice for those women who are thinking of entering historically male dominated fields?

Don’t take offense at everything in a world of men because they have their way of managing themselves and of being with each other. You cannot expect them to change for you. You have to adapt, as long as they respect you. For example, if they joke in a certain way, don’t get scandalized, unless of course, it’s something that refers to you. I learned how to deal with that, and so I earned men’s respect. It’s not about becoming a man either. I’m happy with them giving me their seat or opening the door for me. It’s about making it so you can coexist like men and women together pleasantly. And trying to be conciliatory, rather than antagonistic, that has also helped me a lot in my professional career.

Connect with Ilya Marotta via Twitter @MarottaIlya