FIU ALPFA panel brings female leaders to share advice on making your mark in the workforce.

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In honor of Women’s History Month, the FIU chapter of ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America) hosted a panel of female leaders from various industries to discuss issues including work life balance, applying for jobs, leadership and the value of networking and mentorship.

FIU alumna Ileana Musa (MBA ’93), managing director of international wealth management at Morgan Stanley, led the conversation as keynote speaker.

The panel, held March 17 at FIU Business, gave undergraduates the opportunity to ask questions about gender in the workforce, and entering and advancing in what some consider to be male dominated fields.

“Being in engineering and starting more than 30 years ago, the panorama was very different than it is today,” said Angela Cruz, sales and growth strategist with Accenture. “How I’ve made my voice heard is by always being prepared. When I enter a meeting, I have the relevant information ready.”

Preparation isn’t just vital once you have the job, it begins during the interview phase.

“Prepare and overprepare,” echoed Musa, referring to those who had applied to multiple jobs but still hadn’t secured an interview. “You must be ready to answer the following three questions: ‘why you?’, ‘why this company?’, and ‘how have you failed and what did you do about it?’”

Christina Gravel, senior consultant at Ernst & Young, shared her technique to help newly hired employees solidify their place on the team.

“I recommend you specialize in something and get known for that,” said Gravel. “Become a go-to person in a certain field, be it blockchain or growth strategies.”

The panelists also discussed how to stand out as a leader, even before they get a chance to manage a team or project.

“Take the opportunity to lead an organization you belong to,” said Ana Christina Blandon, assistant vice president of international wealth management at Morgan Stanley. “That will give you exposure and experience to lead in something. You may not have people under you to manage, but you had the opportunity to lead.”

Balancing life and career goals has always been a challenge, especially for those raising children as they are trying to advance their careers. Cruz shared it was a struggle for her because she made a conscious decision to prioritize her family as she watched her peers advance. Eventually she was able to rise through the ranks.

But recent changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted the paradigm and now the workforce has entered what seems like the heyday of remote and flexible work schedules.

“What the industry did because of the pandemic was invaluable,” said Maria Rivero (MAcc ’12) a senior manager at Marcum LLP.  “They realized the work is getting done. And there is more time to learn, but you have to make the most of that time.”

Rivero recommends students invest time in building their networks or focus on developing skills. Using that time wisely can have major benefits.

The leaders emphasized the need for women and others in general to speak up, take risks and not view their “otherness” as a burden but as a benefit, whether as a woman, or Latino. With strong networks and ample preparation, the opportunities for women at the top are well within reach.