Nearly 300 attendees gathered at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas on June 23 to recognize successful Hispanic women at the third annual Hispanic Business® magazine Woman of the Year Awards. The top honor went to Brigida "Bridget" Benitez, a partner at Washington, D.C. law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, who took a pair of cases on affirmative action to the Supreme Court. The court's decision preserved educational benefits for thousands of minority students in higher education.
The four finalists for the award also attended the gala: Carmen Suro-Bredie, assistant U.S. trade representative for policy coordination; Deborah Gallegos, New York City's chief investment officer; Sonia Maria Green, director of diversity marketing and sales at General Motors; and Janet Murguia, CEO of National Council of La Raza. In addition, 21 of the Elite Hispanic Women featured in the April issue of Hispanic Business traveled to Las Vegas for the big moment. The celebration of Hispanic women started on June 22 with a welcome reception co-sponsored by the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Business. Chairman Robert Gomez welcomed guests to Las Vegas and introduced Theresa Alvillar-Speake, director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact at the Department of Energy. She spoke about her work in diversifying procurement opportunities at the federal level.
Juan Solana, chief economist at Hispanic Business Inc., opened the "Best Kept Secrets of Success" daytime presentation with "A Profile: U.S. Hispanic Women." He addressed issues relating to Hispanic women's educational attainment, including the stark statistic that 42 percent of Hispanic women have no high school degree, compared with 44 percent of Hispanic men and 11.1 percent of non-Hispanic white women. Only 9.6 percent of working Hispanic women occupy positions as executives, administrators, and managers compared with 16.2 percent of non-Hispanic white women. In professional specialty occupations, 8.5 percent of Hispanic women have jobs in this category versus 20.7 percent of their non-Hispanic white counterparts. A positive correlation exists between earnings and education, suggesting that Hispanic women earn low wages as a result of low educational levels. Ms. Suro-Bredie challenged the women at the symposium to leave the conference with the mindset that they are going to change those statistics by mentoring others.
Nearly 300 participants gathered for a special reception before the gala doors opened at 7 p.m. Major sponsors for the event included Microsoft Corp., Liberty Mutual, and Land Rover. Other sponsors were Best Western and Southwest Airlines. Community sponsors included Wellpoint/Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, The Walt Disney Co., International Business Machines, Land America, and Verizon.
Model and actress Alex Meneses acted as mistress of ceremonies. The gala featured a multimedia presentation on the finalists and Woman of the Year winner. Ms. Meneses recognized these and other Elite Hispanic women in attendance.
Jesús Chavarría, publisher of Hispanic Business, put the evening in perspective by discussing the surge of progress among Hispanic women. "Whether we speak of sports, the arts, business, the liberal professions, entertainment and media, politics, government, or the military, Hispanic women are striking out in new directions, unfettered by customs or traditions," he told the crowd.
After dinner, Maggie Sanchez, general manager of the U.S. Windows client operating systems unit at Microsoft, returned to the theme of mentoring in her keynote address. "You are America's best kept secret," she said. "As Latinas, we must be dedicated to helping other Latinas advance to the highest levels of corporate America. As individuals, we must be committed to self-improvement and realizing our full potential."
Valorie Vega, a judge in the Nevada State District Court in Las Vegas, was the presenter of the Woman of the Year Award. She handed the trophy to Ms. Benitez. In her acceptance speech, Ms. Benitez echoed the impassioned case she made to the Supreme Court on the value of diversity.
Hispanic Business congratulates Ms. Benitez, the Woman of the Year finalists, and all of the Elite Women honored at the 2005 Woman of the Year Awards.
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