Several hundred people on Thursday attended the daytime festivities at HispanicBusiness Magazine's 2009 Woman of the Year event in Houston, Texas.
The event began with comments from Jesus Chavarria, the founder and publisher of HispanicBusiness, Inc., who noted that some of the most significant newsmakers of the day are two Hispanic women: Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor and U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
In the day's first panel, titled "The Early Years: From Childhood to College," the participants discussed how education and family values in their formative years are crucial to determining their professional future.
"Doors are wide open in terms of education opportunities," said Colonel Madeline F. Lopez UAF, Robbins Air Force Base, who learned from her father, a veteran of the Vietnam War. Understanding the value of commitment has helped her ascend to the heights of her profession.
Amelie Ramirez, professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research, said that educating the Hispanic community about health prevention is a key goal.
Although Laurie Carrillo, Spacecraft Thermal Design Engineer, at NASA Johnson Space Center, agrees that Hispanic women are reaching top positions in different sectors "we are still underrepresented." One reason for that, Carrillo said, is because there is a lack of information about educational opportunities such as scholarships.
Carrillo, who recalled that when she was seven years old she told her grandmother that one day she will work at NASA, said the most important thing " is the idea of perseverance and to keep pushing forward regardless of the obstacles."
All of the women agreed that even in these challenging economic times, opportunities remain for those who are committed to success.
In a keynote noon speech, Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association, said that there are still gaps in the education field that affect Hispanics.
"Education is not a luxury. It is a path to better times", Eskelsen said. She noted that every 23 seconds a Hispanic student drops out of high school, and 88 percent of those dropouts were students with passing grades.
She said that it is imperative to convince politicians "that the best solid investment in the United States of America is to make sure that children receive the best possible education."
Also during the luncheon panel sponsored by Strategic Financial Group, Mariana Ruiz-Posada, Director of Hispanic Marketing for that firm, said that it is crucial for Hispanic women to play the role of educators in their communities.
She urged Latino women to get an education, but also to get involved in social activities. Furthermore, she said that eight out of 10 Hispanic business owners don't have business plans, according to a survey coordinated by the University of Houston and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.She stressed that in the world of business, language skills are essential.
"The lack of ability of Hispanics who don't speak the (English) language means that they don't take advantage of financial services," Ruiz-Posada said.Thursday's second panel discussion was "Building Up Your Personal Brand." Participants included Monica Diaz, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion for Microsoft Corp.; Yvonne Garcia, President of Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting; Wendy Lopez, Vice President, URS Corp.; Monica Martinez-Canales, Principal Engineer for Intel; and Imelda Navarro, Executive Vice President for the International Bank of Commerce. They all agreed that a personal brand requires a personal touch and a lot of self-confidence.
"There's nothing wrong with self-promotion," Garcia said. "It is a big part of growing."As an example of self-promotion, Microsoft's Diaz said that even though "Christopher Columbus was not the first man to discover America, he was the first one who made a marketing plan and held the first press conference."
Ramona Romero, President of the Hispanic Bar Association and DuPont's Corporate Counsel for Logistics and Energy, said opportunities are there for Hispanic businesswomen. "The sky is the limit," but it also requires a lot of hard work, commitment, perseverance, flexibility, an open mind and advance planning.
HispanicBusiness Magazine was set to honor Frances Garcia, Inspector General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, at the evening's main gala.
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