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Latinas in STEM Inspiring Leaders and Role Models

Inspiring Leaders & Role Models.

By Christine Bolaños.

Gone are the days when Latinas pursuing careers in Science-Technology-Math-Engineering (STEM) fields were discouraged from reaching their dreams. That’s not to say they still don’t have to overcome obstacles during their professional careers, due in great part, to being a woman and/or Latina. However, they now have resources, tools, confidence and role models to forge their paths and break barriers their predecessors could only dream about in earlier generations. Today, Latinas such as Cindy Healy at Microsoft, Lidia Santos at UPS, Elizabeth Agosto at BNY Mellon and Miriam Hernandez-Kakol at KPMG, are helping their companies reach new horizons while creating the greatest impact as role models for generations of Latinas aspiring to follow in their footsteps.

Cindy Healy
Director, Skills, Capabilities and Insights, Worldwide Learning

Growing up within a humble Mexican-American family, Cindy Healy was groomed to become a wife from a young age. Her mastery of cooking was more important than her stellar grades.

Healy ended up attending a local community college where it was uncommon for students to transition into a four-year university. She took a part-time job at an amusement park where a short conversation with a supervisor would change the course of her life.

The supervisor told Healy her math skills resulted in her frequent shifts at the change booth — a coveted role at the park.

“I asked her, ‘How hard is it to count?” And she said, ‘You’d be surprised,’” Healy recalls. “That’s when I learned that maybe I had a skill that maybe no one else had. She gave me direct advice and said, ‘You should go to a university and major in computer science.’”

The supervisor said her starting pay was $25,000 in the field and that there were always job openings. That was enough to solidify Healy’s destiny.
Today, Healy has more than 25 years of experience in technology and leadership. For the past 13 years, she has taken on numerous roles at Microsoft, including as Director of Microsoft Business Operations, and her newest role as Director of Skills, Capabilities and Insights at Worldwide Learning at Microsoft.

“I manage a small team of people and we are building tools that help people understand what skills they need for their current role, and if they want to improve upon their skills, we point them to learning activities whether that’s something to watch, read or go do, it helps them increase their proficiency in those skills,” Healy says.

In 2016, Healy received the prestigious Circle of Excellence award, which is Microsoft’s highest recognition, for an innovative solution to a problem.

“Our business-to-business partnership had multiple sites they had to go to, to do business with us, and within that they had multiple log-ins, lots of different usernames and passwords,” Healy shares.

“They were continuously up in arms about it. They were really distressed about it. Our solution was, ‘Someday, we’ll have just one site to log into that does everything.’”

But, realistically, that meant rewriting all those sites to integrate everything. Healy found software that could accommodate an interim solution within weeks and scale it to hundreds of partners within months.

Prior to working at Microsoft, Healy completed stints at Napster, Movielink and as Lead Software Engineer on NASA’S Pathfinder project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

She’s a sought-after mentor and speaker working to become a certified coach on top of her day job. Healy is passionate about serving others in her community and helping people achieve their dreams and cross items off their bucket lists.

Lidia Santos
Director, Information Technology,
UPS World Technology Headquarters

Even as a young child, Lidia Santos was drawn to math and science, with plans to one day become a teacher, nurse or doctor. In high school, she met a female engineer who showed her possibilities beyond status quo occupations.

“She was so passionate about her career and I was fortunate enough to spend a whole day shadowing her,” Santos shares. “I remember wanting to be just like her. That was a very ‘aha’ moment. That was the first-time engineering even popped in my mind as an option.”

The engineer and Santos had similar backgrounds, including attending the same public school system, graduating at top of their classes, and raised by hardworking immigrant parents. The interaction was a turning point for Santos.

Today, Santos is Director of Information Technology at UPS’ World Technology Headquarters. She leads enterprise architecture and innovation initiatives focused on areas such as Internet of Things (IoT), mobility, cloud technologies, automation, augmented reality/virtual reality and modern development and collaboration technologies.

In these disruptive times where technology is continuously evolving, Santos is passionate about contributing to the future of technology and the logistics industry at UPS.
The Portuguese descendant describes her career as “an incredible jungle gym” rather than a journey up a “perfect ladder.” She credits her education and supportive environment she has found at UPS for her success.

She can’t go into detail about some of her projects for confidentiality reasons, but she did shed light on a recent development in the AR-VR space.

“We are using AR-VR to transform how we train our drivers,” Santos says. “I’m very proud of that accomplishment by the team. There are so many others we are working through right now.”
According to Santos, she is very passionate about her company, her work, her team, the community and the environment.

“I’m constantly very highly engaged, constantly contributing, learning and growing. My team and I work tirelessly to make a difference in everything that we do,” Santos says. “These qualities, along with the ability to drive transformation in development and technological solutions, process and service; and ability to draw quick results, I think, are critical for UPS and any company in today’s disruptive society.”

Santos is just as passionate about her volunteerism as she is about her work. She is an active member of UPS’ Crecer, Latino Business Resource Group, and recently became a Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement (HISPA) role model. She is a longtime leader in her community, evidenced by her many years of involvement in United Way and multiple nonprofit groups that work to improve children’s lives.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to give forward what was given to me,” she shares.

Elizabeth Agosto
Global Chief Administration Officer,
Information Security Division,
BNY Mellon

Raised by Puerto Rican parents and growing up in Queens, New York as one of six girls, Elizabeth Agosto was used to strict rules, expectations and responsibilities from a young age. The no-nonsense environment made her into a strong and resilient person capable of confronting and excelling in difficult situations.

“I’m not the kind of person who gets easily flustered,” Agosto shares. “I see a challenge as an opportunity for me to solve a problem, improve on my talents and put my fingerprint on something and learn from it.”

Today, she is the Global Chief Administration Officer for BNY Mellon’s Information Security Division (ISD).

She reports directly to Chief Information Security Officer Jeff Lunglhofer and leads the division’s administrative, operational, human resources and financial affairs. In her role, she is called to work closely with human resource partners to deliver on the division’s talent management strategies, including staff planning, recruiting, retention, salary administrations and terminations.

She sources and manages several projects and strategic initiatives for ISD and advises fellow senior executives on policy, procedure and operational issues.

Working in the Information Security division provides her the opportunity to work on cybersecurity, which she finds to be the most exciting area within the technology umbrella of STEM today.

Agosto also focuses on recruiting diverse talent who can meet the unique needs of cybersecurity. Her work in this space shows her commitment to diversity and inclusion at her company.

In 2017, Agosto made the Hispanic in Technology Executive Council’s 100 list of the most influential Hispanic professionals in technology. Since 2008, HITEC has put together a list of the top 100 Latino professionals in the informational technology industry.

She is a member of Diverse Tech’s steering committee at BNY Mellon where senior professionals such as herself volunteer their time to promote, attract and retain diverse talent into the company.

The group works closely with organizations to help Latino and Latina technologists advance their professional and leadership development.

Agosto is also a member of her company’s Latino Advisory Group, which is focusing on greater representation and leadership opportunities for Latinos at BNY Mellon.

According to Agosto, Latinas are proving it is possible to have lucrative careers in STEM regardless of prior backgrounds. However, sometimes Latinas don’t know how to translate their dreams into reality.

“Latinas in STEM careers help to bridge that gap,” Agosto says. “I have a front seat in this and I’m seeing it in big numbers. I see a ton of Latinas in high tech. I met all these women that were MIT grads. I see all these engineers and I think, ‘How do they say there’s a shortage?”

Miriam Hernandez-Kakol
KPMG Global Lead Partner
KPMG Global Service Line Leader

Miriam with Fran Shammo, former CEO of Verizon.

Miriam Hernandez-Kakol believes the most important way Latinas in STEM such as herself are creating impact is by serving as role models.

She would know, as she evolved from a student who moved from Mexico to Kansas City, Missouri, without speaking a word of English, to Global Lead Partner and Global Service Line Leader at KPMG.

KPMG is consistently ranked one of the “big four” accounting firms in the country.

“Mexican culture is very much about big family and having a big tent. I was certainly raised that way,” Hernandez-Kakol says.

“This idea of having a big tent and a big family that includes all kinds of people is the way I look at building teams and I look at having people from all kinds of experiences.”

She strives for her teams to reflect a variety of backgrounds, cultures and genders. She also wants individuals who think outside-the-box.

“A partner of mine at KPMG always says you can’t be what you can’t see. I think that’s so important for Latino youth to see Latin women who are successful in STEM fields and who have made a career out of it,” says Miriam Hernandez-Kakol.

Hernandez-Kakol plays a key part in shaping and building the Management Consulting practice, which has grown at a double-digit rate over the last five years. She leads the firm’s Global Customer and Operations practice, which is focused on delivering industry-specific solutions for the front and middle office challenges of Fortune 500 clients. In this role, she oversees a team of more than 2,000 partners and professionals.

She also serves as Global Lead Partner for the world’s largest telco company in the U.S. and is responsible for over 400 partners and professionals. She helps clients transform their corporate services organization, particularly in finance.

One of her greatest points of professional pride is KPMG’s Technology Enablement consulting business which she has built three different times. Perhaps, the most fulfilling part of her career is the countless people she’s coached and mentored throughout their careers.

Miriam Hernandez-Kakol co-hosted a panel discussion on “Connected Enterprise” with KPMG’s U.S. and Global Head of Customer Solutions Julio Hernandez (far left). They were joined by Carlos Caraza Chief Information Officer of Monsanto Mexico.

“The one that really brings a tear to my eye is how many people I’ve helped achieve (the role of) partner,” she shares.

Hernandez-Kakol has been named one of the “50 Most Powerful Latinas” by Fortune, one of the Top 100 Most Influential and Notable Hispanic Professionals in IT by HITEC and earned the Walter Hanson Award, her firm’s most prestigious award, among other recognitions.

She serves as board member of Junior Achievement of New Jersey, of HITEC and of KPMG’s Women’s Advisory Board; is a member of the National Academy Foundation’s STEM Committee and is a leader of KPMG Network of Women.

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