Latina Style Inc

Latinas in STEM

The Road to Innovation.

By Christine Bolaños.

Latinas are taking the reins in health-related STEM fields that directly impact the Latino community. Their personal experiences with family members with health issues combined with their empathy has led them on a course toward finding innovative, affordable and effective ways to serve the community. Four Latinas reaching new horizons in health are: Jennifer Boada-Rodriguez who delivers toothpaste and mouthwash packaging-development programs at Colgate-Palmolive Co.; Eliana Nunez who prioritizes projects and initiatives that offer healthcare solutions to Cigna Corporation customers; Grace Figueredo who leads the Diversity and Inclusion strategy at Aetna; and, Jocelyn Gilmartin who is director and therapeutic area lead for infectious diseases and vaccines in Translational Pharmacology Clinical Operations at Merck. Find out more about their journeys here.

Jennifer Boada-Rodriguez
Senior Technical Associate Global Design & Packaging
Oral Care at Colgate-Palmolive Co.

For as long as she can remember Jennifer Boada-Rodriguez knew she could accomplish whatever she set her mind to as long as she worked hard. That is thanks to her parents who emigrated from Ecuador to the United States in the 1970s and settled in New Jersey.

“Neither of them finished college but they came to the United States seeking a better life for their children,” Boada-Rodriguez says. “Even though they came from humble beginnings they were able to retire early. They moved back to Ecuador and are living in their dream home.”

Her father, especially, ensured she didn’t forget her Hispanic roots or the Spanish language and had her read a Spanish newspaper daily. Meanwhile, she learned English at school.

“Being a bilingual engineer is fantastic,” she shares. “Whether it’s your peer or your suppliers, that really has opened the doors and has helped me progress in my career.

Today, Boada-Rodriguez is Senior Technical Associate in Global Design & Packaging – Oral Care at Colgate-Palmolive Co. She is responsible for delivering Global toothpaste and mouthwash packaging-development programs.

Working on developing and innovating new package innovation.

“I get to interact with different countries and learn about their markets and their consumer needs,” she explains. “A consumer in Mexico is not the same as a consumer in Europe. It’s about really learning the different needs of the consumer and try to tie that into the development of the package they’ll be able to find useful. That keeps me motivated in the day-to-day work.”

Boada-Rodriguez joined the company in 2006 and has earned the Colgate-Palmolive Chairman’s You Can Make a Difference Award twice since for her contributions to the company and its customer base.

Her proudest moment was earning the award for the development of an alternate film to replace Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pouches, which helped improve the sustainability profile for that package. PVC is a synthetic resin that emits toxic chemicals when incinerated.

She says a key to her career success is her networking efforts.

“I realized that men dominated the field and I think one thing that really holds true is that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed,” Boada-Rodriguez says.

She also took full advantage of her bilingualism.

“Colgate is a global company and one of our largest offices is in Mexico right now,” she shares. “[Partners] really feel more comfortable speaking to me because there’s no language barrier. That’s really helped me become visible amongst my peers and helped me excel in my role.”

Eliana Nunez.
Strategic Operations Senior Director
Cigna Corporation

Moving to the United States is no easy feat for anyone. For Eliana Nunez, that meant living with a single mother who didn’t speak English and took multiple jobs to keep food on the table. She recalls that in an effort not to leave her children home alone, Nunez’s mother, who worked as a seamstress and in maintenance, would sometimes hide them in the closet for fear of getting in trouble with her boss. Nunez would find herself cradled against cleaning supplies when this happened.

Her mother’s work ethic and pride in the quality of her work came through in everything she did as Nunez recalls her mother always saying “it doesn’t matter what you do, what truly matters is always giving your best effort.”

Nunez took those lessons to heart and worked her way up in the healthcare industry in about 10 different positions, starting by working in the mailroom and eventually earning her current role as Strategic Operations Senior Director at Cigna Corporation.

She has more than 30 years of experience ranging from operations, program and portfolio management, business architecture, change management and leading the charge of diversity and inclusion in her workplace.

Her high-impact job involves prioritizing projects and initiatives that offer solutions to customers such as providing a user-friendly application on smart phones that allows families to access and look at options for healthcare, and make the best decision for their family. If additional assistance is needed, families have online access to a service agent to help them through the process. Nunez proudly co-leads the Hispanic-Latino Colleague Resource Group at Cigna providing a “platform for change in [their] customer and talent development strategy.”

“The Colleague Resource Group is very active and involved in the community and very much providing our Latino and Latina employees opportunities to build out their network,” she says.

Latinas & Power named Cigna its 2017 Company of the Year for its commitment to diversity and inclusion and volunteer presence in the community.

Grace Figueredo
Vice President, Workplace Culture Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

Grace Figueredo was a caregiver for her mother and sister when her best friend went into hospice care as she battled cancer; she helped them navigate the health care system, including insurance.

“When you experience that you recognize how fragile life is and the importance of our health,” she says. That experience introduced her to Aetna Life Insurance Company which demonstrated a commitment to transforming the health industry to serve its members more fully. Their passions aligned.

“Being with a company whose mission it is to build a healthier world and transform the healthcare industry is a very noble cause,” Figueredo explains.

Her mission as vice president, workplace culture, and chief diversity and inclusion officer, is to ensure the company’s culture is aligned with its transformation as “its operating model shifts to meet future business demands.”

Figueredo leads the Diversity and Inclusion strategy in alignment with the company’s values, business strategy, growth objectives and brand. The big picture result is that Aetna’s workforce has a competitive advantage.

“In terms of the way we drive innovation, growth and marketplace value,” she shares. “All of the strategies and tactics that we support, drive and develop are to fulfill our mission of building a healthier world.”

Grace Figueredo during the Strategies for Success Leadership Program

When Figueredo joined Aetna in 2012, the health industry was implementing the then-new Affordable Care Act. The industry was also recovering from the economic recession and Aetna was at the forefront as it acquired Coventry Health Care, Inc., a merger that transformed it into the third largest healthcare benefits company in the country.

“The road to change began by us digging deep and understanding trends and data that would inform our D&I strategy recognizing we needed to be deliberate and intentional about the work we’d do and why we’d do it,” she explains.

Since then, the company has increased its percentage of female executives from 24 to 33 percent, as a result of deliberate effort.

Figueredo attributes her “can do” attitude and optimism to her mother who instilled in her strong cultural roots and values such as respect and a strong work ethic. The summers she spent in Colombia with extended family were key in constructing Figueredo’s world view and her passion for health and the importance of well-being. “(My siblings and I) grew up understanding the impact of socioeconomic disparities and the direct merits of receiving a formal education and its influence,” she shares. “At the same time, we learned to ride horses, play chess with our uncles, surrounded by laughter, art, music and dance.”

Jocelyn Gilmartin
Director Infectious Disease & Vaccine Lead Translational Pharmacology Clinical Operations
Merck & Co.

Jocelyn Gilmartin was raised in a bi-cultural environment and the differences between her mother’s family, with roots in Argentina, and her father’s family, fascinated her and sparked a lifelong passion for human behavior and how the mind and body work. This innate curiosity, coupled with an animal behavior course she took her second year of college, opened her eyes to psychobiology and she couldn’t get enough. The passion with which her advisor Kathleen Morgan taught was contagious.

“I took every course I could, learning about the nervous system and the biological basis of thought, emotion and behavior,” she says. Through Morgan’s encouragement, Gilmartin gained more confidence in her abilities which propelled her into a successful career in health.

Her minor in religion also gave her valuable insight into other cultures and diverse perspectives.

Today, she is the director and therapeutic area lead for infectious diseases and vaccines in Translational Pharmacology Clinical Operations at Merck. Her job is two-fold: Working with senior leadership to ensure efficient and timely execution of drug and vaccine clinical trial and programs, and, as people manager, nurturing and supporting Merck’s talent pipeline through coaching, mentoring and as player-coach to enhance skillset in her department.

“Our department executes a diverse portfolio of Phase I/Ib early stage clinical trials and projects across therapeutic areas to define the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics (what the body does to a drug) and pharmacodynamic (what a drug does to a body) profiles of compounds (drugs/vaccines),” Gilmartin explains. “While the trials we lead are categorized as Phase I, the work we do continues through all phases of drug development (from the first dose administered to humans through market launch, and finally life-cycle management).”

Working collaboratively to deliver data that informs quality decisions on their pipeline.

According to Gilmartin it takes the entire team to ensure process success but feels her greatest individual accomplishment is as mentor and people manager.

“Making sure my scientists on the team have appropriate mentoring and resources to really believe in themselves and go after their objective,” Gilmartin says, adding that confidence ultimately results in getting medicine into the hands of people who need them.

On a larger scale, knowing she is doing her part to help develop critical medicine and vaccines that impact people throughout the world keeps her motivated. Additionally, Merck is committed to diversity and inclusion and ensuring women and minorities are represented at leadership levels — values Gilmartin is passionate about.

Her Latina roots instilled in her the importance of family and relationships, kindness and respect – all values she applies in the workplace.