Interview with Marta Ronquillo Newhart, Chief Communications & Brand Officer
Why are only 1.6% of S&P 100 senior executives Latinas & how can this gap be overcome? In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Marta Ronquillo Newhart, who has worked for companies like Westinghouse Electric Company, Boeing, Medtronic & Johnson Controls, about this as well as how the ‘chingonas’ & male mentors in her life helped propel her career. They also spoke about how Marta’s African American peers blazed trails in corporate settings for her to follow & why you sometimes need to ignore advice others have about what steps to take in your career. Marta is also heavily involved with Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA), which helps prepare Latinos for board readiness & she talks about the ways in which companies & individuals can get involved.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me, Marta Ronquillo Newhart. We are together because today is International Women’s Day.
Marta: It is yeah.
Catherine: So I thought this would be a good occasion to have an in person interview the first time I’ve done this in almost three years, since the pandemic started. So thank you for doing this with me.
Marta: Thanks for having me.
Catherine: Marta is the former CCO and Brand Ambassador for Westinghouse. She’s also a member of the Board of Trustees for Paige. So for those of you who don’t know, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more?
Marta: Yeah, I really kind of think of myself as a storyteller. I think of myself as somebody who’s been in corporate America at pretty high levels for most of my career. And what comes with that is not only responsibility to your company, but for me responsibility to my community, and what can I do for my community, given the success I’ve had in corporate America, and what can I do with that? Not only for the companies I work for, but the people that I hope, follow me someday. So I’m just not an only. So I think of myself as a storyteller, and first and foremost, I’m a business person and an entrepreneur. So I love business, all forms of business. I just really like it. I like how it works. I like how it changes people’s socioeconomic status. And I like how so many companies elevate economies around the world, because it’s not just about jobs, but it’s about lifestyles, and like I said earlier, that socio economic status, it really changes everything. Businesses are the great equalizer.
Catherine: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think it should be taught from an earlier age as well.
Marta: Yeah, and financial literacy. Yeah.
Catherine So I know you previously worked at companies like Boeing, Medtronic, and Communications, how did you make your way to clean energy?
Marta: It’s kind of an interesting path, because I’ve always been passionate about the environment. So when we talk about the climate crisis and issues around the climate, I’ve been thinking about this for years. Not so much from a scientific approach. That’s important, but how is it going to affect the generations behind us? And there’s so much that needs to be done and continues to need to be done? That I don’t think we can take our foot off the gas on it. And I think it’s something that every executive has to have some ownership in and think about what their companies are either doing to contribute to it or to take away from their carbon footprint, right? And we’re all in a position to affect it. I mean, you were talking earlier about your son and teaching your son about good practices around saving the environment, that adds up. And I think just having clean energy, having a clean environment for your son’s generation and other generations to come. It’s the right thing to do.
Catherine: Do you have any advice for those looking to go into clean tech?
Marta: Yes, you’re gonna wake up every day. If you’re in clean tech, thinking that you’re having an impact and you are just kind of like being a doctor. You wake up every day and you think I’m gonna go save lives? That’s what you do. And that’s why you go into it. So people like you when I went into clean technology, because we wanted to have an impact. We wanted to take our platform and our voice and exponentially make it stronger. We not only felt like we had an honor to do it, but we had an obligation to do it. So if somebody is looking to go into clean tech, you’re never going to wake up on the wrong side of the bed because you’re always doing something that’s going to help the environment.
Catherine: Yeah, I think it’s such a good point. I absolutely love what I do. And I feel so meaningful and purposeful, Hispanic and Latina women make up just 1.6% of senior executives nationwide, only two Latinos have been CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. These are some stats that you shared with me from a USA Today article that I found absolutely staggering. Why do you think there’s such a gap and how do you think we fix it?
Marta: I think there’s a gap because of perceptions. So the USC Annenberg School did a study of all of the roles in Hollywood that went to Latinos. And so they said okay, out of 10,000 roles, a small percentage of leading roles went to Latinos, I mean, single digits very, very small. The other roles that went to Latinos were very stereotypical: narcos, they were sex workers, they were people that were downtrodden, they were unhoused people, things like that. So the Hollywood machine is kind of working against us, because they’re trying to put us in a box that we don’t really belong in. Sure. My ethnicity has people that are in every one of those categories. But we have so many more that are not. We have so many more like me, that are not. And so I think there’s sort of this perpetuation in Hollywood that carries on that stereotype. So that’s one data point. The other data point is some companies say they don’t know where to go to get the talent. Okay. And really, if you’re a fisherman, you go to where the fish are, right? You don’t make them swim upstream to you, right, you know, you swim to where they are. That’s what needs to happen. Right? Even more so. So a lot of companies are looking at having a diverse slates, of course with candidates who are very well qualified. And so that trend is actually happening right now as well. The other thing I would say is we have to support each other. We as women have to support each other. We as Latinas have to support each other, that has to continue. So if a recruiter calls me and says, Marta, I want to consider you for the C suite role, and I’m not interested. I’m going to call up you, Catherine, and say there’s a C suite role here. I think you should put your name in for it and if you are interested, I’m going to tell the recruiter to call you right, that networking needs to happen on a bigger scale. And I think once we get some traction with that, the numbers are going to change.
Catherine: I just couldn’t agree with you anymore. Especially like I always say, like referrals make the world go round. And so whenever I contact women about a role and they’re not interested, I’m always like, do you know someone? And sometimes they don’t get a response. Sometimes they get a no but I’m like, could you just take five minutes and think about it as genuinely because of course I’m trying to fill the role but also just to there any other women you know, just have a minute to think about it.
Marta: Let’s say your first level manager, or a director or in the C suite or on a board. You know someone, you didn’t get there if you didn’t know someone. So you’re asking the right questions.
Catherine: What was your upbringing like? Did you have any strong mentors or role models that were helping sort of helped you along the way?
Marta: In my culture, it’s really a matriarchal culture. And so the women in our family are really the strong point, right. So my great grandmother or my grandmother, my mother, all great role models for me, and how they thought about women’s roles in the world. Now, these are women that lived decades, you know, my great grandmother a century ago, and so they lived in a world that look nothing like the world you and I grew up in, but they never left sight of how strong they were, and how they wanted that generation behind them to become. There’s a word in the Latino culture, culture called ‘chingona’ so don’t google it, because you’ll get the wrong impression. She only just means badass woman, right? And so I come from a long line of those kinds of women. And so there’s something inside that says, You got this, this is going to happen. You’ve got inner strength, the hard part about all of that is sometimes when you’re an only in the C suite or on a board. You have to temper that with everything else that’s going on in the room. So I think about the women whose shoulders that I stood on, right, that got me here, but I also recognize not everybody else in the room grew up with that kind of environment. And so I really think about showing that strength in areas that add value and diplomacy.
Catherine: Yeah. I’ve been reading Glennon Doyle’s book. And she talks about how she’s tries to raise two strong, capable women. Yeah. And she realizes that she had sort of been enabling her son and giving him a pass. And she says in the book that it’s just as important to empower women as it is to empower men about how to treat women. And so it’s something that really resonated with me, I get goosebumps about it, especially raising a son. I’m not trying to teach him to be this strong, powerful woman, but I’m certainly trying to teach him what situation women are in and how to speak to women and respect women. And be a gentleman.
Marta: Yeah, it’s so important. So for women to progress in every element of life, we can’t do it alone. Men are such a big part. And we’re a part of their success. You know, it goes both ways. So I think the generation behind us is really getting it right. Yeah. Because they’re aware. They’re much more aware of what the generations before them did. Yeah. That really changed the gap. Yeah, that really widened the gap. Yeah, you know, it was done intentionally. Yeah, this all wasn’t intentional. Maybe 100 years ago it was. But today, it’s such a different place. And I think men don’t really realize how much power they have to help women. So they look at us and think, Oh, we’re strong women. You know, they don’t need us. Oh, yes, we do. This is not a sideline sport here.
Catherine: Some of the greatest mentors I’ve had are men who have been huge advocates, for me. So it’s important that we recognize that like you said, it takes everybody it’s a village.
Marta: It’s funny that you talk about mentors, because I get asked often to speak at McKinsey. They have a Latino Academy, and they asked me to speak and one time they asked me, who was your mentor in corporate America? And it’s funny because you’ve heard that song. One is the loneliest number. So I had those lonely moments. At one Dow component and three NASDAQ companies. But there were African American people in the room that could cut a clear path through anything. And I watched that because there were no Latinos in the room. But they were the African American people were in the room, and I saw them no matter what came their way. They cut a clear path through it. They became my mentors. So it was a different race. But it was something that we had in common. There were challenges. But let me say something about that as well, because I’m not a victim and I don’t advocate people to be victims. And I think this is important. We expect to work harder, because that’s what the women and our family tell us. So you’re going to have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. So I just knew that going in. So sometimes people ask me, Well, Doesn’t it bother you? That the stakes are different for you that the ladder is steeper free? No, I don’t. I expected it to be that way. And you know what I think it’s made me a better leader.
Catherine: Yeah. In the past, you’ve highlighted the importance of needing to ignore advice from some people who discourage you from pursuing a career in communications. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Marta: Yeah, because I started my career out on the commercial and business side of the house. So I have that mindset. You know, I said earlier, I just love business and all forms. It’s so exciting. And so I came from that and I got recruited into corporate communications. And it’s an interesting thing because so many people that I was working with at the time, they were all men. Were telling me Don’t go that way. Don’t go that route. And I could sort of see that storytelling, angle of business route the groundswell of it, people were doing more storytelling because nobody wants to hear about charts and graphs for hours on end. But your customer will remember the last story you told them. And so if you think about it, you don’t read your son press releases at bedtime duty, you read them stories. So they really discouraged me from going into it, but I did. Selfishly I was promised an executive role which came to be and then I started moving into different countries and different places around the US so it was incredible. The thing about communications is it is a business value, and it impacts business every day. So there are things about your companies that you have to manage risk. The first place you go to as a communications department, you’ve got to manage your reputation. You’ve got to think about how your customers are hearing your voice. That’s all through communications. So all of these things, even investor relations, you want to make sure that you have those messages and the data and the numbers correct. So all these things I’m talking about are flowing through the communications department. So it’s a business value. It’s not a functional cost center anymore. forward facing business reaction.
Catherine: The final thing I want to talk about is can you tell me a little bit more about your involvement in Latino Corporate Directors Association? So the LCDA particularly regarding board readiness?
Marta: Yes. So there are a lot of organizations out there that have programs to get anyone, any executive, ready to get on a board, and some of them are really good and others will just take your money. The Latino Corporate Directors Association takes that to another level; they put it on steroids. So they take very small core whole cohorts of people who are board ready so they meet the criteria of getting on a board and then they take those people and they put him through a very intensive program of thinking about how are you going to sell yourself to a board? How are you even going to get tapped into the network of a board? How are you doing everything that’s positioning yourself? To do that? And what is good governance, because good governance is everything about boards and the fiduciary responsibility that comes on top of it. So we were talking this morning about cybersecurity and systemic risk in cybersecurity for boards right and how you really need to be able to answer the question. You have a perspective of that on your board, in addition to customers, new markets, how we invest all of those things, and if you can’t, probably half of all boards out there that aren’t going to want to talk to you. So the Latino Corporate Directors Association takes all of this into consideration, and really puts their members through this in a way that positions them to not only respond to boards when they call, but to think about how to get in the line of sight for a board. It’s two very different things.
Catherine: Just so people are aware, where can they go to get more information about that? Are they quite into networking? LinkedIn groups?
Marta: Yes, very much. So the LCDA, the Latino Corporate Directors Association website, so you can just Google LCDA and it will come up, and there’s a lot of information out there. About how you can join and a lot of information about all of the services that we provide. It’s pretty remarkable.
Catherine: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Marta: Thank you.
Catherine: Happy International Women’s Day.
Marta: Same to you.