“As a woman engineer in Mexico in the mid-1980s, then as a banker, and later as a Mexican immigrant working for a top five Fortune company in the US, I’ve learned that hard work, diversity of thought, appreciation for talent, and ability to adapt are keys to success,” says Margarita Pineda-Ucero.
Pineda-Ucero’s path through several countries, a C-suite role in financial services, and corporate board positions has shaped her identity as an executive woman. Her journey, she says, has included “profound determination and dedication to my professional career, as well as continuous support from my family, friends, and people who have believed in me or have taken a chance on me.”
She has faced challenges and at key pivotal moments, she says, “I’ve also made very intentional choices to balance my personal priorities.” Pineda-Ucero defines herself, saying, “I am an executive woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a community leader.”
That’s true of many women, Pineda-Ucero notes. Some are mothers, wives, or caregivers, and operate outside of the business world; others are in the workplace and sometimes the sole provider for their families. “Constantly, women are the pillars of their families and of the communities they form,” she says. “And that means women often have to make career choices based on things that are bigger than themselves. There are choices that keep a balance between loved ones, health and career goals, and a professional drive to move forward within corporations or as entrepreneurs.”
Through Women Dignity Alliance, Pineda-Ucero has developed an international platform for dialogue, helping women make choices in their professional lives. In parallel, she is working with corporations to transform their businesses and corporate cultures through the promotion of inclusion and operational excellence—proving that doing so helps improve bottom lines.
Pineda-Ucero’s drive and versatility certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. Those she works and collaborates with closely tout her leadership temperament. “As an executive in corporate America and now running my own retained global executive search firm, I interview many leaders from a myriad of backgrounds,” explains Janice Ellig, CEO of Ellig Group. “Beyond competencies for a position, I look for ten key attributes which I believe make great leaders: character, courage, commitment, collaboration, competencies, confidence, communication, curiosity, champions, and common sense. I look for these traits all wrapped up in someone who is not wrapped in themselves—someone who is highly authentic. Margarita is one of those exceptional leaders who embodies it all. I am honored to know and support her.”
Through her twenty-year career at global financial services corporation GE Capital, Pineda-Ucero has held business management and operational roles covering various geographies in the US, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. She’s developed a deep knowledge of strategy, finance, enterprise risk management, mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, global commercial lending practices, and transaction structuring. She says, “My role as chief risk officer for Latin America was the most challenging of all.”
“Women often have to make career choices based on things that are bigger than themselves.”
Pineda-Ucero describes that time as “unique in the history of the business, due to heightened regulatory requirements. Those challenges were centered on transformation—the need to transform the culture, the operations, and the business strategy to move forward,” she explains.
“The business was already great, but the transformation process required that we redesign the risk management organization. We modified its structure and workflow, which allowed us to bring expanded diversity, enhancing the talent pool,” she says. The organization had “excellent policies” in place already to enable varied work formats, like flexible scheduling or remote access. “We revamped certain roles so that workflow enabled people in offices, telecommuting, or working on flexible schedules to collaborate efficiently and with similar relevance across roles within the same organizational level.”
And often, she remarks, it was women working in the less standard job formats, a result of the unique roles they held in their families and communities.
“We created a productive and efficient organization that delivered tremendous results! In parallel, we established a workplace environment where all job formats were treated with the same dignity,” she continues.
The importance of that dignity is partly what inspired Pineda-Ucero to envision Women Dignity Alliance. “There is tremendous opportunity today to transform the traditional organizational structures into flexible and agile collaboration teams,” she says. “When you allow employees expanded flexibility and dignity in their particular job format, with clear roles and responsibilities, you empower them to drive results and contribute to the organization’s success.”
Pineda-Ucero says that enhanced businesses with improved dynamics in their corporate culture only happen through a combined effort between top management and employees. As a board director, consultant, and advisor—or someone providing leadership training—Pineda-Ucero helps enable business transformations, improving the diverse talent mix in the organization and enhancing its operational efficiency.
“When you allow employees expanded flexibility and dignity in their particular job format, . . . you empower them to drive results and contribute to the organization’s success.”
“Empowering a woman to succeed is not exclusively a matter of her having a voice or exposure in the organization,” she says. “It also has a lot to do with the cultural background of the organization as well as with the labor laws and social mores of the country in which she is located.” She adds, “It requires that men and women work together for the greater good.”
Pineda-Ucero believes that there are key “baselines” that align with people across the globe. In her workshops, she highlights five simple words that she believes help women (and men) to unlock their true potential:
Analyze: “Know who you are, where you are, and where you want to go. Understand the business that you are in, the rules of performance to deliver results, and the company’s values.”
Visualize: “Look beyond your immediate reality. Think big and set the plan to execute with discipline and excellence, surrounding yourself with great people and companions on the way.”
Explore: “Narrow the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Identify your areas of opportunity for learning and work on them. Be realistic and humble. Being humble means truly acknowledging who you are—not more and not less!”
Decide: “Choose what is right for you given your individual conditions and personal life dynamics. Embrace your choice, own it, and move forward. If you need to reassess, do it, but always moving forward. Persevere, never give up, and always be grateful to those who helped you.”
Personal: “Life balance and success are personal decisions. They are unique to you and your reality—don’t try to comply with how others define them. Take care of your intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. If you break, it all falls apart.”