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Graphic: AL DÍA News.
AL DÍA's Women of Merit Forum took place virtually on March 31. Graphic: AL DÍA News.

Celebrating outstanding women leaders at the 2021 AL DÍA Women of Merit

The virtual event honored 16 women across different fields of work, and featured speeches from prominent women in leadership positions.

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As Women’s History Month 2021 came to a close, AL DÍA honored some of the most inspirational, impactful and groundbreaking women in the nation within their respective fields of work.

The 2021 AL DÍA Women of Merit was a virtual celebration of 16 multicultural women in leadership positions across five industries — corporate, education, entrepreneurship, nonprofit and public service.

However, in addition to those exceptional women, overall it was also a celebration of the big contributions women have made and are continuing to make in so many ways nationwide.

The election of the first-ever woman Vice President of the United States in Kamala Harris this past November, is one such example. 

“It has really shaped up to be the year of women,” Yvette Peña, Vice President of Hispanic/Latino Audience Strategy at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at AARP, said during the event as one of the featured speakers. 

Across the nation, women are entering into public office, boardrooms and companies of all sizes, making their way up the ladder.

“Women are stepping into more leadership roles and creating change, but we still have a long road to equality,” said Peña.

Discrimination and the wage gap are just two of the obstacles that many women face in the workforce. However, many of these women share the very important qualities of strength, hard work, belief, confidence and a strong support system that has helped them reach the positions in which they are in today. 

Nina Vaca, Chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group; Esther Aguilera, President & CEO of the Latino Corporate Directors Association;  and Carolina DiGiorgio, President and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos — honored guests at the event — are three women who can attest to those very ideals.

They serve as role models and examples of women who are leaders at the forefront of their respective organizations.

"You cannot be what you cannot see," Vaca said, referring to the importance of women seeing other women in leadership positions. 

One of the many qualities that make a successful leader in a company is a healthy level of fearlessness. As the President and CEO of Congreso, DiGiorgio has made it a priority to empower her employees to be their best selves and lead by example. 

"CEO was never a title I was afraid to take on," she said. "It was part of my journey, and I hope to continue that journey in the future."

As a Latina woman, Aguilera expressed adaptability, resilience and resourcefulness are all very important traits that have helped many women advance in their careers, and in turn help other women gain the confidence to do the same. 

"We are about impact, we are about paying it forward," said Aguilera. 

Mentorship has gone a long way towards helping many of the women honored at the event get to where they are now.

During her acceptance speech, Siria Rivera, Executive Director at Providence Center, and one of the honorees in the non-profit category, credited the many women she has gotten the opportunity to work with and for throughout her professional career for guiding her.

"I have been extremely fortunate to work alongside... so many ambitious and talented Latina professionals and women of color... and it has certainly shaped who I am today and it has built the foundation for my own ambition," she said. 

For Carmen Canales, Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer at Novant Health and one of the honorees in the corporate category, she is grateful to work at an organization with a vision of maximizing the talents of our diverse workforce where everyone could experience success, inclusion and belonging. 

"This is especially important to me, as a woman and as a Latina," said Canales. 

"As women, it's critical that we support each other, that we bring others along, that we innovate and ideate," she further expressed during her acceptance speech. "Our authentic voices and informed perspectives are needed on boards, in the workforce and in the community."

The sentiment of women supporting and uplifting each other was also shared by Sulma Dalessio, Director of Field & Meter Maintenance at PECO.

"We are stronger when we stand together,” she said.

To close the event, Kimberly Casiano, the first Latina ever to serve on a top-five Fortune 100 corporate board, accepted the Pinnacle Award for her decades-long career and groundbreaking achievements.

During her acceptance speech, she reflected on the career she's had but expressed that while her professional achievements have been great, it's not necessarily what has given her life its main worth.

"It is what I have learned from many exceptional people," Casiano said, referring what has fulfilled her most, including being a mother and many years of volunteer work. 

As someone who has reached a point in life where she is "no longer building a resume," Casiano advises the next generation of women professionals to think deeply about how they want to be thought of beyond their place of work.  

"Don't only have a clear strategy to achieve career success, have a strategy to develop self-awareness and profound character," she said. 

The 2021 AL DÍA Women of Merit event was an acknowledgement of the tremendous impact that women have in all our lives, and not just in the workforce or just during National Women's History Month. The 2022 AL DÍA Women of Merit event is currently scheduled for March 30. 

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