2018 Honoree

Valerie Grillo

SVP, Human Resources, American Express

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

A Power Woman is someone who uses her strengths, influence, and gifts to lift others up.

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

Having built a career as a Latina in Corporate America, I am drawn to initiatives that promote inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Personally, I spend a lot of time mentoring women and people of color. It is not easy for us in the corporate world, and I feel driven to help others succeed in their careers.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I would love to be an oceanographer for a day, exploring the depths of the sea. My favorite place to be is at the beach and on the water. The ocean brings me peace and I have always been fascinated about what lies below the surface. As a kid, I would watch television specials on Jacques Cousteau and be riveted, imagining myself as an ocean explorer.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Julia de Burgos, the Puerto Rican poet and activist. She was true to her values and beliefs at a time when doing so came with negative consequences. She was an ardent fighter for women’s rights and social justice. Her poetry captures this beautifully.

In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?

Through in my role as a leader in Human Resources, I am focused each day on creating an inclusive culture where women thrive, succeed, and are fully recognized for their contributions. At the end of the day, we need to ensure that women’s voices are heard and considered equally. In my role, I work hard to create safe spaces. If a woman is interrupted or talked over in a meeting, I call it out. If someone is not speaking up, I make it a point to ask their opinion to ensure their voice is heard.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

I was working with a hiring leader to fill a role where we had to decide between two senior level candidates, one male and one female. The leader kept leaning towards the male candidate, but could not really articulate what gave him the edge over the other candidate. After a lot of back and forth, I pulled out the job qualifications we had established before we started recruiting. I had the leader evaluate each candidate based on that criteria; it was only then that the hiring leader conceded that the female candidate had more of the qualifications. We then agreed she was the best candidate for the role. Now, I encourage anyone who is hiring to clearly establish the qualifications for the job and use that to assess each candidate. It helps to mitigate against bias in the recruiting process.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

It took me a while to truly “own” my career. For years, I felt the need to prove myself and I questioned my own potential. Early in my career, I was a part of a team where I was the most junior person at the table. After our second meeting, my boss pulled me aside and said, “You are the only one here who thinks that you haven’t earned a seat at the table. You belong here and we value what you bring. Stop acting otherwise.” It was hard to hear, but her words made me realize that I was getting in my own way. That was when I stopped questioning myself and really started to reach higher.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

Who do you most admire? Why?

My grandmother. She never gave up on her dream, at the age 40 she went to college and then got her master’s degree in bilingual education. She started her career teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) when her peers were in the middle of theirs. She stressed to me the importance of education and always following your dreams.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

I am an unabashed fan of JK Rowling and the Harry Potter books. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned from Harry Potter’s journey.

What do you most value in your friends?

Honesty and humor.

Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?

In myself: impatience. In others: pettiness.

What do you consider to be the most over rated virtue?


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