2016 Honoree

Maria G Arias

VP, Diversity & Inclusion, Comcast

“It’s important for women to be confident, collaborative, and trailblazers. In any work environment, we’re all striving towards the same goal. If you approach a situation with the confidence that you have something valuable to add, you will be seen as an ally, not a rival.”

What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? Do you feel that women are typically presented fairly in the media? Why or why not?

I think fair and equal representation of women in the media is incredibly important, and it’s something we strive for every day at Comcast. As a media company that influences the images people see every day, through our X1 platform and our NBCUniversal and Telemundo content, we have a responsibility to represent women in a way that is positive, accurate, and inspiring to young women and young men alike. That’s why I’m so proud of our coverage of the Rio Olympics, which featured inspiring women role models like Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Katie Ledecky, and Allyson Felix. It’s great to see the world rallying behind their champions of all race and gender identifications. I’m looking forward to our coverage of women with disabilities in the upcoming Paralympics. We need to continue to champion strong women in the media, and it’s a commitment that can never stop.

What specific aspect of women’s rights in the US could we change to set an example to the world? What will it take (apart from time) for women to be viewed as equal to men?

I’m a big believer in the mantra, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Women have broken through many barriers in the U.S. for equal rights, equal pay, and equal treatment in the workplace. While we still have a way to go, the path to success is becoming much more clear. Today, women hold only 4% of CEO positions and 20% of board seats at S&P 500 companies, and we hold less than 28% of software and IT jobs. Women are still missing, or severely underrepresented, in a lot of tech environments in an era where tech is the main growth engine and employer. And, we all need to commit to the increasing visibility of successful women in the workplace. We need to empower more women to enter tech fields and celebrate the women who are leading in those fields. When women (and men) see more women taking on these roles, we’ll be a step closer to equality in the workplace.

Whatever profession you choose, do men see women as either a female rival with independence and strength, or someone inexperienced that needs to be managed, never as an equal? How do you show your male colleagues that you are an equal without stepping on their toes?

It’s important for women to be confident, collaborative, and trailblazers. In any work environment, we’re all striving towards the same goal. If you approach a situation with the confidence that you have something valuable to add, you will be seen as an ally–not a rival. It is important to trust your gut, and be confident in your decision. That confidence will pay dividends. In fact, research shows that companies with more women in leadership roles are more efficient and more profitable than their peers.

Do you feel the extreme left and right wings of U.S. politics are destroying the United in United States, or is it just healthy debate? Should the financing of political campaigns be the controlled by an independent authority?

Healthy debate has been the cornerstone of our democratic process, and many of the issues up for debate will define the future of our nation. I hope that we can focus on the issues that matter, like our global and domestic economy, safety, and health. Ideally, we can get rid of, and not focus on, the divisive noise.

What do you now know about yourself that you wish you knew ten/fifteen/twenty years ago? Do today’s young people face a bigger challenge than you did?

I wish that I had known that there isn’t just one career that makes you “a success.” As an immigrant, like other immigrants, my focus was on being a doctor or lawyer–and I became a lawyer. I had a great career in both private practice and corporate America. But, I knew I could do more and I’ve used my skills to be a government affairs executive, a technical operations leader, a cable operations leader, and now I’ve built a best-in-class corporate diversity department and program. Ten, twenty years ago? It’s more like thirty years ago for me. I would have gone straight into business. I love building great teams, I like making money, and I’m incredibly instinctual…I can sense trends. Business has been my sweet spot.

Today’s youth has a different kind of challenge. They have the benefit of living in a global society and economy because of technology. Yet, for those not in the STEM careers, there is an increasingly wide gap in terms of income and opportunities. This concerns me greatly, given the digital divide and disparate impact of that gap on people of color. That’s why I’m so proud of my company’s commitment to digital literacy–in all communities, but also in communities of color–through our Internet Essentials program.

Do you feel that religion is on the decline in the Western World? Will it have an effect on U.S. society? If so, will it be good or bad?

One of the great things about our country is the freedom of religion–to choose to believe or not; to choose to participate or not. I believe, but I also respect those who don’t.

Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges in your life that you think helped you become the person you are today? What was your best decision to date? Worst decision?

For so many years I was the only Hispanic woman in a law firm, on a case, on a team, or as a leader. I’m fair skinned, and I don’t necessarily look Mexican. It would have been very easy to assimilate and never mention my ethnicity and culture. But, to me, it was very important for my colleagues and bosses to know who I am–and to debunk the myths about immigrants. There are so many stories I could tell about the awkward comments. A recurring one was: “You’re an immigrant? But you don’t have an accent.” Or, how, suddenly, I was uninvited, or not treated the same. Despite the risks, I was authentic and I worked really hard to prove that I could succeed–and I did.

Best decision: I saw the power of the internet and moved over to companies investing in broadband, before “The Internet” became a game changer.

Worst decision: not pursuing a business degree early on, when I knew that I had a passion for it. But, I’ve overcome that obstacle with hands on training and hard work at my company.

Who inspires you the most? If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Pope Francis. He isn’t a traditional Catholic Pope. He knows that, as the leader of a major religion across the world, he needs to bring people together and that the world has changed. He’s open to modernizing the rigid rules of the faith. And, he focuses on some key tenets: the role of a family–no matter what that family looks like–and forgiveness. In my opinion, too much of the Catholic religion has focused on “rules,” and “guilt.” For me, it’s about faith, love, respect, and forgiveness.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

Speed. I love being on the go, so if I could travel at the speed of light it would be amazing!

Favorite: Book/writer? Song/singer? Movie/actor? Cuisine/dish?

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It reminds me all the time of the journeys in our lifetime.

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