When Work Resonates with Your Values: Maricella Herrera of Ellevate

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Maricella Herrera, vice president of Operations and Strategy at Ellevate Network, “a community of professional women committed to helping each other succeed.”

Maricella Herrera (courtesy of Maricella Herrera)

What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

When I first started out, I thought my career was already laid out for me; I was going into my first job at a bank, I would rise in the ranks, get more responsibility, go to business school, go back to finance and keep going until I retired. It was what was expected. I never really understood that to be completely happy, I needed to find something that didn’t just intellectually stimulate me, but that resonated with my values. I didn’t know you could build a career in an area that was about doing good. When I first started out, social enterprises were nascent. Not many people were thinking about them. I wish I had known I could find my passion and what I’m good at in one place, and that it wouldn’t necessarily be what everyone else thought I was supposed to be doing, and that that was ok. My background is in business and finance, so knowing I can use those skills to make a difference in the world is exciting.

What is your current greatest professional challenge?

Working at a small company is hard; working at a small, mission-driven company is even harder. When you work at a mission-driven business, you need to balance business best practices with the impact you’re making in the world. You’re trying to figure out how to scale, how to make sure you’re investing in the people who are on your team, how to make sure you’re making the right decision for your customers, for the business, and for those who believe in your mission and are there to give it their all. I feel so much responsibility sometimes. I feel like I have to have all the answers, like I have to figure it out on my own. It takes me a moment to remember that that’s nonsense and that I have an amazing group of people on my side who can help guide me and give me advice. Nobody who did something great ever did it alone!

This is the core of what we do at Ellevate. We help women build relationships that are less transactional, more human, organic and supportive; helping them feel more confident not just in their careers but throughout their lives. It’s about taking action for the individuals in our community while making an impact on the broader landscape. 

What inspires you most about your work?      

I’m a big believer in the power of stories. When you hear someone’s journey, when you relate to someone and build empathy, it helps you get ideas, perspective and inspiration. That’s why I love the work we do at Ellevate to shine the light on people with incredible stories to tell. In 2020, we’ll host our fourth annual Mobilize Women summit, bring Raise Her Voice story slams to more than 20 cities and continue past the 200th episode of the weekly Ellevate Podcast. It inspires me to have the opportunity to meet these women and help raise their voices so more people can get inspired, as well.

How does your gender identity inform your work?

It’s less about gender identity, and more about the social constructs that we learn and that become ingrained in who we are. Our identities as individuals are so layered and complex, it can be difficult to pinpoint the underlying reasons we make decisions. For example, it’s difficult for me to separate my gender identity from my ethnic identity. I care deeply about both, and they inform many of the decisions I make. Through that influence, my identity impacts what we offer our clients and customers and how I lead my teams.

Sometimes when I make a decision, I wonder, “Would a man have asked himself the same questions?” But, I’ve learned to leverage the strengths that I bring to the table as a woman with an intersectional identity. I care about our people, about building an inclusive team and about maintaining a culture that is authentic and unique. I’m proud of the culture that we’ve built at Ellevate and grateful to have the opportunity to help others develop inclusive workplaces.

How can philanthropy support gender equality? 

Business and individual investment can be a tremendous driver of social change but it is important that donors be mindful of how their funds are allocated. There are a lot of efforts from nonprofit and charitable organizations that are focused on women and gender equality, however, women’s and girls’ groups still receive a very small slice of charitable contributions. In 2016, the most recent year for which there’s data available, just 1.6% of charitable dollars went to women’s and girls’ groups. And, even in this small piece of the pie, there is still a lot of nuance in how these efforts are allocated — for example, in the U.S., only 0.6% of charitable giving goes to efforts supporting girls of color. 

I believe that organizations, both nonprofits and social enterprises, need fuel to reach their mission, and philanthropy plays a vital role in providing this fuel. Without funding, efforts in all aspects that can move the needle for equality, political, grass-roots work, research, advocacy movements, etc., won’t be successful. 

There’s a huge opportunity to direct more funds towards efforts that have a direct effect on gender equality and an even bigger opportunity for philanthropic organizations and nonprofit institutions to work together with mission-driven businesses that share similar goals.

In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?

There’s a big aspect of legislation that is still missing; there’s an important opportunity to mandate policies that support individuals and families across a wide range of demographics, like parental leave and equal pay. Making that support the norm would have a big impact on society. 

That said, more and more people are taking a stand to level the playing field. I have hope that we’ll see change at a faster pace than we’ve seen in the past, thanks to rallying cries such as social media movements, employee walkouts and advocacy, more women running for office, and more and more organizations dedicated to advancing women and girls. People are tired of not having a fair world and are realizing that they can do something about it. I believe that if we continue to see progress, and we have seen progress, even if not enough, in gender equality, then we’ll see progress in many other facets of society. Women, after all, tend to invest more money into their communities. The more women we can get into positions of leadership, the more chances we have of creating a world that is equal for all.

More on Maricella Herrera:

Maricella Herrera is the VP of Operations and Strategy at Ellevate Network, where she leads the company’s direct-to-consumer business. She is responsible for regional chapter operations and expansion, marketing strategy and development of streamlined and efficient operations for the company. Maricella is the co-host of the Ellevate Podcast, and the project lead for the Mobilize Women Summit.

Prior to Ellevate, Maricella held several positions in real estate banking at Banamex, Citi’s Mexican subsidiary. Maricella received a BA in Financial Management from ITESM in Mexico and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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