WOMEN CAN HAVE IT ALL | SERIES | THE THREE SINS OF MAYRA GONZALEZ
A manager at Nissan Mexico once told Mayra González that she was very talented and would have a great career in the industry, but “you have three sins,” he added: “You are young; you are a woman; and you are Mexican.”
Fast forward more than 15 years: Mayra González was eventually promoted in 2016 at age 39 to the top job at the Japanese car company’s fourth largest business unit, thus inducted to the very exclusive club of female CEOs, a mere three years after Mary Barra became the first woman appointed CEO at General Motors.
The mother of a four-year old girl, Mayra González is one of the most respected corporate leaders in Mexico. She carries the celebrated titles of Mom and CEO – a moniker she had always wanted to hold. This sense of empowerment was ingrained in her during childhood. Yes, she could have it all: professional success, a modern family and as long as she could check her “ fear’ at the door.
“I have seen too many talented women not doing anything because they were just afraid,” the CEO of Nissan Mexico explains.
Fear should only be an engine to be bold and to dare
“I grew up in a family where my parents taught me that I could become the person I wanted to be, as long as I was the best,” Mayra González recalls. “Being a girl was never a reason not to do something.” Out of this education, the young Mayra developed a high sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. She was raised to succeed regardless of her gender.
“I remember of the irony with which it was said that, as a child, I wanted everything,” once wrote Nathalie Loiseau, one of France’s highest ranking diplomats, currently serving as Minister for European Affairs –and a mother of four boys– in her 2014 ground breaking book about women: ‘Choose Everything.‘ “Poor candor: candor to want it, candor to believe that it was possible, and candor to voice it. Candid, I still am and I am proud of it. To have it all; To live life fully; To not give up before it starts: I would like it to be possible for all women.”
Fearless and ambitious, willing to ‘have it all,’ 20 year-old Mayra González joined the very male-dominated auto industry.
At first, she tried endlessly to talk to 50-year-old car dealers near Chihuahua in the northern part of Mexico, which cost her 20 hours of driving from Mexico City and patience. “I think that I spent more time waiting outside of their offices than actually meeting with them because they could not figure out how a girl could share ideas on how to better run their businesses.” To reverse that situation, González focused on the market, on numbers and on setting up a variety of commercial outputs. It took her a year before appointments became regular and before the car dealers, who eventually saw the benefits of her presentations, started asking her to come meet with them.
‘You have three sins: you are young;
you are a woman; and you are Mexican.’
When she was told about her ‘three sins,’ Mayra González simply saw them as advantages.
“I was young; I was the only woman in the car industry, and I live in a country known for its machismo, so it was easy for people to remember me.” And when her colleagues asked her about her ‘woman’s opinion,’ she simply spoke of ‘result perspective,’ she says. Key Performance Indicators know no gender! “Sharing my perspectives backed up with numbers was my way to defeat the ‘three sins.’”
Another advantage was to work for a company that embraces diversity and inclusion as business imperatives.
“This comes from the top-down,” Mayra González says. In an open conversation held on stage of the 2017 Women’s Forum Mexico, she explained that Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Chairman Carlos Ghosn is convinced that a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture create a “competitive advantage” and lead to more innovation.
A diverse workforce also requires companies to attract diverse talent, but that talent needs to have received the adequate training. Women “cannot desire something that they do not see,” explains Mayra González, who studied marketing. Role models are needed in all sectors, and “girls need to be told that if they want to become a nuclear engineer, they can.”
‘You have a Company, and the name of the Company is Family’
Mayra González’ dreams didn’t stop at the corner office. She also wanted a family. As she said at the WIN Forum 2018 in New York, “Leadership is about working for your dreams because dreams don’t come true unless you act upon them.”
And now she has it all: her dream job, a four-year-old daughter, who, along with her husband, she cherishes parenting, and the opportunity to lead her professional team.
At home, she tells her little girl that she can do what she wants to. So what “if after school for girls means ‘Ballet’ and for boys, ‘ Taekwondo,’ and yet the girl does not want to dance? “I tell her: ‘You do not need to,’”.
Yet Mayra González admits that she doesn’t fit in with the other mothers. “I am not the attentive mother at home; I do not attend every meeting at school; I am not there for every sport event; and I do not oversee all the homework. It is overwhelming.” Funny, she adds, “because I never felt different in the auto industry but I have felt different with the mothers at the kindergarten.”
Mayra’s daughter asked her once:
– ‘Why don’t you pick me up at school?’
– ‘Because I am working,’ Mayra answered.
– ‘Why we don’t go to this birthday?’ the young girl asked another time.
– ‘Because I need to travel.’
“So I teach my daughter that mommy not only is her mother but she is also so many other things and she is everywhere: in a magazine or in Europe; at a meeting or on the road. For her in the future, it is going to be an example. If she wants to work or travel, it will be normal.”
With her hefty travel schedule, the CEO of Nissan Mexico is grateful that her husband’s work allows him greater flexibility to be at home when needed. More than grateful, she finds natural that he does his part of the chores. To Mayra, her husband Carlos gathers the main quality of a modern man: “He is a team player.”
“You have a company, and the name of the company is ‘Family,’” she explains.
Attending a special dinner at the Franco-Mexican Chamber of Commerce, which bestowed upon Mayra their annual business award last November, the Premio de la Amistad Franco Mexicana, Carlos sat admirative and fully supportive of his wife’s achievements. “He is 50% of the success,” Mayra González says. “If I did not have a husband like him, I would not be here,” she adds.
This is a fully integrated partnership where the breadwinner does not matter. “At the end of the day, it is the family income.” Using the same words as she does to explain her professional methods, the mom / CEO focuses on the perspectives: “You have KPIs and you have objectives as a family.”
Her beliefs fall naturally and similarly into her work environment: building bridges among women and men. “It is team work; it is a 50-50 culture.”
‘Why do you have a job?’
Yet, Mayra González does not yet believe that she can do it all.
“No. It is ‘one day at a time’ because every day is different. I might be the CEO but I am also a mom, a wife, a sister and a friend. Sometimes I focus on the company in the morning, stop by the school in the afternoon to help with a festival before heading to the airport for the red-eye to Tokyo. But most important is that every single decision is my choice of priorities and makes me feel better and give me an ease of mind, which increases my productivity,” she told a delegate from the Women’s Forum Mexico. Besides, she considers that this ‘multi-dimensional’ approach to life is a value that millennials expect in leadership.
Her daughter has inherited her strong sense of independence and boldly asked at the age of three:
– ‘Mom, why do you have a job?’
– ‘Because mommy likes it very much and is good at it,’ Mayra replied.
– ‘Oh, okay, that’s good enough for me,’ the little girl reacted.
Mayra’s daughter never asked that question of her dad.