Anna Maria Chávez Inspires as Leadership Summit Keynote Speaker
Girl Scouts’ Anna Maria Chávez spoke to The Alumni Society about at the 2016 Leadership Summit in New York City.
Words by Mary Kenney // Photo by Sheila Barabad
NEW YORK CITY—Together we can do what alone we cannot. That theme resonated loudly with members of the Society as they listened to keynote speaker Anna Maria Chávez.
Chávez is the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the USA and was the keynote speaker for The Alumni Society’s second annual leadership summit in New York City. After a morning of breakout sessions and networking, Alumni Society members enjoyed a keynote lunch presented by Facebook.
“This is an amazing group of people. Bonus: we’re all Latino!” The crowd cheered as Chávez opened her talk.
Chávez spoke about the challenges that face Girl Scouts, the largest leadership organization for girls in the world. “The messages that girls are hearing are not positive, and they’re not positive for people of color,” she says. Chávez herself was a Girl Scout, and she says the organization helped her realize her potential as a young girl in a rural area.
“Why has it become such a bad thing to be different and diverse? Why are we sending messages to our kids through our TVs, day and night, that being diverse is negative?” Chávez says. “When I talk to kids, they don’t see it that way. They see the future as bright. But they also tell me that they can’t be what they can’t see. We have to be role models.”
Chávez’s father did not have an education, but he spent his life ensuring that his children would receive higher education. Chávez went to Yale University, and her brother attended Columbia University. “Every one of us here is here because someone made that sacrifice for us,” she says.
She discussed The Alumni Society’s mission to promote networking among Latinos. “Feedback: we’re not good at it,” she said several times. “But now we have the pedigree and the network. Let’s leverage this network for the good. It is time.”
Negative news about the Latino community continues to make headlines in national media, she says. It is up to the people in The Alumni Society, leaders within the Latino community, to fight those myths and promote the greater good. “Let us be the better angel of our nature.”
When Chávez speaks to Girl Scouts around the country, many ask her what they can do as young women to give back to their communities. “Do something you’re passionate about,” she says. “But do something every day that scares you just a little. Fail and fail spectacularly, because if you don’t fail, you’re not innovating.” What this country needs, she says, is more innovators.
Chávez told the Society that she is leaving Girl Scouts, after eight years, because she wants to do more work to “move the dial” for Latinos in American society. “It’s time for me to follow my own advice. I’m jumping off the ledge. I don’t know where I’m going to land, but I’m jumping,” she says, and the audience gave her a standing ovation.
Heather Conneely, US Business Lead at Facebook, was the master of ceremonies and introduced guests to Chávez. She live-streamed the event on Facebook. “My friend, Eliana Murillo of Google, emceed last year. And since she took a selfie, I had to one-up her,” she says to laughter and greetings called out to Murillo.
“How many Latinos does it take to build a—oh wow! They’re done!” Conneely says, and the crowd cheered. “That is why we’re here.”
Conneely opened the session by telling Facebook’s diversity story. “When I joined Facebook, I didn’t believe. Everyone in leadership was a white male—nothing against white males, but no one looked like me.” Today, Facebook trains employees about unconscious bias and creates programs that promote inclusion—emphasizing longevity in diversity, not just recruitment.
After sharing Facebook’s story, Conneely talked about her own challenges. Conneely was six months pregnant at the summit and says the pregnancy was a surprise. “For a strategic planner like me, this was no bueno.” The stress she has endured, she says, reminds her of Latinos’ perseverance. “We’re the underdogs, and that makes us fight harder,” she adds.
Society cofounder Ricardo Anzaldua, EVP and general counsel at MetLife, welcomed members to the second summit, which seeks to connect members and honor the class of 2016, featured in The Alumni Society magazine. He reflected on the origins of the Society.
In 2013, Hispanic Executive magazine named Anzaldua one of its Top Ten Lideres and invited him to a luncheon, where he met publisher Pedro Guerrero, chief executive officer of Guerrero Howe Media. When Anzaldua shared his dream to create a network for Latinos who graduated from the top-ranked schools in America, Guerrero jumped on the idea. Three years later, The Alumni Society has hosted three events and has planned three more for 2016 alone.
“We work with top universities to dispel the inaccurate myth that corporations aren’t diverse because diverse talent doesn’t exist. Look around,” Anzaldua says. “Give yourselves a round of applause.”
Anzaldua spoke about the difficult environments Latinos have overcome in America, both in the corporate arena and elsewhere. “I spoke with NBC Latino this morning for a feature they’re doing on The Alumni Society, and I mentioned that the things Donald Trump has said about Latinos and immigrants are wrong and offensive,” he says. “Look around. These are the faces of Latinos in the United States. This is the face of new America. It’s Latino.”
Regina Montoya, who serves on the Society’s advisory board and also on the board of DFW International Airport, gave the luncheon’s closing remarks. She shared The Alumni Society’s growth to nearly 800 members, a more than 300 percent increase since 2015. It’s still growing, she added, and she asked every person in the room to invite four colleagues to The Alumni Society.
Representation is an issue in many sectors of society, but The Alumni Society is one of a handful of organizations working to change it. “This is a room that can have a voice,” Montoya says. “One thing we want to reinforce is that you didn’t just achieve this—you’ve earned this. You’ve stood on the shoulders of many, but you paved the way for so many who’ve followed you.”