Angela C. Vazquez is an executive with extensive international and multicultural P&L experience and a solid track record of creating value for industry leaders such as The Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble and The Boston Consulting Group. Her global roles have given her strategic insights into Europe, Latin America, Eurasia, Africa and the Middle East.
Most recently she was responsible for the growth of a $4 Billion portfolio, and has worked across a range of industries, with a focus on consumer goods.
This interview is part of our collaboration with WomenExecs on Boards (WEoB), a global network of Harvard Business School-prepared women with corporate board, C-suite and/or senior executive experience. The alliance will further diversify the Nurole network and connect WEoB’s highly-qualified members with organisations that need their skills and experience.
How have you found the experience of trying to secure board-level positions so far?
It has been an interesting experience, very different to getting new roles during my executive career. Prior experience is very relevant but relationships and what I can only describe as the “human element” – for both the candidate and the board – seem to be even more important.
Also, I have been very careful to consider boards where I have a strong connection with the company, its mission and values, as well as the opportunity to make a difference.
What are your main takeaways about leadership from the big companies you’ve worked with like Coca-Cola, The Boston Consulting Group, Procter & Gamble and Nestle?
To be a good leader it is critical to have a clear vision, not the “perfect vision” – which does not exist – but a vision that is compelling enough to inspire, invite collaboration and commitment.
Equally important is to have self-awareness, emotional intelligence and influencing skills. Lastly, good leaders have a holistic view, including caring about the what, the how, the when and the why.
- The what: maintaining focus on well thought out objectives, creating not only short-term results but, importantly, lasting impact.
- The how: this includes flexibility because there are always obstacles and unknowns, bringing people along, and developing a sense of a shared mission.
- The when: a sense of urgency, 75% sooner is often much better than 95% later.
- The why: there is a financial incentive of course, but great companies and teams have a deeper “why” that is connected to making a difference in the world.
How important are male allies in the move to diversify our boardrooms?
Allies in a position to influence the outcome are important. Given our current reality, many of those in position to influence a board member selection happen to be men.
To be very clear, in the current environment, without male allies pushing for diversity of thought and background in the boardroom, progress in this area is likely to be painfully slow, to the detriment of great companies and their stakeholders.
What is stopping organizations turning good intentions around building more diverse boards into action?
Risk aversion in many cases. A human tendency to prefer the proven path, to repeat what worked in the past even if there is a desire to change. And the “proven”, current reality for many boards is that it includes many men, with similar backgrounds and perspectives. If everyone is looking at things in similar ways, there is a bigger risk for the board to be blindsided.
Even when there is an awareness that the path of least resistance is no longer working, there is often the desire to minimize the risk of hiring diverse individuals by seeking proven, traditional, already-on-a-board, candidates.
But I would say that in most cases nothing is really stopping boards from turning good intentions into a reality. I would suggest that in many cases it may help to set some specific, measurable goals like a specific number of diverse board members by a certain date (many companies are setting those targets already). Of course, the objective of creating a diverse board, has to be compatible with other objectives such as the kind of expertise that may be needed on the board.
Lastly, I think it is important to recognise that there are a number of efforts to increase diversity and inclusion on boards, most of the initiatives by individual boards are genuine because they recognize the value of diversity or because of the pressure from stakeholders. However, in some cases, the talk about diversity and inclusion is window dressing.
Alongside the bigger systemic issues around gender bias, what are the small ways in which it impacts you as a highly qualified woman?
If I determine that something is not working, I tend to concentrate on how to make it work vs. thinking about the ways obstacles impact me. Having said that, there are different kinds of conscious and unconscious biases, and most of the time it is difficult for a highly qualified candidate to know if biases play a role in board members´ selection.
I can say that today, for most accomplished women, it probably requires significantly more persistence and time to get to the right boards than for equally qualified men. We eventually get there, but often it requires extra time and effort.
What do boards need to think about post hiring to make sure women feel included and able to contribute as meaningfully as possible?
The question of inclusion applies to everyone, not just women. I think that facilitating new board members’ education about companies and their key opportunities and issues can go a long way, and a well-designed on-boarding programme can be extremely helpful.
Also, it is important to maintain board members up-to-date throughout. Other than that, I think creating board dynamics that invite participation, creating a culture where it is clear that insightful questions and well thought out, constructive perspectives are welcome.
On the other hand, every person that joins a new board is – by definition – a seasoned professional who needs to seek information, learn, listen and be committed to contribute and work with other board members and management, not only during the period immediately post hiring, but during the entire tenure on the board.
What is the main thing you learned in your career that would be a huge asset to any board you sat on?
I will highlight a few things that I have learnt that I think can be real assets for a board:
1. I developed a very useful combination of high-level, long term, holistic vision and strategic thinking and, at the same time, a practical, realistic and solution-oriented approach. This is because I had a career that included big, strategic, global roles as well as, leadership for emerging categories and markets with very limited resources.
2. As I lived, worked and led teams in multiple countries I was constantly exposed to new situations that required me to develop intellectual agility, emotional intelligence and the ability to ask good questions so I could get fast to the heart of the matter, combined with a high degree of adaptability and multi-cultural competence.
3. I have an intense curiosity about the world, peoples’ motivations, emerging trends and technologies, combined with a lot of practice understanding and anticipating the needs and desires of a wide variety of consumers.