Name: Melissa Morales Monárrez
Hometown: Mukilteo, WA / Ciudad Juárez, México
Current Title: Business Strategy Manager, Accenture
Industry: Management Consulting
Professional Experience: 4 years at Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international development organization that promotes women’s leadership around the world
Education: BA, International Relations, Minor Latin American Studies, Stanford University; MBA, The Wharton School; MA International Studies with Focus on Brazil and Portuguese, University of Pennsylvania
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
There is no substitute to being intrinsically motivated by your work. Feeling internally rewarded by what you do helps you push through challenging situations that would otherwise make you feel overwhelmed or stressed. Of course, that is not the only thing that matters - supportive managers, great teammates, and functional organizations can all help mitigate stress. But, they will fall short if you are not motivated by your work. Reflecting on and understanding what drives you will allow you to define the roles, organizations, and skills that will put you on a path to fulfillment, and ultimately success.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
Consultants move from engagement to engagement, working with different clients to address various business and organizational challenges. Once, I joined a project on the urging of a manager whom I had collaborated with in the past. The collaboration had been outside of client work, for an “extracurricular” activity that I was very invested in. It had been a positive experience for both of us. When she asked me to join her new project, I knew that I was not interested in the work and was not sure that I was the right fit for the role. However, not wanting to disappoint her or to turn an opportunity down from someone who had been supportive, I decided to come onboard.
Two weeks later, she rolled me off the project. She needed someone with more experience in that type of role - someone who had a stronger command of the subject matter and who had managed a large project with multiple work streams with little to no supervision. I understood, though felt deeply embarrassed. The Managing Director on the project was someone whom I looked up to and I feared that my reputation was permanently damaged (it wasn’t). But, I was also relieved. I never wanted the role and deep down inside had always known that I was not a good fit, yet I agreed anyway because I did not have the courage to say no. I learned to trust my instincts and to be assertive in expressing what I want (or don’t want). Most importantly, I learned to recover from an experience that really shook my confidence.
What issues have you dealt with being a person of color in corporate America? How have you overcome these challenges?
Going into consulting was quite the transition for me. Prior to business school, I had worked for a relatively small (~50 person) non-profit and with the same three-person team for four years. The work was exciting and closely aligned with my core values. I loved it and loved working with like-minded people who shared my passions. Consulting, on the other hand, proved to be a challenging environment. The work itself is interesting and I love learning continuously. However, navigating a large, professional services firm where your success depends on personal relationships was tough.
While I consider myself to be a good networker, I am not particularly good at leveraging relationships to build my brand. That is, I love meeting new people and connecting with them, but could do a better job at using relationships to benefit my career. It’s something that makes me uncomfortable to this day. I similarly don’t feel particularly comfortable with self-promotion, aka “tooting my own horn.” It is at odds with how I was raised and dependent on my ability to silence my inner critic. I am still working through this. The truth is that traditional corporate culture is embedded in most large, hierarchical organizations, even if leaders are actively trying to make them more flat and meritocratic. Who you know matters and how well you please those above you also matters.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
The most important resource for me is my network of friends. Without a trusted circle of
friends to advise me, I would feel deeply alone. My friends are constant sources of
knowledge and they help guide me through periods of uncertainty. Beyond that, I love professional development programs and networks geared towards people of color. In college, I participated in a public policy summer institute for students of color and absolutely loved it (Maryland Leadership Institute, which at the time attracted fellows from PPIA, IIPP, and Pickering). In fact, I made lifelong friendships from it. Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) was instrumental in successfully navigating the business school application process. The Center for Progressive Leadership, which sadly was incorporated into another organization a few years ago, enabled me to intern in DC. The Stanford Latino Alumni Association is such a supportive, authentic network and I have been actively involved with it at various times over the years - it truly feels like familia. I’ve heard great things about CHCI, PPIA, JumpStart, SEO, Toigo, and a number of other organizations that are building a pipeline of professionals of color across various industries. Seek these opportunities out as much as you can!
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
No, I do not have a formal mentor. That said, I do rely heavily on my network. See above!
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post-college?
Be eager, scrappy, and focus on getting exposure to as many things as possible early on. In the beginning, you’ll likely have to do a good amount of administrative work. It may not be exciting, but try to find opportunities to add value, e.g. redesigning an existing process or improving a template. Being proactive and finding ways to go above and beyond will convey enthusiasm and show your potential for growth.
Why did you decide to go back to graduate school and what are you hoping it will enable you to do next?
Education is revered in my family, and I grew up with a reinforced narrative that education is the key to success and happiness. My parents had both grown up working class in Mexico, had secured scholarships to fund their college education, and had built careers as an engineer (dad) and a doctor (mom). When I moved to the US at the age of 11, I was told that it was to gain access to the best institutions of higher education in the world. Hence, going to graduate school was a question of when, not of why.
After I started working with women entrepreneurs in my first job, I began to consider business school. I had always imagined that I would enroll in an MPP or MPA program, which is what is often the case for folks doing the kind of work I was doing. After researching various programs in more detail, I decided that a dual degree with an MBA was the right choice for me. I wanted to gain new, highly marketable skills through the MBA (which I consider to be the most versatile graduate degree there is) and to deepen my knowledge of international affairs/studies. One was a pragmatic choice grounded in an acknowledgement that I needed to hone a more technical skillset. The other was a choice driven by passion and interest, a reflection of my desire to continue studying what I love most: Latin America and the Caribbean.