Interviews with modern women working in a variety of fields
August 30, 2016
Ana Defillo picks up the phone, with the noises of the city clamoring behind her. She was gracious enough to be interviewed for a profile and answers my questions with animated authenticity. Ana was born in Venezuela. She moved with her family to Miami when she was 6 years old. Growing up in the vibrant city, she gained an interest in entertainment and media, wanting to be an actress as a girl. She attended college in nearby Orlando, earning her BA in Cinema Studies and Non-Profit Management.
With a particular focus in documentary filmmaking, Ana travelled to Thailand and Sierra Leone to film footage during service trips. Her eyes were opened by what she saw and experienced on these trips and she became extremely uncomfortable with her role as filmmaker and observer. She felt inspired to become involved with development and human rights issues back home and moved to New York City in 2008 with an AmeriCorps Fellowship. After completing her fellowship, she began taking classes at Columbia University in Human Rights in preparation for graduate school.
In 2012, Ana enrolled in grad school at NYU where she wrote her thesis on forced labor in São Paulo, Brazil. For this work she received a Boren Fellowship to study and learn Portuguese in Brazil. She admits she loved her time in Brazil and never wanted to leave.
Returning to New York to graduate in 2014, Ana began looking for jobs. She eventually landed a gig in International Development in Latin America, working in a small office of mostly women. She enjoys the luxury of working in a field with a large female population. Ana relates that she often feels more comfortable and supported working with other women.
Still her early dreams of being in entertainment/media linger on. Ana spends her spare time freelance writing for sites such as HelloGiggles. Her articles focus heavily on diversity in media. Again, Ana feels lucky to be involved in a women centric section of entertainment. ‘I realize my experience is not representative of most media’ she laments.
As for her dream job? Ana hopes to one day write for television and is considering pursuing a full-time job in media. When asked whether she would look outside her current NYC digs, she immediately shakes her head. ‘I love living in New York!’ she exclaims. I can’t say I blame her! As we say our farewells, always encouraged by new women’s voices in the media, I wish Ana success in her endeavors.
June 15, 2016
On a spring evening after work, the stylish Katie Webb appears on my screen. Though we are both located in SoCal, a Skype meeting was more convenient for the two of us. A lesson in the flip side of technology’s convenience becomes clear when the audio/video keep cutting out intermittently. Despite this, Katie remains perfectly poised on the couch and begins telling her impressive story.
Katie was born and raised in Orange County, CA. While in high school, she signed up to be a summer counselor at a Camp for adults and children with developmental disabilities. What started as an activity to boost her college application, turned out to be life changing. Katie then attended San Diego State University and majored in Hospitality & Tourism Management. She knew that she wanted to work in events. Before graduation in 2007, Katie had a job lined up as an event coordinator at American Express.
But, that wasn’t the only thing aligning for Katie. Around the same time she would meet the woman that was to become her business partner. Volunteering for a camp program in OC, Katie met fellow camp counselor, Meghan Clem and they became quick friends. Good thing, as just a few years later the two would take over the program as volunteer Directors. By 2011, they had doubled the size of the camp program and knew they had something really special.
In 2014, they founded RAD Camp, a stand alone non-profit, to provide even more camping services to people with special needs in SoCal. RAD, which stands for Rising Above Disabilities, is the only overnight camp of its kind for those with special needs in Southern California. The 9-day summer camp is structured so that the campers don’t need to have their caregivers with them, offering much deserved & needed respite to their loved ones.
The unique model they built for camp is highly successful, with a 99% return rate for the campers and more than 86% return rate for the volunteers. The camp is 100% volunteer run – even Katie and Meghan as the directors are volunteers – so that every dollar raised goes directly to the Campers. But why stop there…
After the first year of directing together, Katie and Meghan made such a good team that they decided to start an event business together in 2008. Thus Intertwined Events was formed. Focusing mainly on weddings, the company now helps plan 75-80 events per year.
As I stare at her aghast and ask how she can possibly find time for it all, Katie confides that she wants to do more. She dreams of having a RAD camp located in every state. They are already working on opening a new location in California in the next 3 years. She says that it is certainly difficult to find the right balance for everything, but that she loves running both companies and envisions herself continuing it for the foreseeable future. She and Meghan don’t want to let RAD Camp out of their hands until they can pass it on to their kids. As Meghan just gave birth to twins in 2014, that will be awhile, and that’s fine with them.
When she and Meghan embarked on their journey as business owners together, Katie tells me that a good support network was vital to their growth. She reached out to other women business owners for mentorship and advice. She mentions that women often compete against each other instead of supporting and collaborating with each other, but that isn’t the path to success. I whole-heartedly agree and am thrilled to see this successful power duo providing a shining example to ambitious women everywhere. That age-old question that never seems to die, “can women have it all?” is clearly answered by these two passionate entrepreneurs. Suddenly feeling inspired to be far more productive, I begin reexamining my own schedule as I bid Katie farewell.
May 28, 2016 It is late afternoon when Erin’s cheerful face pops up on my screen. She has just come back from a date night dinner with her wife and looks to be in a good mood. As she migrates around her apartment looking for the spot with the best service, we begin chatting about her background.
Erin lived in Fremont (San Francisco Bay Area) until she was 12. She thrived in the diverse neighborhood, close to the all that the city had to offer. So naturally, she experienced somewhat of a culture shock when her family then moved to Salinas, a much more rural area. There, Erin eventually adapted and even joined the Future Farmers of America.
She attended San Diego State University as a music major focusing on vocal performance. She traveled to South Africa her sophomore year, which was an extremely impactful experience that led her to become a sexual peer health educator. She switched her major to International Security and Conflict Resolution and aimed to join the Peace Corps, with an interest in HIV/AIDS education.
While her Peace Corps recruiter considered open positions, her previous farm related experience came in handy and she was assigned to work as a Crop Extentionist in Paraguay from 2007-2009. There she was trained in the native Guaraní language and made lasting friendships. In 2010 she moved to New York to begin a certificate program in Global Affairs at NYU. She focused on Transnational and Food Security.
Right before attending a friend’s wedding in India, she met her future wife Amy, who worked at the Clinton Foundation at the time. Erin, having never dated a woman before, describes it as both confusing and a romantic love at first sight story. The two got married in Santa Barbara in 2014. Of course, the fairy tale wasn’t without its difficulties. Erin became the Kid’s Programs Coordinator at Feeding America San Diego, while Amy got hired as the Deputy Director of Correspondence for the Hilary Clinton campaign, and thus, had to stay in New York.
Faced with a long distance relationship, Erin made the most of her time in San Diego, joining the San Diego Leadership Alliance, making a ton of new friends, and hiking weekly with her mother and sister-in-law. When the opportunity to work for the National Girls Collaborative (NGC) earlier this year presented itself, Erin jumped on it and moved back to Brooklyn, New York to live with Amy. She is now the Community Development and Network Strategy Manager at NGC, which focuses on increasing access for girls and underrepresented youth in STEM. Erin has always had an interest in gender issues and has had her eyes opened even more to the barriers girls face recently. She says she has heard several girls tell similar stories of how adults in their lives told them not to pursue STEM careers, that it wasn’t a realistic goal for girls.
Erin expresses her gratitude for the women who are leading the way in STEM fields currently, knowing how difficult it was for them to get there. Despite setbacks, she says she is hopeful for the future. There are an increasing number of initiatives in all sectors, including government, corporate, and non-profit to encourage girls in these fields. She also notes that the younger generations see STEM differently now. It is inextricably intertwined with technology, which they are more familiar and comfortable with. This makes it a powerful tool for social good and Erin states that this is what she finds draws girls to STEM. Not necessarily pink packaging or princess characters, but the chance to make a difference.
She is part of a small, all-women team, working remotely at NGC. She finds it an empowering work environment and loves being able to make an impact. The project brings together organizations throughout the United States that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM. This increases the access to resources for organizations interested in the cause. By the end of our chat Erin’s optimism is contagious and I am feeling encouraged and grateful that organizations like the NGC exist. With smart, capable, dedicated women like Erin at the helm, I feel confident that significant progress will be made in the future- and that is great to see.
May 16, 2016 It’s a beautiful sunny Southern California day at a local park. Hannah Mora and I settle in across from each other at a small outdoor table. She is open and warm and we easily launch into conversation.
Hannah is a native of Orange County, CA. Looking to escape SoCal for a while as a teenager she attended the University of San Francisco, starting off as a business major. During this time, she travelled to Peru and observing the poverty first hand, especially the large numbers of children begging in the street, had an impact on her. She changed her major to Religious Studies and Theology and wrote a thesis on the role of theology in El Salvador (A Critical Analysis of the Catholic Church’s Response to El Salvador’s Theology of Liberation and the Consequence of Christian Conversion to the Pentecostal and Evangelical Church).
From 2010-2011 she was a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked with the St. Francis Center in the heart of downtown Los Angeles serving the homeless and low-income families. Hannah then attended graduate school at the NYU Center for Global Affairs. She focused on human rights and gender issues. While in New York she also worked for Sanctuary for Families and interned with NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Hannah began working for the Downtown Women’s Center before starting her current position at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. She loves working for the foundation and shares her hopes of growing with the organization over the next several years. When asked about the gender dynamics in her field, she notes that many top executives are still men, but that she sees a lot of strong women rising in the ranks. She feels that younger women are able to find role models and possible mentors. Her own organization is a good example, with VP and Director Judy Miller having served as a strong leadership presence for over a decade. Miller had just passed away in February of this year, a few short months before our conversation.
Feminism and women’s rights are an important part of Hannah’s life. She is known to frequently share feminist articles on her social media accounts and finds the sharing of knowledge to be very important. Being vocal about the issues is a crucial step for change and Hannah does not shy away from speaking up.
Hannah confides in me that she is a survivor of sexual assault. This occurred while she was in college and she courageously came forward and reported it to the local police station. Perhaps you can guess what happened next, as the story is all too common. She was shamed for the assault and her case was discarded after the police convinced her to retract her report for the sake of the perpetrator’s future. Suffering through the recovery process with a lack of official support, Hannah turned her experience into an opportunity for advocacy. She is open in speaking about the trauma and also took it upon herself to volunteer at the Peace Over Violence 24 hour LA Rape and Battering Hotline.
I applaud her openness and bravery, but my insides sink as she relates her account. ‘Oh no, not another one!’ I think. Nearly all of my own closest friends have experienced a similar situation and the numbers begin to overwhelm. Infuriatingly, it is starting to seem to me like assault is a right of passage for college women, just like raucous keg parties or padding your schedule with classes like basket weaving and rope climbing are for some. The system in place to deal with these assaults is appalling and it always saddens me when my eyes are reopened to just how common this situation really is. We discuss the sorry state of affairs at length.
Hannah’s involvement in the women’s rights movement and international human rights work is inspiring. She is determined to make a difference and has not been deterred from her path. Her passion is very apparent and her generosity shines through in her kind disposition. As we stroll towards the park exit, I hope to meet again soon and think of the lucky young women who will have this strong role model to look up to one day.
Field: Humanitarian Aid
April 28, 2016
A globetrotting humanitarian worker, Violeta Chocarro García and I have finally found a time that works for both of us to connect. She is in her native Spain for the week, though usually stationed in Central African Republic. Her vivacious face under a pile of wild curls pops up on my screen and we begin our chat.
Violeta was born in Saragossa, Spain and lived there until she was 9 years old, when her family moved to Madrid. She confesses that she wanted to be a farmer as child, having grown up in a rural community. She was a competitive swimmer in school until age 14, when the typical teenage indifference kicked in. She has recently joined a triathlon club to reconnect with her love of swimming.
At age 17, she was accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Superior and traveled across the ocean to the U.S. to attend college. Travel had interested her in political science she majored in International Peace Studies. Her interest in the world and human rights increased and she attended NYU for graduate studies in Global Affairs. Her specialization was in International Development and Humanitarian Assistance. While there she worked with Amnesty International as a project administrator. She was in NY until 2015 when she went back to Spain for six months as a research assistant for a subcontractor working on an evaluation of UNESCO before taking her current position with Search for Common Ground.
Focused on offering solutions and aid in regions affected by violent conflicts, Violeta is a program associate stationed in the capital city of Bangui. When she first arrived in Central African Republic the country was (and is) immersed in a national conflict situation. Grenades going off and sounds of gunfire nearby were a frightening part of adjusting to life there. But now Violeta says she has entered the ‘state of numbness’ common in humanitarian workers and has become accustomed to the sounds.
When I ask her about women’s rights in the area, Violeta mentions that even though the country had a woman president until March 2016 (Catherine Samba-Panza) women are certainly not treated as equals. Working closely with the local population, she notices this prejudice in her daily activities. Unsurprisingly to any professional woman, the local Africans are not the only ones with stereotypical views. Violeta points out that she has been called ‘aggressive’ for speaking up in meetings or taking initiative in her work. All the while her male coworkers are praised for ‘grabbing the bull by the horns’ for the same behavior. She also confides that a previous boss once told her that it is scientifically proven that men are better at math/science then women. I shake my head and recount similar workplace stories of offensive comments. Though these statements are commonplace, they are somehow still shocking each time.
We launch into a brief animated discussion of sexism and how to deal with it. Violeta tells me that she used to get angry and frustrated each time she faced discrimination. Now she says she tries to take a step back, a deep breath, and assess where the issue is stemming from. Is it from ignorance or malicious intent? Neither are excuses, but they can warrant different responses. Truth be told, the frequency of sexist occurrences in the daily life of a woman often wears down the desire to respond in any way at all. At the vibrant young age of 25, I don’t get the impression that Violeta has reached that point, and I find myself hoping that she never does.
In the future Violeta hopes to be a policy maker with a direct role in the creation, application and oversight of new policies. She wants to stay in the international field, though her post in Africa will be up in November 2016. What the next step after that will be? She isn’t sure yet, but can’t wait to find out. You can be certain she will be somewhere in the thick of it, with her sleeves rolled up, fighting to make the world a better place.
March 28, 2016
Upon opening Skype on my laptop in Los Angeles, freelance journalist Teresa Cantero cheerfully waves to me from her home in Spain. Eight months pregnant, she is hard at work on upcoming articles for various publications. Although usually on the other side of the pen, today she has generously agreed to be interviewed for WomenThat.
Teresa was born and raised in Spain and currently lives in Madrid. She studied journalism at The Universidad de Navarra there, which helped foster her growing love of writing. She also developed a particular interest in human rights and after earning her degree and working in an art magazine for three years, applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in International Relations. Becoming a fellow allowed her to study at NYU. Moving to Brooklyn, she not only attended classes, but also interned at Human Rights Watch –where she would later work in its Washington, DC office- and got involved with One To World. Teresa wrote her thesis on sex trafficking, traveling to Calcutta to study and observe this widespread issue.
She then returned to Spain and went back to work as a journalist. Teresa currently contributes to All That is Interesting and Women Across Frontiers, as well as a variety of other publications. Writing everyday, she tells me that she produces a minimum of 1-2 articles per week. The freelance world has its benefits, like being able to work from home and the option of getting jobs from online submissions as opposed to in-person interviews. “People see that you have a belly, you won’t get hired” she explains. There are downsides to being a freelancer as well, including no health benefits, which equals no maternity leave. Teresa admits she will have to slow down a little after the upcoming birth of her son Thomas, but she has no plans to stop working. Along with writing and pitching articles, Teresa also finds time to volunteer weekly with teenage students in an after-school program at a Spanish NGO.
She candidly tells me that in the world of journalism, women have it ‘ok’. “I’m not going to say it is equal, because it is never equal”, she adds, but notes that she has not experienced too much difficulty as a woman in the field. In the U.S. women make up about 38% of journalists, a number that has not changed much in the past decade. Of course, difficulties for everyone in her home country have increased from the extreme economic crisis that Spain is currently experiencing, with an unemployment rate of 21% (close to 45% for those under 25). Compared to the less than 5% unemployment rate in the U.S. this makes finding work understandably challenging.
When asked what the future holds, Teresa mentions she would love to write more about women. She frequently tackles the topic of gender and women’s rights for Women Across Frontiers including reviews of “The Underground Girls of Kabul” and “Unfinished Business” in the past few months. She also maintains her avid interest in human rights and is considering a Ph.D. in International Law. Of course any future career would have to include a literary aspect. Writing is her passion; “I always come back to writing, in everything that I do,” she notes. As with many journalists, the fantasy of becoming a regular contributor to the New York Times or other prestigious international publications holds its allure. I mention publishing a book and she laughs, “I think it is the dream of every journalist to write a book, but there is also the fear that we won’t be good enough to do it”.
As we wrap up, Teresa is eager to share stories of more women - friends she has kept in touch with, succeeding in various other careers around the globe. Clearly an admirable advocate and supporter of her fellow women, she also recently gave a shout out to forgotten women scientists in an article for All That is Interesting this month. As likable as she is passionate and driven, I find myself wanting to ask her out for coffee to continue our conversation. But with 5,800 miles between us and a 9 hour time difference, it might be difficult to find a halfway point to meet up…Bermuda anyone?