We sat down with Barbara Bibas Montero, the Women in Technology Forum Leader, to talk about her background in business and technology, as well as gain some personal insights into how other women can work together using tools like TCI’s forums to “claim their seat at the table.”
Q: Could you share a little bit about your background and how you got involved with TCI?
BBM: I started my professional career at American Express, but then went on to start several other businesses, including a financial tech company with my husband. We started the whole thing from scratch, raised funds, patented the technology, hired people and watched it take off. What began as three people sitting around a dining room table putting an idea together is now in 24 countries and has about 80 employees.
On top of that, I’ve always had an interest in helping women in general. I started a girls empowerment program through the Miami Beach Commission for Women and even ran for the Florida State House to try to even out the gender disparity in politics.
So when Laurie Davis, TCI’s Executive Director, received funding from the Knight Foundation to start the Executive Women in Technology forum, she asked me to come on board…and I said I’m in! It seemed logical to me to lead this forum since it was right up my alley because of my background and passion for helping women, especially in the male-dominated fields of technology and business.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be involved in business?
BBM: No not at all, I was unsure about what to do when I was in college. I majored in English only because it would improve my writing, but I soon found out there wasn’t a market for English majors in the real world. Through a lead, I eventually landed a job in the marketing department at American Express in New York. This was my eureka moment when I realized marketing was a perfect fit for me since it encompassed many different aspects of my personality and offered a broad range of different career possibilities.
However, it wasn’t long before I realized that the only way I was going to be able to move up in the company was to get my MBA. American Express offered education reimbursement, so I took advantage of the benefit and I began to take business classes towards my degree at night after work. But that got old fast after a 10 – 12 hour workday. This led me to resign from American Express and pursue my MBA full-time.
However, after graduation, I was recruited back to American Express; only this position was in Miami instead of New York. The American Express Latin American Division had just been created and I was going to be part of the initial team to grow it. It was a unique and rewarding opportunity …like working for a small company or start-up with the backing of a large multinational corporation. I learned an enormous amount and knew being involved in business was in my future.
Q: What motivated you to want to facilitate the WIT Executive Forum?
BBM: I think Laurie had a great idea to create a new TCI forum for women in technology. Since men still predominantly run the tech industry and there are so few women in it, I thought, women need their own support system too – like the guys go play golf and have their camaraderie or casual mentorships. I thought this was a great way to help and learn from each other since many executive women in tech are surrounded by men and have male bosses or manage teams of men – this would be a safe place to come to have their own sort of board of advisors or think tank.
So the concept has been really positive, especially since we now know that gender balance and diversity improves the bottom line and ultimately benefits a company. I think at some point, as women gain traction and are viewed as essential assets to tech companies, there won’t be such a separation and woman will have their place at the table. I see it happening more and more now.
Q: What has been one of your biggest challenges in your career?
BBM: Starting a business from scratch has to be one of the greatest challenges ever. It’s exciting and fun at first, then reality sets in. Problems and set backs are guaranteed and so are the blood, sweat and tears. It really is “baptism through fire,” but the rewards both professionally and personally are invaluable and well worth the challenge. To be able to call yourself a Founder is a right of passage.
Q: What advice would you give to women who may be starting their own business venture or trying to get their foot in the door in the technology space?
BBM: Don’t give up. Just because you failed doesn’t mean it’s over. It pains me to know that in this country, our school system teaches us to fear failure and we carry this into our professional lives. For that reason, I resonate with Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
As for getting into the technology space, there are many roads. You don’t have to be a techie to enter. It’s more important to know thyself (your skills, strengths and passions) and keep an open mind. Tech today is a male-dominated fast-changing space; low self-esteem and thin skin will not serve you well there. However, if you find a passion or a real world problem worth solving, it’s a marvelous tool to create solutions at scale. There are many more opportunities for women now than there were. My advice is to get good at your craft as well as support and encourage each other. The shift will happen.