A Conversation With Mónica Gil About the Key to Success and Why Latinas Are a Force To Be Reckoned With

Mónica Gil BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Mónica Gil/BELatina.

When we talk about Latinas breaking the mold, Mónica Gil is undoubtedly one of the first to come to mind. Gil is the Chief Administrative and Marketing Officer and executive vice president of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, and her track record to that point is inspiring.

When speaking with her, the executive conveys that wisdom of years in the ring with confidence and a deep sense of responsibility. And she’s determined not to be the last Latina to make it in the media industry.

Looking back to know how to move forward

Mónica Gil is the youngest of twelve children born to a gardener father and a housewife in Zacatecas, Mexico. Although her parents did not go to college, and although they were ambivalent about the idea of their daughter attending, Gil took the first step to break away from cultural structures.

She attended the University of California, Berkely, in the 1990s and moved to Los Angeles after graduation. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California and joined Antonio Villaraigosa’s campaign for mayor. Villaraigosa’s victory would be just the first step in a successful career in politics.

Gil was Senior Vice President and General Manager of Multicultural Growth and Strategy at Nielsen, creating strategies from market knowledge to reach female consumers and diverse market segments.

In this way, this Latina became the national expert in U.S. Hispanic market research. 

The key to her success?: Embracing her identity as a Latina and putting her family values at the center of her professional life.

Transforming obstacles into strengths

When we asked Mónica Gil about the obstacles in her path, her answer was not unlike most Latinos in the U.S.; it was fighting stereotypes.

“I think there is truly a perception of who we are,” she told BELatina in a video call.  “So a lot of the challenge was demonstrating that I’m a great worker, that I’m a dedicated worker, and that I have innovation and ideas, but they’re not all rooted in the fact that I’m Latina.”

“I am an executive that happens to be Latina,” she added.

“And I think many times it works the other way around. People look at you as a Latina and then an executive, and I see myself as both in one. So, I think it’s fighting stereotypes of who we are that perhaps we don’t speak English.”

“Early on in my career, somebody said, ‘you speak English really well.’ And I said, ‘so do you.’ That was my response. So, a lot of it, I think some of the challenges have been the perceptions of who we are, whether we have an accent, whether we have a last name.”

However, for the tenacious executive, obstacles are opportunities in disguise.

“People make judgments. And for me, it’s always been something that has been a challenge, but that I’ve converted into a strength because I believe my authenticity has truly been what has made me the executive that I am today, celebrating people’s strength, diversity of thought and I believe has truly been what has worked best in my career.”

For Mónica Gil, then, it was a matter of syncretizing what she learned at home with her work experience.

“If you think about how we grew up, we grew up being taught to [not] bring attention to [ourselves]; to stay quiet. When you’re an immigrant, you’re taught not to speak out because you don’t want to bring attention to yourself,” she remembered. “So for me, I had to learn how to cherish the values of our culture, cherish the values of my family and figure out how I can apply them to the workspace. And while we’re kind of being vocal, being expressive goes against so much of what I was taught that it was something that I had to figure out the balance because I still feel that a lot of what helps me is listening more than I talk.”

When it comes to sharing learning

With a background like Mónica Gil’s, we couldn’t help but ask her: What would she have liked to have known when she started her professional adventure?

“First thing is being smart. Being a hard worker is all very important, but you’re often tested on your judgment. So, I wish that I would have learned early on that you’re tested on your judgment, and the ability to get promoted is often a reflection of your judgment,” she said.

“Making good decisions is really important because if you can’t make wise choices and you can’t demonstrate good choices, decisions are made for you. So, I think this concept of having good judgment and knowing how my judgment is going to be perceived is important.”

A second learning Gil wanted to share with us was the importance of having “a global mindset and global curiosity.”

“When you are moving up in a career, it’s important to understand how the world works,” she explained. “And it’s so much bigger than just your bubble, right? So, in my case, it’s understanding [that] travel gave me a perspective to things that I didn’t realize.”

“When you go to Russia, when you go to China, when you go anywhere in Latin America, it gives you a different perspective and really gets you outside of a bubble that we live in.

So having the ability to have a global appetite is important. I wish I would have known that it’s okay to move from place to place earlier in your life.”

Gil talked about the tendency of the Latino community to stay in circles of trust, of security.

“If you live in a smaller community, you’re able to have more promotional opportunities. In many cases, a different market creates a better salary. So, I wish I would have known to move earlier in my life and that it’s okay to move.”

The importance of emotional intelligence

Perhaps the most important learning from Mónica Gil, and the one that transpires in our conversation, is precisely the importance of emotional intelligence.

“That’s incredibly important because when you have emotional intelligence, you’re able to discern how you react to certain things. And at the same time, you’re able to discern how others make decisions,” Gil said.

“Is very important to help other Latinos understand [the importance of] the rules of the game and how your business works. We aren’t really ever taught that, you know? we aren’t. We can kind of assume, but it’s critical for career advancement. And when I say understanding the rules of the game, it also means you have a business piece, but also understand the culture of your organization.”

And this includes, especially for Latinos, learning to manage conflict and the art of healthy confrontation.

“Understanding how to manage that conflict and how to progress from it is incredibly important because it helps you solve decisions, how to make decisions quickly in an organization. And that’s really important.”

Finding the work-life integration

Now, as a successful woman with all those years of experience, the question that came to mind was, how does Mónica Gil manage work and professional life?

For Mónica Gil, the answer lies in integration.

“I believe that your work, especially now in the pandemic, is an extension. Right? There are no boundaries, unfortunately, anymore,” Gil explained. “So, for me, work-life, integration, work and home life become work, and home life becomes an integration.”

How do you achieve this integration?

“One, always be there for the things that matter, no matter what,” she continued. “Make the decision, the conscious decision to be there. If you maybe perhaps you can’t be to all of your children’s recitals, but be there when it counts.”

“And secondly, create a schedule that you follow religiously on the things that are going to give you the balance in your life. But I think I would steer away from the word work-life balance and make it more work-life integration.”

Paving the way for other Latinas

In addition to embracing her success with humility and responsibility, Mónica Gil wants to make sure that other Latinas like herself are represented and have more and better opportunities. That’s why the executive helped coordinate a recent Telemundo survey, in collaboration with Hispanics Organized for Political Equality and the Latino Victory Foundation, that shows how Latinas are making strides in entrepreneurship, homeownership, and more.

In addition, Gil spearheaded the design of the Latina Storytelling Guide, a new resource to encourage authentic representation of Hispanic women and girls in marketing, media, advertising, and entertainment.

“I’ve always felt that if you have a corner office, your job is to throw a rope and bring another like that,” Gil told us. “And to me, that’s […] an opportunity to make sure that we are telling our stories, that we’re telling our narratives that we are not a monolith, and making sure that the industry is properly depicting us.”

The guide is meant to provoke conversations in the newsroom and content development groups, thus ensuring that stereotypes are left in the past.

“It’s meant to provoke because I believe that the provocation does something really important, and it makes us prevalent, meaning all over the place, not just in one single place at the same time.”