Forging a path for women and minorities in tech, with Elaine Montilla

When Elaine Montilla came to the United States from the Dominican Republic to attend college, she barely understood English and struggled to fit in. Today, she’s the CIO of The Graduate Center at City University of New York, Founder of 5xminority, and member of the Forbes Technology Council. Tune in to hear how she forged her path to technology leader and what advice she has for other underrepresented people who want to get into tech.


Jackie Ferguson: Hi, and welcome to season four of the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast sponsored by The Diversity Movement. I’m your host, Jackie Ferguson equality advocate and certified diversity executive. On this show, we discuss how diversity, equity and inclusion benefit our workplaces, schools, and communities by sharing the stories, insights, and best practices of game changers, leaders, and glass ceiling breakers that are doing the work to make our world a more understanding, welcoming and supportive place for us all.

Jackie: Welcome, and thank you for listening in. Today, my guest is Elaine Montilla. Elaine is the founder of 5xMinority, Assistant Vice President and CIO for Information Technology at the Graduate Center for the City University of New York. A Forbes technology, council member and contributor, a TEDx speaker, and an AMA Women’s Leadership Center presenter. Wow, Elaine, thank you for being with us today. 

Elaine: Thank you for having me. What an intro. I’m finally getting used to listening to it. 

Jackie: Oh my goodness. I can’t wait to dig in to some of the amazing things that you’re doing, but let’s start by talking to our listeners a little bit about your background, your upbringing, and your identity. I think that’s going to be a new standard and the questions that I ask my guests. So if you, if you wouldn’t mind starting there. 

Elaine: Beautiful, and I love that question because I think sometimes people need to see where I came from so, they could understand the journey and where I’m going. Yeah, so I was actually born and raised in the Dominican Republic. I was there until I finished high school. It’s funny, but I had prom night and the next day I was in a flight coming to New York City with my mom. 

So I moved to the US after high school, I was 16, 17. I did not speak a word of English, and so that was my first of many challenges that I faced coming here, something else that was funny, you know, up until that time, I thought my name was Elainé because my entire family called me Elainé. And so my first weekend in college, I was actually upset. The professors were saying Elaine, and I didn’t know that that was my name. And I kept looking around. I was like, they didn’t call me today. I don’t know what’s going on. 

Well, that’s part of, that was part of the struggle. You know, I felt like I was given a new identity that came with a new name that I was not comfortable using. I also had to learn the language pretty quickly because my mom was really big on us getting an education, and so I started with ESL courses. And I was actually lucky because the college that I went to had a lot of Latino students and so they would help me. And that would translate for me every once in a while. 

So I think those are some of the first challenges that I faced coming here, just gaining an identity, learning a new language and trying to figure it out what is this thing called the US and New York, and how do I find my place here? I used to cry the first few weeks and months, cause I wanted to go back home. I wanted the beach, I missed my friends and my family, and it was really cold here. I didn’t know what snow was. And so it was a lot of learning pretty quickly.

Full Episode Transcript

Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by Head of Content Jackie Ferguson, and is a production of Earfluence.  For sponsorship options, email

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