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.

Jackie: Absolutely. Oh my goodness. You know, a lot of times when we think about our, you know, our lens of experience, we don’t think about what other people experience and having those challenges. I moved when I was 16, but I moved from New York to Florida. And so there weren’t the same challenges with, you know, language barriers and things, and it’s so important for us to remember that some people have these, these challenges above and beyond getting an education, you had to learn a whole new language, you know, not just, you know, go to college and get good grades, but while you’re doing that learn a new language. And sometimes we forget that. 

Elaine: I want to share a quick story with you because I think this will help people understand that better. You know, when I finished high school in the Dominican Republic, my math, for example was pretty advanced. And so when I started college, my first year, I already knew all the answers to all the problems that the professor was showing the board, but I didn’t have the words to explain it. So I couldn’t say anything.

I just knew the answer, but I couldn’t say how I knew the answer and that would drive me crazy because I felt like I couldn’t move and I couldn’t explain myself and I couldn’t share what I knew. and I went through that with a few different classes that I was thinking, but that’s just one tiny example of how it feels when you’re going to a new country and you learn a new language and you cannot express yourself then when you want to.

Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Elaine, let’s talk about getting into tech because you got into tech and you had to navigate being the only right, and many of us have experienced that in different ways, but can you share some of the experiences having gone to college, gotten into tech. What, first of all, what inspired you to be in tech?

Elaine: Yeah. Yeah. The first thing I want to say is that I still go through that today. I still have places where I am the only. You know, my love for tech started, I think through my brother, my oldest brother love computers and technology, and I would watch him open a computer in front of me and look at the pieces inside and he would take out a hard drive or a motherboard, and I was fascinated by it. 

I always considered myself a curious person and so I’m always looking for answers and looking to learn new things. My first year in college, I was assigned to work in the computer lab, helping students. And so I think a lot of that started there, but let me tell you when I started taking computer classes is when I first realized that I was the only girl in most of the classes, or I would be one of two or three, especially when it came to computer programming.

And I felt intimidated. I would look around and be like, oh my God, I don’t know if I’m ready for this. And mind you, when I took C++ for example, programming. I was learning programming and I was learning English at the same time. So it was even worse for me because there were some words that I didn’t know how to translate into English. So that was fun. 

And then when I made it into the workplace, I realized that it was actually the same and sometimes worse. I would go into meetings where people would speak over me and not allow me to finish my sentences because you have to remember at the beginning, we’re translating in our minds. I’m saying something in Spanish, and then I’m trying to find the word so that I can say it in English.

It goes away after a while, but it’s really challenging at the beginning. I was also younger than most people around me, and I think people thought I wasn’t smart enough because I was younger. And so I had to deal with that every once in a while. I think that in the end you have to learn how to love yourself and not worry so much about all these external things that are going on around you.

But I wish that I could tell you that things are different today and things have changed because they haven’t, it’s still the same. And if you don’t know how to speak up and stand up for yourself, you know, I get emails every day from girls that are going through the same thing that I was going through 20 years ago, which breaks my heart. But it’s, you know, more reason for me to use my voice more than ever before. 

Jackie: Absolutely. And you know, I love that you said that because whether you’re translating information in your head to then speak it, or if, you know, there are people who just take longer to process information before they speak.

So there are lots of ways of thinking and communicating where those people get left behind that have amazing things to say and contribute because the people who, you know, their natural inclination is to speak quickly, process quickly, are the ones doing the talking, right? And they don’t give space for people who need that extra moment to process, to think through, to, you know, formulate how they want to say something and organizations in, in meetings specifically, you need to really give space for that, because you can miss out on some amazing ideas, amazing innovations from a lot of your employees. Yeah. 

Elaine: Something that I wanted to share that I know a lot of, especially women go through today and minorities, we already feel uncomfortable because people around the table do not look like us, and do not sound like us. So we already dealing with that. I have an idea and I want to say something, but I feel so intimidated by this table, especially if it’s mostly men that it takes me a minute to tell myself, go ahead and say it. You can say it. And then when we start to say it, people are so impatient because either you have an accent or you’re taking longer because you’re trying to translate, and that is what is discouraging a lot of, especially women, from going into tech that they’re not given the space that we need. I think again, and it’s not forever because with practice you become more confident, and that is keeping women out of tech and making them leave tech early.

Jackie: And it’s so important for those of us who are around that table to be allies and to be advocates for those who don’t speak up as much, but to just give space by saying, you know, Elaine or Jackie, is there something that you’d like to add or what do you think, right, and sometimes it can be just simple as that. So thank you for sharing that. Elaine. That’s so important. 

You forged a path becoming CIO. And you’re on the Forbes technology council. How did you get here, right, and what advice do you have for underrepresented people getting into tech? 

Elaine: You know, for me, education was a priority. First because of my mom, she wanted to make sure that we, we got all our degrees, but second because when I started to learn what unconscious bias was and how some people were being left out because for the color of their skin, because they had an accent, because of their last name, because of the year they graduated from college.

I started to understand that the only thing that people could not take away from me was my education. And so I focused on that as much as I could. I always worked full-time and went to college at the same time, and so I got my associate degree and then I got a technical degree in computer networking because I wanted to get a job quickly.

And then I went for my bachelor’s degree, and then I went from my master’s degree, all throughout working at the same time, because I knew that way people looked at my credentials. They couldn’t say, but we don’t like her because she sounds different. You couldn’t turn your head away. And so I focus on getting certifications in IT. I got my PMP certification in product management. And for me that’ll worked. 

I don’t want to sit here and say that that would work for everyone because it may not, but that was my path, and that is what helped me. Now, the second thing that helped me was the amazing mentors that I found throughout my career, starting in college with a professor. And I feel that, you know, having someone who believes in you and sees in you things that you don’t see yourself is crucial. And so I, I owe a lot of that to them. Plus hard work, you know, especially when you are Latina, you feel sometimes that you have to work three times harder than the person next to you.

And that’s what I did. And so when I was asked to deliver something, I always deliver more because I knew, and this is part of our culture and our upbringing, I knew that I needed to be the best if I wanted to get ahead. 

Jackie: Absolutely, yeah. You know, a lot of us had that same conversation with, with our parents or our loved ones, people that raise us. You’ve got to work harder than everyone else to get ahead and, you know, that’s what we’re trying to change. We want to create equity, a little at a time, right? We can only do it a little at a time, but it’s important that, you know, we understand that at some point, you know, we can’t outwork bias, right, and so it’s important that organizations take time to say, okay, where are we not being fair? Where are we not equitable here and, and change that for them. But yeah, I mean, the education is undeniable, right? Those qualifications, there’s nothing to say other than qualified, qualified, right for that’s. 

Elaine: Yeah. And you know, at times part of the problem is also included in our culture and our upbringing, because I know that it was not my mom’s fault and it was not her mom’s fault, but sometimes we are raised being told, especially for girls, you know, sit quietly, be nice, you know, girls don’t speak up.

And so for many years, I grew up thinking that I needed to be quiet and that I couldn’t raise my voice. And especially for me as a Dominican, we were raised very conscious about respecting our elders. And so if I worked with anyone that was older than me, automatically my brain would go into, oh, this person is all that you need to respect them.

And I ended up managing people that were usually older than me. So I think that is another piece that I don’t think we talk about enough. Sometimes we are raised being told, this is how much you could do. This is your level or limit, because as a Latina, especially for me being gay, which added another layer, this is as far as you will get.

And I had to go through a process of unlearning everything that I learned growing up, everything that I heard from society, from school, from my teachers, from commercials, from TV shows, you know, I had to tell myself, no, that is not true. You could be more than that. You could be better than that. Any, I mean, it takes a lot of practice, being conscious and asking yourself a lot of questions. 

Jackie: That’s such good advice, Elaine, let’s talk about your TEDx on the value of mentoring women and minorities in tech. Tell us about that experience and, and why mentoring is so important. You talked about that a little bit, but let’s dig into that some more.

Elaine: Yeah. I shared that earlier. I, you know, in a way I think my TEDx Talk was a think you to all the mentors that I’ve encountered and also in my mind, is I love letter to my nephews, because I know that they’re growing up and I want them to have a better place than the one that I found. You know, I am a very spiritual person and so I journal, I meditate and I do a lot of visualization and I spent almost five years visualizing myself in the middle of that red carpet. And I will tell myself, you’re going to do this one day. I know you’re going to do it. 

But I want everyone to know that I used to hate public speaking. so if you hate it, there is hope, just watch me. I used to hate it. I used to be so afraid. I couldn’t eat my stomach would hurt right before and I had to say something. And so what I decided was to take action take classes. And so I, I knew that if I had a message that was big enough, that will change other people’s lives, it was now my responsibility to share that message with others. 

So for me, it was a dream come true to be able to do a TEDx talk. And I know the importance of mentors because they helped me. They believed in me, they pushed me along the way. You know, when I was at the college one of my professors was a Latina and a woman, and when I saw her was the first time that I said, oh my God, I could do this. And we need more role models like that. Mentors who would look at us and say, you know what? You have it, and I believe in you. Just keep going and keep moving forward. So I try to do that now for others. 

Jackie: That’s amazing. Elaine, one thing that you are not in short supply of his courage, going from not speaking English to being a TEDx speaker, right, and he talked about being afraid, but so many of us are just afraid to step out beyond our comfort zone. Where does your courage come from, and when do you give to us who may be afraid to take that step? 

Elaine: Yes. Thank you. I want to make sure everyone knows. I still do get afraid, especially before I go on stage. And so that was the first thing that I realized that fear was never going to go away. I spent a lot of time waiting for fear to go away and telling myself, oh my God, I hate this feeling. How can I get rid of it? I joined a group called Toastmasters so that I can become better at public speaking, and that’s one of the things that I learned fear is not going anywhere.

You need to get comfortable feeling the fear, but doing it anyway. And so, you know, one of the reasons I knew I needed to get over my fear was my mom. It’s very personal to me because my dad died when I was seven, and so my mom, I saw her struggle as a single mom, and moved to another country, and I always tell myself, you know, the least I could do is make her proud.

The least I could do is get another degree, the least that I could do is make sure that I succeed and she can see that and she can see that everything she did was not in vain. And so always keep that in mind. And the second one is my nephews. I’m looking back and I’m looking forward at the same time, and I want them to see what’s possible for them.

You know, that we have darker skin and sometimes we are, you know, discriminated against only because of that. And I know that we have to do something to change it. And, you know, my aunt said once you to know better, you do better. I want to make sure that we do better. And so the fear is not gone.

The fear is there and I talk to it all the time. My fear is my BFF, now that’s what I call it. and you know, I usually say that fear is the messenger. I always know that there is a message that the fears bring into me. The fear is telling me that what I’m about to do, it’s really important and meaningful to me.

And that’s why I care about it so much. Another trick that I heard, I don’t remember who said this, but I’ve used this over and over again, is that instead of saying I’m scared, I switched that in my mind and I say, I’m excited. And I keep repeating in my head. I’m excited. I’m so excited. I’m going to have a podcast interview, with Jackie later on, and I’m so excited about it.

And so I say that before I go on stage, I say that before I stand up in front of a large audience and it helps my mind calm down a little bit. And meditation, meditation is the last piece. I think that. You know, I try to observe my thoughts. and so I, I question a lot of the things that are coming from my childhood that I know are not true anymore.

Jackie: That’s such good advice. You know, a lot of times we can talk ourselves into things or out of things. Right, and it’s so important to be mindful of how we talk to ourselves. So that’s, that’s great advice. 

Elaine: Yeah. You know, it’s amazing the amount of time that we spend talking to ourselves without realizing that we’re doing that. And if you were to write down the things that you are telling yourself, you would probably not tell your best friend the same things you’re telling yourself. And so journaling helps me see on paper, the things that I’m thinking, and then change them. And so I think, you know, I think, you know, they always say your handwriting is powerful. I believe in that 100%, I like writing down my thoughts and then trying to find a way of changing them if I need to, or reinforcing them if it’s something good and positive. 

Jackie: Absolutely. Oh, that’s, that’s a great, I might try doing that because we, you’re right, we don’t realize how we’re talking to ourselves every day. But taking time to write that down, we can say, yeah, this isn’t right. This isn’t positive, right, and that’s so important. 

Elaine: It’s so important. 

Jackie: Elaine, you mentioned your nephews. Let’s talk about some of the challenges with getting underrepresented students involved in STEM and why your nephews inspire you to mentor and speak and do as much as you can.

Elaine: Yes. You know, I, I speak a little bit about this in my TEDx talk and one of my nephews in particular has, you know, very dark skin and he loves technology. He loves computers and gaming, and I want to make sure that he doesn’t face the same issues that I face. And so that’s one of the reasons I talk about it a lot, and if you look at the data, you will see that especially, you know, children from Latinos and African American families, we don’t have access to all the technology that other kids would have.

And so sometimes we don’t have internet. Sometimes we don’t have laptops. Sometimes we cannot even practice the things that we just learned in school when we go home, because we don’t have access to the same equipment. And so I think we need to look into that, and that’s a bigger problem than, you know, something that you and I can fix.

There’s also a need to train our educators in STEM fields and you know, making them feel comfortable speaking about these topics. something else that I mentioned earlier is, you know, television. TV shows even cartoons. I don’t think we have cartoons with female scientists or even a Latina female scientist.

And, you know, kids are watching, you know, they’re learning from what they see, and they don’t see themselves. I mean, how many years did we have a Barbie that look exactly the same way? and you know, last week I was so happy I was looking at some news that came out about that day and how now this is 2021.

We have a Band-Aid that has different colors for dark skin for lighter skin. I mean, why is this taking so long? I think these are some of the things that are keeping us out. And from my experience, I can tell you, I didn’t have a mentor when I started looking into college. I didn’t have anyone who would guide me. I didn’t have a counselor that would say Elaine you should go into tech because I know that this and this and this will happen.

Our families sometimes are at fault, I think sometimes, especially for Latinos, we don’t think girls can go into college, and so we have to change that mentality where girls are supposed to play with dolls and wear pink and let them decide what they want to do for themselves. So I think it’s, you know, it starts in the house and then we get a lot of reinforcement through commercials and cartoons and the TV industry. And in the end, it’s reinforced again when you go to college because we’re not telling girls that they could do anything they want to do.

And our classrooms, if you look into them, it’s mostly boys because they have been told over and over again, this is something you can do and you’re capable. And even the way we raise our girls, I think it’s hard for them to believe in themselves when we keep sheltering them so much from the things that are happening around them.

Jackie: Absolutely. It’s so important that we, you know, as parents, as family members, redraw those lines, right, as to what our children can do, what they want to do, what they want to experience, what they’re into at the moment, and, and really just embrace that and, and be supportive of each child finding their own path.

You know, and it’s so important that we just allow our children and us as adults to, to find where we’re comfortable and be able to explore and experiment and push a little further than, you know, than, than we thought we could. 

Elaine: Yeah. If, you know, for me growing up, I got my associate degree and then I got a technical degree and I got a bachelor’s degree.

And when I decided to go for my masters my mom called me and said, Elaine, she said Elainé, isn’t this enough? Like, why are you doing another degree? You know, I am so tired of seeing you study so much. You already have a good job. Of course, this is not her fault. This is the way she was raised, but this is what we’re doing.

We’re passing this on from generation to generation. And I’m the one who has to tell my mom, mom, I want a better future. And if I want that, I need to do more. And of course she understood that. Counting how many other examples we have like that, where we are being told that’s enough. That’s okay. You can, you can end it there. You can stop. 

Jackie: That’s right. And, you know, Elaine, that’s so important because as you said, you worked full-time the whole time that you were in school. And so getting permission right, to take an easier, so many of us do because it’s hard.

Elaine: People expect that of us, right? 

Jackie: And so I love that you took the time to explain to your mom why that was important and forged ahead anyway. I mean, and that’s, that’s so important for us to begin to do and for our mentors to help us do. Let’s talk a little about imposter syndrome. So we talked about being afraid and I’ve heard that you sometimes say don’t believe everything you think, and certainly by journaling, you know, you can see a little more of what you’re thinking and, you know, mitigate that.

Why do so many successful people, especially women and especially culturally diverse people, have this imposter syndrome? And I’ve talked about this with so many successful people, but it seems to be a thread, right, and especially again, among women and culturally diverse people. How does that start? We got into that just a little bit, but I want to, I want to lean into it a little more, and then how do we overcome that? 

Elaine: Yeah. You know, I dealt, of course I dealt with imposter syndrome for many years, and I can tell you that I got to a point where I actually got a therapist. Because I knew that I couldn’t fix it on my own, and I want to make sure everyone hears this because especially in the Latin X community, there is a lot of stigmas around having a therapist and what it means.

And so in my opinion, everyone should have a therapist from the moment you’re born, because we’re dealing with so much. What I can tell you, you know, my therapist helped me see all the things that I was telling myself also that were limiting beliefs. And so I learned that I had all of this condition thinking that was given to me and I needed to find a way to not believe all the thoughts that came to my head. So you’re right. I actually have a sign on my door that says, don’t believe everything you think. And everyone that comes to see me, that’s the first thing they see. 

I think the problem is bigger than that. I think we have created systems that make us feel imposter syndrome. I read an article in HBR that said imposter syndrome doesn’t exist, we just created it. And you know, I’ve been thinking about that for a while, cause there is some truth to that. We in the workplace, even in education, I mean, how many years would it take to dismantle a system that has been created for so many years, but even in the workplace, these systems were created predominantly by white men.

And now we, with time, are trying to adjust ourselves so that we can conform with what’s already there instead of changing it, and even knowing that when you’re going to a meeting and someone needs to take notes, the first person they look at is the woman in the room, right. That’s just one example. There’s so many things like that will continue to welcome to give and take time because people need to first be aware of the bias that they have. And I don’t know why a lot of people have so much pushback against that. It’s like not wanting to open the Pandora box that’s already there and we already know what’s in it.

So hopefully we’ll have more unconscious bias training in the workplace so that people can actually go inside themselves and see the things that they’ve been doing for a while. But, you know, on top of that, I really want to take a moment to talk about our hiring process, because I know that a lot of the issues that we have start there, where we have job descriptions that are three and four pages long. And sometimes I look at it with this Christian I’m like, I cannot do that. Are you kidding me? Who’s going to do all of that. We’re looking for super people at this point and we sometimes want people to know everything before they come into the workplace and that is just impossible. It is not going to happen. 

The second portion is even while you’re looking at resumes, I mean, there is so much bias that we all have when we see a name, when we see the age, when we see the experience that someone has, and I wish we could just remove all the names from the resumes forever, so that no one will ever see them, just like The Voice. We need to do that because a lot of us are missing out on opportunities, just because of that. And then some of the work is on our end also as women, there’s a lot of research that shows that when we look at our job description, we want to have a hundred percent of the qualifications and we need to, we need to stop that. Men will look at the same job description and they feel they only need 60% and they hit apply.

We need to hit apply even if we only have 60%, and that’s one of the reasons I created 5xMinority, and I talk a lot about this, but you know, to tell you what helped me and I share this with all the girls that I mentor, I call it collect evidence and what I did, and I started many, many years ago. I have a document where I write down all of my accomplishments.

Every project I’ve completed, I have the date, I have the month, and I go back and I read that document often because sometimes we forget how amazing we are, how freaking amazing. And so when you have this feeling of imposter syndrome, that’s coming over you, you need to go back to that. And tell yourself I was able to do this and I was able to finish this. And so I’m going to do this challenge. That’s in front of me right now. And that changed my life. I still get goosebumps when I mentioned it.

Jackie: I love that. Oh my gosh. 

Elaine: Jackie, I have my document and every podcast interview, when I complete it, I go in, I put the date and I put the name and I am no longer waiting for external validation. I think that’s the biggest problem. We are waiting for people out there to tell us that we’re doing a good job. I tell myself I’m doing a good job. I high-five myself all the time in the mirror, all the time. And I think that we need to just know that everything we need we already were born with it. We came to this planet with it.

Instead of we aim for someone else to tell us, I tell myself, you did an amazing job today. And it took practice and it’s uncomfortable at the beginning, but if you do this over and over again, it’s going to be natural. You won’t even think about it. And so if anyone is listening out there, start the document today, write down all of your accomplishments, and go look at it every once in a while. It’s like a boost of self-esteem in a second. 

Jackie: Absolutely. Oh my gosh. That is so awesome. I’m going to do that. That’s so great. You know, because sometimes we do need something that’s tangible that, that where we can be our own cheerleader, right, and say, you’re awesome, but you’re right.

We’re so often looking for that external validation that sometimes doesn’t come for women and culturally diverse people. And certainly not at the same level because you know, some groups are, are judged on their potential, right, and given opportunities based on their potential. Some of us, who are women and culturally diverse, are given opportunities based on our accomplishments, which is different. And so we’re looking for that external validation and we need to be able to validate ourselves, and I love that. I love that.

Elaine, let’s talk about 5xMinority. Why did you start that organization? And what does the organization do? 

Elaine: Yes. So, you know, 5xMinority actually started as a blog. I realized after being into management for a few years, that I had a voice and that people were listening.

Um, And I needed to find a way to share everything that I knew with all the women, especially. I needed to find a way to share all the tips and tricks like, like collecting evidence, so that other women can also do this and succeed, right. And so it’s not as a blog, but after I deliver my TEDx. I started to get so many phone calls and so many emails.

Um, some of the emails made me cry for days because women were starting to share what they were going through in the workplace. And they felt validated because I was saying it out loud and they couldn’t say it out loud. And so 5xMinority is a company that, you know, the focus is to elevate the voices of women and minorities in tech.

And so we do that through some workshops, a lot of public speaking and panels. sometimes I’m invited to come to speak internally with private groups, ERG groups, and more recently I’ve started doing more collaborations with other companies. We can elevate the voices of women. That one I did with Cadillac, which I’m really proud of, and I pat myself on the back for it. 

And I want to continue to do more of that because especially Latinas and members of the LGBTQ community, I want to make sure that they see themselves in me and they see what’s possible for them too. And so I do a lot of writing. I love writing articles and blog posts and sharing them on LinkedIn and trying to educate people also about my culture and the things that I’m going through and the things that I’ve been through with the hope that they can see more than they’ve seen before and hopefully change the way they act the next time they go to a meeting in someone is trying to speak in they’re being interrupted, you know so little by little working we’ll get there. And, I’m actually blessed that I able to have a platform to talk about it. 

Jackie: That is amazing. Elaine, tell us what inspires you?

Elaine: I think I mentioned those. First, my mom and second, my nephews, and more than that, the new generation, you know, I’m a mentor for a group called Lala it’s in Latin America.

And when I see those young boys and girls, my heart just swells. I just, I watched them and this social causes that they’re interested in, in working and moving forward, and I am so impressed by the work they’re doing. I know a lot of people talk about millennials and the new generations of people who feel entitled, but I don’t feel that way. I feel that they’re going to change the world. I feel that they’ve had enough of the BS that all of us have been dealing with, and I’m excited about the future that they will bring. 

Jackie: Love that. Elaine, tell us something about you that not a lot of people know. 

Elaine: Hmm. That’s a good question. Well, you know, I love music and dancing a lot. And people will be surprised to learn how much I love Bollywood movies, because the music and the dancing is incorporated in it, besides the fact that I’ve, I love learning about different cultures and that’s why I traveled so much, but Bollywood movies and music sometimes without knowing the words, I could feel what they’re saying. And I’m fascinated by it. I don’t think a lot of people know this. 

Jackie: Oh, that’s awesome. That is really interesting. I love that. Yeah, Bollywood is so, I mean the music and the costuming and the dance. It’s amazing. Amazing. Elaine, what is the message that you want to leave our listeners with today? 

Elaine: Mm, I think I have a few of them. The first one we talked about is not believing your thoughts and if I can recommend a book, The four agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is one of the first books that opened my mind to this concept, especially how powerful words are and how we need to be impeccable with our words. 

Something else that I, I actually wrote a blog post about it recently is especially as women, we need to learn how to advocate for ourselves. We are so uncomfortable sharing our wins, and if you are invisible, nobody’s going to know how good you are, and we need to start being comfortable sharing our wins and knowing when is the perfect time to do it, which meeting, because you want people to know that you are proud of everything, you’ve done. You want people to see how much value you bring to the table, and we are so hesitant to share all of our accomplishments. Start small, but then with time and with practice, you’ll be more comfortable. 

The last one I would say, I consider myself a lifelong student. I always have something to learn. I do not have all the answers. And so any room that I enter I’m always ready to learn something new. I’m not the smartest person in the room. I can tell you that. I don’t want to be either. I want to learn more. I’m curious about other people I’m curious about other cultures, and I think if we use curiosity more, a lot of the issues that we have with DEI may go away because you will start to see people instead of all the boxes that society wants to put us in. I have like a hundred boxes. 

You know, it’s funny 5xMinority started with the five things that make me a minority, and now I have like 10, but I can’t change the name. And so I think that if we start seeing people as humans first, not all these other titles that we put on them we’ll definitely create a better works workspace for them.

Jackie: Absolutely. I love that, you know, seeing people as human and then having the desire to be a lifelong learner so that you’re learning, you’re putting yourself out there, sometimes being a little bit uncomfortable to try to experience new things and ask those questions that, you know, you don’t have the answers to. I love that. That’s great.

Elaine: you know, Jackie, especially as leaders, I feel that. The. Biggest problem is at the top, and I think leaders are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, that they end up saying nothing. And we need to change that. And you would only happen when we are more comfortable being vulnerable in front of others.

Right, and so even when the pandemic started, I immediately met with my entire staff and I said, I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t know what we’re going to do about it, but we’re going to figure it out and I’m going to keep you updated. I didn’t go into the meeting saying, this is what’s happening, this is what we’re doing No, I have no clue. We’ve never been here before. I’ve never been through a pandemic. And so I don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re going to figure this out. And I do that all the time. If I don’t know something, the first thing I would say, you know what? I’m not sure. Can you tell me more so that I can understand that? We need to be comfortable being vulnerable because it helps other people to connect with us at a human level, which is super important.

Jackie: Absolutely Elaine, how can people connect with you? 

Elaine: Yes, well, you can go to and all of my social media are listed there and also, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. So if you put my name, I think I’m the only Elaine Montilla you will find. 


Jackie: Elaine, thank you so much for spending time with us today. Your insights and perspectives and advice for us, so amazing. I know I’m going to; I took some notes during the podcast and I’m going to do so many of those things. It’s such great advice. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being with us. 

Elaine: Oh, that makes me so happy. Steal everything you want. Everything I have, I want to give it away. So that makes me happy, and thank you for the opportunity and for creating this space for us to come here and be truly Ourselves. 

Jackie: Thank you so much. 

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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