Life at Deloitte

Be the CEO of your own career

Women’s History Month

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Maritza Montiel, deputy CEO and vice chairman (retired), Deloitte LLP, to hear about her career journey. Maritza developed key insights on the topic of leadership from her 40 years of working at Deloitte.

How did your upbringing influence your career journey and how you developed as a leader?
My ultra-competitive nature and passion started in my childhood. I grew up a middle child and book-ended by two siblings who were great at everything, so I developed a fierce drive to be the best.

I would say that my mother was my biggest influence. She was an extraordinary woman who lost her husband before age 50 and raised three kids without being able to speak a word of English. She only had an eighth-grade education, because back in Cuba where she was from, women only went to school through the eighth grade.

After my father died, my mother learned to drive and put all three of us through school, working two jobs. To her, there is nothing impossible in life and nothing was off limits just because I was a woman. She would tell me, "Of course you’re going to pass the CPA exam." "Of course you’re going to graduate from college." "Of course you’re going to make partner." To her, it was a foregone conclusion that I would succeed. She believed it and eventually so did I.

What were some of the challenges you faced as a woman professional when you first started out? How did you address them?
When I joined Deloitte in 1973, there were no female role models. Women in the C-suite, women in the boardroom … these things were inconceivable. There were no prominent women leaders in the accounting or consulting business whose leadership style we women could emulate. We had to learn on our own and cultivate a style of our own.

Back in those days, Deloitte assigned each of us a "career counselor," and I was fortunate to get a counselor who would become my voice of reason and a shoulder to cry on during those early years. Whenever I didn’t get an assignment I wanted or the credit I thought I deserved, I would ask, "Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I be the lead senior on this project or client?"

He would smile and say, "Because you’re a girl. Things will happen to you because you’re a girl." He said this to me again and again and more than once it drove me to frustrated tears. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood what he meant. He was telling me that, as a woman, I wouldn’t get the same opportunities as the men … at least not right away. However, he helped me realize that a weakness is only a weakness if we let it be one. I learned to be relentless … to say: "Okay, life’s not fair. What am I going to do about it?" So I took on the jobs in the office that no one else would … the challenging client assignments and made them and the people who worked on them feel special.

What advice do you have for other women who are looking to advance in their careers?
We are the CEOs of our own careers. We are responsible for the opportunities we make and the path we take; we have to do the negotiating and we have to have the vision and strategy. We have to set the goals and find a way to reach them. Nobody else is going to do it for us.

Also, you need to believe in yourself even if others don’t. Don’t let other people tell you what your potential is. You have to dive in, not just lean in. You can’t whisper all the time; sometimes you have to roar — and be assertive about your desire to lead and to succeed.

What legacy are you most proud of?
You get what you want out of life by helping other people get what they want. Besides the business of Deloitte, part of my responsibility as a leader is to help develop and mentor other leaders. This is equally as important as successes with clients or building our business or transforming a business that needs improvement. Your brand is intrinsically connected to what you’ve accomplished as a leader, but also what you have done to help others maximize their potential and be the very best they can be! The legacy I’m most of proud of is the people I’ve been able to help.

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