Yanire Brana has more than eighteen years of international experience in marketing, training, leveraging information technology, and change management processes. Since 2007, she has dedicated most of her time to supporting women business leaders through mentoring, training, communications and networking activities. She previously worked for Accenture, Banco Popular, IDB, World Bank, and Booz Allen Hamilton. Yanire has a Law Degree from Deusto University and she is also a graduate of the IE Business School, Harvard Business School and Georgetown University. A full bio is provided at the end of the interview.
In a key month for women, USEC had the honor of discussing a variety of issues with Yanire in this exclusive interview.
1. For over 10 years you have led MET Community, a non-profit organization that you founded which is focused on developing women’s leadership competencies through mentoring and the use of technology, operating from Spain, the US and Latin America. What were your motivations to start this organization and what results are you most proud of?
Prior to coming to the US, I worked for IE Business School, Accenture, and Banco Popular (now Banco Santander), with job titles like the Corporate Responsibility Manager, and the professor of technology and law focusing on business technology, and intellectual property law specific to the technology. When I joined the financial sector, I felt that professional women were at a disadvantage in the workplace. That was the main driver behind MET Community. I decided to find new ways to support professional women, helping them achieve their goals. I went to Harvard Business School to learn how to develop an innovative strategy and a business plan to support women entrepreneurs and that helped MET get off the ground. This effort enabled me to engage Blackberry, and MET Community got the sponsorship from Blackberry.
Since then, I have dedicated most of my time to support professional women through mentoring, training and networking activities. MET Community targets women entrepreneurs in Europe, the US, and Latin America.
MET Community is a nonprofit organization with a presence in in ten different countries (Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panamá, Peru, Spain, and the US).
2. March is Women’s History Month and this year it is particularly important because of the strength of the recent #MeToo movement. In your opinion, what are the main issues impacting women entrepreneurs in the countries where MET operates?
In Latin America, there is a wide gender gap in terms of entrepreneurship. Women are less likely than men to start a business. The most critical challenges for Latina entrepreneurs are:
- Lack of self-confidence;
- Battling stereotypes – women are forced to prove themselves before they’re taken seriously by a boss, prospective client, peers or even their employees; and
- Lack of specialized education and/or mentoring – while in the US there are numerous resources for starting entrepreneurs like SCORE, those are lacking in Latin America.
3. In the US, women hold only 19% of board seats on companies in the S&P 500 index. In Latin America, only 6% of board seats of the 100 largest companies in the region are held by women. In your opinion, what are the main obstacles that prevent a more even representation?
Women still have a long way to go to reach parity with men in the boardroom and should certainly be given every opportunity to pursue directorships. There are important issues that should be considered by women who are trying to progress in business:
- Lack of sponsors – there are not enough leaders sponsoring highly qualified women to give them visibility and to promote them for board opportunities; sponsors are essential to ensuring career advancement and professional development
- Lack of Female Role Models — There are a few powerful examples of women role models in workplaces.
- Lack of ambition or self-confidence; some women do not see themselves as a CEO or a Board member or don’t think that implied sacrifice for achieving such a high position is worth it.
4. The use of technology is one of the main pillars of how MET implements its mission. What technologies do you think will be the most critical ones in empowering women in the future?
When we look at what the hottest technologies are lately: we are talking about social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter which enable people to connect and share information, and even organize; we are also talking about online platforms, such as Uber and Airbnb which enables people to utilize something that they already have better; in the case of Uber, a car and some free time, and in the case of Airbnb an empty room or a house. We are also talking about Amazon which provides a commerce platform that enables people to sell their goods across the globe. These concepts are key concepts that I feel will be essential in the future as well.
MET Community offers programs and resources to advance women in technology from the classroom to practical application related to their businesses. Specifically, we look at CRM – Customer Relationship Management and SRM – Supply Relationship Management applications and tools; and off-line and on-line marketing applications and tools that help with creating, promoting and managing the business.
5. Mentoring is another key element in MET’s strategy. What are the lessons learned in your experience leading mentoring programs?
Mentoring is a process in which a person with relevant experience and/or knowledge (mentor) generously and unselfishly shares what they know with another, in a trust-based relationship. The purpose of this relationship is the personal and professional development of a woman (mentee) by providing her with the support necessary to reach her objectives. The key to this relationship is that both, mentor and mentee, take this seriously and put in the necessary time and effort to make it successful.
During the last ten years, we supported more than 300 hundred entrepreneurs. Much of the success can be attributed to the support of the mentors. The power of mentoring is unlimited. Not only for mentees, but also for mentors. During all these years as a mentor, I realized that helping others is a great way to help myself by learning more about myself, and by pushing myself to consider ideas, problems, and challenges from a standpoint of another. I saw many times that mentors change lives, but mentees change mentors’ lives also.
6. Cultural differences are significant among the areas where MET operates, Spain, the US and Latin America. What is your advice on this area for leaders working in these regions?
Observe how people interact and communicate. There are significant cultural differences – just comparing how many words we use to discuss an issue, one can see that Americans tend to use fewer words compared to Spanish speaking cultures. Latin America is a huge and diverse region. There are white people, black people, brown people, people of Asian descent. When people think “Latino,” they mainly picture the Mexican, Puerto Rican, and/or Dominican people who live in the U.S. Some of them, consider Spaniards as Latino too.
Also, in some countries you cannot say “no!” For Colombians, it is not worth hurting someoneʼs feelings just because you do not feel like doing something. For example, when I went to Colombia, saying “no, gracias” (no, thank you) to rather pushy street vendors was considered aggressive. A simple “gracias” (thank you) would have been more appropriate and a more polite way to turn down their advances.
7. What have been the greatest challenges for you as an executive and business owner from Spain working in the US?
Dealing with cultural differences has been a great challenge. Specifically, here in Washington DC where you encounter people from all corners of the world. It has been a challenge to adjust my interactions and take into account sometimes subtle, and sometimes not so subtle differences. For example, communicating with Americans, I generally strive toward being concise and precise, while communications with Latinos requires more interactions and being concise can be considered rude.
The most critical challenges that I have faced as a Business leader are regulations and tax compliance, hiring employees and healthcare coverage, the costs and laws regarding these are ever changing. In the US, healthcare coverage is generally associated with the employer, and this is a significant change in mindset from Spain. The regulations concerning creating and managing an organization are time-costly and if you don’t have a good system in place, it can be very frustrating. In addition to that, usually each year there are new regulations that are affecting business owners.
Also, staying passionate and motivated. When you are a business owner and your clients are in Abu Dhabi or in Spain or Latin America you realized that working 14-hour days is not uncommon. Working during the weekends or during your vacation is even more common than you initially thought. For that reason, you have to be sure that you are doing something that you are passionate about. When you are passionate about your job, you can motivate your employees, your partners or your clients.
YANIRE’s FULL BIO
Yanire Brana has more than eighteen years of specialized experience in, and understanding of, knowledge management, communications, and gender and development areas. Yanire also has more than fifteen years’ experience in marketing, training, leveraging information technology, and change management processes.
Since 2007, she has dedicated most of her time to support professional women through mentoring, training and networking activities. For these purposes in 2008 she founded her own non-for-profit organization called MET Community which specifically targets women entrepreneurs in Europe, US and Latin America. She also served in the Board of several non-profits including Ladies America, a national network of professional women.
Her work has been rewarded not only in Europe but also in the Latin American Region, with excellent results. In order to achieve these results she has developed excellent entrepreneurial and organizational skills, as well team building and project management skills and also managed a team of 50 individuals in ten different countries (Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panamá, Peru, Spain, and US)
She worked for the Women in Banking area in the IFC-Work Bank Group (WBG) where she developed studies and specific research focused on Latin American women entrepreneurs. Prior to that she worked for the Change Management Office and supported the implementation of Change Initiatives and the Change Management agenda across the World Bank Group through the design and development of knowledge management tools.
Before joining the WBG, she also worked for over three years at the Inter-American Development Bank as the Communication and Change Management Leader. Prior to this experience, she was a Corporate Development Manager at Banco Popular Group from 2004 to 2008, where she participated in the creation of knowledge management plans that aligned with the bank’s strategy and priorities.
Yanire also teach diversity and communications courses for various academic institutions in Latin American and Spain, such as IE Business School, and has combined this activity with research projects, reports and articles since 1998. She is always in search for new opportunities to develop innovative and technological processes that can support female professionals in today’s dynamic business environment.
Yanire has Law Degree as well as a Master’s Degree in International Relations and an MBA specialized in technologies IE Business School. She also has a certificate in Innovation and Change Leadership from Georgetown University, Harvard Business School and London Business School.