BREAKING BARRIERS: In discussing gender stereotypes in business, Cate Luzio (left) and Bertha González-Nieves (right) believe “the conversation should focus not so much on the roadblocks but on the opportunities."


As a young executive in China for the first time, Cate Luzio, global head of multinational corporate banking at HSBC Bank, was once told by a CEO that she wasn’t included in plans for cocktails because “You can't handle it. You're a young woman.”

“You know, I’m ambitious,” Luzio says with a wry smile, “women often hear ‛don’t be aggressive’ but I think men don’t hear they’re too ambitious or too driven or too young — those are all good things if you’re a man.”

Bertha González-Nieves, co-founder and CEO of Casa Dragones Tequila, has also encountered her share of awkward meetings. “In my experience, when I arrive at meetings sometimes people are like ‛where is she?’. I don't know what people expect — because there are stereotypes, that surprise that there's a woman doing this. But they're broken very quickly.”

Luzio and González-Nieves don’t view these experiences as “glass ceiling” moments, but rather moments that tested their resolve — and cultural knowledge. They join a growing number of professional women who think we need a new vocabulary for gender equality.

Perspective is the priority

These anecdotes were shared at the ENGAGED Forum in New York City, organized by the United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and hosted by sponsor HSBC. One sentiment that arose repeatedly was that the time has come to reconsider terms like “glass ceiling.”

“I think the conversation should focus not so much on the roadblocks but on the opportunities,” González-Nieves says. “I think [in] using language like ‛glass ceiling’ you’re just talking about constant obstacles when you should be talking about human beings, not a gender, driving an industry forward.”

Luzio agrees. “Take the concept of ‛work-life balance,’” she says. “If we just keep talking about work-life balance, it’s presented as a roadblock. But it’s different for everybody. My work-life balance is my travel schedule — I’m on the road three weeks a month — but I don’t feel that’s a hindrance to where I’m trying to get to.”

Both feel business culture has left behind old concepts of gender roles. “The tequila industry is a male-dominated industry,” González-Nieves admits. “But I don’t really think there's such a thing as a female industry or a male industry. Today it's all about passion. It actually didn't matter that I am a woman — what mattered most was having a very strong point of view.”

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD: When it comes to desparties and perception, "men don’t hear they’re too ambitious or too driven or too young — those are all good things if you’re a man."


The right mix

González-Nieves acknowledges stereotypes persist, but she sees opportunities for collaboration instead of obstacles. “In any industry there is plenty of passion — but it's more about ‘how do we drive this industry forward?’. Take the issue of equal pay. That’s an area of opportunity where we need to find the tools to ensure we’re adjusting that. If it's coming from a woman or a man, it really doesn't matter as long as we're figuring out how to take our industry into the future.”

Luzio notes a changing vocabulary doesn’t mean ‛mission accomplished.’ “I love my job, but I also channel my energy into causes I’m passionate about, particularly bringing this next generation of women up. We as women — and men — have to encourage women to continue to take risks.”

Both acknowledge there are still challenges specific to women but agree the vocabulary of barriers and ceilings is no longer effective. Instead, they see an opportunity to bring men along on their journey — not to mention to make some deals over a round or two of top-quality tequila.

Share your experiences with Cate on Twitter @KTLuzio & Bertha on Instagram @BerthaGonzalezN. To find out more about Casa Dragones, the handcrafted, small batch, luxury tequila producer visit casadragones.com

Photos: Jaime Cody Photography