Meet Gladis Araujo, Vice President of Global Quality Safety and Regulatory in Mattel, founder of the Monterrey chapter, Lean In Regio, a program aimed at women working in corporations or entrepreneurs and young women beginning their careers, she was recognized by the Malaysia Global Chamber of Commerce as a Top Women Inspiring Humanity Award.
Who is Gladis Araujo? Define yourself.
Passionate, high energy, perseverant, resilient, “make things happen.” coach/ leader.
How were you as a kid?
Smiling all the time, dreamer, I was curious about the world around me. I loved reading, watching movies, and playing outside with friends (always love to lead) I spoke too much and louder.
“I realized the difference between Mexican and Global organizations. Global organizations did not look at my gender, they were looking at my potential, they supported me to grow and shine until now”
You hold a bachelor’s degree in Chemical and System Engineer and a master’s in quality and Manufacturing, both at Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico. An International Management Master at Thunderbird School of Global Management and Organizational Development Master at Universidad de Monterrey, a Ph.D. in Business Administration at Phoenix University, why did you choose those courses of study?
In my 15s, when it was a time to select a career path, I told my father that the only thing I wanted to do was to help people, my father told me that the only alternative would be to study social worker. This alternative was not available in the university I was aspiring to go (Tecnologico de Monterrey) and I was not willing to move to Mexico City. This type of possibilities (moving away) did not exist on my mind back then: too afraid to leave home and family. Additionally, someone else told me that that profession was not good for making a true living.
I started exploring different alternatives in the Tec de Monterrey looking into all the available study plans and trying to picture myself in any of these careers’ paths. I knew I loved math and chemistry, and I was having two good role models in my family (my godparents) who studied Chemical Engineering and they were doing very well in life. Then, I thought this should be my best option. Back then, never crossed my mind about any gender challenges in this career journey. There were constant comments from my friends about how hard this career was, how much dedication required to succeed, that I will be losing all my social life during my youth, and about the fact that there were few women or none in this profession. These comments did not intimidate me. I was feeling even more motivated and eager to pursue these challenges.
I found very quickly that the doors were not opening for me. Looking for job opportunities in this arena, the recruiters/managers of the area were arguing that they were not having any women restrooms, changing rooms, uniforms, security equipment, etc. I realized they did not want to hire me because I was a woman. I started working in the IT area in a special internship program at IBM. I kept looking for options. I did not want to pursue the IT career for the long term. A year later, my boyfriend Carlos (now my husband and my mentor/coach in life) found a job posting from Mattel. He told me to apply.
I got the job in the quality department as Lab Supervisor. I was feeling lucky of having the opportunity to lead a team (20 direct reports) at so young age and start up a chemical lab from scratch. I discovered early on my career the importance of leadership and connecting with people to achieve the organizational goals. And I realized the difference between Mexican and Global organizations. Global organizations did not look at my gender, they were looking at my potential, they supported me to grow and shine until now.
“You need to be sensitive of the gaps and needs of your organization, what is coming, and be ahead of the game. Prepare yourself, volunteer yourself, lead with passion, not be afraid to try new ways, be creative with solutions, involved others”
In the curriculum of chemical and systems engineering there were not classes related to quality and I was working in the quality department in a manufacturing company. I was not feeling up to the level. Therefore, I decided to prepare myself and study a master’s degree in quality and manufacturing in the Tec de Monterrey. I was supported by the company. since early days I was having a strong and highly respected voice in the organization.
I continued growing (from supervisor to manager) every year taking more and more responsibilities in the quality assurance arena: assembly lines, painting, quarantine, molding, incoming, etc. until one day our Quality Director was looking to certify our plant in ISO 9000. ISO was too new in Mexico, no one did not really know what it was, why it was needed, etc. Top management immediately thought about me for the ISO 9000 Management Representative (Sr. Manager) position reporting directly to the General Manager of the plant.
I was determined to be the best at this role. My full energy was put on. I started working with all departments and people in the plant (2500). I needed to mobilize their energies; help them to understand that ISO was not more work, it was a better work; I must become a change agent. Again, I was not feeling fully prepared for this task. I realized that you could have the best procedures in place, technology, know-how, etc. but if the people are not convinced and motivated to follow the new quality system nothing will be done ever. Then, I decided to study another master’s degree in organizational development.
Few years later, the Corporation took the decision to open a new facility in Mexico and designated the current GM as the new GM for the new location. He selected 4 key leaders to support him as Directors of the new location. I was one of the chosen ones for this fantastic opportunity. I was believing they will be asking me to lead the Quality department, but for my surprise they selected me for a Materials Director role. I could not believe it. I was having zero experience in this area. I thought, how this could be happening. This role included the responsibilities of master planning, production planning, materials planning (MRP), deep know-how of ERPs, procurement, supplier management, global negotiations skills, financial acumen, warehouse, import-export, and logistics. I was thrilled for the opportunity (a start-up!), but quite shocked since I did not have any expertise in the area.
As promised by my GM, I was trained for a year in the technical aspects. I was extremely happy of having the opportunity to create something from scratch and putting the best-in-class practices, I was feeling I was lacking global negotiation skills, the multicultural aspects, financial acumen, market intelligence, market research etc. and Tec de Monterrey was launching a new program (a first ever dual program and “virtual” one with the University of Thunderbird) so I enrolled in a PhD program in Business Administration in the University of Phoenix. As you can appreciate in these, I am a lifelong learner. I have never stopped studying and growing. This has been a strong foundation and a great launcher in my continuous growth as professional. This preparation helped me to bring the best-in-class practices into the workplace from around the globe.
“I was learning that if you follow your path, believe in your dreams, work hard, and never give up one day you will reach what it seems an unreachable goal”
You have worked in Mattel for 29 years climbing to different positions in the areas of quality and supply chain, since 2015 you are the Vice President of Global Quality Safety and Regulatory, how did you get to this important position? What´s the recipe for your success?
I started very young, and I have been escalating year after year in the organizational ladder. First in local roles, then in regional endeavors, and finally in global responsibilities. Looking back, I realized I was doing all my new roles previously I was officially appointed. Either I created them or there was a need to fill. You need to be sensitive of the gaps and needs of your organization, what is coming, and be ahead of the game. You need to really care about the well-being of your organization and its people. Prepare yourself, volunteer yourself, lead with passion, not be afraid to try new ways, be creative with solutions, involved others, and be humble to learn from mistakes. I have always been hardworking, passionate, high energy, positive attitude, very creative in solutions to business problems (facts and data oriented), people oriented (coach, motivational leader) and making sure we have fun along the way.
Can you describe in simple words what activities do you do as Vice President of Global Quality Safety and Regulatory?
This role assures that all the quality, safety and regulatory requirements of our products are met globally, and good manufacturing practices are put in place starting from the design/development phase, manufacturing, distribution, and delivery to the final customer.
This role makes sure the full supply chain is working in synchrony to assure QSR are happening along the way. QC programs in each plant should be maintained, continuous improvement plans developed and implemented, QMS, audits, complaints/returns minimized, effective corrective and preventive systems in place, assure lab testing is done properly and timely, all learnings are integrated into the design protocols, assure the proper selection, evaluation, and training of suppliers, assure the divisional budget and goals. Develop policies and procedures that guides the organization to meet our QSR protocols.
“Per my life experience, we can strive for everything we love in life, but not precisely everything at the same time. There is a time and a place for everything, and the universe will let you know the best timing to do what you wish and love”
I think all girls have had a Barbie in our lives, have you ever imagined working for the company that created the iconic doll BARBIE? How do you feel it?
I never imagined working for this iconic company, however I can tell you that the first moment I step into the manufacturing plant I knew I belonged there. As lab supervisor in my early days at Mattel, I had never thought of being the global head of all 52 Mattel labs around the globe. And aspiring to be a VP was something unthinkable on my mind. Slowly I was learning that if you follow your path, believe in your dreams, work hard, and never give up one day you will reach what it seems an unreachable goal. I have been always a dreamer and I work hard to get them. Life has been very generous with me: it always gives me more than I ever imagined.
What are the things that make you prouder to be part of Mattel?
- I am proud of our products (its innovation and quality) that are designed to put smiles in the world.
- I am proud of the people at Mattel: passionate, fun, and hardworking.
- I am proud of its diversity and inclusion, social responsibility, and work ethics.
- I am proud of the equal opportunities for people to grow around the globe.
- I love the freedom and support Mattel gives me to try new and innovative ways of doing things.
- Excellent corporate culture.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow in your professional ladder?
- Be prepared – for your current and above/dream position. Do your homework.
- Facts and data/research/validate information - get different points of view and trust in your team.
- Pre-sell your ideas and get additional perspectives.
- Meet and exceed organizational goals.
- Support other areas.
- Support/motivate/coach your team.
- Assure clarity in the organizational goals and empower/engage the full team.
- Be innovative in your solutions.
- Identify gaps, look ahead, and solve creatively.
As a member of the C-suite of Mattel, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else does?
Use facts and data. Do research. Validate information. Talk to your people and get diverse points of view.
“I am never busy to listen any person who needs help and find a way to support her/him”
You lived in Malaysia, now you are based in Monterrey, Mexico, tell us how is the work culture in this Asian country?
- High respect to hierarchies.
- Disciplined – once you define a process, they adhere diligently.
- They meet their deadlines.
- You must invite them to speak up.
- They don’t contradict bosses, but if you ask them, they are open to share their thoughts and suggestions freely.
You are the Founder of Lean In-Network, chapter Mexico, a Nonprofit organization to empower women to reach their full potential and ambitions affiliated to Lean IN foundation (leanin.org) and you participate and many other organizations, what does it drive you?
In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg launched her first book: Lean In. I read it and connected right away. I lacked women role models, coaches, and mentors. I do not complaint because I had the privilege to have many good men mentors, and coaches including my husband. I wished to have this literature available in the early days of my professional life to feel less isolated, outlier, and stopped questioning so many things. Back then, I always wondering if I was not an effective leader because it seemed that my voice was not loud enough to be heard. It seems I was not delivering with a strong voice and clarity my message. I was happy for the new generations because they were having access to this type of readings.
Years later (2015), I moved to Malaysia, and I met with other women expat leaders and they introduced me to the Lean In circles. I did not know about it, and we decided to start Lean In in Malaysia. We launched our Lean In Network in Penang, Malaysia, started lean in circles, training sessions, and mentoring programs to support women to reach their aspirations and full potential.
Lean In circles are group of 2-12 women with common goals who meet regularly (at least once per month) to work together to reach their aspirations. These aspirations could be improving their leadership skills, work life balance, self-esteem, communication skills, etc. Lean in organization was supportive enough to provide free materials (videos, activities, readings, etc.) that the circles can use globally. Additionally, we were providing specific coaching as needed. Once these circles in action, I could not believe the power of peer coaching, and the significant impact of peer support for women in getting ahead and fulfill their dreams.
Sharing my excitement about this initiative and the good things were happening in Malaysia, my two sisters (Berenice and Bella Araujo) told me: Gladis you must bring Lean In to Mexico, we need it desperately. And then the Lean In journey in Mexico started, we became one of the largest Lean In networks globally.
“I am a lifelong learner. I have never stopped studying and growing. This has been a strong foundation and a great launcher in my continuous growth as professional, this preparation helped me to bring the best-in-class practices into the workplace from around the globe”
You were recognized by the Malaysia Global Chamber of Commerce as a Top Women Inspiring Humanity Award” for your work in its communities. You were the first Western woman to receive this tribute and were also recognized by the Tecnológico de Monterrey with the Tec 2021 Woman Award in the Transformational Power category, what do these awards mean to you?
Recognitions are always a motivation to move forward, a commitment to continue doing good, and a challenge to do more. I knew, I did not need the recognition to get these three things. I am always looking for opportunities to improve my communities, I feel a fervent need to do so because it is my call and one of my main purposes in live. However, the person who proposed my name for the Malaysian recognition gave me another perspective when I was very reluctant about her submitting my name.She told me, Gladis, you need to consider two important benefits of this process that will help you to deliver even more to your communities and create a greater impact: 1) this recognition will give you a huge visibility for your causes and you will find more people interested to support you, 2) you will inspire many others to do the same. She convinced me and their words became true.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
I can summarize how it was looking in my mid-career:
Get up at 4am – run for an hour. Prepare breakfast and kids for school. Run to work. Daily meetings (production meetings, new products meetings, corporate meetings, 1-1 meetings, staff meetings, project meetings, suppliers’ meetings, etc.), supervising/coaching the team, prepare reports/presentations/analysis/negotiations/audits, etc. 6pm picking up kids, 7-9pm dinner, preparing things (lunch, bags, etc.) for the next day, and family time. 9pm Put kids on bed, from 9 to 10-11:30pm, study and read.
Later, my career traveling constantly (50-70%) around the globe and since many years ago leading global multicultural virtual teams.
What do you love most about your job? & What is the most difficult part?
I love working with people. Leading/coaching/training them to be the best version of themselves and succeed in their goals. Having fun with them and celebrating all the achievements. Support, motivate, and coach when things are not going so well. Serve my team. I love diversity and having the opportunity to work with different cultures, forms of seeing and understanding the world, different ways to do things, different points of view, and have the opportunity of seeing the wonders of the world. I do not like to be away from my family and miss any important date.
“Never give up to your dreams. You can achieve more of what you can ever imagined. Plan for them and move forward in this plan every day. Little and precise steps will make the difference”
What are the do and don’ts in female leadership?
- Use fact and data to support your information/presentations/negotiation.
- Put aside fears, everything you want in life is waiting for you after your fears.
- Serve/coach/motivate your team.
- Engage with key partners: peers, other heads of departments, top management. Pre-sell your ideas and thoughts, validate them before running them in a big audience.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare.
- Never stop learning.
- Get a coach/mentor.
- Always assume the best intentions.
- BELIEVE in yourself.
- All the opposite of above.
Everybody has had dark moments in their lives, what have you done to get out of that phase?
Gratitude. Fill my body and spirit of gratitude for the “mandatory” learning opportunities we must go through life, put my desires/challenges back to the universe and let it go, the universe always has your back.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Family gatherings, reading, writing, jogging, mountain climbing, watching movies, art (paint, bookbinding, scrapbooks), dance.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
Dr. Hawkins books. Letting go.
Do you have any philosophy that guides your career decisions?
Family first, and always.
Many authors say women can and must strive to have everything – a shining career, a blossoming family life and a perfectly balanced lifestyle all at once, others point out that– then women are placing unrealistic expectations on themselves if they believe they can have it all, I don´t know if you are married and have kids, so according to your experience, what do you think about these statements?
I am married with my high school sweetheart. We grew together and fell in love since the moment we met (I was 15 years old). Carlos has been my boyfriend, husband, best friend, partner in life, mentor and coach. We have three children: Luis Carlos (24 years old, IT Engineer in Australia), Daniel Alejandro (21 years old, Doctor of Physiotherapy student in Amsterdam), and Jessica Naomi (16 years old, International Bachelor student and aspiring lawyer – she is our “miracle girl”). Per my life experience, we can strive for everything we love in life, but not precisely everything at the same time. There is a time and a place for everything, and the universe will let you know the best timing to do what you wish and love. The universe will provide you the energy, and the necessary support system to assure things are moving forward. Believe me.
What are your plans for the future?
Continue working in global organizations. Move and work in Europe (this is the only region I am missing). Be part of a board of directors. I want to build a social enterprise to train and coach new leaders. Do Research in sociology/leadership and write books/journals about the results. Lecture in universities. Continue supporting my community with the different organizations I am leading and others I find a need along the way.
There is still the glass ceiling for women in the world: Fewer opportunities, jobs underpaid just for that fact of being a woman, etc. Have you experimented with the glass ceiling? If yes, what are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I think only in the early days in my career as described before, I have been very fortunate of finding my way up and get the necessary support. But for many of my girlfriends it has not been this way. They had experienced layoffs just because they are pregnant, promotions banned just because they have children or denied the opportunity lead international projects.
What tips, can you give to young girls who want to become like you?
Never give up to your dreams. You can achieve more of what you can ever imagined. Plan for them and move forward in this plan every day. Little and precise steps will make the difference.
I think in your position, many people may have the wrong idea of who you are, and what do you (professionally), with this idea in mind, what is being Gladis and what´s not?
I AM-Gladis is highly people oriented who makes things happen leading, motivating, and coaching teams to develop their best version of themselves. Achieve the impossible.
I AM NOT- I am never busy to listen any person who needs help and find a way to support her/him.
Who is the woman you admire the most and why?
My grandmother. She showed me very early on life the real meaning of enthusiasm. She impregnated me with her tireless energy, positive attitude, and not letting anyone or any circumstance put her down.
What else do you want to add or share with us?
My dream plan was to have 4 children and adopt 2, I wanted a big family. When we were looking for our third child in 2003, I got pregnant quickly early in the year. My husband and I were extremely happy and making big plans (new home, new bedroom, etc.). Three months later I was feeling extremely sick. I was having uterus contractions; the baby was coming. I fainted and I was taken to the hospital. I awake in a hospital bed and the baby was gone; I was feeling so empty. I could not believe it. What happened? It was just a blink. We were devasted with the lost.
I was down and sad most of my days after the lost. We were trying again to get pregnant, but we were having difficulties. Then, the doctor recommended a specific treatment that should be taken for at least 6 months and that supposed to be contraceptive. Then early on 2004, I went to my annual checkup, and they detected cancer cells in my uterus. They recommended a biopsy that confirmed the diagnostic. I went with other two oncologists and they also confirmed the diagnosis. I was having uterus cancer and I need immediate treatment to prevent spread.
Then, in February my first cancer treatment was scheduled but I suddenly felt sick. I was feeling like a pregnant woman. The doctor confirmed the pregnancy that in our minds was impossible. I was under a specific conceptive treatment; I went to different checkups and no one saw the baby? This was not making any sense. At the same time, the doctor told me that since I was pregnant, I could not receive any cancer treatment. No need for further clarifications from her end, the cancer could be easily spread without any treatment. I was also very worried for the good health of the baby.
Three days after I was released from the hospital, I was lost again. I was with a cancer and a baby growing inside me. Life and death at the same time. The doctor said: Gladis you are very young, you have two small children, a husband, and if we see the cancer cells spreading, we will need to terminate your pregnancy. I was shocked! I could not believe what I was hearing. I ran away, I was devasted, crying and crying. I suddenly started talking to God: “God, I am putting my life on your hands, do whatever you want with me, but this baby deserved to live”. Immediately, I felt something I had never experienced before in my whole life, I felt like a light going inside my whole body and suddenly I was feeling an immense peace inside me. I did not feel any more pain.
The next month, I went again to my monthly and painful checkup, the doctor told me he could not believe it, there were no more “white spots” (Cancer Cells). He showed me the screen. I saw myself and I could not believe it neither. He said there is no more cancer. He could not explain and he only said, “Gladis there is no scientific explanation for this, this is a miracle". I went and visited the other 2 doctors, they confirmed as well. All of them were astonished with these results. It was scientifically proven I was living a MIRACLE.
The paradox of life, if I were following the doctor’s advice years ago that little girl would not have been born but, years later the destiny will be reaching me anyway and since not little girl to make a call, I will be dying in that fire on June 8th. If I were 21 years old again, I will tell my younger self “No worries, everything will be fine” no matter how hard things are in your life, all these challenges, hardships are mandatory learnings in your life to prepare you, to give you tools, to learn necessary things, that will support you along the way up to achieve your goals. All these scars will give you the necessary superpowers to reach every single goal in your life.
Name: Gladis Araujo
Company: Mattel inc.
Designation: Vice President of Global Quality Safety and Regulatory
Country: Mexico / USA
Gladis Araujo / Mattel / Toys