- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- Sylvia Acevedo was named the CEO of Girl Scouts in 2017 and introduced STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs to the organization.
- Prior, Acevedo was a rocket scientist for NASA, industrial engineer for IBM, and presidential commissioner for the Obama White House.
- While at IBM, Acevedo went after a promotion in international management and was turned down because she was a woman. She took on the task anyway and was hired on the spot.
Sylvia Acevedo runs one of the most recognizable all-girl organizations in America: the Girl Scouts. But she wasn’t always surrounded by women in her career and faced obstacles as a Hispanic woman in male-dominated fields.
One of Acevedo’s first jobs was at a proverbial boys’ club; she was an industrial engineer for IBM in 1980, she said on an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success” (formerly “Success! How I Did It”).
Being a woman, Acevedo said she wasn’t included in male-dominated huddles where valuable inside information was heard and networking happened. She speaks English and Spanish fluently and when a management opportunity in Latin America opened up at IBM, she said she was cast aside because she was a woman. But that didn’t stop her.
“I thought, you know, at the time I had the sales and marketing background, I had the technology background,” Acevedo said. “I went to talk to the hiring vice president and he said, ‘I can’t have you in that role. You’re a woman.’ And I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t feel like you’d be safe.’ I said, ‘OK, so safety. That’s what you don’t feel comfortable about. OK.'”
So she booked a flight to Latin America to prove her boss wrong.
“I booked my own ticket, I went down to the country he thought was the least safe, met with people from the firm, came back, showed him all the information. I said, ‘Look, I went there and came back and I’m OK,'” Acevedo said.
She said she was then hired on the spot. Acevedo led her team to record profits and stayed with IBM until 1988.
“I really believe in giving everyone a fair shot, but if I learned something because I got to be one of the first, or figured something out, I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for others as well,” she said.
Acevedo later brought her passion for female leadership to the Girl Scouts and draws on personal experience when introducing new programs like STEM to the organization, she said.
“Right now in the time of American competitiveness, we know that girls are an untapped resource and especially in technology, we need to reach more girls with those skills so that they find that technology is an interesting area, but not just interesting. That they have the skills to make an impact in the technical space,” Acevedo said.
She continued: “It’s absolutely crucial and we know that we can do that by getting girls interested in it through Girl Scouts.”