What It Takes

Cari Dominguez

Cari M. Dominguez was a top executive at Bank of America's corporate headquarters in San Francisco when she was recruited to Washington, D.C. She held presidential appointments under both presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, who nominated her as the 12th chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She served in the Department of Labor Department under then-secretary Elizabeth Dole as director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, where she ushered in the Glass Ceiling Initiative, which sought to improve opportunities for professionals of color and women to move up the ranks. She also served as assistant secretary of the Employment Standards Administration.

She worked for two international executive search firms and served as president of her own management consulting company, Dominguez and Associates. She sits on the boards of Manpower and Calvert Investments' Calvert SAGE Fund, and earlier this year, published her first book, "Leading With Your Heart." She lives in Gaithersburg with her husband, Alberto, a human resources executive. They have two grown sons, Jason, 22, and Adam, 18.

Why she's successful: Dominguez came to the United States from her native Cuba when she was 12 after her father, an accountant, fell under suspicion because he worked for an American company. She spoke no English. Her mother worked at a hospital and her father as a kitchen helper. "What motivated me was knowing that my parents had sacrificed so much ... so that their children and grandchildren would live in a country where freedom and opportunity would be what would drive their success. When you have freedom and opportunity and you don't seize them, you do not honor your parents ... I wanted my parents to know that I appreciated that they had left their professions and a comfortable lifestyle to move here where they had to do manual labor so that their children and grandchildren benefited."

First job: Dominguez attended a small private school in Prince George's County and graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. "When I was 14, I worked at a local college, Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, dusting pianos in the music department and putting paper in the restrooms. As I got older, I worked at Washington Adventist Hospital, where my mother worked, in central supply."

Coming full circle: Dominguez holds bachelor's and master's degrees from American University's School of International Service. "When I became chair of the EEOC, students from that college where I had dusted pianos came to my swearing-in ceremony and performed. Then they asked me to be their commencement speaker. I went from dusting their pianos to being their commencement speaker."

Obstacle she faced: "My own sense of self limitation. The biggest challenge is confidence. Sometimes your confidence is not strong, so sometimes I wondered, 'Can I do this?' or "Maybe I shouldn't try this because I'm not sure I can do it.' I found that I really had to push and stretch myself."

Best job: "I always look for jobs that stretch and challenge me in a particular direction where I want to be stretched and challenged. The experience working at Bank of America was very valuable. Also working at the Department of Labor under Elizabeth Dole and launching the Glass Ceiling Initiative for the whole country was very exciting. It's rewarding to know that it is still going on across political parties."

Smartest move: "Coming back from working at Bank of America to take the position at the Department of Labor because it gave me a platform to make a transformational difference in the lives of others. There were some who thought that I was going down. I did go down in terms of earning potential, but in terms of return on my investment in time and effort based on how much of an impact I was able to make and how much I was able to transform policies and practices, it was even more rewarding and fulfilling."

Her legacy: "I've always been interested by the potential to make an impact and to pursue opportunities that can leave a lasting legacy or make a lasting difference ... I've been in the private sector as a business owner, consultant and on corporate boards, and I've been in the public sector ... so I've looked at workplace issues from every conceivable vantage point. It's inspiring to know that I have had the kinds of experiences that serve to inform me so that I have been able to do things to give back and be helpful in the workplace."

What inspires her: "I am inspired by my family's story and how things have evolved. I am inspired by people who are role models, whom I admire, whose lives I look at, like [former secretary of state] Condoleezza Rice, and how she started. I am inspired by people who have unique stories, like Martin Luther King Jr. and all those people who have had some impact on my life."

What's next: Dominguez was interviewed as she was attending a conference in San Diego, where she spoke to top business executives about workplace issues. "Sitting here on this beautiful balcony enjoying this beautiful view makes me realize how much I am enjoying this place in my life. I'm trying to live in the moment, enjoy what I have and be thankful ... Divine guidance will inform me in the future as to what comes next."

Advice to the aspiring: "Work hard, but first, get a good education. Education really is the civil rights issue of our time. People can't exclude you if you have the skills and talent needed in the workplace today ... And know yourself. If you are a creative and innovative person, you are not going to be as successful in an environment that is very regimented, constrained and confined ... Be passionate about what you do. You can't leave a lasting legacy unless you combine your head and your heart."


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  November 3, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  success stories Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

This is a nice story,
of hard work, discipline, a bit of luck for the opportunity, an of course,
not giving up on yourself.
This is a very good story of how far you can get with the proper education, and drive in one's spirit.
If you ever get knocked down,
pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try even harder.

Good luck to all.

Posted by: huj534op | November 8, 2010 3:52 AM
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At a time when so many American-born citizens can't gewt a job because they can't get a security clearance, I find this story "interesting".

But then we have a president who could never get a security clearance, so...

Posted by: cibor | November 4, 2010 1:09 PM
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And being a beneficiary of the Cuban Adjustment act of 1960,the biggest federal welfare givaway in history no doubt helped.Something it seems only former residents of South Florida which was a part of the United states seem to know about.

Posted by: gonville1 | November 4, 2010 10:15 AM
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she is no a Latina woman.She is a sold out Cuban(sarcasm/off).I doubt she fills the mold that La Raza has for her.

Posted by: julcubdish | November 4, 2010 2:01 AM
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