sheCenter(FOLD) – Dr. Chitra Dorai

Former IBM Fellow, Master Inventor, VP, CTO Cognitive Services, IBM Services, Member of IBM Industry Academy & Academy of Technology

Dr. Chitra Dorai

Dr. Chitra Dorai, a Former IBM Fellow and expert in AI and Cognitive Sciences, takes NAWRB along the journey of her life. A precocious child in Chennai, India, who dreamed of becoming a brain scientist, she traveled to the United States to realize her aspirations, ultimately earning IBM’s highest honor and helping thousands of homeowners during the financial crisis. From her obsession with popular culture trivia to her experience being a mother, this influential woman is taking on the computer. 


NAWRB: Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?

Dr. Chitra Dorai: I grew up in a sunny South Indian city called Chennai, previously known as Madras, located on the south eastern coast of India. Chennai is one of the largest cosmopolitan cities in India and is well known as an economic, cultural, and educational hub in South India. In fact, it is often called the “Detroit” of India because many of the automobile manufacturers have their Indian operations there. It is also technology-centric. A lot of multinational companies, including IBM, have their IT service delivery centers in Chennai. At the same time, it is a city of contrasts. It continues to be traditional and conventional in certain ways, culturally-rich and conservative, compared to other major cities in India. It is famous for its soaring temples, luxurious silk, and centuries-old musical traditions.

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sheCenter(FOLD) – Gina Diez Barroso

President and CEO, Grupo Diarq; Founder, Fundación Pro-Educación Centro and Fundación Diarq; and Chariman, Dalia Empower

Gina Diez Barroso

Gina Diez Barroso, founder of the first university in Mexico City focused on creative studies, and the only Mexican belonging to the C200, never takes no for answer. In an exclusive interview with NAWRB, Diez Barroso takes us through her childhood in Mexico and her journey to becoming a resilient entrepreneur. Diez Barroso shares how she helps women leave abusive relationships and reach their full potential by teaching them to own their power.


NAWRB:What obstacles did you face while developing Centro, the first university in Mexico City that specializes in creative studies? How did you overcome them?

Gina Diez Barroso: The first obstacle was they didn’t believe that we needed a new university, and they didn’t believe creativity was important. We spoke from authorities and business people, to everybody involved in this. I had to get together a diverse group of people— creative thinkers, business people, academics—who were working not for me but for my vision and my passion. They were working with me. We also hired market analysts to do a study, and the study predicted that it wasn’t going to work and that I shouldn’t do it. When I was young, I never took no for an answer. I used to think this was a bad thing, but now I take it as a compliment.

When I believe that something needs to be done, I do not take no for an answer. After having the results from the market study that it was not going to work, I said we are going to go ahead and do it. So, we were fought against government regulations, and people saying it was not going to work, because we believed the world needed more creative people and to mix creativity with business.

It took eight and a half years to create, and has been running for 14 years now. We have graduated 1600 students and have 3000 enrolled now. For five years it has been the best creative university in the country, and it is the most difficult to get into. We believe that students that can get in should get in, even if they don’t have the money. Thirty-five percent of students are on scholarship.

NAWRB: Centro offers a variety of creative disciplines, such as Interior Architecture, Film and Television, Industrial Design, and Textile and Fashion Design. Why is it important for universities to offer creative studies? What effect do they have on culture and society?

Gina Diez Barroso: We are adding digital engineering and digital media because this is the future. Compared to other universities that offer a four-year degree, we teach 1,100 more hours on business and entrepreneurship. When students graduate, they understand how to create business plans, how to do an elevator pitch, how to ask for money, and how to do legal writing for a business. They are business people—they are building a creative economy.

Schools are as good as their students. We follow up with our graduates, and most of our graduates have their own business, and they’re employing many other young adults. We are interested in creating a culture of entrepreneurs. That is not often how the creative world works, so we are very happy with the outcome.

NAWRB: How do you express your creativity in your professional and personal life?

Gina Diez Barroso: Every single day in every single way. I love to see what is missing in the world and fix it, and the way I like to fix it is through creative thinking. I think I express my creativity in the way I work, the way I act, and the way I fix things. That’s the way I operate.

As far as my hobbies, I like art, design, painting, collecting art, and going to auctions. In my spare time, I love to go to the theater and exhibitions. Everything is related to creativity. I don’t see myself ever doing anything that is not creative. I also love storytelling. I think it is the most wonderful thing that we can do. When I meet someone that is good at storytelling, I love to spend time with this person.

So, I do things that are—a hundred percent— the right side of the brain. I believe now that the left and the right side of the brain need to be viewed as one. Although I am a creative person, I am also a business person, so that line needs to be raised.

NAWRB: Fundacion Diarq, your non-profit organization, works towards eradicating domestic violence and preventing bullying in schools. What prompted you to address these issues?

Gina Diez Barroso: I always thought that my life would impact women, in that everything I do should positively impact the outcome of women. One of the worst things that I think any woman should never take is physical violence, although I am also against economic violence, psychological violence and all other kinds of violence against women.

I think physical violence is one of the worst things affecting women. Once they decide to leave the house where they live with the person who is doing these things to them, they have nowhere to go.  There are many hotlines and facilities that I admire a lot, but these women need a place to go, and that is where nobody was taking action.

We decided to work with hospitals where women and children can go for three to four months. We supply them with a psychological evaluation, and we teach them to work on things they can do when they leave the house. After four months, we give them a new identity (in some cases), we find them a place to live, and move them to the new place. We also extend help for alcoholism and animals.

We set it up so that if they have a new partner, and they think they might get into another violent situation, they can go with or without a partner to seek extended help for breaking the cycle of violence. We decided to act to prevent bullying because many children that are victims of domestic violence become bullies in schools.

NAWRB: What are the best ways we can address domestic violence, or help women leave abusive relationships?

Gina Diez Barroso: That is through education. One of the important issues for women who get into these situations is that they are very weak and undervalued. Empower is a word that I hate because being “empowered” is someone else giving a power that they can take away from you. I believe women own their power, need to know that they have it, and know how to make sure that nobody will ever take that power away from them. So, once women know that they have it, they will never be victims of violence.

That is why I decided to start Dalia Empower. It is an agency that shows women they have power and can do anything they want with their life. If they want to be a top executive woman in the workforce, they will be able to do that. We train them to be women entrepreneurs in many public sectors and companies.

We also help men to educate women. Some men want to help and they do not know how. Men are segregated out of the equation, so we want to bring them to the table as the perfect partners to help women reach their full potential. Dalia has already created 85 courses. 

NAWRB: Congratulations on being one of only two Hispanic women in the C200. What does this achievement mean to you as Mexican women are underrepresented in the industry?

Gina Diez Barroso: I’ve been a member for 18 years and it has been an amazing achievement not only because I am Mexican but because of its great work. I am close to many of the other women on there who have helped me a lot when I had any problems, and when they needed anything I tried to help them. It also had an important impact on the way they felt about my culture and how they felt that Mexico was. They didn’t have any idea about how Mexico really was until they came. It has been a great achievement because the C200 is not just about being good at what you do; it’s about giving back, from yourself to other women. I am very grateful and happy about what I have accomplished there.

NAWRB: What advice would you give other women who aspire to be entrepreneurs and business owners?

Gina Diez Barroso: I always advise them to find a purpose in their life, a purpose in their passion, and to not take no for an answer. I really believe that women can achieve anything that they want if they really go for it. Of course you need a certain helmet to be an entrepreneur, but women can do it. I believe they have to get together because nothing can be done alone—that is for sure. They need to get a group of people together that believe in what they believe in. If you get the right group of people, anything can be done.

NAWRB: How was your experience in your education system, and how did it shape your life?

Gina Diez Barroso: I lost my father when I was very young, and I think that shaped my life. I needed to build resilience, and I had two options—I could either not do it or do it for my own sake, which I did. I grew up with my grandfather and my grandfather from my mom’s side, and they were people who never took no for an answer. They were people that did whatever they wanted against all odds, so I think that was one of my trainings. I did it by myself with not many people believing in me or in what I was doing. So, I think that is one of the things that people should do: believe in themselves.

NAWRB: What inspired your interest in real estate development and design?

Gina Diez Barroso: That was always my interest. I always saw the buildings and real estate, and I thought that was something I wanted to do. I was frustrated when I was really young because we had amazing houses from the 20s, 30s and 40s in Mexico and architects would come and demolish them. I thought when I grew up I was going to save those houses, and that was the first thing that I wanted to do. That is what triggered me to want to be involved in real estate.

NAWRB: What was your childhood like?

Gina Diez Barroso: I was number four of five children. My father died when I was 11 years old from a plane crash, and we were brought up by my grandfather, who was an amazing visionary person. We grew up in a very creative world. We looked at art and telecommunication. My grandfather owned a television business, so we were very involved with media. He was concerned about helping those who were less fortunate and with education, so we grew up with that in mind. I’ve had amazing role models from my father and my grandfather.

NAWRB: What opportunities and challenges do girls and women face in Mexico?

Gina Diez Barroso: They face a lot of challenges and a lack of opportunities. I think it’s a tough environment for women with social and economic poverty. Now it’s changing, but for a long time it wasn’t that easy. The government has helped with the social opportunities in Mexico for women to try and do something. Many women in Mexico are single mothers, which is a form of work, as well. There’s a huge informal economy in Mexico, so that makes it difficult to build wealth, but women make it. They make it with three or four children. It’s amazing.

NAWRB: What goals do you plan to achieve in the future?

Gina Diez Barroso: I would like to see Dahlia Empower continue the economic advancement of women, not only in Mexico but in all the Northern Hemisphere, and I would love to see that grow for the empowerment of women in all the Americas.

NAWRB: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Gina Diez Barroso: I am an open book! My academics were a disaster. I had very poor education training. I didn’t achieve a masters degree, and I started my career early. I wish I would have earned a PhD in something, but I didn’t. I have an undergraduate degree in design.

NAWRB: What is something you would add to your bucket if you had more time?

Gina Diez Barroso: I would love to add education for K-12 in a very different way than there is now.

NAWRB: What should be included in the education of young girls that will help them flourish in the corporate world?

Gina Diez Barroso: The education of young girls should include creative thinking, no matter what they study. I think STEM should be STEAM, because STEAM has the “A” for Arts and Creativity, or Arts and Innovation. I think if you want to study STEM, you should do STEAM to include arts and innovation, because then you would become like Steve Jobs—someone who will change the world—not just a scientist or mathematician. You need to be an engineer, scientist, or mathematician, and a creative thinker.

sheCENTER(FOLD) Edie Fraser

Chairman and Founder, STEMconnector®/Million Women Mentors® (MWM)

Edie Fraser

Edie Fraser has spent her life in the service of equality with a passionate vision for a better tomorrow. Having led national poverty programs and worked to advance women’s gender equality for decades, she has a precise understanding of women’s progress. Discussing her life, Fraser alternates seamlessly between lessons learned in childhood and her biggest professional challenges, detailing her storied career and how the future is developing for women in America. 

NAWRB: In your opinion, what is the most important success women have had in the last 50 years?

Edie Fraser: Successes have been achieved and we celebrate them, and yes, we want parity. Studies show that it could take as long as 117 years to reach parity in the private sector. Let’s advocate for parity within every government institution, business, profession, organization, and in higher education.

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sheCENTER(FOLD) Tami Bonnell

CEO of EXIT Realty Corp. International

Tami Bonnell

Tami Bonnell is the embodiment of leading by example. Always recognizing the value in people and staying true to her word, she has crafted a 30-year career and made it her mission to help as many people succeed as possible. In this conversation with NAWRB, Bonnell relates corporate leadership lessons alongside parenting tips and provides a look at the life of one of the most important women in real estate.

NAWRB: Who has inspired you most throughout your life?

Tami Bonnell: The first person is my mother. She died very young, in her forties. I’m one of six kids and the number one thing that she said to all of us is, “Never say, ‘I wish I had.’” You get to a certain point in your life, and if you haven’t experienced things that you really wanted to that are on your bucket list, you may reach a point when you can’t. My dad always said, “Your standard is the lowest level you’re willing to accept.” I always thought that was such a smart line because if you didn’t give your best today, whatever you gave the worst of was your best. That’s the reflection of you. Anytime he said it I’d go in and inspire people.
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sheCenter(fold) – Danielle DiMartino Booth

Founder & President of Money Strong, LLC, and author of Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why The Federal Reserve is Bad for America

Danielle DiMartino Booth

Danielle DiMartino Booth exemplifies the passion and unique perspective powerful women bring to the table. Chronicling life milestones—such as having college dreams pulled out from under her at the last minute and the process of writing her pioneering book on the Federal Reserve—the mother of four shares sage guidance with women and consumers, providing abundant food for thought about the future of our industry and country.

Interview by Desirée Patno

NAWRB: You have attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and at Austin and Columbia University in New York. Which of these educational institutions and/or cities do you hold most dear?

Danielle DiMartino Booth: San Antonio College. I was accepted into the scholar’s program at New York University; I was one of 15 individuals who were admitted to their journalism program who was then admitted to their really elite group of high school seniors in America. We were to go to one different country every year as part of the program; Russia would have been that first year.

They were going to pay for half of my education in New York; this was my life dream come true. As soon as I received my acceptance letter my father informed me that he hadn’t been paying his taxes for several years and that I wasn’t going to any university, my parents were going to be getting a divorce and I might want to consider community college.

It was one of those formative moments in my life and I was forced to go off to community college. I was working probably 80 hours a week at the time, even as a high school senior, to make my way and help my mom. I entered community college as bitter as you can imagine.

I emerged two years later with the ability to start at the University of Texas at San Antonio with a great degree of respect for kids who have nothing and are forced to start in community colleges and keep going. That’s where I started and I kept going.
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SheCenter(FOLD): Marcia Davies

NAWRB: What is your favorite characteristic of Washington, D.C.? What sets the nation’s capital apart from other cities in which you’ve lived?

Marcia Davies: Washington is a beautiful city, with all of its historic landmarks and rich culture. We who live there sometimes don’t stop and really appreciate when we see a monument or the cherry blossoms in bloom, that it is unique and beautiful.

I think what really separates it is you definitely feel the political energy when you work in Washington. Sometimes it’s subtle and other times, like most recently with the inauguration, you feel it in everything, whether it’s your commute or how hard it is to get into a restaurant or make reservation. There is a real political vibe and energy. We know when Congress is in and when it’s going out. I really think that it makes it a dynamic place to live and work.

I have been privileged on several occasions to be in the White House, and not just see it during the holidays when the beautiful Christmas decorations are up. I’ve attended meetings in the Roosevelt Room and as I’m leaving I always stop before I get on the other side of the gate to take it in for a moment, thinking, “Wow, I was just in the White House.” Then in 10 minutes you’re back in your office. For a lot of people, that’s not a normal day. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve been able to do that on more than one occasion.

I can honestly say that when I was growing up I never thought I would be in a meeting, let alone more than one meeting, in the White House. And it happened.
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sheCenterfold Rebecca Steele

CEO and President of Sigma Associates, LLC

Rebecca Steele

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Rebecca Steele, an incredible courageous woman and mother, reveals her valuable lessons as a senior

executive woman leader. From playing junior Olympics basketball to her excitement in advancing women’s

inclusion, Steele shares her unique journey and what the future holds for her life and career.

NAWRB: What have been the proudest moments in your life, professionally and personally?

Rebecca Steele: Well, I have a lot of proud moments. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but mostly ups. My proudest moments are when I could build successful organizations and was given the opportunity to lead, motivate and execute. A perfect example was the challenge to build, grow and integrate Countrywide and Bank of America’s retail sales platforms. That was huge!

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Personal Interview: Kelle Nolan


1. What do you enjoy doing when you’re out of the office and work isn’t on your mind?

What I most enjoy doing is spending time with my husband and our two dogs. We enjoy being outdoors and going for walks. I enjoy crafting, scrapbooking, and anything that has to do with being creative. These are the top things that I try to concentrate on when I’m trying to relax. I also like to read.

In my crafting I concentrate on rubber-stamping and scrapbooking, paper crafting is how a lot of people refer to it. When I do read it’s usually about self-improvement or motivation. The book I’m currently reading is Be Obsessed Or Be Average by Grant Cardone.

2. What is something most people don’t know about you that they would be surprised to find out?

I think people would be surprised to find out that I enjoy watching golf tournaments on TV. Most people find them very boring, but I actually like watching them.

3. Who is a role model of yours? Why do you look up to this person?

Professionally I would have to say Jackie de Maria, a former employer of mine. She is definitely a professional role model, she demonstrated to me that a woman in a very high position within an organization that is male-dominated can have it all. Jackie balanced her professional career, home life, children, and was a strong, effective leader. She’s someone I look up to and had as a mentor early on in my career.
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Carla Harris

Vice Chairman, Global Wealth Management and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley Appointed by President Barack Obama Chair of the National Women’s Business Council

Carla Harris

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From Wall Street powerhouse to selling out Carnegie Hall five times, critically-acclaimed author and speaker Carla Harris is a Renaissance woman. She details her journey through the competitive professional environment and her experience as a new mother, sharing the importance of family in her life and delineating the way a person can steer their career through dedication and perception.

NAWRB: Who has inspired you most throughout your life? How important do you believe having a mentor or supporter is to women professionals?

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Desiree Patno

NAWRB Founder and CEO

Desiree Patno

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Desirée Patno, NAWRB founder and CEO, is a leading advocate for women in the housing ecosystem with over 25 years of experience. A trailblazer in several aspects of her life, Patno has always fought for a seat at the table and the right to compete and work alongside men. We showcase her, from her passion as the only girl in an all-male water polo league to her travels around the nation conquering her fears.

NAWRB: How did you get involved in the real estate industry? To what do you attribute your professional success?

Desirée Patno: Growing up, my parents were always designing and adding to their mini Hearst Castle. Most children do normal chores. Mine were helping my mother build her legacy. She started out with a 1,700 square foot home, yet  before it burned down it measured over 14,000 square feet. It was an incredible undertaking lasting more than three decades! The majority of their windows and skylights were all hand beveled and beautiful pieces of art. They put a dollar down payment on the home and after living in it for a full year, they purchased it for $30,000. Times were tough back in 1960. Multiple times their home was featured in local newspapers for a variety of reasons. My mother had hot pink satin couches completely wrapped in clear plastic and she painted several murals on the walls of Roman Revival architecture. It was not your typical home, it was my mother’s miniature showpiece carved out of the side of a mountain. 

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