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Women Making History in KCK

As we wrap up Women’s History Month, we wanted to take an opportunity to introduce some of our local stars who are making history right here in KCK!

Irene Caudillo, President & CEO of El Centro

What are 1 to 2 notable accomplishments you feel really good about in your careers (or through volunteerism) here in KCK?

In 2008, the housing crisis caused El Centro to make drastic changes to keep its doors open and mission alive.  In 2013, I stepped into the President & CEO role to build and grow the agency to meet the needs of our Latino community.  I am proud of our accomplishments: doubling our budget, increasing staff and programs, and building a reputation as a welcoming and trusted organization in our community.

Do you have any examples of overcoming adversity as a woman in business or as a woman community leader?

As a Latina female, I often felt uncomfortable being the only person of color in the room. This was often overwhelming and difficult to step back and try to blend in with the crowd! I have discovered that it is important to have confidence in myself and the skill sets that brought me to where I am today.  I learned it is better to step forward and make a lasting impression by being both seen and heard than trying to blend in!

What advice do you have for young women professionals beginning their career and forging their own paths in the hopes of making a difference in our community?

  • Be YOU and Believe in Yourself– You’re capable and your contributions are valuable. REPRESENT!
  • Transparency and Honesty mean something, so, Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Say yes to OpportunityBe open to new things, and willing to take on new challenges.
  • Find Mentors– Surround yourself with people that advocate for you; that provide a seat at the table; that helps you grow your voice, and pushes you to do better and be better!

Cathy Harding, President & CEO of Wyandotte Health Foundation and Chair of the Women’s Chamber Network

What are 1 to 2 notable accomplishments you feel really good about in your careers (or through volunteerism) here in KCK?

In my career here in KCK I’m most proud of our Foundation’s work to become a more diverse and equitable organization. Over the past few years our Board of Directors has focused on this when we’ve had an open seat on the Board, and one of them recently said that “our Board of Directors is more diverse than any I know.” Bringing different opinions from diverse individuals and cultures makes us more effective in supporting our community.

I’d have to say from a volunteer perspective, the thing I’m most proud of is being involved in establishing the Women’s Chamber Network!

Do you have any examples of overcoming adversity as a woman in business or as a woman community leader?

I’ve been told more times than I can count that I’m weird (likely true), but I honestly don’t see myself as “a woman in business” so don’t consider professional events and issues through that lens. Instead, I see myself as a person who works in the business field who happens to be a woman, which I think really is a different mindset. As a result I don’t even consider that I’m treated a certain way because I’m a woman, nor do I behave a certain way because I’m a woman. I like to believe that everyone sees one another in that light – either male or female – which may be overly optimistic but seems to have served me well. Now, the examples of overcoming adversity in general could include quite a list!

What advice do you have for young women professionals beginning their career and forging their own paths in the hopes of making a difference in our community?

Don’t be afraid to speak up – and especially to ask questions! More input resulting in a better understanding of an issue leads to better decisions and also involves others in making those decisions. Anything I’ve been able to accomplish in my career has been because I always approach my work from a true “team perspective.” Everyone at our business has an equally important role to fill regardless of title and has their own lived experiences and perspectives that are valuable, and if we listen carefully every person will provide guidance in their own way.

Valerie Mussett, General Manager of Design Mechanical, Inc.

What challenges have you faced in your professional life, and how have you overcome them?

Early on in my profession, I felt my biggest challenge was the fact that I was a woman in a so-called “mans” industry.  I would go to jobsites and introduce myself to those in charge, usually men.  Sometimes they would accept me and sometimes they wouldn’t.  I made sure I conducted myself professionally and spoke their language.  I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years and it was much more difficult back then to be taken seriously and considered a professional in my industry than it is now.  The climate is improving for women in all industries.   With time brings experience, and now knowledge and relationships have given me the credit I feel I deserve.

What is your most outstanding business accomplishment?

I feel there have been many accomplishments in my career, but the one accomplishment I am so proud of, and continue to be proud of, is helping grow a business from $0 to $70 million.  It took so much time, effort, laughter, tears, pure determination, and THE ENTIRE TEAM, to make this happen.  This accomplishment really started the ball rolling on many of my other accomplishments.  I truly believe it’s the people you know, and it’s how you treat those you don’t know that can make or break you.

Please describe your core responsibilities within the company.

My title is General Manager, which has morphed into a lot of responsibilities in our organization.  But to sum it up, my core responsibilities include HR, IT, Marketing, Business Development, Sales, Office Manager, and anything else that needs to be taken care of.  Again, if you put a great team together, it all works well.

What contributions have you made to the Kansas City community?

I never really thought about what lead me to getting involved in our community.  It was more organic in nature.  I’ve met so many great people within the organizations we belong, that it was natural just to be a part of the good work they were doing.  I served on multiple committees involving membership, programming and fundraising, which led me to Board membership and Executive Committee opportunities.  I also served as Chair of the Kansas City, KS Chamber of Commerce at one time.

What contributions have you made to improve the climate for women in business?

I truly feel that you should have the mindset to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Bigger than your age, your gender or anything else.  I like to think we are all humans and need to behave in a manner that helps all humanity no matter age, race, gender, etc.  Being kind, positive, helpful and a good leader contributes to the improvement of everyone, and that’s what we should all focus on!

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