THE BLOG
12/02/2016 11:59 GMT | Updated 12/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Women in Business: Valerie Grillo, Senior Human Resources Business Partner, US Consumer Services, American Express

Valerie Grillo is the Senior Human Resources Business Partner for U.S. Consumer Services, American Express. In this role, Valerie is responsible for leading a team of 5000+ employees, providing effective HR solutions and expertise to employees and leaders alike in the areas of organizational effectiveness, talent management, leadership development and coaching.

In her twelve-year tenure, Valerie has held numerous global Human Resources leadership positions at American Express. Most recently, she was Chief Diversity Officer, where she was responsible for developing the company's global diversity and inclusion strategy for more than 60,000 employees in 130 markets. Prior to that, she led Global Leadership Development and was the architect behind American Express' Global Leadership curriculum, a development initiative targeted to the company's 12,000 people leaders.

Before coming to American Express, Valerie worked at JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) in several HR leadership roles. She resides in Rockland County, NY with her husband and two young daughters.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I was born and raised by Puerto Rican parents in the Bronx. Through their support and my own hard work, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to an Ivy League university and build a career in the corporate world. However, like many women of my background, I have often experienced my achievements with that uneasy feeling of being an outsider. It took some time for me to accept that my diverse background brings a valuable perspective to my work. It took even longer to find the confidence to make my unique voice heard and own my successes. As a leader, I am very conscious to ensure that everyone on my team feels included. Regardless of tenure or background, my employees all have an opinion that matters and I want to hear it. Setting this kind of precedent creates a healthy workplace and brings out the best in my team.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at American Express?

From employee engagement to talent management, I have worked my way through many roles in the human resources field and gained valuable insights about the industry and myself during the process. My passions and strengths lie in work that focuses on bettering organizations - like leadership development and diversity and inclusion. Without a variety of professional experiences, I would not have realized this or seen my career grow like it has.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at American Express?

I have always been most excited about the variety of opportunities American Express offers. I have worked in six different functions over the past 12 years. Having the flexibility to explore my professional passions has allowed me to continually learn and grow--as both an employee and a leader.

The greatest challenge I have faced at American Express was becoming a leader. While working with my first team of direct reports, I learned very quickly that my job was not to provide supervision. My responsibilities were to set a vision, offer support, and afford my employees the freedom to find their own direction.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

Don't hesitate to go all out. I have heard too many women preempt opportunities that haven't even happened yet, saying, "That job won't offer me the flexibility I will need one day," or "I don't have the right skills yet to take on those kinds of tasks." Don't let the "what-ifs" deter you from following your passions. Set high goals, be clear about what you want to achieve and don't second-guess your vision.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

Be authentic. When you are honest with others, true to yourself and consistent in your aspirations, you can achieve amazing things.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Work life balance never happens at once. Some months I may be travelling continuously and juggling a number of projects. Other times, I may have the flexibility to be home for dinner every night. Balance is not about the day today, but achieved over a span of time and I am fine with that.

I am also fortunate to have a husband who understands that marriage is a partnership. Sheryl Sandberg says, "The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry." It is a statement I could not agree with more.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Although a lot of companies focus on recruiting and promoting female talent, not enough is done to truly integrate women into the workplace and ensure their voices are represented. At American Express, we don't want to just be a company that hires women. We want to be an organization where women thrive. I have been in a number of meetings where I witnessed senior executives enthusiastically encouraging women to speak up, regardless of tenure. These kinds of actions assure me that I am contributing to a company where inclusion and diversity are appreciated and actively practiced at all levels of the organization.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I have been fortunate enough to find phenomenal mentors, who eventually became my sponsors. Sponsors don't just give career advice; they help make opportunities happen. When I have been unsure of my own capabilities, my sponsors have vouched for me, encouraged me to raise my hand and challenged me to unlock my own potential.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I have always admired Ursula Burns, the chairwoman and CEO of Xerox, who also happens to be a member of American Express' Board of Directors. She had the strength to follow her dreams - even when the odds have been against her. Her honesty, authenticity and clarity have allowed her to transform an entire company and become one of the most powerful businesswomen in this country. She is living proof that you can set your goals high and achieve them.

What do you want American Express to accomplish in the next year?

I want us to continue realizing and leveraging the diversity that exists across the company. A key goal for us is to remain at the forefront of decoding diversity by market and discovering how to unlock that potential. We have a diverse, global workforce and I want to ensure that from Buenos Aires to Gurgaon every voice has a chance to be heard.