Women of Influence 2023 Honoree: Maria Volante
President, Volante Consulting
Education: BBA from University of Iowa
Family: Husband, Dave Volante
Hobbies: I enjoy community work, spending time with friends and family at the lake and reading a great book.
Words to live by: To do good is to feel good.
Three notable accomplishments:
- I am very proud to be the first person on both sides of my family to graduate from college. I’m not sure people realize what a challenge it can be to even “see” the possibility, let alone navigate upper education, especially when you are the first. Additionally, I was able to personally fund 100% of my college education.
- I had the opportunity to be one of only three women regional sales managers (out of a total of 36 regional sales managers) at a large, national financial services firm. I had the benefit of a national sales manager who knew the importance of putting the right people in the right roles and the need to support women in roles traditionally filled by men.
- I’ve had the true honor of serving our community through many, many different roles with United Way. I am humbled for the opportunity to serve as board chair beginning in July 2023.
How have you helped improve organizations you’ve been a part of?
I am a supporter, a cheerleader, a “you-can-do-it-er” of others. Whether it has been with teams I have led, nonprofits I have been a part of, workshops I have led for our community – I believe other people can. As a communications coach I have helped people work through their No. 1 fear – speaking in public. In leadership roles at both Principal and Wells Fargo I had the opportunity to build cultures that were supportive of the team. Starting my own company, my entire value proposition is devoted to helping others become their best selves. There are so many obstacles to overcome – I strive to be the best person in someone else’s corner.
What motivates you?
I love seeing other people succeed. I have often said my best work is when someone else is successful due to my support but no one knows I was there.
Is there a memory or experience from your formative years that continues to influence your approach to life?
My paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Greece. They survived the war, they emigrated without speaking English, they even had an arranged marriage. They instilled a very deep sense of family, of sharing what you had even if there was very little, to be proud of where you came from and to never forget. To never forget there were others who needed help because they were less fortunate, to never forget where you came from, to never forget to be proud of who you are.
What piece of advice would you give to others who hope to make a difference in their communities?
My advice would be to find your passion. We are so lucky to live in this community. While I’m not a fan of the words “always” and “never” – I will say there is always an opportunity to serve, and when your service is aligned with your passion, it is true joy.
Tell us about a time you failed (or at least you did from your own perception).
I was the executive sponsor of a multi-million dollar technology project. We introduced a level of change that had not been experienced before. The change was incredibly complex; it leveraged new and unproven technology and it was implemented to nearly 10,000 team members. The initial deployment was fraught with problems that could not have been predicted. While we worked tirelessly to resolve them, the end users were beyond upset. I even received death threats. We eventually righted the ship but it took well over a year. While it was brutal, in retrospect I am glad to have experienced it. The knowledge, resilience and tenacity has served me well.
What is a favorite book, show, movie, podcast, etc. that you’d encourage others to consume?
This is too hard! I’m going to say any book written by Fredrik Backman.
How do you try to find balance and joy in the many activities you take part in?
Finding joy is much easier than finding balance! While I always try to work smart, I know I can work hard. Might not be the best answer, but it’s true. As I have gotten older I have realized the price I’ve paid for not scheduling time for myself and family in the same way I would have scheduled work. I continue to work hard to prioritize. The other lesson is that it’s taken me a long time to learn how to say “no” gracefully. Both areas are a work in progress!
What is one of your guilty pleasures?
I love to eat! I love to go out to eat, to entertain, to go to someone’s home – it doesn’t matter. All accompanied with a good glass or two of wine, of course!
What’s something many people don’t know about you?
I’m a learned extrovert. At my core, I’m an introvert and that always seems to surprise people.
Anything else you want to add about yourself?
I have been very lucky to be married for the last 35 years to my best friend. My husband has been one of my biggest supporters and has never, ever stymied my growth or interests. Dave thinks I’m right, I’m the best, I can do it – even when it’s not quite the truth!
What do you consider the greatest barrier to gender equity?
Opportunity. Women simply need to be given the opportunity. We need to actively attract and recruit women for all roles. There are areas where we need to be very deliberate about doing the hard work to welcome women in and support them. We need to crush dated perceptions by allowing women to perform. We need to see women in critical roles succeed. By seeing the success we will redefine the image and definition of that very success. All of this must be supported by keeping momentum for zero tolerance for violence and harassment of women. Fighting for equal pay and compensation. Educational equality. The list goes on.
Who is an empowering woman that you look up to?
One of my greatest mentors is Mary Sellers, CEO of United Way of Central Iowa. Mary does so many things well – she is strategic, caring, driven, communicative, inclusive – the list goes on. But what I always learn from her is to be mission-focused. To have actions be guided by doing the right thing for the right reasons. She is a North Star for me, and for that, I am so grateful.
What will it take for women to achieve gender parity in leadership positions?
As noted above, a lot. We need decision-makers to actively seek women for these roles. It’s real work and it starts early – from providing educational opportunity, mentorship programs, internships – allowing girls and young women to see themselves in these roles.
What support would be most helpful for business leaders to provide for their women and nonbinary employees?
A support network. Several organizations in Greater Des Moines have implemented women’s networks within their corporations, and they have been invaluable. Women know women and women support women. When we create an environment that is geared toward educating, supporting and promoting women – there is no better return than the great work a woman will do.
Fill in the blank: If gender equity were achieved, the world would look like ____________.
All the colors of the rainbow – especially the really cool ones.