We spent some time catching up with Milagros Piñon, Vice President at Lazard, to hear about her experiences in her career so far. Now in her fourth year of the role, she offers insights into confidence, motivation and the importance of networks.
Milagros Piñon studied Industrial Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires, from which she graduated in 2004 having also completed an internship in her penultimate year. She then joined a steel manufacturing firm in Argentina, and after four years there made the move to London. On moving, she decided to pursue a career in finance. She joined Lazard as a Senior Analyst specialising in Natural Resources in late 2008 - a great fit for her background in steel manufacturing. She was later promoted to Associate and then to VP in early 2012.
What challenges have you experienced as a female in the workplace and how have you overcome these challenges? Have you had to overcome any gender-related roadblocks in your career?
The most challenging thing has definitely been the scarcity of female role models and mentors. When I started out at Tenaris (the steel manufacturing firm), there were no female board members or female members of executive committees. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask why, because my university background was male dominated too.
As I progressed in my career, I began to realise that you measure yourself and define success from those around you. For me, this environment was shaped from a male perspective. I had absorbed a lot of the values of those around me, without realising that colleagues around me weren’t necessarily undergoing the same struggles. At that time, I hadn’t even realised the challenges around a glass ceiling or the struggle of a family/work-life balance. I had to discover these for myself because up until a point, I’d had no exposure.
When I moved to Lazard, I found a network of female colleagues at the same level in the same team. We formed an informal network and bond where we began to realise the similarities of our values at work and the challenges we were facing.
What has been the most challenging moment of your career so far?
My biggest challenge so far has been ensuring that I gain experience and exposure to a large range of transactions.
In order to become a VP, you are expected to have done sell side, buy side, capital market transactions and maybe even have worked in a team advising the board. You need to tick as many boxes as you can so that by the time you are VP, you have executed a wide range of transactions. Towards the end of my time as an Associate, I was able to take the lead on a sell-side transaction which gave me great experience. When you become VP, you are the go-to execution person, so the more experience you’ve had, the better.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
For every year that I move ahead in my career, I try and set myself goals that will make a difference. For example, in my fourth year as VP, I will ensure I interact with clients on a regular basis. In order to achieve this, if I don’t have anything scheduled with my MD, I make a list of people I want to speak to each week. This keeps me motivated and driven towards a specific goal.
I also understand the significance of internal networking. A key part of this is ensuring that everyone who is working on a particular project knows what is going on. Enabling clear and transparent internal communication in the business is absolutely crucial and motivates me at work. I also motivate myself through external networking, for example I am a part of Women in Mining outside Lazard. This keeps me motivated as I ensure that I am plugged into industry-specific topics.
What role do you think confidence plays with women and the workplace?
Confidence plays a huge role, and there is so much that can be done to improve this. Women (including me) want to be 110% sure of something before they say it. I tend to go through all eventualities before volunteering an idea or issue; by the time this thought process is finished, a male colleague has responded or the moment passes. We need to learn that in some cases it’s ok to be 90% sure of something and take a calculated risk on that 10%.
I read up a lot on women in the workplace issues, and this issue comes up over and over again. It is important we have more confidence to say what we think and assert our own ideas.
What do Lazard do to support women in the workplace?
I feel very much supported as a woman in the workplace. We have a network called Women in Banking which started in 2009 and has expanded over the years. We try to do at least a quarterly breakfast. Two years ago we started doing an external event where Managing Directors invite female clients, and we introduce those clients to our female bankers. This is a great way to give exposure to women in the business at all levels; this is an annual event.
In 2013, I co-chaired Women in Banking, where we focused strongly on networking, mentoring and training to come up with specific training areas for women. I think that having this network in place means that women can feel enabled and empowered in the work place.
What advice would you give to someone applying to Lazard?
It’s very well known that you have to work hard – this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Lazard is a small place, so you should be prepared for direct interaction with clients and senior stakeholders within the business. This can be daunting but it’s actually a great opportunity.
You will work as part of a small team meaning there’s nowhere to hide, but we are after individuals who will excel in this situation. So, be prepared to work hard, be prepared to be an integral member of a small team, be prepared to get noticed, and that’s how you will get ahead.