Part 3: Gilda Perez-Alvarado, Global CEO, JLL Hotels & Hospitality
In our final part of our series, we learn about Gilda’s experience as a woman in real estate and adjusting to life as a new working mother. If you missed either or both part 1 and part 2—or simply want to read them again—it will be time well spent!
You have a big, demanding job, how did you manage being pregnant?
When I was pregnant in 2019, there were times at work where it felt really lonely. I wished I could reach out to another woman to say, “Hey, how did you do this??” I wanted to ask other women what to expect, what to do and there just weren’t a lot of women in the field to share their experiences. The few women that have gone through the journey were so generous with their time, advice and experiences. It felt lonely for me, just as it had for them. Corporations are starting to have a more open dialogue about this – they want diversity and inclusion. How do we do this? Well, set up a workplace that works for women. An industry that works for women. A system that works for women. It can’t be that we are afraid to ask and afraid to be women. We have to throw that out the window. We are going to fail if we try to pretend to be men because it just doesn’t work.
Do you feel your lonely experience is unique or ingrained in corporate America?
Ingrained. All this big effort by corporate America to have women on their board, they think by having one it is enough and done, but it doesn’t work like that. It should be half of the board, half of the company. Internal negative competition doesn't work -- divided we fall. We need to think of what the workplace needs to look like if we are going to be more inclusive. We need to think about what society needs, what women need. The framework from which we have looked at things is from a male perspective, always.
What do you feel has been your biggest failure?
I was afraid for the longest time about the process of becoming a mom, specifically, being pregnant at work. I didn’t want to feel that I was handicapped at work, that I wasn’t able to perform, that I would be looked at differently, that maternity leave would be seen as me not being committed to my job. That was the stupidest thing, ever.
The whole journey of becoming a mother has been the most humbling and empowering experience ever. We women are so strong. So, in terms of failure, thinking that I needed to put my life on hold for the longest time was a misconception.
I am hoping by sharing this that other women don’t put their life on hold because they are worried about what people will think. We are capable of doing the job and having a personal life, that is why we need to look at the workplace through our lens as women. By the way, it doesn’t need to be for pregnancy, this applies to any caregiver.
At the end of the day, I am a firm believer that things happen when they are meant to happen. Look, it’s worked out for me that I was meant to be a mom at the age of 39 and at this stage in my career, and this has been the biggest blessing ever. But thinking that I needed to wait, that was a mistake.
What would you say to other women about handling pregnancy?
You have to own it, and that was the best advice I received from other women in the industry. The moment I found out that I was going to become a mom, it was the most amazing feeling. And I owned it. You have to set the tone. If you are going to come in apologetically, people are going to smell your fear and take advantage of that. I owned my pregnancy like nobody else. But I’ll tell you something else, I worked three times as hard just to prove that I could do my job while being pregnant and that caused extra stress that wasn't necessary.
How has your life changed since having a baby?
My life before was a blend because I love what I do. I never really bought into the work-life balance concept, the two blend together for me. Now, I bring my best version of myself knowing that it is not perfect. When people see me on the Zoom in the morning and they say “Wow, you look really tired.” I say, “Yeah, I had a long night with the baby.” You can’t live apologetically. I am bringing my whole self in: the worker, the colleague, the friend, the mother, the woman. This is me, I now just have a new dimension, being the mother of an amazing 13-month-old little girl. I also think this is the best version of myself, my most rounded version. My daughter is my source of power and inspiration.
How long a maternity leave did you take?
I took maternity leave, but it ended up being a partial leave. We were in the middle of a crisis and we needed to make some tough decisions as we needed to downsize the team. I was offered to have someone else handle it, but I said no. This is my team and I want to do it myself. That was really hard because your body is adjusting to a massive change. It was an emotional time already, so even harder to have those conversations with people on your team you care about, knowing they have families and responsibilities. I must say, however, that working remotely during the pandemic was the silver lining. Yes, I was working, but I was with my child every single day. I also had amazing support from my parents, in particular my mom.
How do you actually manage though?
I approach it as a team with my husband. You don’t do it alone. In that way, I feel as though I am the luckiest and most blessed person because I have an amazing family. It does take a village! My husband is a fantastic partner, we have been together for 17 years, so we had a strong bond before we became parents. But it is still hard, 12 hours at work, 12 hours for life, and being a mom. Your mind never stops, it takes a lot of energy. I think we would all be more relaxed and happier if we didn't have to worry about biases in the workplace and trying to fit a mold that is not real.
Any tips you would suggest for other new mothers?
There isn’t a stupid question, so go ahead and ask. Being a mother isn’t instinctual, you have to learn it, even breastfeeding, someone has to show you. It really takes a village: you have to ask for help. Know also, that every pregnancy, every journey to motherhood is different, there is no right or wrong answer. We all just have to be supportive and non-judgmental…throw away the biases.
Do you plan to travel again, once you can, for work? Will you bring your baby with you?
Yes, I plan to travel, it is my personal passion, and in some instances, I will definitely bring my baby. I started traveling when I was three months old, so she beat me by getting on a plane at 18 days, but I want travel to be a part of her life, just like it is for me.
Listening to you, I’m tired. How do you recharge?
I recharge mentally by thinking about the future and being with the baby. Physically, no, I’m tired and wish I could sleep more. I know I am not the only one. No matter how tired we are, however, never underestimate a woman or a mother on a mission.