By Brittany Torres Rivera
During her law career, Onika Williams was asked to take notes and get coffee on more than one occasion. In the corporate world, Cindy Makita-Dodd often felt objectified based on her looks rather than acknowledged for her expertise. This is the unfortunate reality for some women working in male-dominated industries.
In celebration of Women’s History Month and the vital role of women in the workforce, two Honors College alumnae spoke about their personal experiences and challenges working toward success in the More Than A Major podcast, hosted by the Honors College.
Although they’ve both had successful careers, working in male-dominated fields led both of these women to grapple with impostor syndrome. They've encountered sexism and stereotypical remarks in the workplace, but that didn’t stop the duo.
Williams, who is an attorney and chair of the National Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, talked about being ignored in meetings where she was the only woman, the only person of color, and sometimes both. She refused to do jobs stereotypically reserved for women and advised students not to let others take advantage of them.
“You’re in that room for a reason. You need to demand the same respect as everybody else at that table,” she said.
Makita-Dodd—who is a top-rated career strategist, coach and founder of the Hired Institute, which helps job seekers find their dream career—often asked herself, “Who am I to be giving these people advice?” But at that moment, she would tell herself, “If they’re reaching out to me for help, I must be doing something right.”
Knowing who you are and believing that what you bring will benefit others are powerful steps she shared to become more assertive.
The alumnae’s time at FIU and in the Honors College played an important role in their lives and careers. Williams, who majored in international business and minored in Asian studies, had many mentors at FIU, including President Mark B. Rosenberg. Rosenberg was FIU’s provost at the time and helped her overcome her struggles of being a first-generation student and guided her by checking in every semester to make sure she was on the right track toward her degree.
“FIU has taught me that we can compete with anyone, from anywhere no matter where they’re from," said Williams. "So that helped me overcome any imposter syndrome that I’ve run into.”
Among her collection of prestigious accolades, Williams was named the 2019 Young Lawyer of the Year by the Washington Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.
Born and raised in South Africa, Makita-Dodd saw first-hand a lot of injustices, specifically directed at women and girls. The experience made her passionate about making a difference. While at FIU majoring in international business, she searched for women-run organizations and came across UN Women FIU, a global organization that focuses on gender equality and empowering woman and girls on a global scale. The organization was central to Makita-Dodd's best years at FIU. A year after being a member, she was elected as president of the organization.
“I resonated so much with the mission to empower women and girls in education," she said. "We educated students about the issues women face, not only in the U.S. but across the globe.”
For students desiring advice on their academic and professional careers, both women offered their insight.
“Number one: your dreams and your goals are valid. Don’t give up on it,” said Makita-Dodd. “Number two: it’s not one big thing that you do that matters, but it’s the small actions that you take over long periods of time that give you the biggest results.”
Williams had one simple parting thought: “You belong.”
To learn more about the women’s backgrounds, careers and stories, listen to their featured episode on the More Than A Major Podcast, moderated by Honors students Sophia Jaimes and Emily Jimenez.