You know when you meet a new friend or colleague for the first time and you just click? The conversation is intelligent, varied, funny, thought provoking, and the friendship feeds your soul? Well, When I was living in Argentina, I was lucky to meet Marie Metz, who I interviewed this week for this installation of the Spotlight Series. I met her near the end of my time there, so in the few weeks we become friends, she taught me a lot about culture and the world of security in far flung places many of us would never consider going. Here, she talks about her work as a security analyst in Latin America, misogyny in the workplace and the single biggest issue facing women today.
Photo courtesy of Marie Metz.
1. Briefly describe your past life and what your journey was like to get from “there” to “here”.
I’m not sure I had a past life. I will say that as a child and young adult I was under the impression that studying was everything. Good grades, I believed, would give me the spring board to do whatever I wanted down the line.
But once I was in the real world it became very apparent that grades don’t make a career – experiences do. The discipline and quick thinking I developed along the path to earning my black belt in karate when I was 18 have been far more pertinent in my adult life.
Perhaps that’s my “here.” The first job I took out of college was overseas and I’ve kept moving ever since. I now live in Mexico City and work as a Security Consultant for Control Risks, an international business risk consultancy. I travel to sketchy parts of Mexico and advise expat professionals on how to stay safe in a country internationally renowned for violent crime and corruption. Pretty much the opposite of what I envisioned at my high school honor roll ceremony—but very exciting.
2. What is an instance- career or personal- that you would handle differently today?
In recent months, a lot of people in their early 20s have asked me about the master’s program I completed at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Although it was certainly one a defining moments of my life, I realize now I was too young. I was one of the only students under 25 at SIPA. I had always known that I wanted to go to grad school and that it would define the path my career would take, but there really wasn’t such a rush. Most people don’t know what career they want at that age.
If you want grad school to be a time to explore and figure out a career, just know it’s a very expensive way to do that. Just a few more years of life experience—working, reading, making mistakes, hearing about other people with phenomenal jobs—prior to enrolling in SIPA would have helped to squeeze much more out of those two years.
3. Tell us about a person who has had a profound impact on your life and what that impact has been. (you can use specific names, but do not have to)
Easy—my mom. Rita Parrilli hasn’t served as an example only to me, but also to many people throughout the years.
Not many people have the inner strength to pull themselves through a career the way she did. She worked nights and weekends to earn enough money for college and grad school—not common for a woman in the 1970s. Without any personal connections, she landed a job as a researcher at the World Bank and became known as the best in the institution, quickly rising through the ranks into public sector management. The transition from contract staff to professional, as any World Banker knows, is not common.
When my father passed away I was only seven, and the Bank decided to go through yet another re-organization. She took on the work of three other laid-off employees. She worked incredibly long hours at the Bank and still managed to make me feel like the most important person in the world. To this day, I don’t know how she did it, but if I can be just half the woman she is, I’ll be a success.
4. What would you say to women who have a dream/ambition but are discouraged from reaching from it or are told that “it’s going to be difficult.”?
First of all, I admire anyone who has dreams and ambitions. There are a lot of apathetic people out there so that ability to think big is essential.
In some ways, females entering today’s workforce are fortunate that women of the 20th century braved an even more hostile era and paved the way for us to become the highest academic achievers as we are today. Income inequality is real and it is very frustrating. That said, I really believe that with time and fair competition this will even out in the developed world within my lifetime.
Given that I work in the field of security in Mexico, I´m well aware that male-dominated professions and societies still exist.
Misogyny these days take surprising forms. The male security personnel at a factory in the middle of Mexico may treat me with the utmost respect but a co-worker with a white collar job may be the one to make insidious comments to remind me that he’s the man and I’m a woman whose main concerns are frivolous. That and many other things will continue to be “difficult” for a long time, but they will not prevent me or any female from striving to achieve goals and leveling the playing field.
Remember when confronting any difficulty that there are other women facing similar situations. It’s impossible to move down any path without confronting at least a few obstacles but every time we overcome one we learn, and get stronger.
5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The happiest and most successful people I´ve ever met are not micromanagers; they only worry about things that are really pertinent. I´m still working on this one
6. What is your #1 tip for a healthy lifestyle?
Drink lots of water.
7. What is the single-most issue facing women in our culture today?
Perhaps I am biased, but I would say that one of the dominant themes for women working around the world today is security. In many of the regions where I work, men can travel with fewer constraints than women, who see our freedom of movement seriously compromised. Even when staying in exclusive hotels, women are propositioned regularly while on business trips. This can be a frightening and discouraging experience, even to thick-skinned women like me. Considering how far we have come in academic and professional circles, for many this underlying feeling of exposure persists, making us feel vulnerable in situations when we shouldn’t have to.
When I wanted to work as a freelance journalist in Venezuela during the 2012 and 2013 elections I received a lot of friendly but unsolicited advice from friends saying it was too dangerous for me to go.
It’s true, women have it tough, and working in security I know better than anyone that women are more vulnerable, particularly ones working alone.
Nevertheless, writing from Venezuela was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t change a moment of my time there. The issue of security for professional women isn’t going away any time soon, but we can definitely overcome it. As I tell women in the training sessions I deliver for new arrivals to Mexico, we may be targeted more often, but that just means we need to be smarter and more resourceful with our planning. By being outspoken and planning ahead we can overcome security issues and remain safe wherever we are.
Born: Washington, DC
Currently resides: Mexico City, Mexico
Previous residences: Miami, FL, New York, NY, Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires, Argentina,
Current Occupation: Control Risks – Global Risk Consultancy http://www.controlrisks.com/