“I Tell My Daughters Every Day that They Can Become Whatever They Want to Be”
Paola Benitez Torres is never bored as the Regional Quality Manager for the ICL Americas. The little girl that once dreamed of becoming a chef grew up to see the magic of Food Engineering in the chemicals industry – and achieve a successful career
The mining and chemicals industry may not be one you’d imagine finding many women in, especially in senior positions. Yet, in 2020, more and more women are participating in a field that used to be generally perceived as masculine. They are gaining more support from their employers and are rising to senior positions, just like their male counterparts. One such woman, Paola Benitez Torres, Regional Quality Manager for the ICL Americas, told us about her life as a senior manager in the chemicals industry.
Paola, originally from Mexico, was educated in the field of Food Engineering and holds an MBA degree. Before joining ICL, she worked as a food engineer in several global food industries across the Americas. “By the time I joined ICL, I already relocated seven times across Mexico, so we were kind of used to, and very open to changes”, Paola says.
Since starting her work at ICL back in 2011, Paola got promoted again and again. In 2017, she was promoted to her current position and is now based at the company’s St. Louis Headquarters in the US, supporting five sites across the region and a few other functions. It’s been a long journey and Paola describes it as full of learning and new experiences. “I will not lie, it was hard in the beginning,” she says, “My family was put under some pressure because every other week I had to travel to another site on top of traveling to Israel and Germany from time to time. I’m a lucky person — my husband is the best supporter of my career and he always tells me how proud he is of me. He gave up his career in Mexico to join me in this adventure and it amazes me how easily he adjusts to different circumstances.”
Paola says that she had always been very hyperactive as a child, who dreamt to become a lawyer and later a chef, until she realized that she would need to find an area in which she would have more opportunities to grow. “Food is something that is continually changing, so I decided to investigate this field and that’s how I became a food engineer.” She is very pleased about her choice because it lets her be a little bit of both, chef and lawyer. “Somehow, I’m still involved with food, and I love being able to interact with many areas and departments.”
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Paola explains that every day as Regional Quality Manager is different. “I wake up 4:15 a.m. every day and arrive at the office at 6 a.m. I take advantage of the time zone differences to do calls to other regions till around 9, then I check emails to see if a new quality complaint has been entered into the system. I have at least a couple of conference calls a day, about projects, audits, customer requests, investigations, customer complaints or working plans. I do my job from multiple locations — the St. Louis office, Webster Groves Technical Center (my wonderful analytical team is there) or the Carondelet plant site (I like to see my old friends from when I worked there.) I sometimes work from home when I have calls very early in the morning, when there is no school or my children are sick. We don’t have family around to help here, so my husband and I share this responsibility as parents.”
This may all sound like a lot to deal with, but Paola says she loves the opportunity to work from multiple sites with different products and situations, and the fact that every day brings its new challenges.
Her daughters, Sofia (7) and Luciana (4), provide her daily motivation, understanding from an early age that their mom travels for her job and always being very supportive. “They are way stronger than I!” Paola says. “They look up to me and recognize that Mommy is working to be a better person for herself and for our family.”
Paola believes that serving as an inspirational model for young girls and women should start at home. “You need to lead by example. I tell my daughters every day that they can become whatever they want to be — they just need to work hard to get it. I tell them to always be respectful to others, but if someone treats them badly, they need to speak up and stop it. I tell them that they have the same rights as everyone else, and that there shouldn’t be a difference based on gender, nationality, place of origin or beliefs. I explain that not everything is easy, that they will encounter challenges in their lives and that sometimes you have to fall and fail to learn.
To young girls or young women just starting their careers, Paola recommends being willing to learn and ask questions; feel free to say “No” when there is nothing you can do; being brave when the situation requires it; being unafraid to have opinions or to speak up; making sure they are clear on their expectations and objectives; asking for what they need — as the worst that can happen is to receive “No” for an answer.
Being a woman in a senior position is not easy, but Paola doesn’t believe it is different for women than for men. “I don’t think I have been treated differently as a woman. I worked hard to be where I am. The percentage of women in senior roles is still lower than of men, but I know we are gaining places. I would say I wish there were more women around, but I feel the same as the men around me and I have never been afraid of being a tiny person, I’m very outspoken.”