Leadership Lessons Learned

By Ann Miller Baker - December 20, 2018

The accolades and numbers make a strong case for Moffitt Cancer Center’s commitment to fostering female leadership.

  • In March, Moffitt was named one of the 2018 Top 10 Nonprofit Companies for Executive Women by the National Association for Female Executives. The recognition spotlights organizations that identify and advance women through their ranks.
  • The cancer center has been on Working Mother Magazine’s 100 Best Companies list 10 times.
  • Moffitt’s 6,000+ workforce is 74 percent female.
  • Moffitt’s six executive leaders include one notable female: Executive Vice President and Chief Financial & Administrative Officer Yvette Tremonti, who was named 2018 CFO of the Year by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
  • Ten of Moffitt’s 27 senior managers are female.
  • Of Moffitt’s 266 managers, nearly three-fourths are female.

But perhaps the most meaningful endorsements are personal.

“Out of all the different institutions that I trained at and worked at, this was the first place that I really saw women kicking butt,” says Asmita Mishra, MD. “And I wanted to be like them.”

“I stayed on as faculty because this is the first place I found female leaders that I could interact with. They’re working mothers, trying to cure cancer, trying to go above and beyond.”

In this issue of Momentum focused on strong women, we gathered Mishra and seven other female leaders throughout Moffitt for a roundtable discussion about women’s path to leadership, what Moffitt is doing to elevate its female team members, as well as opportunities to improve those efforts, and what hopes these women hold for female leaders to come.

Why is female leadership important to an institution like Moffitt? 

Yvette Tremonti: Given the majority of our workforce is female, it’s important that our leadership represents our workforce. We all know that the further you (rise) in any organization, the less women you have.

Susan Vadaparampil: It’s important to have women in leadership so that you’re inspiring the next generation, so they’re not just writing it off because all they see are (leaders of) a particular gender, a particular race, a particular ethnicity. Instead, they see that really it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s what you bring to the table that makes the difference.

Cathy Grant: Diversity has to be intentional, it’s never by happenstance. Having female representation of all backgrounds at all levels and in particular in leadership is critically important.

Mariana Bugallo-Muros: It’s not just diversity, though. It’s what the female leader brings to an organization as far as diversity of thought.

What elements of Moffitt’s culture encourage and facilitate female leadership? And what are our opportunities to improve?

Nagi Kumar: You have to make a deliberate effort to empower women as leaders in research because the time commitment in research is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s important to acknowledge that, have empathy and recognize what women contribute, as well as the challenges we face.

Susan Vadaparampil: It is more than a full-time job. In research especially, flexibility is on our side. I’ve always felt I had some latitude to adjust things to where I was at that point in my life. Having a culture and leaders who facilitate that makes a big difference. 

Mariana Bugallo-Muros: And there are different ways of showing flexibility. There’s the fact that we have the four-day workweek and many part-time positions because not everyone wants to or can work full time five days a week.

Jane Fusilero: I can tell you where I worked in the past, people there would die for an updated child care center like Moffitt recently opened. When you look at the nursing workforce, regardless of generation, child care is so important. And the fact that this organization has supported it with such a substantial investment can’t be overstated.

Asmita Mishra: This organization has been very flexible and open to hearing about how we can improve. Two years ago, we started the Women in Oncology Interest Group. Out of all the standalone cancer centers nationwide, Moffitt was the second to think about women’s issues and initiate a multidisciplinary group to look at how to promote women throughout the organization — both at the junior and senior levels — because we recognize support is needed at all levels.

Nagi Kumar: Women mentoring other women is the key. Informal mentors, always keeping an eye out for those who are coming up, onboarding them and showing them it can be done. We can be the senior faculty, doing things that are going to change the world in the future.

Karen Fields: But we also need to teach our males to be mentors. And to teach women that a mentor doesn’t have to be a female. It just has to be somebody that can teach you something. That can be a role model. That can open the door (to opportunity) for you. And the more our male faculty members are sensitive to their important role in that, the better it is for us.

Jane Fusilero: It’s really important to talk about a career ladder or some way you can be groomed for that next level. It’s certainly something that’s attractive to new graduates. They’re not necessarily into loyalty, but they will stay with an organization if they have the opportunity to move within the organization. And that really means that the organization has to make a concerted effort to help them move through their career in order to keep that talent.

Mariana Bugallo-Muros: If we can see a way of opening doors for them across the institution — as opposed to just thinking upward — they feel like they are getting experience and knowledge and building skillsets.

Karen Fields: In my career, I ended up being on a lot of committees, meeting people from different places in the organization. We shouldn’t underestimate how much you can learn and how many opportunities we have to do that for everybody.

Cathy Grant: One area where we can do better is to really be conscious that not all of our population (travels) that path to leadership at the same pace. Some of us are moving a little slower. Always being conscious of the pace that different groups are making here is critically important.

So it sounds like some of the most meaningful elements of building a culture that fosters female leadership are how we interact with others within the organization. But there’s also a strong element of work-life balance issues. And it seems like every roundtable discussion among working women always comes back to work-life balance. Do we as women need to move beyond these discussions?

Nagi Kumar: I think I’m the one that said we have to stop talking about this …

(Laughter/women saying “You’re not the only one!”)

Yvette Tremonti: I think maybe it’s how we define it. I view work-life balance as being able to address a personal need during work hours. There are things that arise for a working parent that take you away from your job. I look at work-life balance as being able to step away and handle those things. Sometimes, I feel I have balance and sometimes I don’t.

Susan Vadaparampil: What drives me nuts is that it’s always (groups of women who wind up talking about this). I don’t think it should just be us, you know? When we make it a burden of one person or one group, then it becomes their “thing.” It’s an important conversation for everybody to have. 

Karen Fields: Years ago, I was at a national (female) leadership conference and the agenda included a session on “How to Dress for Success.” The women rebelled. It’s not on the agenda anymore. That’s something we once had to own — and we owned it by ourselves. It would never show up on a group agenda for men.

Mariana Bugallo-Muros: Years ago in Boston, I was hiring for a Human Resources generalist, trying to recruit someone from another hospital. And as part of the very first interview, he said, “I have two sons and I coach baseball. During the season, I need to be able to leave at 3 — not every day, but the days I’m coaching. I’ll go home after and finish whatever work I need to do. I’m coaching because that’s what my kids are going to remember in the future.” And I said I’m 100 percent supportive. You’re a professional who knows how to handle the job. When I left there 15 years later, I got a letter from his two sons thanking me for giving him that opportunity.

We are rolling out a new strategic plan, IMPACT 2028, that maps Moffitt’s course over the next decade. Ten years from now, what do you hope Moffitt will look like in terms of female leadership?

Yvette Tremonti: All my peers are men. I would think we need to see I’m not the only female executive vice president. (Editor’s Note: As this edition went to print, Maria Muller was scheduled to join the Moffitt Foundation in December as EVP, President and Chief Philanthropy Officer.)

Susan Vadaparampil: Our organization should look like our world. It should look full of women, men, all different races, all different ages. That’s what will make us stronger.

Mariana Bugallo-Muros: Right now, we have an incredible CEO who potentially would have decided to retire by then. If so, I’d like to see a slate of candidates including females for that position.

Yvette TremontiAnd I think as women leaders around this table, we all need to be sponsors. I think mentors are important. But when I look at all the opportunities I’ve had at Moffitt, it was because someone sponsored me. Someone believed in me. They took a chance on me and they allowed me to have an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone.

Cathy Grant: My goal would be for everyone to be able to look at our leadership and see someone there that they can relate to, that looks like them, that has a similar experience. If we continue to work towards that, I think we will accomplish a lot of what everyone has shared in this discussion.


Bios; Roundtable

Yvette Tremonti, CPA, MBA Executive Vice President and Chief Financial & Administrative Officer

  • Named 2018 CFO of the Year by the Tampa Bay Business Journal
  • Temple Terrace native, graduate of University of South Florida

"It’s crucial to figure out your passion and what you are good at — they’re not always one and the same.”

Asmita Mishra, MD Assistant Member, Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy

  • Leads the Clinical Women Faculty Mentoring Program
  • Physician leader of the Women in Oncology Interest Group

"Talking about work-life balance as if it’s a women’s issue is doing our male colleagues a disservice. They want to be present in their families’ lives and avoid burnout as much as we do.”

Jane Fusilero, RN, MSN, MBA, NEA-BC Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer

  • Under her leadership, Moffitt attained Magnet® status, the highest distinction of the American Nurses Credentialing Center
  • As the single mother of a gay son, she is attuned to diversity and inclusion issues

"From the moment I arrived, I could see that Moffitt’s culture embraces diversity. We really walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Nagi Kumar, PHD, RD, FADA Senior Member, Cancer Epidemiology Program & Breast and Genitourinary Oncology

  • Born and raised in India; 36 doctors (MD, PhD, DDS) among her immediate family
  • An original Moffitt Cancer Center hire

"As a professional, if you see me first as a woman — that’s on you. I see myself as the sum of my accomplishments.”

Cathy Grant, MPA, CDM Senior Director, Moffitt Diversity

  • Under her leadership, Moffitt’s diversity efforts have been honored by the American Hospital Association, DiversityInc, the Human Rights Campaign and Tampa Bay Business Journal
  • Born in London and raised in Guyana, South America, until age 8

"Look at the whole person — are their skills transferrable? I’ve transformed myself many times.”

Karen Fields, MD Medical Director, Clinical Pathways and Value-Based Cancer Care

  • Medical oncologist and researcher specializing in breast cancer
  • Founding member of Moffitt’s Blood and Marrow Transplant Program; one of the translational scientists who presented for Moffitt’s successful first National Cancer Institute designation core grant

"I knew that if I was going to compete, it was not going to be as a female physician. I just needed to be the best physician.”

Mariana Bugallo-Muros, MSM Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

  • Only child of Cuban immigrants, born and raised in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen
  • Has focused H.R. on succession planning to develop future Moffitt leaders from within

"For me, growing up was not about mentors and role models. It was instilling that hard work and education get you where you want to go."

Susan Vadaparampil, PHD, MPH Associate Center Director of Community Outreach and Engagement

  • Born in southern India and moved to Miami at age 4
  • Post-doctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in Washington exposed her to teamwork with people from diverse backgrounds

“Our research requires a level of precision and perfection that is critical to doing great science. The rest of our lives may be less perfect, but still great. Those coming up need to see both perspectives.”

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Ann Miller Baker Medical Science Writer 813-745-8314 More Articles

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