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Managing Director Alicia Bandala, of Kone Mexico, visited the Quad-Cities Wednesday morning to talk about women in management as part of the Greater Quad-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's quarterly speaker series. 

Alicia Bandala's father hoped his first-born son would be the engineer of the family. It didn't work out that way.

“My father was a key person for my life. He is the inspiration for what my life is. He was strict, although, he loved us,” Bandala, the managing director of Kone Mexico, said. “I remember I was available for my father and wanted to understand how things work. Little by little, he’d get used to me. I never imagined through that, my professional life would be discovered.”

Bandala discovered early in life she had a love of engineering. While she now leads a significant team across Mexico, Bandala’s journey to management has never been an easy one, she told members of the Greater Quad-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning.

“I decided to choose engineering for my career and I never forgot (my father’s) skeptical face when I told him my decision,” she said, during a presentation at the Scott Community College Urban Campus in Davenport. “He told me if there was a limit, it was going to be mine. Those were his words. But I never repent for my choice. And now with pride, I’ll share with you my first niece — my brother’s child — will be the second engineer in the family.”

Bandala pursued electronic engineering at La Salle University in Mexico. Despite graduating with high honors, she said attending the university was one of the first times she felt discriminated against because of her gender.

Despite criticism, she began interning at an international company, mostly making hard copies, she said. But after proving her skills, she was asked to help lead a training program. After a couple of successful sessions, she earned her first full-time job, feeling as if she was finally making progress in her career.

“But then I faced one of the worst experiences a woman is exposed,” she said. “I got sexually harassed by a high level executive and needed to leave the company. I had to keep my strength and overcome that. I decided to leave because you need to respect yourself.”

Bandala considers her second job the “tipping point.” Despite her background in engineering and ability to fix automation and control systems, Bandala was appointed to the sales team.

“I wanted to be in the field fixing things. But I guess they look at me and think I’m small or weak. So they sent me to sales. And that was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said. “I discovered one of my strengths was influencing people and managing people.”

She stayed with the company for about 16 years, eventually moving up to the positions of national service manager and business director.

“I was appointed head of new products for Latin America, which was interesting and challenging,” Bandala said. “At this point in my career, with all the things, I found out by chance that my salary was quite lower in comparison to male counterparts that had similar positions and responsibilities. I never understood this and no one was able to explain.”

Again, she chose to leave her job.

In 2010, Bandala was named managing director of Kone Mexico. At the time, she said only one other woman was on her team. Now, two female directors are her “right and left hands,” she said, and the Kone operation has a workforce with around 38 percent women.

In the past eight years, she said she’s worked to improve hiring policies and create an inclusive environment for all employees.

“One of the things that changed was the policy for hiring women. I don’t believe in a gender quota. I really believe in talent and commitment and attitude,” she said. “But when I see a pregnant woman at Kone, I ask only one question: ‘Are you returning after maternity? Because we will keep your position.’ That’s the only question I ask. And with that, they will come back. It is interesting to see they are more committed to the company afterward because they appreciate that.”

Bandala said she manages with “open doors,” not only for women, but people of all nationalities, sexualities, ethnicities and ages, giving the example of recently hiring someone in their mid-50s.

And while she has seen workplaces improve when it comes to gender equality, Bandala works with young women interested in engineering to make sure they have the confidence and resources to succeed.

“For women, I would tell them, you are very valuable. Nothing will stop that,” she said. “I always tell them to develop their strengths and that you need to know yourself.”

When Bandala talks about her niece becoming the second engineer in her family, her eyes light up. The same passion shows when she discusses working at a company that shares the values she was raised to have.

“Before, my presence was always a source of intrigue. I’d walk into rooms and face uncomfortable silence. When I left a room, I felt inadequate,” she said. “Now as the director, those feelings of frustration are in the past. I work for a company that believes in talent, commitment and pure intentions. Even though the majority of my counterparts are still male, I am now treated with respect. Negotiating in the world of men is not about gender; it’s about trust.”

Bandala visited the Quad-Cities to speak as part of the Hispanic Chamber's quarterly speaker series. Kone, a world leader in engineering escalators and elevators, has operations in the Quad-Cities.