Mariela Dabbah, immigrated to New York City from Buenos Aires when she was 24 and bright-eyed. Two decades later, her bright vision has far from faded. She has been focused on helping Latinos succeed through education and career success since she stepped foot in the U.S. — from starting a non-profit to help Latinos go to college, to writing six books, and now heading a career revolution for women.
Dabbah is heading the Red Shoe Movement in New York City on Tuesday, the 26th, in which women will wear red shoes demonstrating their support for empowering other women in their career success. Her mission is to help increase female representation at the highest levels of decision-making across all kinds of organizations.
“When I first came to this country, I was working for a company distributing educational materials to schools,” says Dabbah with traces of an Argentinian accent. “About three years later, I bought the company with my husband. It wasn’t doing well, and we wanted to turn it around. We started developing materials for parental engagement.”
She says that was the start of her career in helping people succeed.
“When you come from the outside, you see things in a different perspective,” says Dabbah about her experience when she first arrived to the U.S. “You see things people take for granted and don’t see anymore…I grew up knowing I needed to go to college — there was no option. I came here, and saw education was not really a given…To me, if you came here, you wanted to change your life. If you’re not doing what you need to make that happen, you become frustrated.”
The problems became clear to her, and so she started coming up with solutions.
“I very quickly realized there were a lot of Latinos in this country that didn’t know how to connect the dots,” says the woman with a master’s degree in philosophy and literature. “I decided that’s how I could make a contribution. I wanted to educate parents on making their kids to better and to take advantage of the education this country offers.”
Dabbah says about 10 years after buying the publishing company, she divorced, and Latinos in College was born — an online and offline platform which became a non-profit in 2011.
“I worked with helping parents in elementary school and high school how the college system works,” she says. “I also started focusing on my writing and publishing.”
She says her first book published in 2005 — “How to Get a Job in the U.S.,” and her most recent one published last year called “Poder de Mujer” (“Woman Power”), which simultaneously launched the Red Shoe Movement. In May, the book also comes out in English.
“I need to clone myself,” jokes Dabbah about needing to have more time in her day. “Depending on time of year and season, I’m more involved in Latinos in College, right now Red Shoe Movement is taking a lot of my time, because it’s newer.”
She says she also makes a living as a career development speaker and consultant for corporations such as McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, New York Life, Exxon and HBO.
“I see some issues that women in general have — especially having a hard time figuring out what they want from themselves,” says Dabbah. “They have a strong mandate from their families of what they should be, and this affects women more than men. We don’t take the time to figure out what we want, and can spend a long time doing what we’re not happy about, just because we don’t realize we have another option.”
She says “Poder de Mujer” makes you aware that it is crucial to figure out what you want, and soon. It gives you activities and exercises you can do with friends, which she says makes achieving results easier and faster.
Dabbah wants women to “find their inner red shoes,” and break the glass ceiling — which is why, she says, she chose that as the image of her book and representing her movement.
“I wanted an image that was powerful,” says Dabbah, who wears red shoes on Tuesdays to promote her brand and encourages other women to do the same. “Most women can identify with power and femininity. You can be powerful without copying anybody…you don’t have to become a man to be successful.”