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Maria Castañón Moats

Chief Diversity Officer

New York, NY

[My mother] would often say: ‘Daughter, it doesn’t cost us anything to dream, so let’s dream big.'

I am a first-generation Mexican-American, and my first language was Spanish. Family – particularly extended family – is very important to me. I am married and I have two children, three siblings, 14 aunts and uncles, over 40 first cousins, and too many second cousins to even count.

My family always encouraged me to succeed, but they also wanted to shelter me from the unknown. Mexican culture tends to be very protective of women. My parents didn’t go to college, but they knew that it was important to me. They were so proud when I became the first member of our family to achieve that milestone.

Because my parents valued safety and were very worried about me living alone so far from family, I agreed to attend my local college in El Paso instead of going away to school. At the time, that compromise was worth it, but I still wonder what might have happened if I had taken a bigger risk and ventured further away.

When I joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) I wanted to be successful, which meant becoming a partner. That was as far ahead as I could see. I worked for years in the Dallas office (where I got to be near family and friends), but unfortunately the real opportunities for growth were outside of Texas. I was eventually offered an exciting role in PwC’s New York Metro region.

My parents were not happy with this news. And to be honest, I was also nervous. I didn’t know many people in New York, and I would be completely uprooting my husband and three-year-old son. At that moment it would have been so easy to lean back. As a partner I had already achieved more than my family or I ever expected. Why would I want to take a risk?

However, I knew it was time for me to dream bigger. My mother loves telenovelas (Mexican soap operas), where the characters overcome tremendous odds to achieve great success. She would often say: “Mi hija, nada nos cuesta soñar, así que hay que soñar grande.” Translation: “Daughter, it doesn’t cost us anything to dream, so let’s dream big.” While she wanted to protect me, my mother also wanted me to embrace possibility. I decided to lean in.

I moved, and a whole new world opened up to me --including the opportunity to lead Diversity for PwC. I could never have anticipated how much that one decision would transform my career path. Of course, my mother still calls regularly to tell me how worried she is that New York is dangerous and that there are murderers on the loose. But I’m so grateful that she encouraged me to dream big, even if the end result wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.