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From the Podium

<i>Entrepreneur</i>'s 2008 Women in Charge conference keynote speaker, Adela Cepeda, shares her thoughts on women in business today.

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Adela Cepeda is a serial entrepreneur tackling the male-dominated world of finance. And she's also our keynote speaker at OPEN from American Express and Entrepreneur's "Women in Charge: Winning Strategies for Women-Business Owners" conference taking place January 29 in Miami Beach, Florida. Chicago-based Cepeda, 49, boasts 27 years of experience as a financial specialist. She's majority owner, a founding partner and chair of Alta Capital Group, LLC, as well as owner and president of A.C. Advisory, a municipal finance advisory firm.

If you won't be able to make this year's Women in Charge conference, or for a sneak peek of what to expect, find out what Cepeda has to say about the challenges facing women entrepreneurs, maintaining work/life balance and her most important message to women in business. How did you choose the financial industry?

Cepeda: The financial industry was a fit because I always wanted to be in business and to attend business school for an MBA. When I was accepted to business school but deferred for a couple of years, it was recommended by the school that I take a position [that would allow me to] sharpen my quantitative skills. That led directly to Wall Street, and I've never left. Which obstacle has been tougher to overcome--being a Latina in business or being a woman in a male-dominated field?

Cepeda: Being a woman in business, such as high finance, is a serious disadvantage. It used to be very difficult to generate business and be taken seriously relative to men who were peers. Being Latina simply adds to the stereotypes that people have created in their minds. But truly, I don't pay a lot of attention to this anymore. I'm generally no-nonsense and can get quantitative and analytical very quickly on complex financial issues, so people just have to readjust their false assumptions. Many women with careers struggle with juggling their business and their family life. Has becoming an entrepreneur improved your work/life balance?

Cepeda: To some extent, being your own boss does give you some flexibility. Specifically, I decide what the priorities are. However, when you have your own business, clients are critically important, and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, like to not attend your child's school event, or whatever. When this happens, I try to explain to my girls what the conflict is, and ask them what they would do. Generally, they understand, but I'm sure I fall way short of their standards for "mom" duties.

It's doubly hard when you're a single parent; there really isn't anyone to cover the bases for you. But I don't remember my parents attending any of my extracurricular activities except a school play once and parent/teacher conferences in the evening. Somehow, we managed to survive. What do you think is the greatest challenge facing women in business today?

Cepeda: The greatest challenge to women is having access to the opportunities, to plum positions, to contract opportunities, to open corporate board seats. For the most part, it's still principally a boys' network. As women, we need to do more to make sure we let other women know when we're aware of opportunities. It's only fair that women be in the pool in relevant numbers. What is the most important message or piece of entrepreneurial advice you'd like to pass on to our readers who aren't able to attend the Women in Charge event?

Cepeda: The key message to other women is to trust your instincts. Sometimes the analytics fog what our inner voice is telling us, and we've been programmed to believe that our own sixth sense is somehow inadequate. Actually, the older I get, the more I realize that isn't the case. This sixth sense is actually an amalgam of common sense and lots of facts and figures that have been stored over the years; our reactions are often quite good.

For more information on the 2008 Women in Charge conference and to register for free,click here.