Ceres Lisboa is the definition of a go-getter. Originally from Brazil, she spent a part of her childhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While Portuguese is her mother tongue, Ceres quickly picked up native fluency in Spanish and English. Besides exploring the different cultures that come with these languages, Ceres was an avid dancer and pursued a bachelor’s in Business Administration and an MBA in Banking, all the while working, getting married, and raising two sons.
Today, one of her favorite activities is her family’s weekend walk in the city. As a ritual to break away from her work routine, Ceres’ family plans long walks throughout São Paulo that take them through the most beautiful areas, always ending at a new and exotic restaurant or cafe.
This favorite family activity is a perfect example of how, at 50 years old, Ceres pursues her life with intentionality and joy, which is easily reflected in her career as Associate Managing Director at Moody’s Corporation.
With a plethora of experiences and knowledge under her belt, we sat down with Ceres to hear her story of being a woman in finance. She also offers us a practical list of tips for women considering the hard but rewarding career of finance.
The Rewards and Challenges of a Working Mother in Finance
Ceres started working as an intern in a Brazilian bank during her second year at university. She quickly grew in that field and started working in financing for a bank that would later merge into Bank of America. “From there, my career flew,” she remembers. “I was invited to go from one bank to the next. That all consumed me a lot because, at the same time, I had kids.”
When Ceres first started, she was working from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM. She says, “I didn’t see my sons as much as I liked to. There were hard times, but there were better times, too. I don’t see anything with sadness because I also liked what I was doing.”
From the beginning, Ceres enjoyed the competition that comes with working in finance. Throughout the 20 years of her career, she has established a strong work ethic that encouraged those around her.
"You have a lot of sexism when working and having babies. People ask, ‘Oh, you’re going to have another baby now?’ But I moved past that and did it anyway. In the end, everything went well. I think it requires a lot of dedication to show that you have the guts and that you like what you do. Today, we can have kids, work hard, have the title, and the position.”
The Courage to Face Challenges
As one of her sons now follows in her footsteps, she gives him a lot of practical advice on how to manage the competitiveness of finance.
“‘You have to be tough,’ I tell him. You’re going to have to dedicate a lot of your time to analysis. You have to be curious, be brave enough to face the challenges, without taking things personally.”
As Associate Managing Director for Moody’s, Ceres is responsible for a portfolio of five to six associate analysts and seven junior analysts. Many of these portfolios include over 115 names in Latin America. “In my job, I tell the story of Latin America,” she explains, “which is not easy. Most of the time, volatility is found in our part of the world.”
As a global, integrated risk assessment firm, Moody’s helps reconstruct that paradigm. With their data, analytical solutions, and insights, the company helps decision-makers identify opportunities and manage the risks of doing business with others. Ceres’ job is to manage the teams that lead these initiatives.
Growing Professionally Takes Time and Effort
When Ceres was first invited to apply to become Associate Managing Director, she did not think she was prepared. However, she had been at Moody’s for about 15 years, working as a Senior Analyst. The managing director at the time was about to retire and invited Ceres to apply for the position. Ceres credits her for helping her have the necessary skills to step up to the challenge.
“I remember that she would put me in situations that I didn’t like,” she says. “And that was tough for me. But I realized that she was offering this as an opportunity.”
Ceres reiterates the importance of seeking learning opportunities, whether formally or informally. She also credits professional coaching as a way to better hone one’s skills.
“As a young woman in finance, I was very insecure. Coaching helped me realize that you’re not always going to be liked and that it takes time to build professional relationships and have the confidence to have tough conversations. It taught me how to be empathetic as a leader and gave me skills to better understand my team members.”
A Culture of Transparency
Ceres reflects on the impact of the company culture on her work ethic and the way she pursues professional growth.
“Our company values are teamwork, strategic thinking, and excellence in our service. To hold those values, you must be open. You must listen a lot. You have to explain and be transparent.”
They also offered Ceres a leadership program, as one of their many employee benefits, which she took advantage of and has leveraged in her day-to-day work.
Along with leadership programs, Moody’s offers commuter benefit plans, flexible work arrangements, and parental leave, among others.
“I really enjoy the company and how they value their employees. As long as they’ll have me, I’ll stay with Moody’s,” Ceres says.
Insider Tips for Women Seeking a Career in Finance
Reflecting on her life experience working in finance, she gives women six practical tips:
- Seek learning opportunities. “It’s hard to find people that are invested in finance. It’s necessary to have more than an MBA. You have to love analysis, you have to be curious, you have to be willing to raise your hand to volunteer for something, no matter how experienced you are.”
- Consider everyone equal. “Some of the hard parts of being a woman in the financial world is that there aren’t that many women. And there’s a stark difference between how men and women react or make decisions. While society wants to assign roles and responsibilities, we can modernize things, starting with what we choose to value in our life.”
- Be willing to work hard. “Some people want to go into finance because they think it’s the easy way to make money. But it’s not easy to make money or to have big titles or positions. You have to get real, be humble, and do the work.”
- Find ways to work as a team. “People are becoming more individualistic and thinking less as a team, especially in the financial world. It’s easy to set the goal of being the star of the group, but it’s better for everyone to have their equal part and work together.”
- Growth mindset. “Raise your hand and volunteer for learning opportunities, no matter what level you find yourself in on the work ladder. You will never have all of the answers, and that’s a good thing because that way you can always be learning.”
- Invest in yourself. “I would encourage women to pursue their hobbies and to make time for themselves. We can be women who both work hard, have a family, and have our own interests.”