We had the good fortune of connecting with Mia Amato Caliendo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mia, do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
I love this question because I am a student of quotes. Throughout my professional career, I have used quotes to inspire, educate, and challenge both me and those around me. I still get a quote of the day from an app on my iPhone every morning at 8 am. While there are numerous quotes I want to list, there is a single quote that I have revisited, shared, and used as a filter for many years. The great Maya Angelou has said, “people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.” Perhaps this is so significant to me because professionally, I’ve led large, diverse teams and served both my local community and thousands of visitors from around the world. I have thought about this deeply from both angles- that of how I make others feel and how others have made me feel. Maya Angelou has not been the only guide on this topic; I believe it important to spotlight the influence of Black women in my education— don’t worry, I promise this ties back to the quote! I grew up in St. Maarten where I had a unique upbringing, born to American parents, and moving to the island when I was two. I lived on a sailboat till I was eight and later a house on a hill. I attended different schools, including those with a French-based curriculum and a U.S. based curriculum. During my adolescence, I had teachers as diverse as St. Maarten is. The 37-square mile island, home to 104 nationalities by the time I was a senior in high school, facilitated my understanding of a harmonious coexistence and the value difference adds to a community. Whether it be school teachers, dance teachers, or business professionals, some of my most valuable lessons have come from Black women. I think about my dear friend, Ihndhira Richardson-Marlin, who is the most beautiful dancer I have ever seen on stage, so magnificent that I wanted to dance just like her and enrolled in classes after attending a show where her solo performance moved me. She was an assistant teacher in my lyrical jazz class early on in my dancing years, and later, after several years of studying applied mathematics abroad in Holland, she decided to pivot back to her true love, dance. Now, she co-owns and runs her own local dance school in St. Maarten where she teaches dance to all ages- not only a teacher and choreographer, but also a businesswoman. She not only mastered her skill but also decided to share her love of dance with her community. She taught me to follow my heart, even when the decision isn’t an easy one. I think of Dorothy Lake, a leader in St. Maarten Constitutional Affairs, who organized island-wide debate competitions for students to get involved in local politics. Her leadership and service of over 40 years were a lesson in community involvement and the importance of engaging youth to participate early on. My years of debate and panel discussions have shaped my ability to understand there is always value in both sides of an argument if you think critically and do enough research. This didn’t change when I moved to Miami, FL for university. I was incredibly homesick in my first two years, so you could imagine the excitement I had when I enrolled in Dr. Sheri Harrison’s English 106 class, Star Bwoy Cyaan Dun, The Jamaican Badman at the University of Miami. In this class, which was as much a Jamaican History and Current Events class as it was an English class, we pulled themes from Dancehall songs, reviewed the history of Reggae, and read Michael Thelwell’s book, The Harder They Come. Dr. Harrison was one of the toughest graders I have ever had. Her expectation of excellence motivated me to be a better writer, and I still think of her when I write today. Several years later, my lessons continued in my career. Sherice Louis-Jean was the Senior Manager I reported to in 2015. Her expertise in human resources and talent selection was unparalleled and her leadership and ability to design and implement strategies got her promoted quicker than most. I loved working for Sherice for many reasons, but the most significant reason was her brutal honesty. She challenged me to be better by widening my scope of responsibility, yet still expecting excellence. Her level of care intersected with her ability to stretch my skillset, and I am a better leader because I worked with Sherice. A few years later, I decided to go back to school. I had always been passionate about race and ethnic relations, and while I had infused these values into my work, I wanted to have a bigger impact. Ensuring equity has many lanes, and I felt I could do great work in the corporate space. I felt this way because businesses are microcosms of our society, and run by humans. Ultimately, successful businesses can influence communities, legislation, and trends. I was a part of one of these microcosms and knew I had the potential to change policies in an effort to create more equity and inclusion in the workplace. During my first semester of graduate school, my partner Anjané Rodgers and I teamed up for our first project. We had both been out of school for quite some time and feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. We submitted our paper and presentation to Dr. Andrea Richards Scott for our Human Behavior and Learning in Organizations course. While Anjané and I were nervous, we both felt confident in our work. Then we received a grade we were less than thrilled about given how much work we had put into our paper and presentation. Dr. Andrea Scott taught us many things that semester, but the most important lesson was we needed to work harder than we ever had before if we wanted to achieve our bold goals. All of these smart, strong, significant Black women are leaders in their field and excellent at what they do. While they have never once told me they had to work harder than anyone else, the level of excellence each expects has taught me they have. All of these lessons are wrapped up in how they made me feel, and that is that while I am capable, I can always be better, especially if I follow my heart.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
In the Spring of 2010, I attended the University of Miami’s Career Expo as a senior interested in changing the world. I was most excited to speak with the FBI because I wanted to create a more equitable nation, and thought I could make changes within the FBI if I got my foot in the door. I was disappointed when I met the representatives and quickly made the assessment that our values were not aligned. As I walked through the lanes with various organizations to my left and right, I noticed the Apple logo. One of my majors was Electronic Media and I had a Mac all through school, and I LOVED it. I decided to walk over to tell them just how much I loved it! I assumed they were hiring engineers, but to my surprise, they were looking for student leaders. I had been heavily involved on campus, and by the time I was a senior, I had held multiple leadership positions in multiple organizations and was a student manager at the on-campus sports bar, The Rathskeller. I spent the next eight years at Apple. I started in the first cohort of the Apple Store Leader Program, a privilege to say the least. I got to meet high-level leaders across the organization and present findings along with my peers. The program was two years, and I was promoted to Manager at its conclusion. I spent the next six years leading large, diverse teams in five different stores in South Florida and Boston. I have always been passionate about race and ethnic relations and identity and infused this into my work as a leader. In 2016, I began pursuing an experience that allowed me to step out of my role as a leader in retail and into a project manager role on the inclusion and diversity team, specifically working on the Apple HBCU Scholars Program. After 12 months of engaging leaders and team members, I was given the chance to spend four months working on this program. I felt this was the work I was meant to do and after I returned to my role in retail, I decided to return to graduate school to fill in gaps and elevate my candidacy for an I&D role. After the first semester, and fourth months of 100-hour weeks between work and school, I decided to resign from my position with Apple to focus on immersing myself in colonial/postcolonial research, engaging different leaders within the inclusion and diversity space, and of course, my classes on organizational leadership and learning. I completed my degree in August 2019, and after months of resume rewriting, phone screens, and interviews with numerous companies, I was offered the position of Global Project Manager for Internal Talent Movement at Apple. I have been in-role now for four months and although I have eight years of experience with the company, I am learning about it in new and exciting ways. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned along the way is that I am not special and the universe doesn’t owe me anything. I have met so many incredible people both professionally and personally, and truthfully, I realized how great everyone was around me. Being surrounded by those who both challenge and care for you is a gift. In January of this year, a professor of mine whom I admired and deeply respected reached out to me and two other former students. She asked if we were interested in building an initiative together, an initiative focused on humanistic leadership. Dr. Khilji had developed and taught the first graduate course on humanistic leadership at George Washington University, and Zoe King, Jason Smith, and I were passionate and eager students. Together, we have since written articles, submitted research, built a website, have been interviewed for a podcast, and worked on signature programming, and more. Our mission statement is “we humanize leadership and foster respectful cultures, honoring differences. We help leaders and organizations critically assess their underlying assumptions and focus on creating value through the promotion of human dignity and well-being.” I believe this is just the beginning, and this initiative has incredible potential and am excited to be a part of the change I wish to see with partners who make me better.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many fantastic gems in Miami, and there are some great publications highlighting local businesses which have given me the chance to further explore my own city! The New Tropic, Culture Crusaders, Miami Food Pug, are just a few. For day activities, I am a beach lover and would certainly take my best friend to the beach. I try to find less crowded areas of the beach for ultimate relaxation. PAMM would be another must for a fun day. Not only is the museum set on a beautiful backdrop, but it also often showcases artists from the Caribbean and Latin America. The Citadel is a great spot for food, rooftop drinks, and checking out local events. Fairchild Gardens is such a beautiful garden experience, I love walking around, especially on a cooler day in Miami. Lastly, you can never go wrong with Wynwood or Calle Ocho, the abundance of street art, local breweries, and numerous events are lively, exciting, and so much fun. I LOVE trying restaurants, and Miami continues to build notoriety in the food scene.
There are so many spots, so here are just a few Dinner Spots
1. Lung Yai Thai Tapas for incredible Thai food
2. Ariete for a creative and delicious dining experience 3. 27 Bar and Restaurant (and obviously the Broken Shaker for drinks after dinner!) 4. Mazzi Cucina for an intimate Italian dinner with a great house chianti 5. Mandolin for amazing Greek food and a beautiful atmosphere 6. Balloo for every.single.thing. on the menu Lunch Spots 1. L C Roti Shop for Trini roti that is unbeatable in Miami 2. The Lokal for the best veggie burger you’ll ever have
3. Jamaica Kitchen for Brown Fish Stew
4. Lemoni Cafe for a wide variety of options, some really great vegan options like the vegan coconut cutlet panini
5. While Versailles is usually where I take visitors for Cuban food, my favorite spot is Sergio’s on Coral Way (I used to live right next to it and now feel like it’s comfort food)
1. Casa Florida for delictable cocktails and a true Miami ambiance
2. Union Beer Store for my friends who love finding distinctive beers
3. Terras which I have only gotten to go once, but how could you go wrong with a rooftop bar in Littel Havana
4. Cafe La Trova for cocktails and fantastic live music
5. Sweet Liberty for a funky cocktail and snack after the beach (or any time, really)