Pilar Portela: Business leader, role model, mentor

As a technology entrepreneur, Pilar Portela of Trail, B.C., is in a unique leadership position

Costa Rica-born Pilar Portela, CEO of Astra Smart Systems Inc. and i4C Innovation in the West Kootenay, is passionate about rural sustainability and the practical application of emerging technology

Costa Rica-born Pilar Portela, CEO of Astra Smart Systems Inc. and i4C Innovation in the West Kootenay, is passionate about rural sustainability and the practical application of emerging technology. — Photo courtesy Pilar Portela

Pilar Portela, CEO of Astra Smart Systems Inc. and i4C Innovation, is a rarity among her peers. Her gender alone makes her noteworthy in the world of software executives, but it’s her vision, her capability and her leadership style that have made her successful.

Though she has lived in Rossland for only three years, she is already recognized in the West Kootenay as a leader to admire and emulate. Kootenay Business magazine gave special recognition to Portela at its West Kootenay Influential Women in Business awards luncheon on May 3.

I enjoyed Portela’s warmth and easy laughter during our conversation, and I hope to make her business success the subject of another article at a later date. For now, here is her perspective on the leadership role of women in business.

In her view

I could have made CEO earlier than I did,” Portela said, “but I was always thinking that I needed to learn more, to train more, to do more, before I actually posted my name to become a CEO. I think we don’t need to be so afraid and to question ourselves so much as we normally do, as women.”

Portela encourages women to accept the responsibility of being role models and mentors for those who are following them. Even if a woman becomes a leader by default, she has a responsibility to live up to the position.

“The point,” she said, “is that we have a responsibility. We have to do this for the women who are coming behind and make sure that they have the tools they need to achieve their goals. We need to take time out of our busy schedules to encourage others—that always has to be part of our role.”

Pilar Portela (far right) was a speaker at Expoplaza Latina in November 2017. — Photo courtesy Pilar Portela

Within her own organization, Portela is open about encouraging women leaders—the importance of that is very clear even to the male staff. She said she hopes that men who experience the culture in her organization will develop empathy for women working to become leaders in the workplace and elsewhere. Ideally, she said, “They will be more likely to support women to become leaders, including their life partners and daughters.”

Portela encourages women to acknowledge their own capability and success, and to embrace the fact that their gender/nature is a positive force in that success.

“We need to not downplay who we are,” she said. “We are women, we are knowledgeable, we are successful in our businesses. I believe that as long as we’re willing to support each other, we’re going to succeed.”

As the company's CEO, Pilar Portela enjoyed the grand opening of i4C Innovation in Trail, B.C., in May 2017. — Photo courtesy Pilar Portela

Portela feels honoured to be recognized as an influential woman in business in the Kootenay region.

“I’ve seen some amazing female leaders in the Kootenays,” she said. “If there’s anything I can do or say that may help even one more woman to become better at what they do or what they are, then I have fulfilled what the (Kootenay Business magazine) award is all about. I’m here and I’m available, and if other women would like to reach out, I’m happy to talk.”

Marie Milner

Marie Milner is a writer and photographer for Kootenay Business magazine and several other publications. She appreciates the inspiration that she gets during her interviews and hopes to share that inspiration with you. View all of Marie Milner’s articles

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