Career 28 September 2018
Hailing from Mexico City, Ariadna Madrid is just the ambitious champion of sustainability that this planet needs to survive. She currently resides in Brooklyn and works at Publicis’ midtown office, with the bustling theatre district buzzing right outside her door. Publicis is one of the largest advertising and PR companies in the world, and Madrid is a producer/creator for the Hispanic Division. “For a long time I’d been working at film festivals, supporting the vision of film directors, and then I was working as a producer at production companies,” she says. “I landed an interview in this agency back in Mexico City, I didn’t know anything about it, and I said to them, ‘It just sounds so good,’ because they were a huge company. I said, ‘That’s not real,’” she admits with a laugh. “‘Just give me a contract, if it’s real, then I’ll sign it.’ It was real, and now here I am, almost seven years later.” Compared to Mexico City, NYC is minuscule, Madrid feeling that anything is possible here— especially with her passion and tenacity.
In the first few minutes of talking to Madrid, she mentioned a TED Talk by an American scientist, Jared Diamond, that opened her eyes to the severity of our planet’s declining condition. “[He] talks about evolution and the signs for a society to collapse,” she explains. “There are a couple of symptoms, one has to do with how fast we are blowing our resources...the other recent trigger for extinction is our friendly and unfriendly relations with our neighbors, so if you think about the homeless people, the immigration crisis... Those are signs that we’re really heading in a bad direction. There’s a conflict of interest between the decision makers and the rest of the community when they’re isolated from the consequences of their actions. That’s when the problem gets worse.” Madrid recognized this “conflict of interest” in numerous brands she’s worked with, igniting her desire to dispel this growing conflict.
“There is hope, and the hope is that there are around 120 million environmentally-conscious consumers, meaning that we’re entering the early mainstream that is going to switch into mainstream. That’s going to change everything. It’s going to move the nation and the planet.”
Years went by, and Madrid felt she had hit a career wall, yearning for more and to chase after her larger dreams regarding the environment. A dream that had expanded when she watched Diamond’s talk. “I was ready to make my next move,” she explains, “I felt like I’d learned what I needed to learn, so I decided to follow my heart and do something with sustainability and protecting the planet. I felt that that was not happening within the company, so I found the right time, and I told my boss that I wanted to leave... I was giving him my two weeks notice, and he asked me not to do it and to come back with a proposal for my dream job. I thought that was extraordinary that he asked me to do that.”
“Something is going to happen. I want to prevent that from happening. Or if it happens I want to be ready for it and I want the people around me to be ready for it"
Madrid submitted a preliminary proposal for an environmentally-conscious internal department of Publicis and ended up receiving the most votes, emphasizing its efficacy and its importance to not just Madrid, but to several of her peers.
The next step was to make a video expressing her project’s mission—only a handful of winners would be chosen out of a whopping 3,500. “I didn’t know what was going to happen; I was ready to make a move, you know,” she says. “I was like, ‘if I don’t win, I’m going to continue to try to learn more about sustainability and try to help in other ways.’ I was lucky and, I won; as a result, I was able to go to Paris and receive this trophy in front of the CEO there, and the daughter of the founder and my parents... It was about the opportunity because they would give us 15 minutes with the CEO and his board to pitch our idea, and then they would invest in it if they thought it was worthwhile.” With a sabbatical to research and the funds to travel, Madrid left her apartment and set off to connect with owners of sustainable companies worldwide.
“So whatever you put out there in the world has to be healthy and positive. Always understand that we are in the presence of being better. Once you know yourself, speak your truth"
“I found that one of the common denominators out there is waste. It’s very much a cultural issue because when we throw something away it disappears, but actually that ‘away’ is a landfill or is the ocean. I became really passionate about waste.”
Madrid’s passion was evident. After chatting, she gave a tour of her office building and happened to notice containers of food littering the countertops. She lamented the waste and hoped the food would be saved and used come the end of the workday.
Following her extensive research and collection of feedback from company leaders, Madrid was ready to meet with Publicis heads again, this time with a solid, fleshed-out proposal. “I was able to come up with a department that I designed myself,” she says. “I built a proposal and got a meeting with the new CEO last April, and in the room, there were other CEOs—all these big leaders. I had ten minutes, and what I presented to them was something very simple. It had to be simple, fun, sexy, it had to be something that everyone understands, but so they don’t feel guilty, and want to be a part of it.”
Sitting with a sweeping view of the city, bright red carpet underfoot, Madrid smiles and dives into her green proposal that she pitched to the aforementioned CEOs, consisting of three pillars: operations, talent, and business.
This pillar is about action, Madrid and those working with her needed to “walk the walk” and alter the way things run in-house before expanding their mission. It upholds a few subgoals, including reducing their carbon footprint and becoming zero-waste. “NYC has a couple of aggressive goals,” Madrid notes. “The city wants to be a zero-waste city by 2030, meaning they want to do waste-diversion. The other one is to reduce the carbon footprint by 80%. This requires reducing traffic, by switching to electric cars—these are big challenges, and I think that it would be a great assignment for the rest of the country and the rest of the world. This is the city of the world, so I want to align this first pillar of operation to those goals.”
When talking about the talent portion of her proposal, Madrid describes it as putting “skin in the game.” It involves informing Publicis’ talent about the internal changes and the company’s push for sustainability. Barriers exist, such as the glaring lack of competence when it comes to proper waste disposal. “What happens often is that people don’t know how to separate trash, so they toss everything in one plastic bag, and at the end of the day they send it to a landfill,” Madrid says. “If we inform our talent about what’s going on and we make them be part of it, they can feel that they have a fingerprint on the process, and they can get really inspired. That’s the goal of the second pillar.”
The third and final pillar is business. This pillar seeks to connect already environmentally-conscious events, such as zero-waste concerts, with environmentally-conscious clients of Publicis. Madrid wishes to influence other agencies this way, and facilitate good-for-the-earth events around the city. “It’s not about being competitive,” she says. “It’s about cooperation.” Teamwork is needed to spark the fire of change to have a positive impact.
“My dream is that one day we see Times Square lit up not only by clean energy but by clean ideas.”
Madrid’s loyalty to Mother Nature is inspiring and stems from more than just the TED Talk of which she speaks so highly of; it’s an innate instinct to protect her home. Madrid is cognizant of the urgency as our world is at risk. “I do feel that every year when something happens—like the fires and hurricanes and earthquakes—all of that is a warning sign, and is not a joke,” she says. “Something is going to happen. I want to prevent that from happening. Or if it happens, I want to be ready for it, and I want the people around me to be ready for it.” The next several years will be busy ones for Madrid, but her hours of dedication towards a cleaner future will benefit us all.
“This is my home, and my client is nature...I do whatever she asks me to do, and then once I feel like I’ve done something, then I can start doing other things, I want to shoot a film, I want to create sustainable communities in Mexico, but first I must take care of this, because I can and have been able to open the doors for myself by speaking my truth. It all started because I wanted to quit.”
As a businesswoman with no bounds to her perseverance and to the tireless effort she expends to inspire great change, Madrid is full of advice for go-getters like herself. “Sustainability, abundance, happiness... Everything starts in your head,” she says. “So whatever you put out there in the world has to be healthy and positive. Always understand that we are in the presence of being better. Once you know yourself, speak your truth. I’ve had this track record of following my dreams and making them come true, that’s why I’ve lived in so many countries, but I’d never tested the limits as I did now, where I’m like; ‘I know that I’m quitting a big job, it’s NYC, I don’t know what’s going to happen after that, but I don’t feel happy, and I know myself, and I’m not going to go through it. That was a big lesson. I’m still an immigrant, I’m a woman, Mexican, so it’s kind of against the odds, but I work for nature, and nature tells me I can do it. She gives me beautiful sunsets and beautiful lakes, birds, flowers, and I’ll do anything to protect her.”
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.