Christine Montenegro McGrath '87, H’21

What happens when we stop doubting that we belong in the spaces we inhabit? This question is at the heart of the “I Belong” speaker series presented by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, which kicked off virtually in February with Christine Montenegro McGrath ‘87, H ‘21, a senior leader at Mondelēz International (which brings us the Oreo cookie and other snack favorites). From her Chicago home office, she spoke to attendees via Zoom, and shared her story of following her passions–and silencing her inner critic.

McGrath is currently senior vice president and chief impact and sustainability officer at Mondelēz, but she was once on a path to being a chief marketing officer. It was her choice instead to focus on the more creative, consumer-centric work that has become a defining theme of her career. Now referring to herself tongue-in-cheek as “the other CEO, the chief evangelist officer,” she advocates enthusiastically on behalf of those who might not otherwise be heard.

During her time at Boston College, McGrath held down work-study jobs to put herself through school while pursuing majors in both accounting and philosophy—a juxtaposition of order and theoretical thinking that she has carried throughout her work. After graduating, she secured a job as an auditor, but soon realized her true passion was marketing. She recalls walking past a conference room at her first post-graduate job. Seeing the company’s marketing team examining pieces of Cap’N Crunch cereal, she thought to herself, “I want to do that.” 


Read about all of Boston College's 2021 honorary degree recipients

To get her foot in the door, she took a finance position at Kraft while working on her master’s in marketing at Northwestern University’s J. L. Kellogg School of Business at night. Her new degree helped her move into marketing and brand management, and in 2012, when Kraft spun off its global snack branch (which is now Mondelēz), McGrath became part of one of the world’s largest snack food companies.

During her talk, McGrath made it clear that her “I Belong” story and struggles go back a long way. Her father is from Bogotá, Colombia, and when he married her mother, who was white, friction arose in the family over her marriage to a person of color. McGrath compared her parents’ story to the dynamics of West Side Story, and although she now considers herself a proud Latina woman, the cultural tension proved valuable: it steered her toward the path of fostering belonging and community for others. 

From Outlier to Change Agent

Her time at Boston College prepared her for the professional world post-graduation, but the experience didn’t come without moments of feeling like an outsider. McGrath at times felt alienated from her classmates, in part because of her financial struggles and concerns about her next financial aid statement. Fast forward to May 2021: She’s walking the commencement stage at Boston College once again, this time to receive an honorary doctorate for exemplifying “the power of leadership” to promote change in business and society.

That work has included serving as vice president of Kraft’s Latino Center of Excellence in 2009. While focusing specifically on Latinx-geared marketing and growth, she completed a large ethnographic research project. For a year, her team studied nearly 30 Latina women from all walks of life in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. They found that it was very important for Latinx people, and in particular Latina women, to feel represented when shopping for their homes and families. McGrath was able to take that data and experience back to Kraft and expand the company’s interpretation of the market.

“I had to help the brands to see and understand the Latino market and why this was a good investment,” she explains. McGrath notes that she also saw some of herself reflected in the experience of those women. “Inclusion is a key part of belonging,” she says. “People say to me ‘Oh you’re not really a Latina, you’re fake.’ I don’t speak Spanish very well. But actually, I’ve found so much connection [in] my upbringing…and the traits that I saw in my family sort of resonated in that experience.” 

One of her strategies for fostering self-empowerment is getting to know your inner critic—the one who questions whether you belong—and knowing how to keep it in check. Nick McDonald ‘25, a computer science major, asked how exactly McGrath does this. She admitted that she still consciously works on this skill, but it helps to visualize her inner critic as a person she can see in her mind’s eye, acknowledge that critic, and put them off to the side. 

McGrath continues to use her own empowerment to help others who may not have the same opportunities. Since 2012, she has been at the helm of a program called Cocoa Life at Mondelēz, which works to implement sustainable business and farming practices for cocoa farmers while fostering a sense of women’s empowerment.

“It’s about really giving women farmers…access to all the tools they need to have better incomes, better confidence, a leadership voice in their family, [and] a leadership voice in their communities,” she said, seeming to draw on the business as well as the philosophical and moral perspectives learned at Boston College. McGrath, who is also vice chair of the World Cocoa Foundation Board of Directors, a nonprofit organization, adds that the role of women cannot be overlooked when it comes to growing a developing economy in a sustainable way.

Monetta Edwards

Monetta Edwards

These stories were just the beginning of the lessons shared as part of the “I Belong” series. This spring, speakers who are shared their unique journeys of belonging also included John Barros, managing principal of Cushman & Wakefield and the Corcoran Center’s inaugural visiting professional; Liz Pierre, Miss Massachusetts 2021 and a former School of Social Work student; and Juan Lopera ‘99, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Beth Israel Lahey Health.

As Monetta Edwards, director for the Winston Center, notes in her introduction to the series, “It is important that our students hear these stories, and we hope they will be inspired and have the courage to speak up and make changes in the spaces they are in when they begin their own careers.”

Michaela Brant ‘23 is a publications assistant in the Carroll School’s communications office