AUSTIN, Texas — Both at turning points in their careers, a tech executive and former McKinsey & Co. partner decided to shift focus toward change in the corporate world. The two Austin-based women are doing it all virtually, year’s before the pandemic pushed businesses across the country online.

Growing a company during a pandemic, and quarantining with two young children and a husband at home is tough, but Nicole Tanzillo’s long journey into corporate leadership in the tech industry was hard fought as well.

“I found myself often being kind of one of, if not the only woman in the classroom, to one of, if not the only woman in the boardroom,” said Tanzillo.

After more than 20 years in the corporate arena, Tanzillo contemplated getting out.

“Loved my work, loved my team, loved the company and everything that went along with that,” recalled Tanzillo. “But I was getting to a point in my life where mission was starting to become really important.”

It was right about that time that a friend of Tanzillo introduced her to Anna Robinson. Robinson had just launched Ceresa, a digital leadership accelerator, linking executives to ambitious employees who help mentor them along their journey to achieve their goals. 

“They needed mentors to come in and serve in the program,” said Tanzillo. “I was like, well I love mentoring - so I’m game, I’ll be in. Flash forward a couple months - I had been mentoring, I had been using the technology that she had launched, and really saw the potential for how we were going to change things.”

Tanzillo and Robinson are set on changing the corporate leadership landscape, one where women and minorities continue to be underrepresented in high-level roles.

“It’s not just a nice-to-have, it’s not about PR. It actually is a business imperative,” said Tanzillo. “Companies that have diversity in their leadership perform better financially than companies who do not.”

Using their backgrounds in data analysis and technology, Robinson and Tanzillo would join forces as CEO and COO and name each other co-founders of Ceresa in 2018.

“Most people don’t have access to fantastic executive coaching,” said Tanzillo. 

“It’s simply too expensive, it’s hard to find, and if you do get it you’re already probably well on your way on the executive track - which is great - but what about everyone who is ambitious and focused, and driving toward something in their 20s and 30s?” 

Ceresa has partnered with several companies that are focused on developing diverse talent, offering a nine-month structured program with executive coaching and ‘high-impact’ mentoring sessions. The program is also offered to individuals at a cost of $1,470 for a one-time upfront payment, or on a payment plan of $175/month for nine months, according to the company’s website.

“We really want to have as many people as possible going through the program,” said Tanzillo. 

“We’ve very specifically chosen to price our product in such a way that organizations can deploy it to dozens, if not hundreds of individuals at a time, and that individual people can put it on their credit card and have this experience.”

Tanzillo says the lack of diversity in leaderships in corporations today isn’t about a lack of aspiration.

“The aspirations are there, the access is not,” said Tanzillo. “So much of it today is about who you know and who you have access to.”