Bonnie Martinez barely warranted a passing glance from her peers when she walked into her first board meeting as managing officer for Norwest/Wells Fargo Bank’s San Antonio market.

Finally a male executive, noticing the only woman in the room, told Martinez he would take his coffee with sugar.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’d like some too — but would you add cream to mine?’” Martinez said.

That 1996 exchange was Martinez’s first real experience in the veritable minefield that women in leadership roles often face, and she has carried its lessons with her throughout her professional life — 38 years as a Wells Fargo executive and the last seven as vice president of marketing, communications and development for Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado.

“I think it’s important that you know when you’re going in that you have a voice just like anyone else, whether it’s male or female,” Martinez said.

A Pueblo native, Martinez started work as a Wells Fargo bank teller the day after her graduation from Central High School. She parlayed that teller job into a nearly four-decade career that took her to Texas, Northern California and finally back to her home state, where she retired as community bank president for southern Colorado in 2012.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to stay at home and maybe golf and visit my kids,’” Martinez said. “I lasted maybe three months.”

For Martinez, Discover Goodwill was a smooth transition from the banking world, where independence was the main objective for both customers and employees.

“[Goodwill] is an organization that helps people with independence,” Martinez said. “We now serve all of Colorado, and to see the people that we help — the participants of our programs, the clients, our employees — I know people say this a lot, but I walk in every day and it just doesn’t feel like I’m going to work at a job. I love it that much.”

“Being able to help people change lives, it’s incredible,” Martinez said, adding, “Who knows — maybe I’ll hit 38 here too.”

Martinez’s goal as a leader is “not to get in the way, but to really understand what everyone brings to the table and encourage them to capitalize on their talent and gifts.”

“I’m not one that sits at the head of the table,” Martinez said. “I think everyone in that meeting is in charge. Someone has to lead the parade, but they are the experts in their field. I’m kind of like a conductor — I can conduct it, but if I have to play the violin or the piano, I’m not going to be as good as they are.”

Martinez said she feels especially compelled to help other women flourish in leadership roles.

“I would say that now I’m pretty comfortable in my skin, where I don’t feel like I have those barriers,” she said. “I do feel, though, that it is my responsibility to bring other women along. … That’s what strong women have done for me.”