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This is what it’s like to be one of the few Hispanic women leading a company in 2018

Latinx leaders are still relatively scarce, but those we spoke to are blazing a trail for others to follow.

This is what it’s like to be one of the few Hispanic women leading a company in 2018
Licenia Rojas, Senior Vice President & Unit CIO, Technology Amex [Photo: courtesy of Amex]

As we round out National Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 to October 15), celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, Fast Company spoke to Latinx leaders to acknowledge their contributions and recognize their opportunities and challenges.

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The challenges are not insignificant with under-representation across the board. Although the Latinx workforce is one of the fastest growing–increasing from 10.7 million in 1990 to 26.8 million in 2016 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11 CEOs lead companies in the Fortune 500 and only 3.5% of Fortune 500 board seats were held by Latinx executives in 2016. The Alliance for Board Diversity says that represents just a .5% increase between 2010 and 2016. Hispanics have the highest rate of new entrepreneurs, but at 12% they have the lowest rate of business loans from financial institutions among all other firms. Hispanic women-owned businesses represent nearly half of all Hispanic firms. However, access to capital, a major facilitator of business growth, isn’t available to them as readily, according to a report from Stanford. And Hispanic women’s equal pay day–the additional number of days in the year they have to work to equal a white man’s pay–isn’t until November 2.

Despite these significant challenges, Latinx leaders continue to blaze a trail for others to follow. Here’s what they told us about the opportunities they’re leveraging to make a difference.

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Last week was a tough one, even by 2018 standards. Sharing this as a reminder to our community that together, we have the agency and power to change the world. From our Pillars on Race: We Believe That All People, Systems, And Structures Can Change: In every good-faith conversation we have, we engage with the belief that each party can learn from one another new tools and techniques that will enable us to advance the fight for racial equity. It is not our expectation that all people approach the work in this way, but we believe that for Code2040 to have the impact it intends to have, we must have faith in the possibility of people, systems, and institutions to evolve. That said, some individuals and institutions are ready to change and some are not. It is not the best use of our time, resources, and skills to try to convince others of the innate talent in our community. Instead, we welcome the work of helping those who are looking to walk down the path of growth. We are grateful for those who do the same for us. Read the rest of our Pillars on Race and how we operationalize them: http://www.code2040.org/pillars-on-race/

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“My culture released me from the false presumption that there was one right path.”

The biggest challenge is the invisibility of our community in all of the narratives of leadership. We are rarely present. The Latinx folks who have traveled the path are so few, far, in between, and hidden. You rarely get the benefit of learning from the pathbreakers.

For chunks of my upbringing, I resented having one foot in the world of my cultural heritage and one foot in the American experiment but my career helped me deeply appreciate it. Straddling both worlds gave me such a unique lens on what it means to carry different perspectives as a result of different life experiences. It helped me see and grow people for what they could be instead of molding them into a bootleg version of myself. My culture released me from the false presumption that there was one right path.

–Karla Monterroso, CEO, Code2040

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“I have the opportunity to influence a national conversation.”

As a Latina business executive at a high-growth tech company with a strong consumer brand, I have the opportunity to influence a national conversation. Our country is grappling with so many issues that affect the Latino community: immigration reform, refugee rights, political representation, and voting engagement, and the reality is that those making, executing, and influencing policy are likely to listen to strong members of the business community. Every time I have an opportunity to speak or write something that will be publicly shared, I ensure I am speaking to these issues in some capacity.

It’s no surprise that there is not equal representation of Latinx leaders in the tech industry. This means we are working extra hard to show up everywhere our community needs us. I wear a lot of hats at Lyft–from a VP on the Lyft Business team, to the executive sponsor of our Latinx ERG group, to the company’s representative at events or meetings where the insights from a Latinx executive might be helpful. I also advise a VC fund that is focused on supporting Latinx entrepreneurs–it’s the only VC fund I know of that is focused specifically on this–and while my participation is extremely rewarding, it requires a lot of time and dedication. I feel responsibility for this work, because every voice matters.

–Veronica Juarez, Area VP of Social Enterprise at Lyft

Aubrey Blanche [Photo: courtesy of Atlassian]

“When you spend enough time helping people feel that their identities are valid and important, it can’t help but rub off on you.”

I would say that my greatest challenge and opportunity as a Latinx leader in tech has been the same: showing up authentically. As a Latina woman in tech, I’ve often felt like the “only” in the room, and as someone who passes, I’ve sometimes felt like an illegitimate member of my own community. I think that my role as global head of Diversity & Belonging at Atlassian has fundamentally changed this for me. When you spend enough time helping people feel that their identities are valid and important, it can’t help but rub off on you, and you start to believe it yourself. I hope that by doing my best to always show up authentically, as a leader I’m contributing in some way to changing the image of who belongs in tech.

–Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging at Atlassian

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“Early on, I was told to change my personal style of working: I was told not to be me.”

Breaking barriers has been both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity in my career. Early on, I was told to change my personal style of working: I was told not to be me. Figuring out how to overcome that and how to be authentic to myself and to my background was an incredible learning experience and development opportunity. When I joined American Express, the company invested in my technical skills and in my leadership, matching me with mentors and surrounding me with amazing talent. I’ve learned to break barriers and have the confidence to be myself and to celebrate diversity. And that has made all the difference.

–Licenia Rojas, Senior Vice President & Unit CIO, Technology Amex

Sasha Pisterman [Photo: courtesy of Hire Women Agency]

“As a Latinx millennial I serve as both an advocate for this community and an invaluable asset to brands.”

The biggest challenge as a Latinx leader has been getting brands and companies that lack diversity in their staff to recognize the value in marketing to the Latinx consumer–specifically the younger, bicultural generation–and to understand the nuances within this demographic. This leads itself into the greatest opportunity, as a Latinx millennial I serve as both an advocate for this community and an invaluable asset to brands. I’m able to approach these companies with both data and an authentic perspective that highlights the importance and need to genuinely connect with Latinx and become a part of the cultural conversation.”

–Sasha Pisterman, Publicity & Branding Director, Hire Women Agency

Sandra Lopez [Photo: courtesy of Intel]

“Our voices will be heard only when we have an adequate representation of Latinx in senior-level positions.”

One of the biggest challenges that Latinos have is ensuring that our voices are heard and represented. We represent approximately 17% of the U.S. population, yet less than 2% of CEOs are Hispanic and approximately 3.5% of Fortune 500 board seats are held by Latinos. In order to change the narrative, Latinx leaders need to ensure we focus our energy on raising up the next generation of Latinx leaders and actively create opportunities for them. Our voices will be heard only when we have an adequate representation of Latinx in senior-level positions. This is why I’m deeply committed to nurturing and fostering the next generation of leaders, and partnering with allies across the industry to ensure we are included and also feel like we belong.

–Sandra Lopez, Vice President of Intel Sports

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Jocelyn De Leon [Photo: courtesy of Hire Women Agency]

“The lack of representation in my industry has been my greatest motivation.”

The biggest challenge has been working towards changing the perception of how Latinx contribute to this country. In addition to that, educating companies on our buying power and why they should pay more attention to us has also been difficult. We’re extremely loyal consumers and I feel it shows in the way our money is spent. The lack of representation in my industry has been my greatest motivation–I want to pave the way for more women of color to start their own businesses in spaces that are not typically meant for us.

-Jocelyn De Leon, Founder, Hire Women Agency

Zaida Diaz [Photo: courtesy of Hire Women Agency]

“I’ve been guilty of undervaluing myself and my services in the past.”

A challenge I’ve faced and sometimes still struggle with is imposter syndrome. I’ve been guilty of undervaluing myself and my services in the past. Unfortunately, it’s a phenomenon that too many women of color relate to, even at the executive level. On the other hand, a key opportunity in my career thus far has been being able to build a network of like-minded Latinx businesswomen who I can learn from and work with. I’m able to pay it forward through our internship program, where I’m available as a resource and mentor to Latinx who need guidance and support in navigating the industry.

–Zaida Diaz, Creative Director, Hire Women Agency

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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