April 2019 – What a 50-Year-Old Movie Teaches Us About Transformation
It happened again. While scrolling through the channels on TV a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of my favorite movies had just started playing.
It was Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and not the awful Johnny Depp reboot, either. It was the 1971 version with Gene Wilder, who in the words of The Atlantic, oscillates “between sincerity and deadpan sarcasm with unnerving grace” as he seeks a successor to run his beloved and surreal candy factory.
I love everything about this movie: the Technicolor, the fantasy, the not-so-obvious lessons, but lessons nonetheless, and, above all, the characters.
Growing up, I was most intrigued by Veruca Salt. For those who have seen the movie, you’ll know Veruca is perhaps not everyone’s first choice. Bold, brash and obnoxious to many, she’s the brat who wants everything (“And I want it now!”).
Back then, I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked her. I supposed I loved the name because it sounds fierce. Veruca. Veruca Salt. Like a volcano about to erupt. But perhaps more than anything, I saw—and still see—a girl who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to demand it, something which remains a faux pas for many women today. She was snotty no doubt; but I also thought she was ambitious and strong. So what if she was salty? Maybe she needed to be.
Of course, Veruca doesn’t meet with the happiest of endings. If I’m ever asked how I want to “go,” falling down a garbage chute into a furnace with my parents wouldn’t be my first choice. Certainly there’s a lesson there about the price one might pay for being so self-interested.
And there are other lessons evident in other characters that I didn’t pick up on as a kid.
At first, for instance, I didn’t gravitate towards the story’s protagonist, the timid and diminutive Charlie. (Does that make me terrible?) Don’t get me wrong. I could relate to the poverty and the immense respect for his elders. But deep down, I used to think he was too humble, too nice and always playing it safe—a pushover. Looking at Charlie now, I appreciate his sweet, abiding honesty and integrity. It’s what earns him the trust of Willy and ultimately the keys to the factory.
(An aside: in my latest viewing, the first thought I had when Willy handed the factory over to Charlie was, “That’s a bad corporate succession plan!” Then it struck me as an extraordinary bode of confidence—and a calculated risk—in a new, promising generation, and how audacious and marvelous that is.)
Coming from your CEO, this message might feel like a bit left field, but I’m not the only one who sees meaning in this movie.
Take “Five Leadership Lessons from Willy Wonka.” It’s a pretty good read. Among the points in the article: “It’s okay to make mistakes.” That checks out! Another one: “Creation or destruction is up to you.” In other words, we can control, or at least strongly affect and influence, our destinies even though it’s not always easy. And the one that seems least likely in the context of our careers: “Embrace silliness.” In other words, lighten up and open up and have some fun.
On this last point in particular, I sometimes need to remind myself to take a chill pill. I can be so serious and intense sometimes—OK most of the time. But it’s only because I’m so passionate about and committed to SHPE, our mission, and the future of the Hispanic community; and I have a sense of urgency to level the playing field for Hispanics in STEM. (Like Veruca, I want it all. I want it all for SHPE, and much, much more for our Hispanic Community, and as soon as possible). And so in my CEO Corners, I strive to share with all of you who I really am – a sometimes melodramatic, big softie with a sense of humor, to those who know me personally.
So why do I share my all-time favorite movie? To me, it tells a very important lesson in connection to our theme for our 2019 National Convention: The Power of Transformation.
What is that lesson? The power of the individual.
Often we think of transformation as this grand, sweeping thing. For example, part of my grander vision of the future, with SHPE as the catalyst, is to make workplaces and leadership of all organizations just as diverse as the people living in this county – full representation. Imagine: more Hispanics in STEM; more Hispanics in the C-suite; more Hispanics in the centers of power. That’s a major shift. It’s so big, in fact, that it might very well be hard to imagine a single person, or even an organization like SHPE with more than 10,000 members, making it a reality (though it is happening, albeit slowly).
Why I love this movie: it reminds us that something as simple as the ability, and ultimately the power, of an individual to dream is vital to changing and improving our society and the world – for the better.
To borrow a verse from “Pure Imagination”, perhaps the most famous song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:
If you want to see magic lands,
Close your eyes and you will see one.
Want to be a dreamer?
Be one, anytime you please.
And please save me one.
Can you now see why Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains one of my favorite movies? It’s so complex and yet simple. Can you see how it pertains to SHPE? Imagine the extraordinary things we can do together as an organization. As one familia. As one cosmic race. This classical movie is really a gem among gems. And if you haven’t seen it, I invite you to, just skip the Johnny Depp version. It’s just not the same.
Or, you can find inspiration somewhere else altogether. But whatever you do, please don’t stop looking. Inspiration is everywhere. It’s in you, it’s in the people around you, and it’s most definitely at SHPE and in the Hispanic community.
Imagine the limitless possibilities.
Raquel Tamez, CEO
March 2019 – Blasting Through the Wall
After what felt like a month of nonstop travel, from D.C. to Salt Lake City to D.C. to Phoenix back to D.C. to Chicago then Charleston and back to D.C., I experienced something that’s seldom happened to me: I hit a wall. Worse still, I’d come down with a cold. (Pro tip: When you’re on a plane for tens of hours a week in February, take some Emergen-C before, during and after your flights). I felt exhausted, drained, even defeated. Like the weight of everything was bearing down unrelentingly.
But I know now it wasn’t just the breakneck schedule causing me to feel this way. It was also the pressure of having to be the voice and face of a national organization, of having to always be at my absolute best.
Let me elaborate. I’ve always seen myself as an introvert at heart—the person at the party who loves nothing more than watching the human play unfold from afar. But according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a well-known test that illustrates how people perceive the world around them, I’m actually an extrovert. An ENTJ, to be specific, short for Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment. I’m not in bad company, either. Julius Caesar. Franklin Roosevelt. Steve Jobs. Angela Merkel. Carl Sagan. And my personal favorite, Xena Warrior Princess—all ENTJs.
There’s a word for this specific amalgam of letters: The Commander. The CEO. Makes sense, right? Only, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Yes, there are plenty of women ENTJs out there—congresswomen, corporate leaders, people in every industry and all walks of life. But there’s also a double standard for women ENTJs, an unwritten code that says we should be strong … within reason. That we should shake things up … but not too much. That we should make our voices heard … just, you know, don’t be so loud about it.
Having to constantly thread that needle, between being a powerhouse and being polite, between speaking assertively and sounding “shrill”—it takes an emotional toll, one that the nonstop demands of the past month manifested into physical exhaustion. I’ll get over it; I always do. The hard part is working to ensure that hitting a wall doesn’t become a regular occurrence.
I know I’m not alone in this regard. Balancing how we see ourselves with the expectations and labels of others is a struggle as old as the human psyche itself. We all deal with it. But what I’ve come to realize is that, by being more honest with who we are and who we wish to become, the only expectations we have to meet aren’t those of others, but of ourselves. To heed our theme for 2019, the Power of Transformation starts with us, whether the desired change is personal or for an organization like SHPE.
For me, that means continuing to evolve as a leader, being more observant about what I’m doing, what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, and how I’m responding (or reacting). It also means creating space for women leaders, like me, to do our jobs without having to observe a “smile more and be more nurturing” clause that does not readily apply to male leaders.
In the same way, as part of an organization that prides itself on being engaged, we at SHPE should always be looking to improve, to buck against the voice telling us to fly under the radar and stick to the sidelines, and instead seek new and innovative ways to inspire and empower Hispanics in STEM.
By freeing ourselves from unfair expectations and embracing who we are and what we can be—both as individuals and as an organization—the better chance we have of not hitting a physical and emotional wall. If anything, we’ll learn how to blast right through it.
If that wall happens to be a winter freeze, however, maybe consider a different course of action: have some te de manzanilla con miel y caldo de pollo or—get a few nights of good solid rest (something I plan to do this weekend), and please, whatever you do, don’t forget the Vick’s Vaporrub.
Raquel Tamez, CEO
February 2019 – The Transformative Power of Humility
Sometimes, when I’m at my most introspective, I start feeling nostalgic for Texas, the state that shaped so much of who I am today. And when that homesickness strikes, I do what a lot of Lone Star Staters do: I put on some country music.
This happened recently, and before long, this song—“Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw—came piping through the speakers. By the second verse, the song had struck a chord (literally and figuratively). To quote the song:
When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel pride
But always stay humble and kind.
Let yourself feel pride, but always stay humble and kind. With all the rancor and chaos going on around us, it sure sounds like a long-overdue salve. More than ever, I believe that as Hispanics, we must redefine what it means to be humble—to have humility while simultaneously standing up for ourselves, getting the credit for our contributions we deserve, and the jobs and political representation we’ve earned.
It’s a message I’m not only trying to convey, but learn myself. As a former trial lawyer and litigator, I was taught to be sharp in my choice of words and the way I communicate. Now, I need to remind myself that I’m no longer orating in front of juries and judges. I’m talking with and trying to connect with members, industry leaders, donors, decision-makers and influencers. My message and tone needs to reflect that.
What’s more, I find myself far more reliant on email and social media, as many of us do these days. Even though I (and pretty much all of us) don’t see people’s reactions when we address them through the screen, we must pretend they are in front of us, and that we can see their facial expression and body language. We need to lift the digital veil that prevents us from being empathetic and thoughtful.
Our world could use a bit more care when it comes to communicating, particularly when it comes to divisive issues. But being humble doesn’t mean being timid or subservient. And it certainly doesn’t mean staying silent. The book I’m reading right now—“Leading Matters”, by former Stanford University President John L. Hennessy—speaks to precisely this point.
“This kind of humility does not, however, mean a lack of ambition,” Hennessy writes. “…but my ambition is not focused primarily on personal gain (though I do like to win at games and golf). Instead, my ambition is to make a difference, to benefit the institution and the community I serve. Perhaps the only way to be both humble and ambitious is to be ambitious for the good of others.”
By tethering our sense of humility to a greater cause, such as SHPE’s mission promoting the progress of Hispanics in STEM, we make the empowerment of others a core feature of our daily lives, rather than just another nice thing we do.
At the same time, by having humility in our daily interactions, we’re indicating to those around us that we are equals. That I am no better than you. It might seem small to smile or take a little extra time as you pay for your coffee or listen to someone you disagree with, but over time, you empower the people around you. That adds up, like deposits in a bank account.
As SHPE’s CEO, I’m committed to doing the big and little things necessary to be become a better and more effective leader—both by being more humble and even more ambitious for SHPE. I know I’ll never be perfect. No one can. But if I, and, if we, strive to practice humility every day—without losing that ambition and drive to do and be better—I know that our SHPE familia can help our country to heal while also uplifting itself.
January 2019 – My New Year’s Resolution
As we bid goodbye to 2018 and embrace the New Year, I feel a little torn between reflecting back on an incredible year and looking forward.
On the one hand, this past year was one of increased stability, unprecedented growth and enthusiastic engagement, culminating in our best convention to date. Over those four days in Cleveland, hundreds of young Hispanics walked away with new jobs. Thousands of connections were made, between members and companies and universities, professionals and students, leaders and emerging leaders, and across generations.
And yet, while it’s essential to acknowledge these accomplishments, I’m so excited to imagine how the year ahead will unveil itself, both for SHPE, our members, and our stakeholders. And, I can’t help but think about how we frame ourselves in 2019 – or in certain instances, reframe ourselves – both as an organization and as individuals.
Recently, I went to the Hispanic Leadership Summit at the United Nations in New York City. The next day, I participated in a Latino Donor Collaborative (LDC) meeting at the headquarters of Morgan Stanley. Over the course of two days, I was blown away by the number of prominent Hispanic leaders and influencers that came together to tackle and proffer solutions to persistent challenges facing the Hispanic community.
There was one concept that came up a couple of times; the analogy of the Hispanic community as a sleeping giant. I have to chuckle at this. Who’s sleeping? We’re out there studying and working – sometimes multiple jobs. We are hustling. We are not sleeping.
There were other takeaways from both events, too many to delineate and describe here. But a handful resonated with me. Some of these I have modified and put in my own words:
1. As Latinos, we are not takers, we are makers.
2. We are not a drain on America’s economy and infrastructure. We fuel and build it.
3. We are America’s greatest untapped resource.
4. Our ethnicity, heritage, and culture is not a limitation, it is an asset.
5. We are not mindless followers, we are passionate pioneers and natural-born leaders.
6. We are resilient optimists.
At the leadership summit, Claudia Romo Edelman, coordinator of the summit, and founder of We Are All Human, gave a heartfelt speech and issued a call to action for more collaboration between and among Hispanics and our respective organizations.
At the LDC, Ana Valdez, CEO of the organization, gave a fascinating presentation full of insightful statistics on how Hispanics have contributed to the U.S economy.
Both these Latina leaders could have harped on the same old statistics during their presentations, regurgitating all the negative hype. Instead, they focused on the positive trends and our upward trajectory – all based on objective data. I wholeheartedly agree with this later approach.
Since onboarding with SHPE, I have felt this sense of urgency for the Hispanic community. A need to “flip the script.” The need for a paradigm shift – a shift FROM framing ourselves (or allowing others to frame Hispanics) in negative terms TO highlighting and showcasing our power and potential that is clearly there.
Heading into 2019, it is imperative that we learn and understand the facts. Real facts. Not just about our society or economy, but about ourselves and our contributions. That we develop a new, more positive narrative for the Hispanic community – for who we are and what we are about. To not only influence the narrative, but to shape and craft it for ourselves. There is no greater narrative than a collective one.
How does this pertain to SHPE? In 2019, I would like for us to develop our part in this greater narrative. A new, more positive “elevator speech” if you will, which includes data and the positive trends and upward trajectory of Hispanics in STEM. As we are doing this, I would like us to think bigger than SHPE. In defining our message, we must understand that we are defining more than our own path. We are having an outsized impact on the Hispanic community at large. Through that, we will be shaping this country – our country.
To develop this elevator pitch, we will need commitment from all of our members, partners and many stakeholders. We will need engagement at all levels. Yet, practically, we also will need those positive statistics on Hispanics in STEM to make our point, and when I mentioned this to Valdez of LDC following her presentation, she agreed.
In fact, she and I are planning to collaborate on that research. In the interim, I asked her if I, and any of us, could use LDC’s data points and stats in SHPE materials. Her response: “Please, use them.” How cool is that?
This type of collaboration, which exemplified our 2018 theme of Better Together, will still be essential to SHPE and all our stakeholders as we enter 2019 and start to write and refine our story. Though the actual theme of 2019—The Power of Transformation—looms large as we come to embrace conscious change and a new narrative.
My New Year’s resolution is an unflinching commitment to a fresh, dynamic narrative for myself and as the CEO of SHPE. As a community, once and for all, I feel we need to burst the many nationalistic bubbles that can sometimes separate us as Latinos. Instead, I encourage us to embrace our shared purpose, this notion that we are a “tribe of tribes.”
Today, I invite you to join me in that commitment. Writing our own story is not without challenges. But, together, and with persistence, we will have the benefit of defining who we are as individuals, as an organization, as a community, and as one familia.
Happy holidays, abrazo fuerte,
December 2018 – On a Journey to Transform
This year’s convention was a wild success, with the largest-ever participation and attendance; and once it finished, I took what felt like a well-earned vacation starting with 48 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
But as happens when you care about something so deeply, I soon found myself thinking about my SHPE familia.
I was in my car, with my 125-pound Great Dane puppy, Owen, driving south from my home in D.C. to Tennessee. Outside my window was ridge after ridge of wooded forest, those ancient Smoky Mountains so rich in life they have been compared to the tropics. It was beautiful in a way that’s hard to describe, but as the miles peeled away, I found myself thinking about another journey entirely.
When I joined SHPE a year and a half ago, I was (and remain) committed to transforming the world for Latinos, but too often I had to make my point with percentages.
Hispanics are underrepresented in STEM, the argument went (and still goes). The instances where we are hired, we are not necessarily meaningfully included or promoted to leadership positions. To a large degree this is still true. The data backs it up.
But, while traveling this November, post-Convention, I felt a shift inside of me. As a Latina who has herself faced bias as a CEO this incremental pace of progress is not fast enough. We need to demand more rapid and positive results. We need to demand and insist on transformation.
This is a favorite topic of mine, transformation, and it’s important that we distinguish between transformation and its close cousin, change.
Change, as I see it, is inevitable. It is near-certain that Latinos will be a larger and larger percentage of our population, even the largest slice of the America pie; but it is hardly guaranteed that our booming demographic will be adequately represented in STEM jobs, as well as other centers of power and influence including but not limited to government, academia, the military and philanthropy.
Surrounded by amazing people at SHPE, we’ve experienced the beginnings of transformation—many of us personally. Following our recent convention, more students walked away with jobs and internships than ever before, and more companies left with highly talented, qualified employees than any other year.
Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, 3M, John Deere, General Motors, Eaton, IBM—these are just a few corporations for which SHPE is now an essential and very grateful partner.
Yet as Latinos, we have so much more to offer than hireability, which is really only the first step in many of our personal-professional
As the American spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson puts it, “Personal transformation does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world.”
In other words, as we Latinos seek better circumstances for ourselves, our families and our community, the future of everyone—not just Latinos—will improve. This is why we must pay so much attention to our personal journeys, and it is why transformation will be a focus of the 2019 convention, as well as NILA and our regional conferences.
So it was a productive vacation I had, driving from D.C. to Pigeon Forge; and from there to New Orleans to Houston, Texas, to spend time with my parents and sisters.
Truth be told, even though, technically I was on vacation, SHPE was/is always top of mind for me. The way I see it, SHPE never goes on vacation. And transformation—well, it never gets put on pause. So I encourage each of you to make a conscious choice to be your best self always by engaging in continuous exploration and learning as you navigate your personal and professional journey of transformation.
Here’s wishing you and yours, a joyful holiday season.
November 2018 – A Bigger Bottom Line
There is beauty in having the courage to show who we are and what we believe, and this week’s National Convention in Cleveland will be a testament to this idea.
There, in a city whose story mimics our own—a story of struggle and triumph, hard times and brighter days ahead—SHPE will show its true face and indomitable spirit. But our willingness to reveal our true colors can’t stop at the convention hall doors.
I was reminded of this while scrolling through LinkedIn recently, when I came across an article written by Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang. In it, he talks about Lenovo’s longstanding commitment to sustainability, and how the company continues finding unique and novel ways to reduce its environmental footprint. We’re not just talking about an office recycling program. These are big, bold, daring initiatives: from bio-based product packaging to playing a key role in improving conditions around “conflict minerals.”
Throughout the corporate world, programs dedicated to social responsibility, environmental stewardship and diversity and inclusion are on the rise. Not just because these are objectively good things to do. It’s also good for business. When a company erects a one-megawatt solar array on their factory’s roof, those panels aren’t cheap. Over time, however, the savings on energy costs can be enormous, allowing that company to invest money back into the business—and its workers.
In the business world, we’re taught to treat the bottom line as the end-all-be-all. But there’s more to staying in the black than mere dollars and cents. Over the past decade or so, the idea of the triple bottom line—one for profit, one for people and one for the planet—has gained more and more traction. In fact, some of SHPE’s most prestigious partners and sponsors have taken up the corporate responsibility mantle (you know who you are).
But there’s still more to be done—much more. Here at SHPE, we’ve long advocated for more diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and there has been tremendous progress made on this front. Now it’s time to take the next step: As more and more Hispanics enter and scale the corporate ranks, we must be the voices in the workplace advocating for change. For more diversity and inclusion. For more minority-outreach efforts. For more robust sustainability initiatives. It’s not enough to rest on the laurels of progress; we must pay that progress forward, looking beyond our own personal journey to the greater odyssey beyond: bringing about a more peaceful, prosperous planet.
To the thousands of SHPE students and young professionals out there—particularly those of you attending SHPE’s convention—my parting challenge is this: As you pursue your professional dreams, don’t be content with merely “making it.” Instead, find ways to make your workplace—and the world beyond—even better.