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.