August 2019 – Resisting the Impostor Syndrome
In early July, I had the honor of sitting on a panel at the Multicultural National Women’s Conference in New York City. I was joined by author and entrepreneur Tywanna Smith, President and Founder of The Athlete’s Nexus.
While the conversation covered a lot of ground, especially on the challenges women face in navigating traditionally male-dominated professions and roles, one topic that came up was “the impostor syndrome.”
In recent years it’s become trendy to discuss how we apparently suffer from this impostor syndrome, especially minorities and women. In a nutshell, the impostor syndrome is an inability to acknowledge and internalize one’s accomplishments, and the persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
As I jotted down some talking points during the interview, I wrote this across the top in bold, underlined font.
I DON’T SUFFER FROM IMPOSTOR SYNDROME AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU.
I have never felt like an “impostor.” I have always deserved to be here and where I find myself. I’ve worked hard. I don’t suffer from a “syndrome.”
You have worked hard to get where you are, and unless you are truly paralyzed by fear of being exposed as a fraud because you don’t believe your own accomplishments – you don’t suffer from this syndrome either.
Identifying and acknowledging the gaps in your knowledge or training and being aware of what you don’t know is part of your present evolution, ensuing transformation, and ultimate self-transcendence.
So I take issue with this trend and this label. It minimizes the impact that this experience has on people that really do suffer from it. We’re labeling something that should be considered positive personality traits—self-reflection and assessment, a healthy dose of humility, a gentle acceptance that we can’t be right all the time, and a desire to know more, to grow and to evolve —and labeling it as a condition. A syndrome. Something we need to “deal with” or “get over.” As if there’s something wrong with us.
Of course we all have worries that we aren’t good enough or equipped to do any given task or our job on any given day. We should not be labeling normal and healthy feelings like they are some sort of psychological affliction. Good grief. Worries about not being good enough are natural, we all have them, and they keep us on task and aware of what we might need to learn next.
Even the most accomplished executives and leaders in the world have moments when they don’t feel up to the task, when their flaws and shortcomings seem much bigger than they really are. But what sets these folks apart, is their constant awareness of the “gap” in their knowledge and then their willingness to work towards closing this gap. It’s totally natural, a sign of one’s humbleness and open-mindedness to learn and grow, not a “syndrome” to be suffered through.
So I wholeheartedly disagree with this labeling. Words are powerful. Descriptive words like “syndrome” even more powerful. To say that one has a syndrome – when you don’t – is so negative and demoralizing.
I’ve talked a lot these past few months about the importance of shifting our perspective and creating a more positive narrative—for SHPE, for Hispanics in STEM, and for the Hispanic community as a whole.
This “impostor syndrome” label is a microcosm of that broader challenge. It’s not that our feelings of insecurity and inadequacy are unfounded. There are some lingering and troubling statistics about Hispanics in STEM. Worse, our people are being told they “don’t belong” in this country. That alone is enough, at a minimum, to make someone pause.
It’s time to flip the script.
If you’re a Hispanic in STEM and currently experiencing feelings of inadequacy for some reason, remember these three things:
-You aren’t alone. SHPE is with you all the way.
-It’s going to be okay. SHPE will help make it okay and better.
-You deserve everything you’ve earned. And SHPE is here to support your long-time success.
We Hispanics have worked too hard, sacrificed too much, to allow ourselves to question our incredible accomplishments. If anything, the hurdles and barriers we’ve scaled to get to where we are—both as individuals and as a people and as a community—should make us even prouder of those achievements.
Unless you’re a MENSA-level genius (or entirely delusional), you’ll never know everything. Knowledge gaps are inevitable. They’re what push us to improve. As we gain more experience—learn new things, collaborate with our colleagues—those knowledge gaps don’t vanish. More come up in their place.
So accept the fact that you’ll never know everything. Self-doubt will never fully subside. Accepting this and getting comfortable with uncomfortable feelings is the key to personal and professional growth. Instead of letting doubt cripple you, let it empower you. Use it as fuel to propel you forward and upward, to that next promotion, that next venture, that next great idea.
Because in the end, what defines you isn’t what you don’t know, but how open you are to learning the things you don’t.
That’s how true transformation takes hold. That’s how we learn to ascend to transcend. By looking beyond our current peak and daring to dream of even higher peaks and higher mountains to conquer.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO
July 2019 – Conquering Mountains
It’s hard to believe we’re just four months away from our 2019 National Convention in Phoenix. We expect a record turnout this year (so register now!), and we’re hard at work putting together an amazing array of program sessions, panels, speakers and competitions.
And yet, I’m already looking ahead to our 2020 Convention in Denver. I know what you’re probably thinking: “Raquel! That’s 15 months away! Stop stressing!”
You’re right. It’s only 15 months away. But that will be here before we know it. The amount of planning and preparation that go into SHPE’s annual National Convention, well, let’s just say it’s a lot—a whole lot. And that includes contemplating potential ideas and themes.
Not surprisingly, one of the first things that came to mind when thinking about a possible theme for the 2020 Convention, is the concept of mountains. It’s an image that’s enchanted and entranced humans for as long as we’ve roamed the earth, and a recurrent theme in our stories, mythologies and religions. Naturally, this got me thinking about SHPE’s own legacy, and why the narrative we create—the stories we tell about ourselves—are so important.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s our job, as an organization, to guide our members up the proverbial mountain—like Sherpas or “guias” guiding trekkers to the summit. At the same time, SHPE has to climb its own mountain: tackling challenges that include recruiting and retaining members, defining and delivering value to its members, partnering with more and more organizations that support SHPE’s vision and mission, and (last but not least) advancing the cause of Hispanics in STEM across the country—and around the world.
Oddly enough, and in keeping with our theme, I just got done reading the latest book by New York Times columnist David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. In it, Brooks talks about the two mountains many of us climb. The first mountain is our work, family and personal life. Only, when we get to the top, many of us realize there’s another peak out there to climb—one that gives us a better view of the bigger picture.
It’s a metaphor I can relate to. My legal career was my first mountain, one I spent years trying to scale—and eventually conquered, having risen to the level of chief legal officer and general counsel.
In SHPE, I’ve found my second mountain—a climb whose journey fills me with boundless passion and a greater sense of meaning and purpose. And that purpose is to ensure that SHPE is set up to provide all of its members the requisite support to climb whatever mountain is in front of them, whether it’s graduating from college and getting that first job in STEM or making a mid-career jump to another organization.
I can think of no better place to continue that climb than Denver, the Mile High City at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. But like any long journey, it starts with the steps right in front of us. And that means making sure that this year’s 2019 Convention lives up to its theme—“The Power of Transformation”—and sets the stage for the greater climb to come.
Raquel Tamez, SHPE CEO
One of the great things about the Fourth Industrial Revolution—what many have called the Information Society—is how relatively easy it is to find the answers we’re looking for. Whenever I need a compelling stat to include in a CEO Corner or LinkedIn post—“number of Hispanics in STEM,” for example—usually all it takes is a quick Google search.
One thing technology can’t do, however, is teach us how to ask the right questions.
This comes to mind because, back in April, I participated in two different panels at the digitalNow Conference in Orlando, Florida. On the first panel, we discussed a book called The Inevitable. It was written by Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly, who talked about the 12 technological forces poised to shape our future.
This book fascinated and scared me at the same time. In fact, I’ve lost sleep thinking about how these 12 forces are going to affect the Hispanic Community (for example, the impact of artificial intelligence on the service and manufacturing industries). My mind continues to race to possible strategies and solutions that SHPE can offer, in order to prepare our members to effectively deal with these forces.
There are major takeaways from each and every chapter in Kelly’s book. But in a nutshell: Our society is moving away from a rigid hierarchy, towards a more decentralized paradigm. From nouns to verbs; from products to services; from fixed media to messy remixed media; from stores to flows; from the certainty of answers to the uncertainty of questions. Facts will still be the underpinning of our civilization but the most precious aspects, the most dynamic, most valuable, and most productive facets of our lives and new technology will lie in the frontiers in the edges where uncertainty, chaos, fluidity, and questions dwell.
Which brings me to the one chapter that resonated most with me: the chapter on “Questioning.”
According to Kelly, not all questions are equal, and the most powerful questions don’t always lead to answers. In fact, the best questions are the ones that generate more good questions in turn. Questions aren’t merely the seeds of innovation; they’re what we humans do best.
It’s a theme that loomed just as large during my second panel, where Hal Gregersen, Executive Director for the MIT Leadership Center introduced the concept of “catalytic questions.” It’s an idea he explores in his most recent book, Questions Are the Answer. In short, catalytic questions are the ones that spark even more questions—especially ones that challenge our assumptions and compel us to think outside of the box. To be a disruptor in our thinking (rather than merely disruptive). To think outside of the box. Or, in some cases, to not think of the box at all.
Here are a few questions that are on my mind right now:
How do we burst the nationalist bubbles that oftentimes hold us back as one Hispanic community? What is our singular, mutual purpose? How can we recognize that being Hispanic isn’t dependent on one’s accent, country of origin, or how recently one arrived to the U.S.? Or do we?
What should SHPE’s vision be—as an organization? What about for the Hispanic Community?
By no means are these the only questions I’m pondering. Nor are these in final form. According to Hal, some executives and organizations take months—and sometime longer–to formulate truly catalytic questions.
Like all catalytic questions, the above inquiries oblige us to dig deeper. What does it mean to be truly unified? Is identifying with our nation of birth or that of our parents or grandparents (and beyond) really a bad thing? Can we keep that identity while also recognizing and respecting fellow Hispanics with vastly different experiences?
For me, posing these kinds of questions forces me to unlearn much of what I was taught. As a law student and then as practicing lawyer, for instance, I learned to ask leading questions—ones whose answers I already knew, or led to the answers I needed or wanted. It’s a skill I worked hard to cultivate as a trial lawyer and litigator and was useful at the time. But it’s not necessarily the right approach when leading an organization like SHPE—a role that hinges on asking questions for which there is often no one right answer.
To be sure, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Which is why it’s imperative that you, my SHPE Familia, share your ideas and solutions with me and my team. As your CEO—more importantly, as part of your Hispanic Familia—I intend to do everything I can to facilitate platforms and venues by which to ensure our voices are heard, and that our catalytic questions count.
Whether you’re attending a chapter meeting or talking with your family about the challenges and opportunities we Hispanics face, think about the questions that don’t have an easy answer. Those ones are the most important to voice.
In fact, in his book, Gregersen specifically states that learning to ask catalytic questions requires having other people to bounce those questions off of (“question bursts,” he calls them). Why? Different people approach questions and problems from different angles, creating a kind of “kaleidoscopic thinking”. (More on this concept in a future CEO Corner). Think of these “question bursts” as a scientific approach to a social issue: a method of discovery.
Both of the aforementioned books have taught me so much: about the importance of never settling for the status quo, and about the profound power we have to improve the world around us. These books have enlightened me; they have changed my life, my thinking and my way of being. So if you’re looking for a challenging and illuminating summer read, I couldn’t recommend these two books more highly.
Right after you read our first-ever SHPE Annual Report, of course.
Raquel Tamez, CEO
Sometimes it’s important to hit the pause button. After months of nonstop travel, at a time of frenetic change—both for me personally and for SHPE, which continues to be in growth mode—early this month, I had a chance to spend some quality time with my team at our headquarters outside of L.A.
Quality time with my team is always so rejuvenating.
And while there is always plenty of SHPE business to hash out when we are all together in the office, with back-to-back meetings and department strategy sessions, we always take time to break bread and get to know each other better as we work towards a team of teams and a dynamic work environment. This time, we were very intentional. We stepped away from our laptops and we engaged in fun, team-building exercises. And wecelebrated.
These days, there is lots to celebrate. In mid-April, we wrapped up our most successful season of Regional Leadership Development Conferences to date. With a 54% increase in corporate sponsorship and support.
On April 15th, SHPE crossed the 11,000-member threshold for the first time in our 45-year history. On top of that, we released our first-ever annual report, an interactive document with charts and graphs that showcase an organization in the midst of profound growth.
And, to keep you all in the loop, we launched SHPE SmartBrief, a curated monthly newsletter just for you that already has over 10,000 subscribers.
These are big things. Transformational things. Things all of us should be proud of. But they aren’t the only things worth acknowledging.
We’re full steam ahead on planning for our 2019 Convention in Phoenix, thanks in large part to the commitment of two visionary sponsors: Honeywell and American Express. We’re also working closely with Phoenix’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, along with local schools and universities, to create a truly immersive convention experience and to have a greater impact on the Hispanic community in Phoenix.
We’ve also onboarded two new team members: Brianne Martin and Kimberly Douglas-Mankin, both of whom stepped away from successful careers for an opportunity to become a part of the SHPE National team and to directly support our mission and strategy—a commitment for which I’m so grateful.
I know this is a different tone than my recent CEO Corners, but I want to use this month’s message to reflect on something bigger than those personal messages and calls to action. Why is that?
In The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions, author and entrepreneur Rhett Power stresses the importance of talking about our successes. Acknowledging them. Honoring them. Because it’s only through hitting the pause button and celebrating and appreciating our accomplishments—relishing in them, at least a little—that we find the courage to aim higher and dream bigger.
It also helps keep from burning out and feeling exhausted, and thinking we’re never doing enough. Because we are. There is so much that happens day in and day out, 24/7, work that needs to happen, and does happen, seamlessly, in order to keep SHPE sailing at a fast clip and in the right direction.
So, as we pass the halfway point between last year’s convention and our 2019 Annual Convention, let’s all take a moment to pause, reflect, celebrate, and appreciate. Big things are happening—transformational things—and you’re a part of it. Let’s be proud, and let’s use this momentum, this dynamic trajectory, to fuel and propel our organization even further and faster ahead.
Raquel Tamez, CEO
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.