Measured by a Different Standard: A Latinx in the US
By: Paulette Piñero
If you see me waiting for the train hiding in a corner with my headphones on, you will see a shy and anxious woman. I might not be the most confident woman, but in the work place I’ve always overcompensated for the lack of confidence I should have on my everyday life.
As a young professional in Puerto Rico I started my career very young and grew into leadership fast. That was easy to do when the people you work with look like you and believe opportunities for growth and development should be based on talent and effort, rather than race or ethnicity.
All of this ended when I moved to the mainland.
I faced discrimination almost immediately upon exploring job opportunities. I completed phone interviews days before moving, but once I met hiring managers in person, reactions to me started to change. On several occasions, I was mistaken for janitorial staff or an applicant for an entry-level role, despite my formal interview attire and the indication of applying for director-level roles. Phrases floated around me, such as “Ma’am can you make sure to empty all the recycle bins before leaving for the day,” despite when I wore a dress and heels.
My first job in Boston was a step down from my previous position in Puerto Rico, but I was excited to finally find work in an education non-profit. Despite being of Puerto Rican descent, I was told it was good that I applied because they needed to hire “Mexicans,” so the bosses would be happy.
The first time I explored applying for a promotion, I discovered how difficult it can be to gain support from managers and colleagues. My Latinx peers shared their experiences of pursuing leadership positions, to then being set up to fail when they had to focus on managing staff or a project, but not on the “numbers.” Once we are interested in opportunities that require decision making power and coaching we are set aside.
As Latinx employees, we struggle to bring ourselves fully to the workplace, we lack champions for equity and inclusion, and executive leadership across the nation does not represent the reality of our community as the largest minority group. It’s a never-ending cycle of:
“We don’t have any opportunities for growth, but here’s a special project you can lead.”
“You said you wanted more opportunities; what do you mean this is too much?”
“You need more development; therefore position ‘X’ is not the right fit at this moment.”
For many Latinx leaders, even getting a position is difficult, but once we get into the workplace meritocracy goes out the window.
For years I tried to find a Latinx mentor, but was unable to find someone in a leadership position that was part of my circle of influence. After years of being in this cycle without opportunities to grow, I decided to become the mentor I always wanted to have. Now, a recognized professional in my field, I hope to share 4 strategies I learned along the way:
- Join a Latinx professional association. It is the most amazing feeling to be in a space full of people that understand you, your culture, your values, and are as driven as you. Start your search with ALPFA and Amplify Latinx. Connect with your Human Resources or Talent Management department to verify if your company already has a partnership and association and advocate for your employer to cover the membership costs as professional development.
- Join a governing board. To have influence and change our systems, Latinx leaders need to be in positions of influence. If an organization serves Latinx communities, it needs a diverse governing board that represents its stakeholders. Latinos for Education has an amazing Latino Board Fellowship that helps build your skill set and places professionals in non-profit and education–focused boards. You can also find opportunities on BoardSource.
- Become a consultant. Review consultancy frameworks online or join a Fellowship program that includes pro-bono consultancy to build your portfolio. Talk to your manager and offer to use a consultancy lens to provide recommendations for how an issue should be tackled and gather feedback from your manager after. Your local Small Business Administration office or Small Business Development Center can provide training and technical assistance on how to build your consulting business.
- Get involved in politics. Start by signing up to receive updates from the NALEO Educational Fund, Voto Latino, Latino Victory, and Unidos US to be in the know of the policies that affect Latinx in your area and the nation.
About Paulette Piñero
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Paulette Piñero moved to the US in 2013 and is the Director of Strategy at a national education non-profit based in Boston. She spends her evenings having fun with her two children, Alex and Sofia, and supporting Latinx professionals build their skills to become assertive leaders in the non-profit sector.