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A Powerful Open Letter to Business Leaders Everywhere Featured by Hispanic Executive Magazine

A powerful letter to Hispanic executives everywhere by Hispanic Executive.

To the powerful Latinas featured in this issue: getting recognized puts you in a position of accountability—to yourself, to those around you, and to those that follow. So what does that mean? Accumulating accolades is great. Getting featured in a magazine? Wonderful. But so what?

If you are the Lorena Gonzalez that made it to the C-suite, but once you’re there, you forget you’re Lorena Gonzalez, then it’s a disservice to everyone else watching, aspiring, and following.

It’s mathematically impossible for any business to achieve its full potential for growth in this country without fully integrating the power of the Latino community.

We see this and say, “Wait, there’s something that I love, or something unique about me personally and culturally, that I can turn into a business advantage?” Yes! That’s our superpower. Where culture intercepts with opportunity.

I call it cultural intelligence, and we must push and pull each other up to recognize this and activate its power. It starts with us, being ambassadors, then pushing and pulling each other where we can.

This is not just for Latinas, but for all readers of this magazine: If you’re reading this right now—whether you’re Latino or not, just the fact that you have these words in front of you means you already have enough curiosity to learn about a segment, to activate a sector or a vertical of you that can arguably give you the competitive advantage you need over everyone else around. But, unless you recognize that, it means nothing.

“If you’re reading this right now—whether you’re Latino or not, just the fact that you have these words in front of you means you already activate a sector or vertical of you that can arguably give you a competitive advantage. But, unless you recognize that, it means nothing.”

If you are Latino in spirit, background, you name it, but you don’t bring that forward fully to who you are as a professional, as an innovator—it’s like giving up on your superpower and not using it at all. You’re giving up on your own potential.

I have met Latinos who are trying to be, for example, Charlie Rod when their full name is Carlos Rodriguez, and I think, “Really? Well, fine. If you want to do that, if you want to mute it, fine. Mathematically, it makes no sense for you to do that because you’re giving up on the one thing that is going to give you an edge for your business, for your career.”

Let’s talk economics. Forget the culture. The part of you that is economically driving more than 50 percent of the growth in this country—how could you turn that off? It’s just a bad business move. Even if you don’t like your culture. Even if, I don’t know, you don’t want anything to do with your parents, and you want to be a super Gringo. Look at the numbers.

Anyone that is holding this magazine or reading this letter online already has a level of cultural intelligence higher than most. Use it.

Back to the Leading Latinas: This is your rallying cry. Serve as a portrait of what it means to transcend the diversity discussion, to transcend political noise (because, to me, it is just noise—four years is a blink in the greater perspective of your career and your potential for impact). Transcending all of that, we need to challenge everyone to live up to their full potential and what that cultural advantage means. Try to think, “How am I holding myself and those around me accountable to truly tap into the full power of this thing?” Beyond a cultural celebration, beyond inclusiveness and authenticity—which unfortunately still feels very fluffy—how do you translate your superpower into, “I’m going to get that promotion, because I have something that no one else can claim, something that’s critical to succession planning.”

Liliana Gil Valletta, guest editor, Leading Latinas 2019
“It’s not just about having the Latina label, it’s the expression of that in business—that’s what makes you unique; otherwise you’re just entitled by the diversity trend. You still have to be an amazing professional that happens to be Latina.”
Photo: Dawin Rodriguez
It’s not just about having the Latina label, it’s the expression of that in business—that’s what makes you unique; otherwise you’re just entitled by the diversity trend. You still have to be an amazing professional that happens to be Latina.

So what’s holding us back? The technology we use at CIEN+ and CulturIntel brings a cultural perspective to mining big data, using artificial intelligence and big-data tools to analyze digital discussions through the lens of gender and culture. We just finished a study, in collaboration with Harvard University, looking into why women business founders aren’t securing capital. Because it’s a problem across all women—around 3-5 percent of venture capital and angel funding goes to women, even though women founders are outpacing men in new business creation at a rate of like five to one.

Within that, Latinas and African-American women are actually the ones driving most of the growth of new business creation, but receive less than 1 percent of venture capital and angel funding. What’s wrong with this picture?

When we looked at the drivers and barriers to capital, the non-Latina founders articulated such barriers as, “I can’t penetrate the rate networks,” and “I don’t know the technicalities of the perfect pitch”—very technical things like that. In contrast, Latina founders reported barriers that are self-imposed. Things such as: “I don’t know if I’m ready to show up in that room—what if they ask me this, or that?” A lot of self-doubting. We Latinas can be bold and sassy in many other ways, but in a business setting we have a lot of self-doubt, the data suggests.

It’s possible that we lack confidence because our culture is so loving and embracing. When we have Latino events, we talk about family, and our pets, and we kiss, and hug, and dance—it feels really nice and warm. But when are we giving each other constructive feedback for growth and confidence? I don’t know if we do that enough.

I’ve been very blessed here in New York City to be in many circles of powerful women, where I’m the only Latina, and I see the dynamics are very different. Non-Latina women can be very direct. They’re blunt and intentional. I’ve been in rooms where it’s my first time coming to some fancy dinner with all of these powerful women, and the first thing someone that has just met me says is, “Hi, nice to meet you. OK Lili: What do you need and who do you need to meet?” I’m like, “Oh my goodness. Hi, nice to meet you.” It’s real.

We Latinas don’t do that. It can be why we lack confidence. We often claim we want to grow, but then someone gives us growth advice and we look the other way and take it personally. Or someone asks what we want, and we shy away from spelling it all out. No, instead we should take every piece of feedback as a gift. We should be intentional about what we want, where we’re going, and open to helping each other. What’s the worst thing that can happen anyway? This is also what I mean when I say we need to push and pull each other up.

You also have to have the forum to stand up and make mistakes. What does self-esteem training look like? It’s not theoretical, it’s practical. It takes getting in front of bigger groups and not thinking three or four times whether you’re dressed right, or overthinking your choice of words. It’s just going for it. Like practice for an athlete. Just keep at it, doing it again and again. Then surround yourself with coaches, people who believe in you and tell it like it is. Even to this day, my business partner tells me as it is, but I know he’s coming from an edifying place. I don’t know if we Latinas have enough circles that do that candidly.

This year, I might be joining my first public board. I think I’m going to be part of the small percentage of Latinas that are on public boards. It’s pathetic that there’s so few of us, but anyone that asks me how that happened, I tell them it’s because I have champions that intentionally “pulled” me into the room. They put me in front of the nominating committee.

So to the Latinas featured here, and anyone that’s reading: If you are in a position of authority, your success demands being someone else’s champion. Pull someone else up. Be candid and open with one another with intention. Keep the legacy going, and make it stronger.

Some call being Latina a double minority, but it’s actually the reverse. We have double the power. There’s plenty of research that shows women make more effective leaders. In fact, studies show companies with women in the C-suite are more profitable. Data reported by EY last year clearly showed that increasing the percentage of women in top spots from zero to 30 percent is associated with a 15 percent jump in profits. So we already have that advantage going for us, if we recognize it.

If you add on top of this our bicultural, bilingual perspective as Latinas, then just as we are the inspiring and collaborative leaders that arguably deliver better financials, so are we the leaders with the market perspective and innate consumer insight that our competition may be ignoring.

We have a double strength, we are a double threat—in a good way. But, we’ve got to believe in it and live up to it.

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of ignorance, which is why I have the business that I have. You’d be surprised, the things I hear from senior leaders.

That’s our challenge. To claim our place in the career world. To be the experts that bridge and elevate what culture means as a force for innovation and not an altruistic mission. To be more than just the group having the Cinco de Mayo cafeteria party. Instead, be the group that has something others don’t understand, the ones who are undeniable experts at the power in numbers that we represent, the ones who represent an advantage that accelerates business and innovation, a group that is essential for leaders above and below to future-proof their business and achieve their full potential for growth.

A lot of it is on us. I hate to do that, put it back on us.

But so much inequality is systemic—while we wait for the system to change, we, too, can make a change starting at the places we influence today. Starting at home, in our communities, churches, companies, and beyond. Be intentional, and push and pull each other up.