By Ludmila Leiva
Refinery 29, November 1, 2018 —
Last month, we celebrated that day for Native American women. And today — a full eleven months into this year — marks the day that Latinas have finally caught up, as well.
Latinas have to work, on average, an additional 301 days in order to make what white men did the year before. Let that sink in.
This year, Latinas in the United States are still paid, on average, just 53 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Latinx man. These lost wages — roughly $26,403 per year — add up over time, and significantly affect Latinas ability to support themselves and their families, save for the future, and create lives that allow them to thrive.
But pay discrepancies are just the tip of the iceberg. There is still a considerable lack of Latina representation in many industries, such as tech where Latinas make up only 2% of science and engineering positions and represent only 1% of the computing workforce. The discrimination against Latinx professionals manifest in many different ways — from microaggressions to hiring bias.
Ultimately, change is on the horizon — statistically speaking. According to 2017 Nielsen reports, Latinas are becoming “an economic and social powerhouse in the United States,” with skyrocketing rates of entrepreneurship. In fact, at the time of the report, Latina-majority owned businesses totaled nearly 1.5 million, representing 87% growth in the past five years, and outpaced growth by both Latino-owned and overall women majority-owned ventures.
The issue of Latinx professionalism is a fraught one. To shed some light on this complex climate, we spoke with ten Latina professionals from a variety of different careers, industries, and professional trajectories who reflected on what they wish they had known early on in their careers, the lessons they have come to learn, and what is still missing for them — and future generations of Latinx professionals — to truly thrive.
– Jacqueline Priego, 34, Writer/Director/Actress, PinkSlipped Web Series
“There’s a popular saying in Spanish that goes: ‘Calladita se ve más bonita.’ Which roughly translates to ‘Quiet, you look more beautiful.’ It is my sincerest wish that, at the tender age of 21 when I embarked on my career, someone would have grabbed me by the hand, sat me down and told me the truth about work life. I wish I would have known that ‘quietly get your work done’ and ‘stay out of trouble’ — the two most common albeit well intentioned pieces of advice given to first generation Latinxs entering the world of the 9-5 — would lead to many years of discontent.
“Instead, I wish I knew what so many of my non-Latinx coworkers already knew. They knew the game. I simply thought I was there to keep my head down and complete my tasks. Little did I know that to build a career you needed to master the art of office politics, networking, negotiations and risk taking. You had to have a voice, a personal brand, something to say and the confidence to say it. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have stayed at work until all hours of the night finishing a project only to see my fellow co-workers who went home at 5pm get promoted time and time again. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have taken the first offer given to me. I would have negotiated like my male coworkers did.
“I can lament what happened but that’s not my style, contrary to the above. Instead, I choose to grab young Latinxs by the hand, sit them down and tell them what I wish I had known all along: Find your voice and let yourself be known because there is nothing more beautiful than an empowered woman.”
— Vanessa Acosta, 29, Fashion and Photography
“I have been in the fashion industry since 2008, and I have very strong opinions about it. I was only 18 years old when I entered a world that I thought was glamourous. I wish I had known that this industry doesn’t place much value on Latinx workers. From one company to another, I was used as the token Latinx designer and worked double the amount as anyone and still got paid less.
“Statistics show that Latina workers in the industry are paid the lowest amount out of all women. So I decided to go off on my own and start my own businessbecause I was tired of being devalued in the workplace. And I learned that if you want to work in fashion and run your own clothing brand, it’s a lot of work!
“Latinx brands didn’t exist much when I started my career, let alone South American brands. There was zero representation when I started and now ten years later, there are a lot of great Chicanx and Mexican brands but still very few South American brands. That is why I do what I do. More light needs to be shed upon South Americans in the Latinx community because all of our cultures are very different.
“There are a lot of brands profiting off of our culture and so many beautiful Latinx handmade goods that are rarely represented. We’ve made strides but there is still so much more progress to be done for representation across the board. But I am grateful to be among the many who are beginning to shine and be represented from all corners of the world. More Latinx brands are surfacing up because we want to tell our own stories.”
— Doris Quintanilla, 33, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Melanin Collective: Women of Color. Standing Together
“What do I wish I’d known at the beginning of my career? The easy answer is to negotiate. I can still hear the HR rep on the phone waiting for me to counter-offer and I didn’t say anything. I always wondered what that was about and only later realized she was waiting for me to ask for more! The more complicated answer is around implicit bias and racism that I would have to overcome at every step in my career.
“The never-ending cycle of The Problem of Women of Color in the Workplacewhere I’d be the diverse token hire, be a problem for trying to address organizational issues, and then eventually becoming a target and suffering retaliation. You can take all the negotiating and imposter syndrome classes you want but if the system is set up against you, no amount of self-sacrifice or blood, sweat, and tears will help you succeed.
“Because there were no resources for me while I went through this over and over in my 9 years in nonprofits, I ended up leaving and creating my own social enterprise called The Melanin Collective: Women of Color. Standing Together.”
— Alex Portee, 27, Editor in Digital Media
“When I first started writing, I was always told to pitch stories that aligned with the style and voice of a site. Initially, it was hard for me to understand that I could include my experiences of being a Black Latina because I didn’t always see these types of stories being told on those sites. They were also almost never considered by the white editors that I pitched to.
“One of my first jobs was working for a women’s digital content site that said they were all about giving women a voice. I quickly came to learn that this meant white, straight, abled, upper class women. I ended up feeling like a diversity hire, and I definitely ended up feeling as if my voice was stifled; like I was letting myself down each time I wrote a piece of content for them.
“I wish I’d seen more Latinx, Black, Disabled, and Queer Latinx writers and editors. I also wish I had known that there are a lot of people who will say they care about their company’s mission statements when they really care about money. When I first started working I would always do my homework and find out a company’s mission statement, not just to help me get hired but also to make sure that our values aligned. I wish I had known that there are just as many people who are really fighting for the causes and people that they say they’re fighting for.
“My field is occupied by women who want to tell their stories and help elevate the voices of other women as well. I’ve mostly found these women on Facebook and Twitter and the relationships I’ve formed with each of them always feel very empowering and positive. I wish I had known that there are groups for women of color on social platforms sooner.”
— Patty Delgado, 27, Founder & CEO of Hija de tu Madre
“When starting Hija de tu Madre, I wish I would have had more knowledge on finance. Investors, LLC’s, business loans, credit, etc. have always seemed so foreign to me. I think there is a lot of stigma and shame around money in the Latinx community, so having the proper resources on business funding would have been so valuable in my early stages.
“Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I’m obsessed with listening to stories of successful founders and CEOs. However, I rarely connect to their success stories because a lot of these founders come from educated families, financial literacy, generational wealth, etc. In business, it’s hard to find stories that I can relate to, so I would have appreciated more representation of Latinx and other women of color founders.”
Wandy Felicita Ortiz
— Wandy Felicita Ortiz, 23, Journalist and Publicist
“Something I wish I would have known at the beginning of my publicity career is that you are going to need to know a lot more people than you think you do, and keep on your toes. I also wish that when I started in publicity I knew of other Latinx professionals, let alone women, doing the same thing I was.
“Even now, I know of very few Latinx publicists, and don’t really know any of them in person. Especially when I was covering events and topics where Latinxs and people of color are, I feel, underrepresented — like science and politics — it would have been encouraging and less siloing to have been able to turn to someone else and say, ‘Hey, I’m having a hard time relating to or reaching this crowd with my ideas, how do you overcome that?’
“I feel that being a publicist is also meeting people — your client, your target audience for them, and yourself as the relayer of information — at a middle ground, but sometimes that’s hard when those areas are places you don’t normally see yourself or people like you in. It’s not the easiest to effectively deliver a message when you can’t always relate to or identify what key points the people in those fields are looking for. I definitely wish that more Latinx professionals were connected as mentors, colleagues, and resources for others in this field in particular.”
— Alicia Barrón, 41, Web Producer, Writer, and Digital Communications Specialist
“When I was starting out as a young journalist, I wish I would’ve understood that there were bigger forces working against me that no amount of hard work on my part would overcome. Mainly, the fact that I was not only a woman, but a woman of color so the chips were already stacked against me in the wage department. I was always happy to have a steady job so I never stopped to notice that I was paid significantly less that my male counterparts who were sometimes 10 to 15 years younger than me.
“It never dawned on me to rely on anything other than hard work to get ahead. I wish I would have been much more verbal, self-assured, and confident about my abilities when I was around my male (mostly white) bosses. I usually just played the role I didn’t even know I was playing.
“I believe I would have greatly benefitted from having an older professional woman take me under her wing to teach me about self-worth and asking for what we feel we deserve, not what others say they can pay us based on our gender and race. I wish I had been graced with a fairy godmother in the journalism field, so to speak, who would’ve taken time to nurture me. But I now fully understand the mentality that perhaps there wasn’t enough to go around for or all of us. But now I know there so is.”
Cristina Pérez Lozano
— Cristina Pérez Lozano, 27, Patient Care Technician and Nursing Student
“I wish I had more access to internships and programs that networked with healthcare workers at the start of my career. I would’ve also liked more information on the different ways you can pay for school without loans. More programs for underrepresented Chicago neighborhoods that guided students towards a healthcare career. I wish I knew how to maneuver the healthcare school system. How to apply to certain programs, get scholarships, intern in a hospital, or other beneficial programs. A lot of my counselors had no idea how to help me and that made everything so much more complicated.
“I wish there were more Latinas in healthcare! At the facility where I work there are only three in the whole building. The number of Latinx patients are increasing as the years pass by but not the number of Latina workers.
“Representation is key when treating a patient and it would make healthcare in the U.S. stronger. I would’ve also wished I knew how to write a resume guided towards healthcare or how to answer certain questions for an interview. I feel like there isn’t enough representation for Latinas in healthcare, especially in higher positions not just nurses. We always do extra translating for others but we are still underestimated.”
— Mariajose Cuyan, 23, Jr. Art Director, Advertising
“Something I wish I could have understood more at the start of my career is just how different the real job is compared to what they prepare you for in school for. The skills I learned in college definitely set in a good foundation for what my actual job requires but as far as how to move around in the political atmosphere internally and with clients, I feel like it is only something you are able learn by going through it yourself.
“Fortunately, I understood pretty well just how bad minority representation would be in the industry when I graduated. I was involved in a lot of people of color (POC) centered organizations that helped me with my career development and who also brought to light the hard truths that come with being a Latina in a very white, male saturated industry. They were pivotal in preparing for the reality of the ad industry and gave me access to a diverse network to lean on.
“What I wish would have been better represented to me is just how hard you have to go to make your presence known in these professional spaces, especially when you are just starting a new job as a young hire. Just because you are hired doesn’t mean that all that hard work of making sure you get the work you want or need gets to your desk. You have to stick your neck out and raise your hand just to make sure people know you are there and that you are an integral team member too, especially as a younger and less experienced woman which takes a lot of getting used to.”
— Brittany Chavez, 27, Co-Founder ShopLatinx
“I wish I would have known that my business, Shop Latinx, qualifies as a Tech Startup, and that we’d be able to apply for funding, grants, and capital. My co-founder Raquel and I are low-income Latinas who’ve managed to bootstrap and source amazing talent and contributors for the past year and a half; but had we had access to capital, we’d have been able to focus more on the business and put more ideas into fruition.
“Lack of capital and financial uncertainty, at times, has brought forth feelings of inadequacy and made me question whether Shop Latinx was a viable business that I should continue. Because of our limited resources, my team and I underwent feelings of imposter syndrome.
“When I think of tech, I think of Silicon Valley-based white guys with thick rimmed glasses. I think of Google and Apple, and CEOs that look nothing like me or the people Shop Latinx aims to serve. I wish I knew that there indeed are Latinx and Black folks paving the way for other POC in tech. Thankfully, I now have many role models to study and look up to.
“I listened to a podcast the other day that stated only 3% of venture capital funding was given to POC startups. The disparity in funding between POC and white male-owned businesses is alarming, but we have still managed to create a social impact start up with zero capital.
“Given we now have a business advisor, have created a network of Latinxs in tech, and are studying the industry as much as we can, we are now more confident than we’ve ever been; we are applying to accelerator programs that specialize in funding POC/WOC startups, and we are currently on our way to Oakland to attend the Latinx in Tech summit.”