The mean girls club

March 22nd, 2011
Panel of executive & non executive women at a P&G Latina conference

Panel of executive & non executive women at a P&G Latina conference

I had lunch with a girlfriend the other day and was surprised to hear yet another Latina executive talk about the “mean girls club.” I was starting to wonder if this was an actual club with locker rooms, a swimming pool and a lounge where all these wicked women got together to plot against their gender-mates. As if the space for women in the top ranks were limited and all the seats taken.

In the two previous weeks I had heard similar stories from other girlfriends and female colleagues, all of them executives, who were having a hard time aligning their management style with the corporate culture of their respective companies. In many situations, the people making things hard for these women were other women.

The truth is that it continues to be a struggle for diverse women to succeed at the highest levels of a corporation — most likely the result of a conservative corporate culture that has a hard time embracing different styles and values combined with the need to further coach and mentor these women.

One of my smartest friends found an outstanding executive coach who not only helps her understand the unwritten rules of the game but also plays the unofficial role of therapist lending an empathetic ear at the end of a migraine-inducing discussion with one of the mean girls. Another one, sadly, decided to quit her high paying job.

So, when it comes to doing what it takes to get your posh office and the corporate credit card, how much is too much? It obviously depends on your goals and your resilience levels. On your priorities and willingness not to take things too personally. On your ability to find allies and mentors, sponsors and advocates within and outside of the organization that can be part of the support network that keeps you focused and learning. And on your commitment to conducting an ongoing introspection.

Let me explain. As you move up in your career, there’s no question that you will constantly have to engage in a profound soul searching to identify what you have learned and what you’re still missing, what cultural traits impact your ability to connect with others and communicate in a productive way. What in your upbringing or in your life experience makes you overreact when someone tries to control you, keep you in a corner, or treat you like you don’t know what you’re talking about in public.

When you commit to this kind of ongoing reflection alone or with the help of a coach, you can identify the areas where you need assistance and seek it. Sometimes the problem stems from the fact that you haven’t identified the source of the conflict because no matter how much you try not to take it personally, every time the mean girl (or the mean boy) says that you are a failure, your gut turns inside out and you become paralyzed. But the moment you realize, for example, that that person makes you feel the way your father made you feel when you were a kid, when nothing you did was ever good enough for him, you can give new meaning to the overreaction and slowly modify your behavior. Because now you know that the paralysis you experience in that situation is a reaction to something else that happened long ago. That you are no longer a vulnerable little girl. That you have lots of tools at your disposal to fight off mean people.

For instance, in this scenario, you could find out about this woman’s life and realize she’s had an abusive childhood and as a result needs to be overly controlling of her environment. Developing some empathy for her may be the first step to developing a better relationship with the witch.

So don’t quit just yet. Lots of women in the workforce need you as a role model who will prove that it’s possible to make it in corporate America. And, bit by bit, we will fashion together a workplace that’s more embracing of our collective cultures. These women need you there to help them fight the dragons.

Best career advice

February 7th, 2011

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If you are like most people, you’ll probably end up fitting more than one career in your lifetime.

I started working in market research, moved to educational book distribution, then launched my writing and speaking career and have managed to develop a strong media presence at the same time. Although I enjoyed the various stages of my career I have to say that right now, I am happier than I’ve ever been before. The reason is in the perfect alignment of my passion, my talent, my knowledge and my skill set, something that is really hard to do.

It may take you a few years to figure out how to create this alignment in your life, but it’s worth the preparation and exploration that it takes to get to that point. That process may be easy if you already know what you’re passionate about or it may require some introspection if you are not sure.

What’s important is to keep in mind that doing what you love to do while using your talents and the knowledge you acquired both formally and informally will bring you a level of joy that is hard to compare with anything else. It makes you feel alive every day in a way that you don’t when your job is just a paycheck or just something that gets in the way of living your passions.

So, start looking right now at what makes you excited, what makes you tick and explore ways in which you can turn it into your career. Before you know it, all the stars will be aligned and you’ll be living your dream!

Where will the jobs be?

January 27th, 2011

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Most experts believe the economy is showing signs of recovery. Officially, the Great Recession ended in June 2009. But if you were one of the 8 million people who lost their jobs or if you’re a recent college grad, the picture doesn’t look that bright, does it.

It’s not only that companies are hiring at a slower speed but also that whole industry sectors have been destroyed and certain jobs just won’t come back. In the global economy some manufacturing jobs, for example, have been lost to other markets with cheaper labor. So have jobs for people with less than a high school diploma or even for high school graduates without any college.

According to a Moody’s Analytics for TIME magazine, in the next couple of years, 37.6% of jobs will require a Bachelor’s degree or higher; 10.2% will require an Associate’s degree and another 17.5% will require some college. How are you positioned to get or keep your job?

One of the greatest problems we are facing as a nation is the mismatch of labor needs and workers’ skills. Even during the worst of the recession there were companies that couldn’t fulfill their open positions because there were few candidates with the right skill-set. People who work with technology: engineers of all kinds, artists, designers, programmers are at the top of the list for companies across the globe.

Opportunities in the professional services are also growing because as large companies have downsized they are now looking to outsource the capabilities that they don’t longer have in house. So, you may need to consider setting up your own consulting firm to serve several clients rather than seeking a full time job.

And looking beyond your own city and state may be more of a necessity than a choice as well. When you think that North Dakota has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate (a mere 3.8%) you realize that you may want to move from Detroit were the unemployment rate is anywhere between 30-50% depending on who you believe.

It’s a great time to leverage your Latino nimbleness: To become independent if you were used to full time employment, to get extra certifications and higher degrees if you notice that the available jobs require them, and to move wherever the jobs are. Keep in mind that you were raised with the ability to adjust to change, to try new roles, and to think out of the box. This is the time to make those traits work for you!

Slowing down time

November 29th, 2010

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Lately it seems as if all that matters is speed: the speed at which you respond to text messages; the speed and extreme at which you multitask; the speed at which your devices connect to the Internet, and the speed at which news, economic crises and pandemics spread. Not to mention the trends for speed dating for anything from romantic partners to corporate consultants.

This speed that has swept us off our feet –literally and figuratively—is responsible not only for more than a few mistakes (sending off the wrong file before you checked the attachment, or misdirecting a text message) but also for our increased perception that time flies. That the day slips through your fingers and you’re hopeless; there’s nothing you can do to make your day last longer. If only we could have that 25th hour… Guess what? We’d obliterate it as carelessly as we manage to do with the other 24.

The only thing that can expand time is to stop doing and start being. If instead of running from one item on your list to the next, you focus on the task at hand (and I mean, really, really focus) you’d feel that time slows down. That’s what happens when you fish, for example. You sit there, in the outdoors, in the middle of a quiet lake, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. The silence and the lack of activity makes it feel like time expands and the day is very long. Afterwards you remember what the day felt like. You return home refreshed and calm. It works very much as a meditation.

Now think about what your regular day feels like in the evening or how you feel at the end of the week. I know that for me, most of the time I don’t even remember what I did that week; few things stand out. My days feel like an undifferentiated mass of emails, meetings, phone calls, Facebook updates… and what is worse, soon enough things begin to lose meaning. I start wondering, what am I doing all this for? How is all this hectic, crazy activity bringing me closer to my center, to my dreams, to my purpose in life?

So I’ve decided to go against the times; to go against what’s fashionable right now and focus on one thing at a time. To keep only one screen open on my computer and one file open in my mind. To be present when I’m engaged in an activity so that I can enjoy it as much as possible. To walk idly around Manhattan on a Sunday morning and breathe-in the fall air. To write a blog without checking my incoming mail. To prepare a presentation without running downstairs for a cup of tea before I finish. To talk on the phone without trying to read an article someone sent me.

And you know what? It immediately makes the 24 hours seem a lot more like 25! Try it and let me know how it goes!

You may want to check Ivana Castellanos blog on Studying and Relieving Stress

Scholarships year-round

November 8th, 2010

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I know lots of top students who graduate with huge student loans and sadly, the main reason is not that they were turned down for financial aid or for scholarships while they were in college. No. The main reason is that they didn’t know where to find the money! So, let’s get a few things straight so that you don’t carry the same burden on your shoulders when you graduate.

1. Every year, you must fill out the FAFSA as soon after January 1st as possible, so the government and your school can establish how much grant money you’re eligible for.
2. Visit the Financial Aid office regularly and befriend the staff there. Explain your situation and ask for tips on scholarships you can apply to (sometimes they know about local scholarships that few people know about,) special programs they are familiar with, etc. I know many students who got most of their scholarships this way, by making their presence felt at the Financial Aid office.
3. Use a few different Search Engines and Websites to look for scholarships. For example, use www.fastweb.com and www.scholarships.com. Fill out the form with as much information about you as possible. These engines will find all sorts of scholarships available to your situation: religion, geographic location, major, labor affiliation of your parents, etc.
4. There are scholarships available after Freshman year as more corporations are interested in supporting students entering their industries and make money available for Engineering, Math, Science, Medicine, Business, Agriculture, Green Technology, etc. The secret is for you to continue searching.
5. Ask locally. Many small businesses want to support their local college and offer scholarships that are not listed on the search engines. Your librarian or Financial Aid person in your school should know. In addition, many alumni set specific funds for certain students. For instance, I know of someone with different colored-eyes who set up a fund for students with her same condition.
6. Consider applying for scholarships as an year-round sport. Schedule time to research, write your essays and put your packages together. Make sure you calendar any deadlines. When you look at the alternative, it’s time well invested!

Like Latinos in College on Facebook to take advantage of a wonderful community that is always there to give you ideas and support your growth!

Do you lose your identity if you’re punctual?

October 25th, 2010

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I had been walking in the wrong direction for twenty minutes with the most impossible heels. The pain in my right shoulder was getting worse from carrying my computer, and the worst part was that I was going to be late for my presentation. I couldn’t get anyone to answer my calls and I was about to lose it when I was finally able to reach my contact and let her know about my delay. When I arrived, mortified about the situation, my host, who was kindly waiting for me at the door, said with a smile: “Don’t worry about it, we are on Latino Time.”

For the first time in my life, I was happy that LT existed. Having been raised by a German mother, more often than not, I live in conflict with the timing of many of my Latino friends and colleagues as I’m usually the first to arrive everywhere.

During the presentation, part of the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, I spoke about how we can modulate our levels of Latinoness throughout the day and depending on the roles we play.

Going back to the example, in this country, punctuality is key in obtaining others’ respect and trust in you. So you must consider it a basic trait for professional success. But, if you have a party at your house over the weekend you’re probably not going to send out invitations with a beginning and an end time as most Anglos would. We experience time more as an event than as a chronological episode. Which means that the party starts when you arrive and it ends whenever it ends. For Anglos it is more like an 8- 11 PM thing.

The problem begins when this trait spills over your professional space and you are consistently late to turn in your projects or to a conference call. This can have an immediate impact on your personal brand as your colleagues and bosses make assumptions about you being untrustworthy.

It’s good to realize that you are not just Latino (or Mexican, Salvadorean, Dominican, etc.) Your identity is made up of numerous experiences, influences, beliefs, culture, religion, sexual orientation, race, and so on. Paradoxically, modulating the Latino aspects that may negatively affect your career opportunities is something very Latin.

We are a group known for our adaptability therefore, there’s no need to fear losing your Latino identity as a result of making these small adjustments. The ability to manage the different aspects of your identity according to the situation you are in or the role you’re playing at the time, is the best demonstration of your Latinoness in action.

If you liked this blog, you may also like: Uncover your Latinoness

What they don’t teach in college

September 7th, 2010

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I just finished writing a short essay for an Anthology of Latinas in Higher Education. It was an interesting piece to write as it made me focus on my college years and the fact that often times I feel as if I had forgotten lots of what I learned. I relive this feeling every weekend when I participate in a Spanish book club in Manhattan and I realize that my peers freely quote from all sorts of novels and poems and even though I have read most of them, I can’t.

I used to think that I suffered from some kind of memory loss. It was worrying and also a bit embarrassing to be one of a small handful of writers in the group and to keep quiet at critical parts of the discussion.

Writing the essay forced me to think about what I learned in college during those six years while I worked on my Masters in Philosophy and Literature. (In Argentina, you enter college and graduate with a Masters degree.) Yes, I read more novels than I can count, and I took four years of Latin and ancient Greek; yes I took Linguistics, Semiotics, History of Philosophy, and all those interesting courses you’re supposed to take when you work on a Liberal Arts degree. But if you ask me to sit down and explain the basics of Parmenides theory, I’d be hard press to come up with the answer.

And yet I know that it was during those formative years that I learned how to structure my own thinking and writing and to create layers of meaning. It was thanks to the hundreds of books that I read and the hours spent interpreting them that I developed the ability to translate complex thoughts and topics into simple ideas for large audiences. These are things you don’t go to college for, when in reality they are the main reason why you do. They are almost a side effect of doing all the hard work in school. The Vitamin D you get from being in the sun when the only thing you were after was a good sun tan.

The experience of spending those years exploring my interests was not only critical to shaping my thinking and worldview, my inner voice and reasoning skills; but in addition, it was instrumental in building my confidence. Those years shaped me, they gave legitimacy to my talents, and they opened up a world of opportunities only available to those who are able to express their ideas clearly.

Would I sound smarter during our book club discussions if I remembered my literary periods better? Probably. Would that make me more effective in my chosen career? Very unlikely.

So I made my peace with the fact that, even though on the surface it seems as though I should be good at something I’ve gone to college for (such as literary analysis, for instance), different people learn very different lessons from the same teachers.

The fact that I have some strong memory loss when it comes to remembering the characteristics of a particular literary movement doesn’t mean that I’ve wasted my education. It means that I selectively remember skills I learned which were not even in the syllabus and that to me are far more aligned with my goals and passion.

Using social networking for career development

August 18th, 2010
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Social networking is no longer an option. It’s part of how we live our lives. And it’s not just an intrinsic part of how we organize our weekends and how we get parties going but of how we research information, market our products and services and find out about a future recruit.

So, the question is, how are you using it to build your professional image? Are you creating a relevant presence online? Are you contributing to conversations around your profession or industry? Or are you only posting your profile and letting it sit unattended?

The people who use social networking platforms most successfully are actively engaged with the communities that they join. They post interesting comments and links, they contribute content and forward other people’s content. They participate in discussions and answer questions. They share personal experiences without being too self-absorbed. They are careful with the material they post because they know that it’s hard to get rid of it once it’s online.

Some examples of positive engagement are:

1) On Linkedin, try to answer questions related to your expertise. The more active you are in answering questions posted by others, the more visible you become. This in turn, allows recruiters and people who might be looking for your talent to contact you.

2) On Facebook, “Like” groups that connect with your interest and post smart, sensible comments frequently. Again, the community will notice you and you will soon make friends and professional acquaintances.

3) On Twitter, Re-Tweet those tweets that relate to your area of expertise, engage with people who follow you and explore their profiles to find out more about them. Comment on their tweets and establish a direct conversation with them.

Of course the idea is to take your online relationships to the next level and make them real through one on one chats, phone conversations, text messages or even a meeting face to face. At Latinos in College, for instance, we have hired most of our interns and Ambassadors through our Facebook page. It’s a great way to get to know people (we get to see what they write, how they write, and what they are passionate about) even before they know that we are screening them!

Right now, there are tons of recruiters out there doing the same thing with you!

Travel to Buenos Aires with poems and pictures

July 11th, 2010

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I just want to share with you that my new book Mi Buenos Aires Poético just came out on Blurb.

It is part of a series of traveling books that I’m creating as I travel to new and exciting cities or to my old country of Argentina. The other two titles are Poetry in Turkey/Poesía en Turquía and Poetry in Barcelona/Poesía en Barcelona.

I’ve been a writer of poetry and short stories for much longer than I’ve been a writer of non-fiction. Actually, I wrote my first novel when I was nine years old! It was a series of books that followed the same characters, which I wrote on the orange sheets of paper that doctors used to separate X-Rays from each other. Yup. My dad brought those home for me to cut them up to size and use them to write my novels. I bound them and illustrated them as well.

And although I want to believe that the quality of my writing has improved since then, I fight every day to keep that ingenuity alive. Making something valuable out of “nothing” is a trait we can all use right now.

I hope you enjoy them!

Are you about to commit honesticide?

June 28th, 2010

Mafalda, a character created by Argentine cartoonist Quino, known to be brutally honest

Mafalda, a character created by Argentine cartoonist Quino, known to be brutally honest


At a recent panel during the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) conference in Denver, a participating journalist asked what suggestions we had regarding how to talk about yourself when you first meet someone who could be a source or a prospective boss. “Should I just say whatever comes to mind? Should I just be me? Because I don’t want to pretend I’m someone I’m not…”

This is a question we all struggle with on an ongoing basis. When we meet someone new at a personal level, when we are interviewing for a job, and even in a well-established relationship with a partner, a friend, a work colleague or a boss. How much do you say about what you think at any given moment? How much do you filter?

Contrary to the most common advice that people give, namely that you should be yourself and say what you think, I believe we’ve been gifted with rationality and the ability to edit ourselves for a reason. In the context of building relationships, if the goal is to develop trust with someone, you don’t want to commit honesticide. That is, suicide by honesty. There’s little value in revealing details about yourself, your thoughts or your feelings if you know – or suspect—it will either hurt the other person or at the very least not go over well with them. There are things that, once said aloud, cannot be taken back no matter how much you apologize. Case in point, General Stanley McChrystal.
(And please understand that I’m not talking about standing up for what you believe even if it’s in disagreement with other team members.)

What happened to General McChrystal (losing his job following comments he made about the Obama administration to Rolling Stone magazine,) happens to ordinary citizens every day in a less splashy way. Think about it: Did you close the door during a job interview when you talked poorly about your former boss? Did you alienate a girlfriend when you told her that you couldn’t figure out what her hot boyfriend sees in her? Did you miss a promotion because you friended your boss on Facebook and kept posting your personal comments (“being yourself”) as if he/she weren’t there?

In any given situation, it is critical to trust your gut to tell you what information you need to convey and what is actually TMI. Sometimes not saying something will get you in trouble, and at other times the opposite is true. I’m not suggesting that you lie about who you are or pretend to be someone you’re not. Believe me, your identity will not suffer if you forgo telling your new acquaintance that you are wearing pink underwear for good luck.

In a world where we’ve all become voyeurs and where we share way too much through our social networks, the risk of committing honesticide is ever present. Just keep in mind that being completely honest all of the time is not only impossible (as an observer of the world you only have part of the truth) but more importantly it is also overrated.