Posts Tagged ‘career’

Do Latinos Help Other Latinos as Much as They Could?

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

shut-up

A frequent complaint I hear from Latinos trying to break into power circles is that other Latinos who are already there don’t extend a helping hand. I’ve seen it myself. And if you wonder, like I do, why there aren’t more visible Latino leaders or why our share of power is nowhere near the percentage of the Latino population in this country, part of the answer might lie in the lack of a helping Latino hand.

As a media contributor at national and local levels, I have spent the last few years pursuing opportunities in English media, because I believe that in order to expand my message and influence, I need to move beyond talking to an audience which has a similar background to my own. Otherwise, I’m just preaching to the choir instead of raising awareness in a segment of the population that may not understand a Latino perspective.

Unfortunately, like most of you, I have often heard renowned Latinos give public speeches about the importance of pulling up those who follow in their footsteps—then seen them turn around and cut the rope when they are asked for help. A few days ago, I ran into one of those well positioned Latinos who I had personally heard saying that more diversity was needed in the newsroom. Only a few days earlier I had sent him an email asking for help introducing me to one of his producers and he had responded with a suggestion that was not particularly helpful. When we met, he said ‘hello’ from a distance of only five feet and then turned and walked away as I was opening my mouth to follow up on our email exchange. The introduction I was hoping for wasn’t going to happen.

I know the world doesn’t revolve around me and my agenda. That people are protective of their connections and their turf. That many are overworked, understaffed and underpaid. That most high ranking Latinos receive an overwhelming amount of requests that they cannot possibly fulfill, and that these requests often come from people who are not the right candidates for the help they are seeking.

But nobody builds a successful career alone. No matter how smart you are, all successful careers are built upon a large, strong network, and with the help of sponsors who at some point champion you as the right candidate for that awesome opportunity. So, why do people find it so hard to help others who are respected professionals in their fields when they reach the pinnacle of their careers, and it’s within their power to do so? Why is it so difficult to put in a good word on behalf of a fellow professional with an impeccable reputation?

I can’t help question people’s motives. Whenever any one of us resists opening a door, we are shrinking the pie instead of expanding it for all of us. You may do it because you are one of very few Latinos in your company and you don’t want others to perceive you as an activist. You may do it because you don’t want your bosses to think your personal network is mainly Hispanic. You may do it because you fear that if other Latinos walk in they may take something away from you. Whatever the reason, in the end you are hurting yourself, too.

The truth is that if you have to protect yourself in such a way, it probably means you’re not as indispensable as you think. Or you are the “token Latino” in the wrong company and eventually they will get rid of you, too. Whatever the reasons for your protectionism, they are likely to backfire. In practical terms, you are putting up a stumbling block for all Hispanics trying to move into circles of power, something that in the end affects all of us. Because as long as we continue to have such poor representation at executive levels in the private and public sectors of this country, the Hispanic community will continue to be discounted. We don’t need one leader. We need many leaders who can carry the very diverse voices of this community.

So, while you’re busy making sure nobody else climbs the ladder next to you, you are missing the chance of a lifetime: to become the power broker for every Latino and Latina of high caliber. To create a legacy of leadership beyond your own and be remembered as someone who helped set the stage for a new conversation in this wonderful country of ours.

An earlier version of this column appeared on Fox News Latino on July 27, 2011 under a different title.

Best career advice

Monday, February 7th, 2011

drawing-on-the-floor

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!

Do you lose your identity if you’re punctual?

Monday, October 25th, 2010

reloj

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

Are you about to commit honesticide?

Monday, 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.

Generation Y in the workplace

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Abercrombie & Fitch Gen Y employees present at ALPFA regional conference in DC

Abercrombie & Fitch Gen Y employees present at ALPFA regional conference in DC


When it comes to younger employees in the workplace, I’m fascinated by the resistance that so many managers are experiencing. I was at a conference last week where we heard a great presentation by a Gen Y woman about Gen Yers. She was dressed with jeans, a cut off T-shirt and a short, informal jacket. Not your regular business attire but very appropriate for the issues she was discussing: “Gen Yers are different; they don’t dress like their older colleagues; they don’t think like you, so deal with it!” She was very vivacious, smart and funny and brought home various ways to get along with this generation that outnumbers the two previous generations of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

After the 45-minutes long presentation about why the Millennials are the way they are and how to best deal with them, you could sense a distinct split reaction in the audience. Some of us loved the presenter. Some disliked her so much they wished they could wipe the grin off her face and, while they were at it, wipe the grins off the faces of all the members of this new generation that they don’t understand.

However, if many in the audience could actually hear some of the points that this woman raised regarding the creation of this generation — namely that they’ve been raised by over-indulgent Baby Boomer parents who provided everything from Kindergarten consultants to Math Summer Camps and volunteer opportunities in Guatemala, bought them every electronic gadget under the sun starting at the tender age of three, and encouraged them to be inquisitive and stand up for what they believe in — maybe they’ll identify with those parents and realize they bear some of the responsibility for the outcome.

And if they could step away for a minute from their “I’m right; you’re wrong” way of thinking and hear the presenter’s wise observations regarding how to manage this generation (among some of her tidbits she emphasized explaining why things need to be done in a certain way, allowing for work flexibility, offering Gen Yers the electronic gadgets they consider vital to functioning, and understanding that they welcome coaching and guidance from adults), perhaps they’ll learn some strategies that will help them better deal not only with their employees but with their kids as well.

It’s always difficult for one generation to welcome a new one in the workplace. But the Millennials have so much to offer in terms of creativity, energy, social entrepreneurship spirit, intrinsic understanding of technology, and leveraging the power of a flat world that we should all make an effort to help them transition into the workforce seamlessly and to develop the skills that are still necessary to succeed. They are inheriting a less than ideal world with plenty of major crises to attend to, none of which they helped create. I, for one, want to make sure they are well prepared to deal with what’s facing them.

Obstacles Welcome

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
    ralph-de-la-vega

More often than not, the difference between leaders and less successful people resides in their interpretation of one word: “obstacle.” Whether you interpret the word to mean a barrier to achieving whatever it is you wish to achieve or as an opportunity to create an alternative solution to attain your goal, you act accordingly. In the first case, you tend to give up your goals and in the second case you find a way to turn that obstacle into fuel for your new approach, strategy, point of view, and so on.

Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility, is a firm believer in turning obstacles into opportunities. He started early — when he was 10 years old and his parents decided at the airport, about to board a plane in Cuba for the US, that Ralph would be the only one in the family to travel while everyone else would stay behind to resolve some documentation issue. Thinking his parents would join him in a few days, Ralph left for his new adventure. The only problem was that he didn’t see his family again for the next four years. Since then, Ralph has had an incredibly successful career in this country and is now one of the highest ranking Hispanics in Corporate America.

I recently interviewed Ralph about his new book, Obstacles Welcome.

Mariela– What makes your personal story unique and, at the same time, an example that others can follow?

Ralph– My story is unique because although I got here as a 10-year-old without my parents, without money and without knowing the language, I’ve been able to reach the top of corporate America. Also, what makes my story relevant to others are the lessons I learned along the way, which I share in my book, Obstacles Welcome, as a guide for them to overcome their own obstacles and achieve their goals.

Mariela–How did you turn the concept of obstacle into “opportunity”?

Ralph– Once I succeeded in overcoming the obstacles I encountered during my first years as an immigrant I realized that these difficulties led to bigger and better opportunities. That was a huge lesson for me and one that I’ve applied ever since in business and in life.

Mariela– What suggestions do you have for people who are frustrated by the bad economy and the long time it is taking them to find a job? How can they turn this big obstacle into an opportunity?

Ralph– We are living in one of those turbulent times I describe in my book where the old status quo is no more but also where opportunity is being created. My suggestion any time you are faced with adversity is to turn it into opportunity. Right now, even as some fields are being shrunk, others are being created: green jobs, smart grids, digital healthcare records, hybrid cars, and many others. I tell people to look for those opportunities and to develop new skills so that they can compete successfully. This is a great time to put into practice the four pillars that are described in detail in my book.

1. Develop a plan for success. Hope is not a strategy.
2. Take calculated risks
3. Recognize opportunities
4. Overcome obstacles

In times like this it’s easy to let a word like “obstacle” run our lives, to use it as a justification or an excuse for not moving forward. If you think of it as just a word, however, you can create your own interpretation. And who knows, you may chose to define is a your next great opportunity!

Latino employees make a difference

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
    AMEX_Hispanic_Card_8_27

Years ago, when Employee Resource Groups (ERGs, also known as Affinity Groups and Employee Networks) made their appearance in corporate America, the goal was to provide a space for diverse groups of employees to be heard and to offer support and networking opportunities which would result in an increased level of employee engagement.

As with most things, ERGs have evolved through the years and at a time when businesses need to leverage any advantage they have to earn market share, using the power of employees to reach an increasingly diverse population is key. In the words of Kerrie Peraino, Chief Diversity Officer at American Express: “We don’t want to loose the educational, informational and celebratory mandates of ERGs but we also want them to help with recruiting, orienting, training and retaining of talent and to share and develop business ideas that bring direct benefits to the bottom line.”

As a matter of fact, the AHORA network at American Express (their Latino ERG) helped develop the idea and the design for Amex’s new ¡Felicidades! gift card that went on sale recently and which will be available until January to account for the Hispanic community’s habit of buying gifts for Three Kings Day. ERG members voted online for one of the three designs that the company’s ad agency came up with after hearing AHORA’s input.

Ms.Peraino is not alone in her thinking. Recently, I moderated a panel called “Optimizing ERGs business effectiveness” at a Diversity Best Practices’s conference in Washington, DC. While discussing the different models ERGs are using to impact a company’s bottom line, one of the presenters on the panel, Claudia Mastrapasqua, Managing Director Client Executive Practice at Marsh, shared the innovative approach of her company’s Women’s network (WEBB.)

For the last few years WEBB has been hosting an event where Marsh clients and Marsh employees get together for some strong networking around a keynote speaker at a great venue. These events have helped the company develop new relationships with prospective clients and strengthen existing relationships. Most recently, I was the speaker at their event at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, where about 140 women got together at around 6 PM on a Thursday night.

Everyone networked until 6:30 when the 1/2 hour program started. First, Joseph McSweeney, president of Marsh’s US/Canada Division, said a few words and then I made a twenty minute presentation. That was it. The group went back to their networking, their shopping and having their hands massaged for free. No doubt that the wonderful hors d’oeuvres, the Holiday Martinis, the 15% discount coupon and the personal shoppers assigned to help the women shop privately (the store closed its doors to the public at 7 PM) helped make the evening a wild success.

But what I want to point out to you is this: through their involvement with their ERGs the members of AHORA and WEBB have found great opportunities to connect with senior management and gain visibility within their companies, which is often hard to do. By taking an active role in developing programs and products that affect your company’s bottom line you become part of a selective group of individuals who get recognized for their contributions. AHORA and WEBB have received lots of internal praise as well as external press and their members are preparing for wonderful year-end reviews.

So the question is: In this economic climate, what are you doing to stand out in your company?

Everything impacts your image

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
    restaurant-en-palermo-soho-2-med1

Sometimes it’s hard to control every detail of your professional life: how you dress and communicate, your work ethic, your friends, the way you execute a project… Because the truth is that everything you do and even what you don’t do has an impact on your image.

Take for example a conference I attended this week. (I’m not going to say its name, hoping the organizers learn from the feedback and, either substantially improve the event next year or forget about the conference altogether.)

I signed up (and paid) mainly because of the keynote speaker. Yet, when I arrived (first at the wrong destination because the publicity materials were not clear) I was informed that the speaker had been canceled. “He wasn’t well known by the Latinos who were attending and he charged a lot of money so we decided to use the money to attract more people to come to the conference,” I was told by the organizer. I was furious and disappointed. It had been a very difficult morning for me and I had made the effort to attend because I wanted to hear the now-canceled-keynote speaker.

The conference was supposed to start at 9:00 but it didn’t get started until 10:00 and then they kept changing the workshops that were being offered and the rooms where they would take place. Even the host didn’t seem to have a script for the conference to flow smoothly.

In addition, the luncheon speaker was a Latino comedian. He was funny, sure, and I love a good belly laugh, but the truth is that this was an all day professional conference for which all of the attendees had sacrificed time at work and many had traveled from across the country. Instead of perpetuating the stereotype that Latinos are only about having fun, providing some solid content would’ve been a much better idea.

So, even though the topic of the conference was very relevant, the poor execution impacted the image of the organizers. It not only said something about their lack of professionalism but it also said something about how they viewed the audience. It told participants that, at some level, the organizers believed that because the audience was mainly Latino, they would be patient with the fact that the program was running an hour late, or with the various changes, or with the level of informality or with a canceled keynote speaker.

Making these kinds of assumptions can really hurt your image and your relationship with others. So here’s my advice: whatever you do, do it professionally or don’t do it. And keep in mind that informality is a trait many Latinos share but that it will get in the way of your career development in the American market. In addition, treating people with respect should always be a top priority.

Uncover your Latinoness

Thursday, September 24th, 2009
    dsc04948

The other day, after I gave a presentation about using your Latino traits to your advantage, a young female attendee asked me: “How can I advance in my career leveraging my Latino traits while avoiding the stereotypes?” It was a great question around a topic faced by many people who are second or third generation Latino and by those who have spent many years in this country and have learned to navigate the system well.

The tendency is to become overly assimilated and to forget where your roots are to the point where you may miss great opportunities to leverage that background to your benefit. This young lady avoided at all cost taking on assignments in Latin America or serving the Hispanic market as she believed, as many people do, that taking these kinds of assignments might pigeonhole her. And although this may be a good strategy at the beginning of your career, once you’ve proven your worth, you may want to reconsider it.

There are many Latino values that you should tap into. Having been raised by a Latino family has exposed you to certain experiences, world view and set of values that can be very useful in today’s marketplace. Finding out what they are and bringing them to the surface is the first step to leveraging their power.

So for instance, coming from an area of the world that experiences change constantly, your parents and grandparents grew up learning how to adapt. For them, the only way to survive involved creating alternatives to the way in which they conducted business or to how they managed their daily lives.

They instilled these skills in you, even if you didn’t realize it and in great part, you owe to your upbringing the ability to solve problems, the fact that you think fast on your feet, can change direction in a split second and can do several jobs with equal ease.

Your goal should be to communicate those unique skills as part of your value proposition to your bosses or prospective employers. That not only are you great at what you do, but on top of that, you have all of these Latino traits that will benefit the company. By aligning your value proposition to the company’s bottom line you have a much better chance to land a plum assignment or that coveted job.

Student leaders at Yale University

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I was up at Yale University in New Haven today, presenting to a group of students members of the National Hispanic Business Association (NHBA).

The focus of my keynote presentation was leadership so I went over some things students can do while in college to develop their leadership edge. My first recommendation to them was that they should identify their passion and talents and what skills and knowledge they are acquiring in school. Combining all these aspects is what will help them achieve success in whatever it is they decide to do.

It was fascinating to see how interested students were in getting involved with professional and other non profit organizations and in giving back to the community, two great ways to hone their leadership skills. Although many of them were already engaged in several extra curricular activities, they were interested in getting more information about a program that I have developed for McDonald’s to provide workshops for parents of high school students that help them understand how to support their kids’ path to college.

It’s an ideal situation for college students to present to parents as they are an inspiration and a role model for their children. They can share their own personal stories as they conduct the workshop. And the truth is, this is a service oriented generation, looking for ways to make a difference. So, it would be a shame to waste all that energy, talent and willingness to help!

So, here’s the website where you too can download my workshop program for free: www.meencanta.com. Go to the “Becas” section and you will see the Facilitator’s guide and the Videos. They are both available in Spanish and English. Study the program, follow the directions and then contact your local high school to set up a workshop day.

In this difficult economy, schools can use a hand!