For a generation, my family hid in the shadows, concealing the richness of our Latino heritage, changing surnames to anglicize them and hiding the “arroz con pollo” when neighbors visited. With blue collar backgrounds and no formal education, my parents instilled a strong work ethic that still inspires me. I remember when my first grade teacher told my mother that I was “college material,” a statement that fueled my mother to push me beyond limits that I thought were possible.
As I started my early career, I tried to emulate business practices commonplace at the time, ignoring my instincts as a woman and as a parent, and sometimes failing to draw upon the foundation of values ingrained by my family. I sought business advice in every corner, reading books on habits of highly successful people, and devouring great authors and business advisors such as Drucker, Collins, Deming, Blanchard and Peters.
As I advanced in my career, I realized that, as women, we get conflicting messages about who we should be and how to comport ourselves in business. The best advice I have to give others is to bring the strength of who you really are to the workplace. The lessons learned from your family values, the illustrative education as a parent and the value of self reflection are the foundation of what makes us unique and successful in the workplace.
Determination, hard work, a nevergive-up attitude and thinking of others as a unit or family were principles that I began to espouse as I mentored young women in the workplace. I have learned to push people to take on tasks and jobs beyond what they believed they are capable of doing, a lesson that I learned from my mother. I have seen the value of providing candid feedback about a person’s strengths and weaknesses. I have encouraged women to break through the cultural barrier of subservience to find their voice, use their intellect and take a stand. I have mentored and advised by example and shown Latinas, in particular, a model for decision making, career and family choices and leadership styles, and instilled a sense that it is possible to succeed.
The qualities that women bring to the workplace, e.g., inclusion, collaboration, teamwork and the desire to create a legacy for future generations, are the foundation of how we enjoy success. On Mother’s Day, my college-age daughter wrote to tell me, “I want to grow up to be like you.” In completing this cycle, the family values that I learned from my mother have been passed on to the next generation and to young budding leaders in the workplace.