In Episode 97 (recorded live), Melinda is joined by an incredible panel of experts to discuss actionable steps to creating a culture of belonging for Latina colleagues. Gabriela Chavez-Lopez and Maica Gil share meaningful ways to support Latina colleagues by addressing systemic challenges in the workplace and amplifying the voices of Latinas beyond Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month. They also dive into the importance of choosing the right vendors through supplier diversity programs and improving the workplace ecosystem to increase Latinx equity & inclusion.
- Read Melinda’s book, How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace
Learn more about Gabriela’s work:
- Learn more about Gabriela’s work at Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley
Learn more about Maica’s work:
- Learn more about Maica’s work at San Francisco International Women Entrepreneurs Forum
- Learn more about Maica’s work at Heroikka
This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.
This episode is sponsored by First Tech Federal Credit Union, a member-owned financial institution that is powered by a people-before-profit philosophy. Learn more at First Tech Federal Credit Union.
- Maica: “All of us need to be accountable as well for educating who is in our workforce and why they have different needs…. For instance, [the] executive management. They should be aware by now that Latin women are the ones holding, basically, the whole family…. It’s a different way of perceiving family structure. And that means that there are providers on every single level. So flexibility at the workplace will make them excel, for instance, and programs curated…. that allow them to do so, is a good way to start.”
- Gabriela: “Companies need to think more deeply about— when they invite folks to the table— what are the systems, structures, and procedures that they have in place to truly share that governance, truly share that decision-making power…. If the goal [of deep DEI] is true…, and you want those perspectives, they should be valued. They should be acted upon when they are expressed.”
- Maica: “If you pick the right vendors and providers, you’re telling your community, clients, future clients, partners…, that you care. And that you care not only for the diversity of that community, but also for your workforce. I always say, “If you want good leaders in your company that is going to be bringing the spirit— the brand of what you’re trying to create— the best brand is actually showing that you care for your workforce, because the workforce that you harvest is part of the community that you should be definitely getting in contact with.”
- Gabriela: “It’s almost more important… to want to understand than even truly understanding. It’s just like that desire to really understand and get to know our community and stay curious because we have it just on a humanity level, we have a lot in common with our colleagues…. We have families. We have the same demands in the workplace as anyone else. We have challenges. And so, I think really trying to find those connections and those things that we have in common with one another is really a great place to start.”
Executive Director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley
Gabriela is the first Executive Director of Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley. She is a community catalyst; passionate about uplifting and championing voices around challenging issues in our community — particularly those that disproportionately impact Latinas & people of color. She has an entrepreneurial spirit and is committed to systems-change work that removes structural barriers for women and the underserved, from reaching their truest potential. She operates with an abundance mindset and is dedicated to empowering and cultivating Latina leaders prepared to make a collective impact now and into the future.
Founder of Heroikka
Founder and Organizer of the SF International Women Entrepreneurs Forum and Co-Founder at Heroikka. Maica’s experience in entrepreneurship, government, and non-profits has helped her create a platform for diverse international organizations to collaborate, share resources and give visibility to various projects and initiatives, start-ups and businesses specific to women at the SF International Women Entrepreneurs Forum. As Co-Founder at Heroikka, Maica is passionate and committed to closing the gap by connecting women-led projects, funding and support systems around the world.
She was also on the Board of Directors for the ”Association of American European Chambers of Commerce and Business Associations” and Co- Founder of the California – Spain Chamber of Commerce.
In 2020, she started organizing the Woman Impact Summit, the global conference that gives visibility to businesses, initiatives and programs created for or by women. This Summit is the fastest growing conference for women led business from underrepresented communities around the world.
MELINDA: Hello, everyone! I am Melinda Briana Epler, founder, and CEO of Change Catalyst and author of How To Be An Ally. I’m your host of Leading With Empathy & Allyship. Welcome!
Allyship is about learning, showing empathy, and taking action. That process often includes learning, unlearning, and relearning, then building empathy for people with different experiences, and above all, taking consistent action. So each week, we’ll learn from somebody new. Please be open to new ways of thinking and understanding.
You can learn more about my work and sign up to join us for a live recording at ally.cc.
Let’s get started.
MELINDA: Welcome! Here today, we are discussing creating a culture of belonging for Latinx colleagues. Coming up shortly is National Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month. Of course, it’s important to work on this year-round.
We have two incredible guests here today. We have Micah Gil, founder and organizer of the SF International Women Entrepreneurs Forum and also co-founder of Heroikka. She’s a dear friend. We’ve spoken on stages around the world together.
And then a new friend, Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, Executive Director of Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley. So welcome to you both.
MAICA: Thank you.
GABRIELA: Hi, Melinda. Thank you.
MELINDA: And thank you to First Tech Federal Credit Union, our sponsor for this episode and the next one as well, the live event and podcast, really appreciate you all.
Awesome. So, let’s start with you both. And if you could share a bit about your story, where you grew up, and how you came to do the work that you do.
MAICA: Hello, everyone. As you can imagine, with this accent, I was born and raised in a foreign country. I was born and raised in the Canary Islands, Spain, in front of the Western Sahara coast. Obviously, I am an immigrant. I also belong to the LGBTQ+ community. I’m also Latinx.
What I want to share with all of you is that a few years ago, we started the San Francisco International Women Entrepreneurs Forum as a need to get all organizations in the Bay Area to share resources, especially for women entrepreneurs.
And because of this initiative, we decided to start also a digital platform called Heroikka That actually connects women-led businesses with global networks and global talent to make their projects and businesses more sustainable. We discovered that only 6% to 14% of women are able to pass the mark of three years and a half with their businesses in operations. And definitely, we want to change that.
I’m also the organizer of the Woman Impact Summit. The Woman Impact Summit right now is the fastest-growing conference for women-led businesses from underrepresented communities around the world. My inspiration for doing all of this? Well, women like Melinda, like Gabriela, like the women that I have met in Africa, the women that I have met in Asia, the women that I meet here every day.
We still need to do so many different things. And as Latinx, especially in the tech sector, you have seen the stats. I’m not coming here to talk about the stats today, but I’m coming here to see how we can find different ways to support each other. I would love to collaborate with all of you. Thank you.
MELINDA: Awesome. Thanks, Maica.
GABRIELA: So, I go with Maica’s statements. Thank you, Melinda and Maica, for connecting us. Really happy to be here to discuss this very important topic, especially around our special month that we get throughout the year.
I’m actually 12th generation New Mexican. So, my family was here when it was Mexico. And technically, the border crossed us. I have indigenous roots as well as Spanish influence as well as Mexican influence. So definitely a melting pot of cultures. But you know, I think my connection and my identity really is centered around where I grew up, which is in California Central Valley, which is heavily Mexican.
People from all over different parts of Mexico come to the Central Valley in California to farm crops. It’s a very agriculturally rich area. That’s really the driving industry there. And so, my work is really grounded in this idea of what I learned to be growing up in the Farm Worker Movement.
I think understanding that people with perceived not so much power when collectively coming together and there’ll be in this camp catalyst to really drive them towards a shared vision that they can change their situation that they can better their human condition and that the power is in their hands.
And so, that’s really the approach that I take with my work today. I get to lead an organization called Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, which is a cross-sector, multi-generational, multi-ethnic group of women coming together to really advance and strengthen the power of Latinas. We do that in a variety of ways.
We really let the women tell us what their goals and aspirations are. We help to open the doors of, you know, network, of opportunities. And we’re really in the business of Latina leadership development because our theory of change is that when we get women into these positions of power and influence, especially with the lens of being Latina, they can really change these systems from the inside out.
They’re bringing a whole new lens into these spaces. And so, being in Silicon Valley, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to lead and for us to work collectively together with our allies in order to advance communities because we truly believe when we uplift Latinas, when we uplift Black women, when we uplift women, that all communities rise up together.
And so, that’s our work. We’re into the workforce. We’re into leadership training. We’re into financial literacy, anything that really helps us close the economic and political gaps that we see in existence currently and really increase representation in this leadership and decision-making seats.
So, very much happy to be here. I hope you can see the thread that has really connected me from childhood, from my heritage, into this work that I’m moving forward. I really do consider myself only an instrument and using all my gifts and talents to be able to connect women to opportunities for themselves and their families.
MELINDA: Fantastic. Thank you. Both of you kind of touched on identity. I want to talk a little bit about that in a deeper way because I know there’s a debate across the community and kind of globally around the terms, the terminology, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Latina-A, Hispanic, and so on. So, I want to ask you both if you could shed a little bit of light on that and talk about how you identify and maybe a bit about the global conversation there.
MAICA: I’m a very atypical Latina. I remember that I said this when we were talking, and later we’re trying to figure it out. I know what Gabriela was saying, but what it is to be a Latina, Latinx, Hispanic. At this point, I will consider myself a Latina, definitely, but I will bring a component that is extremely important. And Melinda has always mentioned it since I met her. And it’s about intersectionality.
I have blood from three continents. So, you can imagine that’s a mix. And, of course, being born in the Canary Islands, but at the same time having blood from Europe, also from Latin America, and also from Africa. That makes it extremely challenging sometimes to find a way of saying, “Where do I belong?” And actually, how you are perceived and how people are going to be treating you.
I don’t know how to say this in a very politically correct way, but maybe in certain circles, I’m not White enough. In other circles, I’ve not Latin enough. Or maybe in other circles, obviously, I’m not going to be African enough. I mean, my roots are from Northern Africa. So, that also makes you cultivate a way and a different approach to the challenges that you face every day.
In the same way, communities around the world are facing the same challenges. So that’s probably what I’m bringing here, Melinda, that intersectionality that we cannot put every day in the same pot or under the same flag. I don’t know what you think, Gabriela.
GABRIELA: Yeah, no. I think intersectionality is definitely something that when working with a group of women who identify as maybe one thing, you realize that even within that group, there’s a lot of different intersections, whether it be Afro Latina, Asian Latina, White Latina, Mexi-Latina.
I mean, there are just so many different things. And so, when people ask, you know, isn’t it kind of very singular, your focus, I’m like, there’s so much diversity even within our own community. I think that with the terminology I see it. I talked a little bit about movements. I think it’s really the young people that are driving the evolution of these terms to reflect their pushback on the status quo.
I see Chicana and Chicano being a part of a movement in the 60s and the 70s that these young people just really embraced at the time. Now they’re my parents’ age, right? And they’re like, what’s this Latinx thing? I’m like, “Do you not remember Chicano and Chicana?”
You all push that term as well. And now Latinx is something that Millennials and Gen X and Gen Z are really saying that this is our movement. This is our time, right? To really push on the status quo because, in many ways, the baby boomers have become a little bit seen as the status quo, even in our own communities.
So, I really do embrace these new movements because it’s going to take the energy, and it’s going to take the young people to question the way that things have been and to really push on what could be. Right? And so, I embrace Latinx. I embrace Latina. I love identifying as a woman. I think that there’s a certain unique experience and oppression that comes with being Latina versus Latino or even Latinx.
And so, no, I think it’s something that I do inquire, I do ask, even within my own community. I don’t make assumptions. I think that just asking the person is always such a great thing for me. Even when people ask me, I take it as a real compliment and a sign of deep respect when somebody is doing that deep listening on the other side to say, “What do you identify with and why?” They’d love to learn more.
I think that’s always a great place to start. But I really think it’s tied to movements in our community. It has a sense of great pride that I feel an energy around it. So, either way. I think it can also be very distracting, to be quite honest, when really, I feel like this surface-level conversation about really the things that we aren’t talking about is a little bit deeper than just a name because I don’t want to spend all of Hispanic Heritage Month or Latinx Heritage Month talking about the terms. I would rather talk about the issues and the real meat of the problems and the systemic challenges that are holding us all back from advancing in our community.
MELINDA: What an excellent segue into that. Thank you. Thank you for that. And I do think that Latinx versus Latin-A in general, though either one of those terms is around being more inclusive people who are gender non-conforming, non-binary, and so on.
Moving on to the deeper stuff, what are those experiences of exclusion and microaggressions, biases, and other forms of exclusion that Latinx people experience in the workplace? Do you want to start Gabriela since you kind of see to that conversation?
GABRIELA: Sure, yes. I think one of the things that I know that I experience quite a bit in confronting what I’m talking about in our community and when I’m speaking about the experiences of Latinas is that there’s already a perceived bias about the type of jobs that we do and what we’re capable of, and how we are sexualized truly in the media.
And so, I think there’s already a lot of assumptions going into when I’m speaking about that. And mostly, women have been comfortable enough to tell me what those perceived biases are. And they’re hurtful, to be quite honest because it’s not that we look down at all on our community and their work and what they’ve accomplished in this country. But just like, we’re not a monolith, in a sense, like, we have professionals, we have people that are of high net worth, we have everything in between.
And so, I think for me, I feel a lot of White supremacy, even though we present White in many cases, from a distance or from just visually we can present White, we can present a lot of things. And so, I think that something like White supremacy as well as patriarchy is something that those intersections are very challenging to both are oppressive intersections of being a woman and being a woman of color having a Latina surname, having an accent.
I know I don’t have an accent, but I’ve heard that expressed by a lot of the women that they feel like that’s a huge barrier, and that’s something that comes with perceived bias. And so, I think that those are just daily challenges in the workplace. I would say that, you know, a lot of times it colleagues not really listening to understand.
And so, the more like, I think the deep listening is, it almost is more important, I would say, to want to understand than even truly understanding. It’s just like that desire to really understand and get to know our community and stay curious. Because we have it just on a humanity level, we have a lot in common with our colleagues.
I think if we get past just the culture and those pieces or we don’t fixate on that, we have families. We have the same demands in the workplace as anyone else. We have challenges. And so, I think really trying to find those connections and those things that we have in common with one another is really a great place to start.
And also having sensitivity and apologizing. When somebody even confronts something, I think just straight out the gate is something that can go a really long way, and not putting it on the other person. “I’m sorry you felt that way.” You know, “I’m sorry that what I said impacted you.”
I think that there are a lot of ways that we can be sensitive because, at the end of the day, we’re walking into a space where there are very few of us, and just the mass, which is predominantly White and in the spaces that we send women into and they go into because of their chosen field, understanding that they’re kind of the minority in that space, and so uplifting their voices and going that extra step to make them feel a sense of belonging and inclusion is only going to make for a more productive workplace as well as understanding the assets that they bring, whether that be multilingualism whether that’d be an understanding of the different market segments across the world, that lived experience.
I think if we really truly utilize each other’s gifts, no matter what they are, and lived experiences, we’d all be better performing. And we’d all have more, I feel like effective and just generally comfortable workplaces. Those are my thoughts on that question.
MELINDA: I’m sure you both have experienced a lot of forms of exclusion as you navigate workplaces, and some of the work that you do is to work against that, right? Can you think of an example of something that has happened to you and then either what you would have wanted and allies to do differently, or to show up for you at that moment, or even better, what somebody should have done or could have done differently?
MAICA: From my personal experience, I wished I only had microaggressions, but I can get even the micro out of the equation. Melinda and Gabriela, I’ve been harassed at work. I’ve been through different things going on in my work life.
One of the things that always come to my mind when I confront these situations is why we do not educate more. We need to educate from the moment that we are started working in a company and see their culture. We need to educate our third-party providers.
A good example of this, for instance, is even the companies that are managing the health insurance for our company. For instance, I had a funny story. I was actually contacting, a long time ago, this third-party provider from my insurance and from my company for a certain issue. I had to talk to my company insurance, plus another division of my company, last the third-party provider.
When I told them that my daughter has two mommies and I belong to the LGBTQ+ community, I think that they understood more that I was ordering sandwich lettuce, tomato, bacon, et cetera than actually belonging to this type of community and who I was.
I think that all of us need to be accountable as well for educating, educating who is in our workforce and why they have different needs, the same way that when you see someone in a wheelchair, you know that maybe they may need certain help, or you offer it. It goes with your instinct. Why are we not doing this at work? The same way. That’s my question.
Why are we not able to see? For instance, executive management. They should be aware by now that Latin women are the ones holding basically the whole family. Not only daughters, their mothers, and their sisters. It’s a different way of perceiving family structure. And that means that there are providers on every single level. So flexibility at the workplace will make them excel, for instance. And programs for them curated that allow them to do so is a good way to start.
So, let’s educate all of us. At the same time, our community needs to learn from other communities. We need to make it accessible. But also, we need to figure out a better way to display all the different functionality and the resources that different communities can get through the workforce and the workplace.
MELINDA: Can you say a bit more about what you mean on that last point, Maica?
MAICA: For instance, what I’ve seen and from my own experience in big corporations, it’s almost impossible sometimes. I mean, if you don’t have to go at least five, at least different layers, to get to the person that can actually provide certain resources.
We need to figure out a better way to provide those. We need to figure out a better way to include future generations into the workspace in a completely different way to change the ways that we’ve been doing it. For instance, if I could get $1 for all these different managers that were trying to hire women engineers, okay. Oh, I cannot find them. I always give them the same example.
Okay, you cannot find salad tomatoes. Why don’t we start getting the seeds and start planting them? It’s the same concept. Why don’t we go to future generations and start actually helping them out and creating programs as well for the community where your company is? So, we start growing the future talent and being more inclusive of the community. It’s just a thought.
GABRIELA: I love that, Maica. I’m really thinking about the pipeline as something that we’re truly very invested in and really creating the resources and the networks and the connections from high school all the way through to retirement, and what are all those handoffs in our organization play a role in that pipeline. But it’s not the end all be all, you know.
If someone wants to be on a corporate board of directors, I send them over to the Latino Corporate Board of Directors Association because that’s what they focus on, and that’s what they’re really good at. And so yeah, I think the pipeline is super important.
Now, back to experiences. I think one of the things that have been challenging for me is that I’ve been on quite a bit of different leadership panels or decision-making boards. And there have been instances where a White male, an older White male especially, will take plenty of time to talk about all kinds of things, take about all the room, and take all the air out of the room. And then, come time for me to ask a question, completely cuts me off and will say something to the likes of, “Oh, that’s Commissioner Chavez-Lopez. That’s on Page 43.”
I’m like, “No one was talking to you. I was addressing the staff. I was not even addressing my fellow Commissioner. And so, you know, there were just instances where it would be just like jumping in. And I’m like, “I have not talked at all during this meeting. This is my one question. And you can’t even just let me get the question, right?”
And in that instance, I was sort of waiting. I didn’t really know how to react, honestly, because I could get kind of aggressive, and I was like, “Well, do I want to do that?” I’m this young. I’m half his age. I’m a young woman of color. I’m articulate. I’m eloquent. I probably have more accolades than he does. But, you know, in that instance, I had a few choices.
And thankfully, the staff member that was the most senior, who was a Black woman, said, “You know Ms. Chavez, thank you so much for that question.” We totally ignored his interjection. “But thank you so much for that question. I’m really glad you asked that because I don’t think we dug in deep enough into our summary to really get at what you’re talking about.”
So she even took responsibility, right? That, like, she kind of came in and was a huge ally to me in that situation, being the youngest person, being one of two women, and really kind of stepping up for me at that moment to not make me look or feel bad. This, again, was a public forum as well. So the whole community is there. This is happening in the public eye, which is even more incredibly challenging to deal with because it’s not a private room. It’s like people are witnessing this interaction. I’ve now been disrespected in my own community that I care so deeply about.
There’s been a lot of that, and that’s very hurtful. It’s almost even more honestly hurtful than even that is when someone invites you to the table to check a box, and they give you no power. It’s a perception of shared power and governance when really you don’t actually have any say, decision-making or true buy-in, or investment. Right?
And so, I think that also is something that’s very performative. I think companies need to think more deeply about when they invite folks to the table, what are the systems and structures and procedures that they have in place to truly share that governance, truly share that decision-making power. And power is not easily given up, which we understand.
If the goal is true, you know, deep DEI, and you want those perspectives, they should be valued. They should be acted upon when they are expressed. And so, there’s kind of two different scenarios there that I mentioned, but, but I really think that we can all be allies to one another.
I’m not perfect, either. There have been instances where I felt like I could have interjected, but I didn’t. I wasn’t equipped at the time with the right words and the right things. But I almost think that something is better than absolutely nothing. And even if it’s just approaching the person after the meeting and acknowledging what happened or asking them how they felt, that can go a really, really long way.
I went to one of my board members, and I said, “Hey, she’s really good at this.” Being a great ally. She’s trained in it. And she was like, “Gabby, it’s like a muscle that you have to flex. In order to get better at it, you just have to keep stepping in and kind of keep stepping up, and you’ll get stronger, and you’ll get better. But there’s no real book I can tell you to read or, you know, it’s something that you just have to practice.”
I think that’s what managers and directors and folks within companies can really start to practice is how am I showing up as an ally time and time again, so I can be the strongest and best ally for my team at my company? But it’s when I thought about it in that way, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to start flexing.” I’m going to start working this out because I want to get stronger at this.
MELINDA: Yeah, I want to take your second example because I think that often as allies, we kind of take one step, bring people to the table, and then we don’t really think about what is that next step. The next step is opening space for somebody to speak and eventually somebody to lead at that table, right, and really supporting people in that.
That is a really important piece of allyship is that advocacy, that initial advocacy, and then what are you doing next to really make sure that that person has a voice and has a leadership position there at that moment. You’re right. It is a muscle, and we start somewhere. And then, we continue to build that muscle, and it grows and grows and grows, and we become very muscular as allies eventually.
I know, in the past, Maica, you’ve talked about the importance also, you know, we have these workplace ecosystems. There are many people within that ecosystem. You mentioned vendors. I think that a really important piece of this is to make sure that we are broadening and really seeing that bigger scope of our ecosystem and education within that ecosystem. So, do you want to talk a little bit more about vendors in particular and what some things are that people can do to really drive inclusion from that perspective?
MAICA: Of course, the first thing is that when you’re selecting your vendors, that means that you are looking at the different perspectives in your community and options. Think about the metrics. I sometimes talked to, you know, DEI managers and executives, and they always come with our metrics or worry about our metrics. Let’s forget for a second about metrics. Let’s start doing it very organically.
When I think about the vendors and providers, I think it from this perspective, what is the sign that you want to send to your community and also to your workforce? By saying this, what I’m trying to say is that if you pick the right vendors and providers, you’re telling your community, clients, future clients, partners, etcetera, that you care. And that you care not only for the diversity of that community but also for your workforce.
I always say, “If you want good leaders in your company that is going to be bringing the spirit, the brand, of what you’re trying to create, the best brand is actually showing that you care for your workforce because the workforce that you harvest is part of the community that you should be definitely getting in contact with.
I’m sure that many companies have all this training about different issues, harassment, etcetera, etcetera. Let’s face it. All that training and all those videos are not current. It’s better if you bring community leaders that actually express and they live by these issues every day, that they are able to tell you, “Okay, this is the help that we need. This is how you can make a difference.”
I always consider, and my grandmother always said, that the best way to resolve issues is around a good meal. In our culture, it works quite well. And great wine as well, you know. Let’s face it. If we do it, we do it right. So, it’s a good way of gathering everyone together. It’s a good way of talking to people and trying to figure out whether doing in that community.
Let me share a secret with all of you. Maybe not such a secret anymore. But anyway, one of the reasons why I decided to start Heroikka was because I really wanted companies and institutions to share resources with these women that are becoming innovators in their communities. Companies and institutions have the resources. They also have the chance to motivate their employees to help the community.
A community that grows also brings wealth to the companies that are in that community. That’s the first step to starting training programs and initiatives and looking for providers for a company. I don’t know if you want me to explain myself a little bit more or not or if Gabriela wants to bring up another point.
GABRIELA: Around vendors? I mean, I just second all that Maica has shared. A lot of our folks that are in our network are actual vendors to some of Silicon Valley’s largest companies. Latinas, like that’s something to know about our culture, is that we actually pay it forward quite a bit. Any dollar that’s given to us, we actually reinvest about 80 cents of it back into the community.
And so, these vendors and these businesses aren’t just sitting there getting rich, like letting their bank accounts just sit there and then grow over time. They’re then turning around and investing it back into their families and their communities into their churches, and into these community-based organizations. The culture of philanthropy is something that is very much just ingrained in us. And so, as you’re investing in these companies and giving them these opportunities to scale and grow and compete for these contracts, you really see on the ground what those impacts and those ripple effects are.
And so, I definitely second it. I’ve seen it time and time again. And all of these accelerators, all of these businesses, I love to see it. One of my good friends, Maria Castellon, who runs Bench-Tech, which provides benches and infrastructure for the biggest tech companies here in Silicon Valley and globally, was in Apple’s first BIPOC incubator that they launched for their vendors that were specifically targeted for underrepresented vendors for their company.
They made a big splash about it through the media. What did that say to me? I mean, I’ve questioned Apple’s commitment because they’re not very showy about their giving. But at that moment, I was like, “Wow, I’m so glad that I have bought 18 iPhones at some point in my life. My son has an iPad. My mom has it. It’s almost like I felt this new appreciation and value from that company that I had never experienced before. It sends a message.
I think that’s where companies can really be innovative and really be different, is to really send a message out to the world that, hey, we’re inclusive, we’re forward-thinking, we’re futuristic, we are not stuck in the status quo. Like, we want to push this forward, and we want to set our equity in our business practices. And because it’s good for business, as you say, Melinda, it is good for business. They know.
You look at any chart, you look at any data point, and I won’t go into it, but workforce, even just the consumerism of our community, the growth of our community, it’s just, “So goes Latinos, so goes the future of the United States.” And so goes the competitiveness that we have on a global scale.
I think that companies need to start seeing our community as assets and resources to compete globally and into the future. And so, I definitely see how something like a vendor can seem so small, or some program can seem, but it can have huge impacts on future generations. And even just as a marketing sort of idea or message that you push out into the world that,” Hey, we’re really looking about this, and we’re taking this seriously.”
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. You might be thinking if you’re listening or watching, you don’t have influence over vendors, but you do. You can push for change on your teams. Who are your teams bringing in as vendors? Who is your organization bringing in as vendors? You can push for supplier diversity programs within your organization.
You can also purchase from Latinx vendors as well, right, in your own life. It’s all interrelated, right? Because the more we support Latinx entrepreneurs, Latina entrepreneurs, the more they can continue to grow in our society. Because we know they don’t, and we’ve had discussions about this before, we know that Latina entrepreneurs do not receive much in the way of investment. So they rely on us to procure their services and their products to be successful.
Let me push it back to you, Maica and Gabriela. What haven’t we talked about but that you think is really important to discuss at this moment in time?
MAICA: There’s one thing that I would love to add not only to the vendors and third-party providers, but I would also like to launch this thought out there, and maybe I’m going to get burned after I say this, but I’m old enough, I like to fire.
I think that companies should definitely start thinking in a completely different way, and also our ecosystem around the companies that we’re building and the Latino, and the Latinx, and Latina community. A good example of this is that our community and any community deserve better than philanthropy at this point.
I know that philanthropy has helped many communities here in the United States, but I think that we need to start finding a balance. We saw, during decades, philanthropy to help certain issues later, the marvelous word of social impact came into the scenario. And now we’re looking into social innovation.
As I said earlier, when we decided to start Heroikka, we were looking into social innovation because we know that the women that are in these communities are the ones that are seeing everyday issues, and they’re trying to find the best solutions.
We need to figure out how these three pillars that I’m going to mention right now you can bring into your company’s culture. One of them, and this is our Bible at Heroikka. One is, for instance, women in underrepresented communities. It would be digital inclusivity because if we’re not seen, how are you going to know who you have to help, who you can collaborate with, who you can hire, or who you can bring as a contractor or a vendor?
And the third one, of course, is economic and educational development. A good example of all of this is maybe to bring Latinx and Latinas as entrepreneurs into the residence and create a perfect program that is curated for our community. We can bring a type of innovation because of the issues that we see daily that maybe your R&D teams are not able to see at this point.
Another thing is that company policy and also city policies we need to push. I’m going to explain this internally and externally. We need to look for also the intrapreneurs that are working in your company and also how they are dealing with the institutions also abroad that company.
Why is this important? Because we need to make accountable as well, the institutions that are in our cities for our businesses. They need to help us create the right ecosystem for our communities, creating the right programs. For instance, if a city comes up with free daycare for women in that city, can you imagine? Can you imagine what women in that community and men in that community will be able to do?
It’s just a tiny thought or just bringing it. If you’re able to see that that city has certain programs, how can your company compensate in a certain way, or try to bring whatever programs are not out there by the institutions, but you can bring it in your company and make the difference? Things as simple as this can mean the world to a community.
GABRIELA: Intrapreneurs. I always learn new terms from you, Maica. Thank you for that. I appreciate that so much because I think that there are a lot of folks within corporations, within businesses, that have this entrepreneurial spirit about them that are solving problems within their organization. And so, I love that acknowledgment. Thank you for sharing that term.
I think two things. One internal to the organization. I would love to see deeper investment and larger investments in BRGs ERGs and not ask your workforce to do that work for free. Hiring a chief diversity officer is great, and it’s one component of it. But you really have to have the voices of the people on the staff at every level that have this shared lived experience. These affinity groups are so critical to a company’s success. It almost feels like an afterthought in the budget.
They tell me that they talk to ERG leaders, and they’re basically expected to have like an additional job on top of their full-time job to do these things for free to put on like ten events a year, and they have no budget. It’s like your company’s richer than God. Are you kidding me? Not legitimately, but it was so much money. How are you not investing in this workforce?
Because when you think about recruitment, usually people get recruited by their networks, right, and people that they know. If you only have this small little population of people, their network, you’re just going to have this small Latino network. But if you start hiring more Latinos, if you start hiring more Black women, then you’re bringing along their entire networks, and we’re very well networked.
And so, you let one of us in, and we’re going to find you the Latina engineers, the doctors, the nurses that you need because that’s our network. That’s our community. We know the inroads there. So that would be my first point around really recruitment, retention, and real investments in these BRGs/ERGs in these employee resource groups, so some real serious thought around that and paying people for their work.
I mean, we’re already underpaid. Women Latinas in Silicon Valley are paid 33.5 cents on the dollar to their White male counterparts. Because of the pandemic, Latina people’s payday got moved out another month, which we’ve lost so much income, and we have so much ground to gain. And so, I think there needs to be some real intentionality from these companies, just like Salesforce. They’re at pay equity for all of their employees.
Why is that such a novel idea? Like, thank you. It just seems so realistic. It’s like, okay, everyone has qualifications, similar jobs, functions, education levels, equal playing field. So, that being said, and I also want to dovetail on what Maica was saying, the cross-sector collaboration and respect that needs to be had between government, nonprofit, and the private sector, we cannot solve these large societal problems alone.
We need each other for each other’s gifts and talents, and resources to come to the table to come together to share thoughts and not have the private sector looking down on the nonprofit. No accountability. No this, no that, no metrics. It’s like that’s not our job. Our shareholders are the society. We’re measuring impact in a way different way than you would a product.
And so, I would just love to see the respect and even the same governments not innovate. That’s not true. Government has so many innovative things that are happening and resources pumping through because of what happened with the pandemic. So, I think there needs to be this mutual respect of, like, everyone has their place, everyone’s bringing their strengths to the table, but we need to come around the same table to talk about a lot of these societal issues.
And for us, when we launched our workforce program, we had Salesforce at the table, we had the city, we had the county, we had nonprofits step-up, nonprofit partners because we realize no one’s going to do this work alone, no one’s going to change, not charity. So I also think on Maica’s point, we really think about change, not charity. This is not charity. You want to change something. There’s a problem here.
This acknowledgment that there’s a problem is something where it’s like, “Okay, well, what are we going to do to change it? And what investments is it going to take in order for us to do that?” So, those are kind of my closing thoughts around some things that companies and workplaces can think about uplifting their employees, and then working outside their own echo chamber of the building, that they’re in thinking about the community, thinking about engaging with nonprofits more, just holistically, we’re all together in this. We’re all a collective humanity.
I think if we just focus more on what we share in common and what we want to accomplish, we may have different ideas of how to get there, but I think coming together and we’re having those conversations, we can really come up with some incredible solutions.
MELINDA: Absolutely. And I want to remind folks, again. If you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t influence that.” in your workplace, you can. Think about amplifying. Think about understanding where your Latinx colleagues really want to take things in the workplace, what they need, and then amplifying their voices. No matter what your role is, you can make a difference.
GABRIELA: You mentioned, Melinda, something about that that reminded me of something I wanted to say about the influence piece. Sometimes being an influencer outside of the building and building that social capital in the community helps you inside. It starts getting the attention of the directors.
That’s something that I did really early on in my career. I started making political connections. I started making connections with nonprofit leaders. I started getting on boards and commissions. And then inside of the building, my, you know, the manager was like, “Wow. You really have some leadership capabilities.” And I didn’t have that avenue right away in the private sector. But sometimes, what you do outside of that building can really show your influence and really start to have people within your company.
You can exercise leadership in so many different ways. I think just to influence and show influence and power it doesn’t have to be just within your scope of work. And sometimes it can get the attention on the outside, right? You bring in resources from the outside, you know, your company is looking for a keynote speaker, you get the mayor to come, and it’s like, “Oh, Gabby secured the mayor.” “Yeah, I did.”
So, you know. I think that there are ways in which you can get early on in your career, especially kind of start to build your own influence and power, even outside of the organization, to then have an effect inside.
MELINDA: Awesome. I want to jump to questions really quickly. How do we educate White men in the power structure? I do here for this question is to start young. Are there ways that you have found to educate White men around the power structure and their role?
MAICA: Besides having a conversation, I like radical solutions. Take them camping to Angel Island with all the Latinx in your company, in your community. That’s a good way of integrating everyone and getting to learn during that night and that weekend, a little bit more about each other. As I say, bring them into a different environment where they don’t feel comfortable, and I guarantee you that they will start creating a bond.
MELINDA: Yeah, if I have a client who they do, they take executives into their homes for dinners, you know, and meet their families and create empathy that way. Other companies bring executives into ERG discussions. I mean, there are lots of ways that you can get that more immersive kind of building empathy, and Angel Island, too, for those of you who live in the Bay Area.
Another question is, what are these panelists’ thoughts on providing bilingual employees with additional compensation, specifically when it’s not your job description but becomes an expectation?
GABRIELA: I’m such a fan of this. You have no idea. And now that I’m in certain positions of power and influence, when I’m negotiating contracts, or when I’m helping, someone says, “Hey, I want you to support on X, on something.” I’m like, “Well, you’re talking about something where you’d want to send inequity in this, but what is that?
Okay. So this is an example of doctors, a doctor’s union. And I said, “Okay, so you want Latinos to speak out for these doctors, right?” Who, in many cases, are like, “Doctors?” Shouldn’t they be okay? There are many assumptions, but they still deserve representation, of course.
And I said, “Well, you know what’s written in there around bilingualism because you’re telling me that these doctors have way more, so many more clients or patients that they have busier schedules that they’re more in demand.” So where is the compensation there for the extra work that they have to put in? And they don’t have to have an interpreter, right? They don’t have to have that additional support.
So, I am such a fan of this. I think it’s whatever language. It doesn’t just have to be Spanish. It can be Vietnamese. It can be any language that you need to utilize to do business anywhere. I think it’s super important. I also think in the legal field, the fact that public defenders don’t get paid more for speaking additional languages, but district attorneys do.
I’m just told that it’s because they have a better Union. This is just ridiculous. I think we need to get to a place of they’re bringing a skill to the table, and there’s less requirement to have an interpreter and to have to hire somebody, then pay them to compensate them for that skill. I don’t think that’s out of the question. But I’m such a fan of it.
And in regard to White men, I’ve also picked up golf as a mutual hobby. It’s been super fun. I think it’s just a place where we’re relaxed, we’re having a good time. We can talk about things. We can connect on a familiarity. It’s kind of like a clique. Like, there’s like a thing about people who golf, just like probably people who do anything together collectively.
And so, that’s been kind of one of my inroads of just connecting with a White male, for example. I also have been told by them that I also have offered them a seat at the table. I don’t totally just say, “You’re White men, you don’t know about Latina issues. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And this is the feedback that they’ve given me.
They say, “What I appreciate about you, Gabby is the fact that, like, I feel that I’m not being ostracized. I still have a seat but you still keep me in line around the parameters of said seat and what the expectations are.” And so, I’ve really invited White men in to also be listeners to also contribute a lot of knowledge. They’ve had a lot of experiences that I haven’t had.
So you know, sharing that. As well as a sounding board, because I also get ideas from them, like things that they say I just kind of regurgitate back to another way, and it’s like it resonates. And I’m like, “Oh, I wouldn’t have thought of that.” But it’s like translation, right? Learning a language and being able to translate. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. And the shared humanity thing I think, is in really deep listening is really important in that but providing a space.
MELINDA: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you both for this conversation and for all the work you do to create change in our ecosystems. This episode and any past episode are at ally.cc.
And again, please go purchase my book if you haven’t already. Learn how to be a better ally as well. I actually do talk about language in there for those of you, I know there were a couple of questions about wanting to know more. MelindaBrianaEpler.com. You can learn more there. I appreciate you all. Make sure that you do take action. Maica, do you want to pose that question?
MAICA: Oh, for sure. What are you going to do after listening to this conversation today? Let me give you a couple of ideas. You’re more than welcome to contact Gabriela and myself. My email is very simple Maica@Heroikka.com. And please, let us know how we can collaborate and work together. And Gabriela, they are all yours.
GABRIELA: Same. Gabriela@LatinoCoalition.org. And, yes, support Latinos in your workplace and in your communities and listen deeply and connect on levels that maybe you haven’t before. I think that’s super important. And invest in Latinas. It’s the greatest investment you’ll ever make.
MELINDA: Love it. Thank you both. Thank you, everybody. And thank you to our ASL interpreters and you Maggie as well.
MELINDA: We’ll share resources and a transcript from this discussion at ally.cc
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Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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