Representation matters. It’s a well-known fact in society and it’s something we all look for in our daily lives. Whether watching movies as a child, playing sports as a teenager, exploring career paths as a college student, or building your professional network as an adult it is human nature to look for people who have similar experiences, backgrounds, and accomplishments to you. Look no further than the incredible response to movies like Encanto or women’s tennis prodigy Coco Gauff watching Serena Williams in 2015 at the US Open, then winning it herself in 2023. Everyone needs a hero they can relate to – a proof point that someone “like me” can achieve my dream and be the person I want to be. The same is true for your professional network – people want to connect with people who are similar to them. However, LinkedIn recently found that Latino members receive 7.5% fewer invitations and have LinkedIn networks that are 20.2% smaller than White members. That’s why during Hispanic Heritage Month I want to talk about my experience as a first-generation Latino living in the Boston area.
I moved to the United States from Venezuela knowing very basic English. As a young individual I quickly became fluent thanks to the amazing support system I had, both family and teachers. That said, because I didn’t “look” Latino and I didn’t really speak English, I didn’t fit into any one particular group of people. It took a while to find who I fit in with, and it wasn’t people who looked like me or had similar backgrounds. I assimilated to the culture around me and made the conscious decision to not stand out as different.
Now that I’ve been in the professional workforce for close to two decades, I can reflect on my experiences and draw out some learnings:
- Being different is great, but being a trailblazer is hard. When you have to create your own life playbook because you don’t know anyone else who has “been there and done that”, you tend to reinvent the wheel frequently. You question yourself a lot. It’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to express your experiences and views, and it’s also ok to just say: “I’ve never done that before. How would you go about it?”
- Cultural differences are teaching moments. Most multicultural folks are dealing with both understanding new cultures, ways of working. Things as simple as slang, terminology, and acronyms can hinder their development in their new culture or at work. If you’re struggling to understand a subject or any cultural context of the society they’ve been thrown into, give yourself a break. If you’re feeling behind at times remember that you’re processing a lot and you may not get the nuances right away. Most people love teaching what they’re experts on, so take the time to ask questions when something doesn’t click right away. Most of the time you won’t be bothering people, you’ll actually be reducing the long-term work needed to accomplish the task.
- Expose your vulnerabilities. This one is much easier said than done, particularly because imposter syndrome is likely something we all have at some point or another. Harvard Business Review found 70% of people experience it at one point or another. For some reason, the fake it until you make it mentality doesn’t seem to apply to me. I can’t fake it, I just have to make it. But, that’s actually not true since the more you share with others, the more you’ll find out they’re in the same boat. Share your experiences and learnings and others will look to learn from you.
So, during this month of Hispanic Heritage, I’m making the commitment to sharing my experiences in the hopes of both inspiring others and making connections with people who feel like they’re not heard or feel unstable in their job situation. I know first hand what it’s like to feel like your opinions don’t matter and that others might have it easier, but I also know first hand that people want to help you and want to see you grow as a person and professionally.