Latina Professionals Discuss Career Strategies at the 20th Anniversary of ALPFA in SF

 

ALPFA, the nation’s largest Latino professional organization, took over the third floor of San Francisco’s InterContinental Hotel last Saturday. Auditors, non-profit professionals, HR representatives, life-coaches, and finance specialists were there to commemorate ALPFA’s 20 years in the Bay Area and to celebrate and support the careers of Latina professionals.

 

ALPFA was founded in 1972 and it began as an association for Latino professionals in finance and accounting (hence ALPFA). However, over the last 42 years it has been transformed into a premier business association for Latino professionals in all industries and now has 23,000 members across the country. For student members, ALPFA is a great place to network and many of them end up building careers at companies such as Deloitte, KPMG, McKesson, Walmart, and McGladery.

networking

The Women of ALPFA make up another big portion of the organization. WOA, as they are also known, supports the goals of Latina business professionals by organizing annual conferences and workshops that provide leadership development for its members. This year, WOA chose the theme of “Using the Power of You to Transform Latina Leadership” and the executive coaching expert Dr. Santalynda Marrero kicked off this year’s conference with an energizing keynote speech.

 

Dr. Marrero commenced a day-long conversation about what it means to be a Latina professional and how they can overcome obstacles they face in the workplace. She shared with the audience one of her biggest professional setbacks that she experienced as a doctoral student at Rutgers University. When Marrero was in the early stages of her research, she found out that one of her colleagues had stolen her research topic and data. Although Marrero had to start all over again, she marched back to the library in search of a new research topic. It is during these major setbacks, she told the audience, that each woman needs to give herself what she calls “CPR”—not Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, but Confidence, Presence and Resiliency.

Dr. Santalynda Marrero

Dr. Marrero characterized confidence as a muscle that women “must work out everyday” and that must be exercised especially when your boss passes you up for that promotion or when you don’t get that highly coveted job. “Self-confidence,” she explained, “is having the ability to define success for yourself. If you don’t do that the media will and everyone else will.”

 

“Executive presence” she defined as acting like a leader, which includes walking into a room with your head up high, staying composed under stressful situations, and being a team-player instead of an “individual contributor” who can be easily replaced. She warned the entire room: “looking busy or frantic is not impressive folks,” adding, “working up until midnight so someone will notice—forget about it.”

 

Resiliency, which many understand as the act of getting up after being knocked down, is actually more complex in Dr. Marrero’s description. She saw an example of resiliency in her father who immigrated from Puerto Rico to New Jersey with a second-grade education. He taught her “that you have to survive first in order to thrive.” According to Marrero, migrants and immigrants can teach us a lesson in resiliency since they make the most out of a situation even when choices are limited.

 

But even more important than administering this form of CPR in difficult times, suggests Marrero, is having an unshakable sense of self that can withstand any circumstances. First you have to “be” before you can “do” and before you can “have,” she says. She calls this the “Be-do-have” philosophy and it rests on the notion that you must have a sense of who you are before working toward a goal and attaining professional success.

 

The question of what it means to “be” a Latina professional in the corporate sector is one that was pondered by many of the participants at the ALPFA event. At the panel discussion, which featured women who hold prominent positions at Microsoft, McKesson, Walmart, and McGladery, one young woman from the audience named Bianca asked a question about finding fulfilment as an auditor in corporate America. She shared with the audience and the panel that she was going through “internal conflict” about choosing to be a professional in corporate America instead of working at a non-profit.

Geraldine

As Bianca saw it, her sister, who is working for a non-profit that helps high school students, is “doing something that gives back to the community” while she is helping a company that is “already rich” generate revenue. Bianca asks the panelists, “Is there anything that you ladies do to give back to the community?”

 

Geraldine Nueva, a senior director at Walmart Gobal eCommerce, assured Bianca that “just because you are a finance accountant doesn’t mean that you can’t get be involved in other things.” Nueva, for instance, is part of multiple employee resource groups that support diversity efforts.

 

After the panel, audience members trickled out of the grand ballroom for a short networking session. While many networked as they grabbed a drink from the hotel bars, some continued the discussion raised by Bianca’s question. A group of women standing around a high table seemed to agree that there is an unspoken pressure for Latinas –and Latinos as well— to choose careers that are explicitly about helping the community over careers that are financially rewarding.

 

Rosie, who is a consultant for professionals, was one of the women partaking in this conversation. “I think there is a belief system [within the Latino community] that it’s bad to make money,” said Rosie. “I get the social good—it’s important,” she added. “But you can do more for the social good with money than without it.”

 

Rosie wondered why Latinos feel “that they always have to choose” between a career in business and helping the community. As she shared with the other women at the table, she did not choose one path over the other in her own career. “There are two worlds I operate in,” she explained, “the money world and the social good world.” The women listening to the conversation all agreed that there is a feeling of “guilt” or “selling-out” around choosing financially lucrative careers.

 

While the discussion didn’t reach any conclusions, it did raise questions. As the women walked back to the grand ballroom to celebrate ALPFA’s 20th anniversary that night with dinner and dancing, for example, the question of what a Latina and Latino professional should or shouldn’t be still remained unsettled. Considering that Latinas and Latinos are defining success on their own terms, perhaps it is better to leave that question unanswered.