By Michelle Hendelman, Editor-in-Chief
As a successful senior level Latina at one of the largest global financial services firms, Yesi Morillo-Gual recognized that she was one of few Latinas to hold a Director position. This was one of her primary motivations for starting her Latina networking organization, Proud to Be Latina, three years ago.
“I have been in Corporate America for twenty-one years,” said Morillo-Gual, “starting at the administrative level and working my way up to where I am now.” She continued, “I started Proud To Be Latina because of some of the challenges I faced in my own career. These included things like not knowing how to navigate the landscape, not knowing about the unwritten rules, not having a lot of support, and also not really believing that I belonged because the majority of my colleagues did not look like me.”
As a result, Morillo-Gual found herself creating individual barriers that she admits, in hindsight, probably did not exist. She explained, “I saw other women around me doing this same thing, and that is not to say barriers did not exist, but we were creating more barriers for ourselves. This motivated me to create a platform of empowerment for Latinas to learn from one another, empower, and encourage each other to reach their full potential.”
One of the most important ways Morillo-Gual carries out the mission of Proud To Be Latina is to be a role model and mentor for other professional Latinas who also feel like they are the only Latina in the room at times. The organization also has several programs [PDF] designed to bring professional Latinas together to network and share experiences.
Networking Opportunities for Latina Professionals
Morillo-Gual said, “One of these programs is the EmPower Hour, which is a conference call held on the first Monday of every month. We bring in experts in a field or topic and individuals on the call can ask important questions and discuss relevant issues.” Morillo-Gual mentioned topics discussed in previous EmPower Hours include how to build wealth, learning how to say ‘no,’ and how heritage can be a source of strength for advancement.
“Some Latinas think they have to leave their heritage behind to succeed in corporate America, which is not true at all,” explained Morillo-Gual.
Another program Proud To Be Latina hosts is EmPowered Latinas Connect, a networking event held three to four times a year. At their most recent event, which took place last Friday, they addressed the issue of the unconscious bias Latinas have created against each other and how to overcome this. “We had a really honest conversation about what our responsibilities are to other Latinas,” said Morillo-Gual. These events offer a safe space for professional Latinas to express themselves on these important issues impacting their career advancement.
Finally, Proud To Be Latina hosts an annual Latina EmPowerment Conference to help women bridge the gap being Latina, being American, and never compromising their identity to succeed in their careers, according to Morillo-Gual.
Latinas and Career Advancement
“The institutional barriers Latinas face are very similar to the barriers women in general face in the workplace,” said Morillo-Gual, “including pay increases or being selected for certain projects.” Through her interactions with women in Proud To Be Latina, she has observed many individual barriers that women impose on themselves. “There is a sense that we don’t belong, or that we have to leave who we are behind in order to advance our careers,” explained Morillo-Gual.
She feels like women in general struggle with confidence at work as well. “We tend to question ourselves and our abilities,” said Morillo-Gual. “I often hear women say that corporate America was not designed for them, and in response I tell them that corporate America may not have been designed for me, but I was designed for corporate America,” she added.
It is this attitude of confidence and empowerment that has helped Morillo-Gual work hard and achieve so much in her own career.
Advice for Professional Latinas
Morillo-Gual advises young Latinas to be aware of their strengths and never become complacent. “It is not just about getting to the top,” she said, “it is also about staying there. Continue to work hard every day.”
She also tells young women to identify those role models, mentors, and sponsors who have the ability to make a positive difference in their career advancement. “Diversify your network,” she explained. “This gives you such a great range of perspectives.”
According to Morillo-Gual, some of her greatest accomplishments have stemmed from failures. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” she advised. “It doesn’t feel good, but when you can step back and analyze what went wrong and how to improve next time, this is a tremendous opportunity to learn about yourself.”
The importance of setting goals is another piece of advice Morillo-Gual offers to young Latinas. She said, “Work extra hard, get back up after you fall, and keep chipping away at your goals until you get to where you want to be.”
Morillo-Gual hopes that her peers in the financial services industry will “reach back, pull up, and bring in” others around them. She explained, “It is important to recognize what you can do for someone else and invite them in. We can do this by making ourselves available and responding when other Latinas reach out to us for guidance.” Morillo-Gual added, “We need to lead by example.”
Latino men are also encouraged to get involved in the programs hosted by Proud To Be Latina. “A lot of what we discuss affects men as well, and if the topics do not affect them directly they probably affect their sister, wife, mother, or friend,” said Morillo-Gual.
Outside the Office
While Morillo-Gual keeps herself very busy between her full-time job, Proud To Be Latina, and her Doctorate Degree, she does love to spend time with her two boys and her husband, enjoying activities as a family, such as riding their bicycles around New York City, playing board games, and watching movies. She added, “They keep me laughing and they keep me young!”