On Naming and Claiming our Latina Expertise
Expert = adj thoroughly skilled; knowledgeable through training or experience. Noun a person with special skills or training in any art or science. (Webster’s New Century Dictionary, 2001)
When we first considered what to name this website, we considered a wide range of choices before arriving at LATINA EXPERT. It seems important at this point to be explicit about what our intention is in choosing this name and also about our vision of how this site can be used by all Latinas to further grow our sense of ourselves individually and collectively.
In my work with Latina professionals in organizations, I am constantly amazed at the wide range of talents and depth of experience these women have developed. I am sometimes also amazed at how unaware or unassuming they can be of their capacities and how remarkable they are. There are many people in organizations with much less going for them who are more than willing to “toot their own horns” and make grandiose claims about their abilities. I wonder about how we as Latinas can best acknowledge and utilize our gifts in ways that feel right to us and yet allow others to see more clearly all that we have to offer to our organizations.
Let me start with a story.
I and another colleague were presenting our research at a national conference. As part of the program, we listed our titles, which for me included the Ph.D. after my name. Unlike others in the program, the question was raised about why I chose to list my degree as part of my identifying information. Others went so far as to suggest that I was elevating myself over the participants by listing this credential. When the conversation came up, an African-American gentleman disagreed with the previous comment by stating his view that it was helpful to know my training and background because it gave him a better sense of what I could offer and what competencies could be assumed by knowing someone had received a doctorate at an accredited university. What I find interesting and troubling is how my white male colleagues are not challenged when they certify themselves as “experts” but when I or other women credential ourselves, we are seen in a less positive light. This is not the first time nor do I expect it to be the last that this issue comes up as I move about in my career. One of the reasons I think it is important that I include my title has to do with serving as a role model for young Latinas who may be wondering if they can reach for their dreams or if they have what it takes to succeed in competitive, male dominated fields or environments. I have often been told by young women how much it means to them to see my accomplishments and how they are inspired to pursue their own dreams as a result. Other Latinas have mentioned the difficulty they sometimes have with standing out for their accomplishments and letting themselves be seen in their full competence.
To understand these dynamics and to be able to modify them, I think it is important to recognize their origins – how we came to be this way. Of course our early experiences in our families and communities shaped us significantly. We learned from watching others that elevating yourself over others was sometimes frowned upon and that working to support the well-being of the collective was necessary for survival and harmony. We saw role models in our mothers, tias and vecinas who sometimes sacrificed their own needs to insure that others had enough. Doing for others without expecting to be acknowledged or praised was accepted as the norm. Humility was valued in our communities while boasting or pridefulness was frowned upon especially for women.
Now we find ourselves in organizations where self-promotion and branding ourselves as distinctive are expected and encouraged. How do we navigate through these seemingly contradictory worldviews? How do we remain consistent with our values and cultural styles while also succeeding in large, competitive organizational cultures?
Latinas are finding ways to do this creatively in many fields and industries. For example, realizing that claiming our expertise is a service to others in our communities and organizations. Letting others know what we have to offer allows them to access our talents and utilize our skills in a wider range of venues. Making ourselves small or invisible serves no one. Identifying and expressing our vitality and competence makes a huge contribution wherever we are. Speaking confidently about ourselves as “experts” is necessary and supports the advancement of our teams, furthers the organizations mission and allows our own careers to blossom and grow. Actions that are consistent with our words makes us powerful contributors. When people see that we deliver on our promises in unique and creative ways, we gain respect and are given greater opportunities to lead.
We are each “experts” in our own arenas. It is crucial that we gain clarity about our own particular contributions, be able to name those talents confidently and seek out opportunities to demonstrate them consistently. This is the best way to marry our expertise with what the world desperately needs from us. How are you a Latina Expert and what can you do today to further expand your expertise to make the world a better place where you live?