Is Corporate America For Me?
Growing up, Corporate America was something that primarily existed on television or in the movies. It was a world Latinos did not enter. Neither at home, nor in school, was there any aspiration, or expectation that one day I would. That didn’t stop me from trying anyway.
Yet when I entered, I was oblivious to the disparities and the challenges. Having entered to “make it like everyone else”, I never considered how much gender and race mattered, and how they both affected my advancement. Additionally there were way too many unwritten rules and more diplomacy than one can take in a lifetime. Was Corporate America for me? There were just so many obstacles designed to discourage, break and push you right out the door.
Unless you know exactly why you’re there.
Despite the challenges, I knew I was definitely there to succeed and so I had to learn how to navigate around them. I started by carefully outlining my career goals, putting together a strict, yet flexible timeline for what I wanted to accomplish. I then took personal stock, focusing on what I did not know and how I could learn more. This was my opportunity. I had to own it. It was a chance to excel at life across so many spectrums – personally, professionally and financially.
It also gave me a chance to show Corporate America that Latinas are not a token, but rather a talent.
In order to make these aspirations possible I did, and continue to do, several things, which gave me the opportunity to go from Administrative Assistant to Senior Vice President. These include:
- Learn How to Navigate the Landscape – Know who people are, what they do and where they rank on the power ladder. This provides an opportunity to understand the business and the people that run it. It also makes you resourceful, knowledgeable and more importantly gives you talking points when you meet senior leaders.
- Exercise Diplomacy and Understand the Politics – From stroking egos to not stepping on toes, understand the unwritten rules. They dictate how business is run more than any employee manual. You learn these rules through mentoring, networking and via observation.
- Know That It Is Not Personal – When you make it all about you, you lose sight of the business objectives and your goals. Constantly taking things personal makes you bitter and unproductive.
- Be Authentic, Yet Flexible – I am 100% Latina, never deny and don’t have to hide. You do not have to change who you are to succeed, however, you have to understand the business. There are many times where the language and rules of business have nothing to do with our ethnicity and we cannot make it so.
- Don’t Dwell on Your Ethnicity or Play Victim – If you take every subtle occurrence as a direct hit on your gender/ethnicity, you’ll feel like you’re living under personal attack. I often hear “If I were White, they wouldn’t treat me like that”. That may be the case, but don’t get so caught up in that you lose focus.
- Set Goals and Be Real About Expectations – If you want to be an SVP, Director or have a c-Suite role, understand what it takes to get there and the impact it will have on your family and personal life. The role may go beyond nine to five, may involve working the weekends, traveling, working from home, non-stop deliverables and much more.
- Be An Eternal Student – Never stop learning, developing or looking for fresh opportunities to be a better you. We often reach milestones and get lax. If you want to reach the next level always work towards it by developing yourself.
- Raise Your Hand and Gain Visibility – Keeping your head down and plugging away is not the only thing you need to do to move ahead. It makes little sense to be exceptional and no one knows it. Take the assignments that no one wants to do and blow them out the water. Seek opportunities to engage with senior executives. These lead not just to great relationships and mentors, but to sponsorships, were the key to advancement is.
- Pay It Forward and Lead – Each one teach one and pull one. Make sure to stop along the way and identify individuals with potential. Serve as a mentor, an advocate, and if possible, a Sponsor. Our next generation needs us to not trail blaze but help them become future leaders.
- Mind Your Health – If you’re not right, nothing around you will be. Life gets hectic so give a lot of focus to at least eating exceptionally well, as it affects everything about you. Take time to exercise and stay physically fit; again it affects how you operate. Lastly, find an outlet. Whether its exercise, yoga, meditation or taking brisk walks, don’t allow stress to fester. It will break you.
- Don’t Get Caught Up in Dogma – People make these superficial phrases for the barriers: glass ceiling, bamboo ceiling, concrete ceiling, unleveled playing field, pecking order, and dozens more. I’m not saying they don’t exist. However, with tenacity we can run thru, over and around those barriers.
In every aspect of life you need to personally understand your purpose and create goals around that purpose. Putting it simple: You can either create your goals, or be a part of someone else’s. I have no intention of working hard solely for the benefit of someone else and neither should you. This is why goals are so important. They set your direction, allow you to focus when things aren’t working out and bring you back from the craziness.
Perhaps Corporate America wasn’t designed for me, but I am certainly designed for Corporate America, and any other America in which I choose to succeed.