The Career Advice I Wish Abuela Told Me

AbuelaHispanic Heritage Month is this month, and I want to share some advice specifically for our Latina readers as we celebrate our heritage and culture. My blog (The Branding Muse) and my business were born out of my need to share the career knowledge that I never learned at home. This wasn’t due to neglect, but more so because of cultural differences in how Latinos, especially women, approach the workplace.

Born to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father, my upbringing was filled with mangu, salsa music, pasteles at Christmas, clapping when an airplane lands and a lot of time spent at Abuela’s house. Looking back on countless conversations with my grandmother, our ideas of success and what was appropriate in the workplace were very different. She had always been a proponent of education and thinking big, but there were a lot of words on leadership and self-care that were left unsaid. I reached out to a few other influential Latinas and here are some things our grandmothers didn’t tell us.

You Can Have It All

There has been a lot of talk about leaning in and pushing back, but our grandmothers would be appalled at the thought of neglecting the household for the sake of professional success. As Latinas, we naturally place a lot of value around family and marriage, and leaning in can sometimes seem to go against everything that we learned and observed growing up.

I’m in my mid-twenties, and she still pressures me to hold off on children and a husband until I reach the pinnacle of my career (aka my 30s). But why can’t I have both, sooner rather than later? As a woman, I know I need to learn to manage my time between the home and the workplace, but I truly believe in having it all: a loving family and a successful career. In order to do that, we must find comfort in putting ourselves first and asking for more. This includes being cured of the superwoman syndrome and asking for help from your future spouse and family and friends, becoming healthier, and seeking flexible working environments that understand the needs of women. It is possible to be a great mother, wife, and executive. However, you have to seek the resources and ask for what you need.

Make Noise

So how are you supposed to ask for what you need when there are already such negative stereotypes surrounding the Hispanic woman? Abuela always urged me to lower my voice and speak slowly when we were around mixed company (and by mixed company I mean white people), and it quite frankly pissed me off more than it calmed me down. Why was she so fearful? Being assertive and outspoken can reflect poorly on a woman, and she risks being considered difficult or boisterous. What she should have said was “speak up and speak out,” regardless of the social expectations that women should not be self-promotional or owners of their own success. Many Latinas, like other women, are encouraged to be accommodating and humble, but as Nina Terrero of NBC Latino shared with us, “[You should] be humble at home, but in the workplace, speak out and know your worth!”  Take initiative, seek out leadership opportunities and do not be afraid to stand out. Knowing your worth and being passionate is critical to your professional and personal success. Although Sophia Vergara’s character on Modern Family has concerned Latina women, we should not let the fear of stereotypical judgment keep us from making noise and creating waves within our careers and organizations. Coño!

Tell Your Story (the real one)

Another part of your career success is telling your story. Your story is what makes you authentic and relatable. It is a large part of your personal brand and how you have been shaped as an individual and a woman of color. I have observed that when Latinas are in professional settings, they tend to feel uneasy, unwelcome, and like they don’t belong. Consequently, if you feel like you don’t belong, you will act like you don’t. Ghislaine Leon, Integrated Marketing Coordinator at Interactive One, agrees, “[My grandmother] didn’t teach me importance of first impressions and/or your reputation; business doesn’t forgive.” Latinas can sometimes battle with bringing their true selves to the forefront in a professional setting and miss the chance of making a lasting first impression. But part of telling your story is finding your voice — even if that voice has an accent. Don’t be afraid to talk about your childhood, your upbringing, how holidays are different at your house, and how sometimes you give Mami gifts for Father’s Day. It is important to be genuine, because it will affect how you relate to others and the impressions you leave.

We can’t blame Abuela for missing some of these pieces to professional success. She grew up in a different time, working a different profession and raised us, our siblings, cousins and part of the neighborhood. We can’t do anything but love her, honor her and try our best to make her proud.Te Amo Abuela! <3This post was originally published on The Branding Muse and is reprinted with permission from the author.