Adriana Dawson is a first-generation professional focused on community and human impact work. As the daughter of Colombian immigrants, she grew up in a large extended family, many of whom were factory workers during the day and unofficial grassroots community activists in their limited free time.
As a first-generation professional, Adriana views these foundational experiences as gifts. Her vast career experience across multiple sectors has always been centered on community and human impact work. Whether that was leading supplier diversity efforts in the public sector, overseeing a statewide small business resource provider network, or launching and scaling a university’s workforce development center; her career has been anchored in lifting individuals, families, and communities.
Adriana’s social impact career led her to Verizon in 2019 when she joined the global telecommunications company as Director of Community Engagement. In this role she leads the Verizon Foundation and social impact programming efforts for her markets. In addition, she serves as a Global Lead for SOMOS, an enterprise-wide Employee Resource Group (ERG) giving voice to Verizon’s 5K+ Hispanic/Latinx employees.
Adriana unknowingly began her career in communications before she was even in her teens.
“Because my family was so involved and active in the community and came in contact with new arrivals who started working in the factories alongside them, I was activated as an early translator and community navigator,” Adriana explains.
Her parents did not speak English, but they had her to help them. Many times, Adriana’s mother would come home from work at the factory and tell Adriana that they were going to go to a friend’s house because she needed help filling out paperwork or needed something translated. This example is one of hundreds that Adriana experienced throughout her childhood and teens where people shared their stories with her and she was honored with the opportunity to assist them.
As a result, Adriana also learned that there were many injustices in our systems, and communication obstacles and language barriers were enormous obstacles for many individuals.
“I experienced so many instances where people and systems attempted to silence our voice or make us feel less than,” she says. “It was through these experiences that I learned how incredibly powerful communication really was. It didn’t come as a shock that I pursued both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in communication studies.”
Being “The Only” in the room
After completing her studies, Adriana’s formal career started in Boston as a Communications Associate in the Corporate Communications Department for a world class hospital. In this role, Adriana soon noticed that although the hospital treated patients from all over the world and was located in a diverse, metropolitan city, they were not addressing their language concerns.
“We were not producing any patient support material in other languages, equipping the patient information desk with language appropriate resources, or building our multicultural media partners and translating our press releases,” said Adriana.
Adriana set out to change these practices and the perspective she shared with her leadership team led to her promotion into the hospital’s first multicultural marketing and communications role.
“This was my first professional experience leveraging my cultural and community fluency. And I would say that although it was my first professional win, it was also my first professional obstacle related to informing a business strategy through my cultural fluency lens.”
Change did not happen overnight. Others who had not experienced language and communication barriers initially did not comprehend the need for change.
“They didn’t get it; no one in that room had ever been directly impacted by lack of in-language resources or representation.”
This became one of the recurring “themes” and obstacles that would show up often throughout Adriana’s early career. More often than not she was “The Only” (person of color and/or woman) in the room. She was also often the youngest.
“Sometimes it felt as if all of my identities were under attack; a woman, a woman of color, a working mom. I can’t begin to count the number of times that people tried to ignore me, dismiss my ideas, minimize my contributions, or worse yet, take credit for them. In full transparency, it took me a while to find and lean into my professional voice and power,” says Adriana.
Mindset shift and leaning on personal strengths as a Latina
Change came about for Adriana when she began to realize that how she was leading her work was just as important as what she was leading. That’s when it all clicked.
It’s the “how” that re-centered her. She asked herself, How am I representing the community in these spaces? How am I amplifying voices and perspectives that are not at this table and why am I the only one here? How am I helping to authentically inform my colleagues, leadership, and the larger strategy on their blind spots?
These reminders served as her “Aha” moments and helped her navigate her obstacles. Navigate, but not overcome, because many of these obstacles still remain. What changed was her mindset and approach to these challenges.
“The mission and the work were bigger than me. The impact of my portfolio and body of work would directly impact thousands of people and families and help support their economic mobility. Recognizing this helped me move differently, it added a new level of professional confidence; the work was much bigger than me and there was a lot of work to do.”
In her life and career, Adriana does not use the word “minority” as an identifier. This is another mindset shift that changes her perspective and gives her strength.
“Words have power, and I choose to come from an asset-based perspective,” she says. “As a woman of color, specifically Latina, my experience is my greatest strength. My personal and professional obstacles have become my greatest life lessons. The strengths that I have applied to my career framework as a result of my Latinidad include empathy, grit, resilience, resourcefulness, being a connector, a convener, and an activator. These have become my superpowers.”””
To other women of color currently navigating their careers and looking to achieve success, Adriana says, “Think and play big! Allow yourself to embrace an abundance mindset, you are worthy. Many of us are still subconsciously anchored in cultural traditions that we grew up with that shaped our perception of power dynamics; be seen and not heard, know your place, defer to the elder or male in the household, etc. Be mindful of how these cultural norms and expectations are manifesting in your career and give yourself permission to break free from them. And go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated!”
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