Marcela Berland, a pioneer in working from home, combines work and maternity

Marcela Berland is the President and CEO of Latin Insights, a strategic communications firm  that focuses on the Latino market and Latin America. LI bases their strategies on research and digital and AI tools and develops digital and marketing strategies to help clients achieve their goals. LI’s clients include political candidates and heads of state, corporations and nonprofit organizations. 

Building a successful consulting firm from the ground up

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Marcela Berland eventually came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship and began working in New York in strategic communications and polling. At the time she did not expect to launch her own consulting firm and embark on her own entrepreneurial journey. However, life circumstances would soon steer her onto this path.

It was 1996, after the birth of her daughter, Isabella. Marcela asked her then-boss for five extra months of maternity leave so she could work from home taking care of her newborn. She had done the same before when her son was born so Marcela did not expect to be told “No.” After her 3 months of maternity leave, Marcela announced her resignation. 

Marcela Berland, Frank Gomez, Latin Insights

Marcela Berland and Frank Gomez. (Photo by Max Canovas)

“They realized then that they needed me. Many of my clients wanted to work with me so, they agreed to let me work primarily from home.  Now, too little too late, I positioned myself as an external consultant and negotiated a higher salary for fewer working hours. They agreed to all my terms.  However, I was very disappointed at the whole situation and had already made plans to consult for other clients,” said Marcela. 

After three more months, Marcela left for good, showing them that it was possible to work remotely from home and be effective– even in the late 90s! 

In 2000, Marcela decided it was time to launch her own firm. As a Latina, she had a unique perspective to bring to her company, understand the multicultural market in a deeper way, and she was already committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in addition to women’s issues. 

The brand new entrepreneur began to plan and gather as much information as possible. She was nervous to set out on her own, fearing failure, but determined to try. Soon, she reached out to someone she admired to help her build her business: communications, media, and political expert, Frank Gómez.  

“At the time, Frank was working at a corporation but thinking about retiring. He not only gave me great advice, but he ended up leaving his job and joined me as a partner. I was thrilled. And that’s how Latin Insights started, just the two of us at first,” said Marcela. 

Conquering the fear of failure and following your dreams 

After over 20 years, Marcela’s venture has become a success. She now serves a variety of clients that include political candidates and heads of state, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. As a successful Latina, she is also often the only woman in the room when working with Presidents and political candidates in Latin America. 

And she has proved that working remotely from home and being successful is possible. This was especially evident this past year during the pandemic when Marcela and her team worked remotely on a presidential race, developing a successful and highly effective strategy that ended with their candidate winning a very tough election. 

Despite her successes now, the early days of her entrepreneurial venture were full of doubts and fear of failure—a common fear for many new entrepreneurs. 

“The first obstacle I faced was overcoming my fear of failing. I was doing very well just consulting on my own, but starting a new company, becoming an entrepreneur had a completely different meaning. What if I didn’t make it? How could I sustain a business? Take care of all the financial and administrative needs associated with it?” Marcela shared. 

Like all newcomers, she soon learned the antidote to this fear was knowledge. Now, whenever she feels doubts, she takes this as an opportunity to learn and come back stronger. 

Latin Insights Founder and CEO, Marcela Berland. (Photo courtesy Marcela Berland)

“During my career as an entrepreneur, I learned that you need to reinvent yourself, adapt to the ever-changing times and take risks. It is the only way to grow. Learn from your mistakes. You need to be open and humble enough to admit that you made a mistake and change direction. Also, become associated with people who share the same values and mindset. I was very fortunate to find Frank early on. We sometimes disagree, but in more than 20 years, we have never had an argument.” 

You might be interested: Rosita Hurtado shares how she transformed a childhood passion into a successful design export

With over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, Marcela has found that success is not about winning alone, it is about making a difference. Additionally, each success is made all the more enjoyable because she loves what she does and loves helping her clients. For her, the work is more than just work, it is something she is passionate about. Having that passion pushes her to “go the extra mile” because she believes in delivering the highest quality service for her clients.  

To aspiring entrepreneurs, Marcela urges that you follow your dreams and go for your passion. She shares her pillars of advice for new entrepreneurs: 

First, be well prepared. Have very clear goals of what you want to achieve and develop a product/service that distinguishes you from others. Next, find the right partners/team to support you and ask for help from the right partners/associates/mentors. Check for resources that can help you and also make sure you help others on your way to success. Don’t give up even when you fail. Network strategically. Raise capital if needed (many organizations can help you with this task).

Finally, never stop learning; make sure you learn something new every day if possible, and always honor your values, treating others with respect. 

Rosita Hurtado

Rosita Hurtado shares how she transformed a childhood passion into a successful design export

Rosita Hurtado is a fashion designer and entrepreneur who’s known for creating the fashion brand Rosita Hurtado and Rosita Hurtado Bridal. She is also the founder of Rosita Hurtado Menswear, Ixoye, Rosita Hurtado Shoes, and the perfume La Rose by Rosita Hurtado.

An accomplished designer with a career spanning 37 years, her work has been featured across the globe at events such as New York Fashion Week, Miami Fashion Week, and Los Angeles Fashion Week, and more and worn by stars such as  Eva Longoria, Lucia Mendez, Lupita Ferrer, Gloria Trevi, and Ximena Duque. 

As a Latina designer and part of Fashion Designers of Latin America (FDLA), Rosita’s work draws inspiration from her cultural roots and heritage, blending Latin American tradition with modern fashion. 

Rosita Hurtado

Fashion designer and entrepreneur, Rosita Hurtado. (Photo courtesy Rosita Hurtado)

From homemade fashion shows to professional runways

For as long as she can remember, Rosita has lived in the world of fashion and design. Born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, her early years were filled with fabric and sewing as she watched her seamstress aunts work at their shops. Her mother was also a natural designer, creating homemade clothes for Rosita. With these teachers in her life, Rosita grew up watching and learning the craft of sewing and design that would eventually become her life’s passion. 

“At seven years old I was making garments for my friends and putting on fashion shows on the patio at my home,” Rosita recounted. 

This passion for fashion and design that began in childhood has since taken her around the world. At the age of 18, Rosita had the opportunity to travel to Brazil where she studied design at Yocanda Atelier in Porto Alegre Brazil. Later, she continued her studies in Paris, France at the Dominique school, before moving to London, England to study industrial pattern making. Finally, Rosita completed her education at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, USA.

Designs by Rosita Hurtado. (Photo source: IxoyeUSA)

Following her desire to create, Rosita went on to launch various professional clothing lines. Her collections have appeared internationally alongside accomplished designers such as Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Tommy Hillfiiger, Alexandre Mac Queen. As a seasoned designer with a career spanning nearly four decades, her work as appeared at Paris Pret a porte, Fashion Week of the Americas, Texvecal in Santiago de Chile, Puerto Rico Fashion Week, Ecua moda, Los Angeles Fashion Week, Bolivia Fashion Parade, New York Fashion Week and more. 

However, like most entrepreneurs who have found success, the road was not always easy. In her long career, Rosita has faced her share of challenges and obstacles but she has always persevered with a positive attitude overcoming anything in her way. As a young designer, she went from small business owner to successfully expanding to become a top business in Bolivia. Then she moved to the USA to start anew. Starting from zero in a new country where she knew nobody was an incredible challenge but also a crucial learning experience for the entrepreneur. She put in the work, began networking and promoting herself, doing interviews, anything she could to advance her business. Rosita’s love and passion for design fueled her with the perseverance to overcome her obstacles. 

Rosita Hurtado

Rosita shares her advice on overcoming career obstacles. (Photo courtesy Rosita Hurtado)

The lesson she learned, and that she hopes others will carry with them, is this: Know that nothing in life is easy, everything comes with sacrifice, but if you have a focus and drive and put in the work, you will get through anything and accomplish your goals. 

You might be interested: Fashion Designers of Latin America Returns to New York Fashion Week LIVE Shows

Weaving stories of Latin American culture into garments 

One goal that guides Rosita’s work, is showcasing the beauty of Latin America through her garments. Rosita’s designs often blend vibrant colors and fabrics to create pieces that tell a story. Her collection, Viva México, is one example of this, blending urban casual with Latin American culture. The line was inspired by some of Mexico’s most important figures and monuments, bringing culture, history, and tradition together in stunning garments. 

“It is an urban casual collection with a cultural purpose,” said Rosita describing the collection IxoyeUSA. “Inspired by four icons of Mexican history: Frida Kahlo, Maria Felix, Cantinflas and Juan Gabriel, and also in the architecture of Mexico.” 

The collection, which includes tops, skirts, accessories, and more, was first presented during Bolivian Fashion Week in the Dominican Republic and is now available throughout various shops in Acapulco, Cancun and Playa del Carmen, as well as online through IxoyeUSA.

fashion,

Viva Mexico, Angel de la Independencia skirt. (Photo source: IxoyeUSA)

“I created the Ixoye line, a casual urban fashion with cultural purpose which is being recognized worldwide for its originality, to show the world through the clothing Latin American culture,” said Rosita on FDLA.co.

Her recent 2021 collection, featured at New York Fashion Week, is another symbolic collection. Named “Arcoíris” –Rainbow in Spanish– the collection is the perfect symbol for the year following a global pandemic. Focusing on vibrant and sparkling garments featuring the main colors of the rainbow, Rosita described the collection as representing “hope and renewal.” 


As a seasoned designer, Rosita shares her advice with other young and aspiring women looking to venture into the vibrant world of fashion or longing to start their own venture. 

The first step, she says, is knowing what you want. From a young age she knew she wanted to work with fabric and design like her aunts and mother. Find what’s calling out to you. Then, get an education in that field. Learn everything you can. Get practical hands-on experience as well. This is so important, especially in an industry such as fashion where there are so many avenues to pursue from designing to merchandising and event planning. Finally, follow your passion and love what you do. 

2021 WEES Speaker Maria Piastre: A Latina leader excels in a male-dominated industry 

In 2017, after only 12 years working in this male-dominated industry, Maria Piastre was appointed Metallix Refining Inc. President. Ambition had always been a driving force fueled by a passion for the industry, but never did she imagine to be made President.

The 2021 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit motto is THRIVE! with our panels and workshops focusing on key areas of growth to connect and empower women business owners and give them the tools and insights to propel forward and thrive post-COVID19. 

Our women’s panel,THRIVE! Women Turning Adversity into Success”, will feature guest speakers: Maria Piastre, Marvina Robinson, and Jessie Gabriel as they share insights learned on their journey to success while fighting the odds of being a woman and reinventing themselves during the pandemic. Below, Maria shares her story with us of how she rose through the ranks and excelled in a male-dominated industry as a Latina, eventually becoming company CE

 

“The leap of faith never fails”

Maria Piastre was born and raised in Cali, Colombia. She came to the USA in 2000, the start of a new millennium, one that would unveil marriage, a young family, graduation, and professional achievements in business. 

woman in a male-dominated industry, Maria Piastre

Maria Piastre, President of Metallix Refining Inc.

As her career path was still uncharted, Maria’s tenacity for success and recognition would prove to be her armor against the many inequalities she would encounter. Later these inequalities would form the foundation for future campaigns.

Maria graduated from Kean University in 2004 with a degree in Economics thanks to the unconditional support of her family.  She then entered the world of business and commerce. Over the next two years, the motivated Latina immigrant excelled in business management, marketing strategy, aesthetic value, with an aptitude for communication at all levels. 

With the end of 2005 insight, Maria reflected on both her achievements and looked towards new challenges that would be more aligned with her goals and those of the organization she would represent. This new chapter of discovery would lead Maria to Metallix and a career in the male-dominated industry of precious metals where her future would soon unfold and be a platform for success.

“Facing new challenges can often be very daunting and come with their own set of risks but taken intelligently, they will open doors to countless possibilities where the rewards can be high,” Maria asserts. 

And she continues, “The leap of faith never fails because you learn something valuable about your decision and the events in your life, bringing growth and confidence.  Survival makes you strong and it is an understanding of failure that makes you realize this is not the end of the line, but just the beginning of a new chapter.” 

Achieving success as a woman in a male-dominated industry

In 2006 Metallix Refining Inc., a precious metals recycling company in New Jersey, announced they were recruiting for an inside sales position to cover Latin America. 

Maria, a native Spanish speaker, fluent in English with a background in sales and marketing, applied for the opening and received an interview offer from Eric Leiner, owner and then President.

For any profession, being prepared for whatever situation you face is crucial; it is a professional obligation to your colleagues and suppliers to answer their questions fully and present them with the best, most relevant, and actionable recommendation.

Maria applied the same professional approach to the Metallix interview. Reading precious metals and refining trade magazines, researching product supply to the industry from gold-plated connectors to solar industry production, all of which made for credibility and confidence during the interview process and responses.

woman in a male-dominated industry

Maria during her tour of Asia meeting with our Technical Director Claudio Ferrini and the General Manager of Metallix Refining Asia Mr. SB Sangbae Kim. (Photo courtesy Maria Piastre)

There is always a voice of doubt and moments of anxiousness when you want something which is almost in touching distance, and for Maria, this was no exception. 

However, instead of a second interview, she received a job offer. The strategy had worked, and Eric Leiner was thrilled when Maria accepted.

The best place to work is the place you can be at your best and this was true for Maria.  Maria started to learn the business and soon fell in love with her job and became fascinated by the industry. 

With increasing industry knowledge and eagerness to grow within the company, Maria assumed additional responsibility bringing in new business, developing good relationships with industry partners and leading the way for improvements within Metallix.

In 2007, following the birth of her second son, Maria took a short career break from Metallix.  In a competitive and male-dominated industry time away can often result in missing significant opportunities.  “The progressive mindset of Metallix and their appreciation for my professional achievements and value to the company, secured my time away from the industry – a luxury many working mothers do not enjoy. I will always be grateful for such important consideration to my family,” Maria explained.   

Upon her return, she continued to achieve recognition within Metallix, taking on significant responsibilities assigned by Lerner.  

“The only limits are those you set yourself”

In 2017, after only 12 years working in this male-dominated industry, Maria Piastre  was appointed company President.  Ambition had always been a driving force fueled by a passion for the industry, but never did she imagine to be made President. This was both a pleasant shock and honor. 

woman in a male-dominated industry

Maria interacts with every member of the Metallix Team, making an effort to engage with every employee on her many frequent visits to the Refinery. (Photo courtesy Maria Piastre)

The sense of humility that Maria brings to the position transcends not just gender but embraces a new generation of values, of learning and reward based on individual merit, with the only limits being those you set yourself.

“As an immigrant to the US, I know only too well the challenges we all will encounter, especially for minority groups. The road will not always be smooth, and regardless of your cultural background, you should believe in yourself, your self-worth, your ability to succeed and that your qualities will always shine through to achieve rewards,” Maria advises Latinas in Business readers. This ethos is ingrained in Maria’s leadership.

One of the most important responsibilities as President was to establish a vision, a long-term mission with short-term objectives.  These will ultimately determine the expectations for the company’s culture and core values that will lead Metallix at multiple levels ensuring alignment throughout. Equally, recruiting talent and nurturing Executive growth for succession planning is key to building sustainability and industry expertise.  

Now guardian of a prestigious and respected precious metals recycling company, with locations in New Jersey, Greenville, and Maxton, North Carolina, the pattern of reinvestment and growth is set to continue. 

In 2019 the company embarked on a significant expansion program establishing Metallix Refining Asia Ltd in South Korean and Metallix Refining Europe Ltd based in the UK. 

These two new facilities secured the recruitment of the industry’s most experienced and respected personnel, opening up new and untapped revenue sources to add to the diverse industries already served by Metallix.

You might be interested: Martial Arts Sensen Marieangelic Martinez defeats industry stigma and work-life balance

Evolving with the times

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Maria has witnessed and experienced many changes over the last 12 years and has been influential to many changes herself. Through Maria’s values, Metallix is a multicultural employer with promotions based on ability, not gender, and an environment where there is no place for discrimination or bullying. 

As 2020 has seen the impact of COVID-19 on businesses globally, Metallix has been no exception. 

Maria at the Precious Metals Refining meeting the Metallix Trucks arriving back to the Refinery (Photo courtesy Maria Piastre)

“Business models once tried and tested no longer applied, and the way to survive and grow in this new economic market would be through technology, Maria said.”Metallix has always made a significant investment in equipment and applied sciences resulting in the Metallix Precious Metals Refinery becoming a world-class facility. We now needed to apply the same approach to sales and communication,” Maria explained. 

In addition to travel and face-to-face meetings no longer possible, video conferencing and social media platforms have been tools in which to maintain stability in the supply chain.  Metallix has an experienced team of buyers providing materials management guidance and support, managing social risks to protect our employees, suppliers, and the community. 

Under Maria’s leadership, Metallix Refining Inc. strives to provide exceptional customer service with world-class facilities that continue to achieve excellence for our customers.

Dr. Harbeen Arora

Dr. Harbeen Arora on Sisterhood, Spirituality, and Success

Thought Leader, Global Icon & Visionary for Women, Businesswoman, Philanthropist, Humanitarian, Author, Spiritual Seeker and Compelling Speaker, Dr. Harbeen Arora manifests multifaceted leadership with strength & simplicity.

Dr. Harbeen Arora

At Annual Women Economic Forum (WEF) 2018, India (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

Dr. Harbeen Arora is the Founder and Global Chairperson of the ALL Ladies League (ALL) and Women Economic Forum (WEF). With a powerful global network of 200,000 women worldwide and growing toward ‘Mission Million’, ALL and WEF are among the largest communities of women entrepreneurs and leaders worldwide offering platforms and ecosystems for personal and professional growth. 

Born in New Delhi, Arora grew up with a great focus on education, values, and the spirit of service. Both her parents worked so growing up she always knew a woman to be independent.

“At home, I saw them both share the household chores. So we saw that balance in action, and we too, my brother and I, learned about responsibility, independence and teamwork from an early age. We were both treated equally without any one of us feeling any gender bias. We had the same rules to follow at home and same opportunities for education and growth,” says Arora. 

It was due to this great foundation of equality in her household that it took her a while to understand the depths of discriminatory biases that held women back in the economy and society. However, once she saw them she could not stop seeing them everywhere. Realizing that her upbringing was unfortunately not the norm for most women drove Arora to pursue various avenues to help better the lives of women and push toward gender equality.

Self-fulfillment and following seeking your life’s path

Additionally, the values learned in childhood – hard work, team spirit, responsibility, service; have served her immensely in her career and in life. 

“I also learned en route about the importance of having endless reserves of positive energy and resilience,” she says. “My spiritual path greatly opened up that possibility for me.”  

Always a seeker, the core of Dr. Harbeen Arora’s pursuits, both personal and professional, is self-fulfillment.   Learning, evolution, expansion and self-transformation are important life goals for her, and these goals guide and drive most of her pursuits. 

Dr. Harbeen Arora

At Women Economic Forum (WEF) 2018 Los Angeles (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

“The path reveals itself to the seeker. No matter where you are in your journey, if you have an open mind and pure heart, life will place you on the track you are supposed to be on for your own growth and awakening. When we listen to our inner voice, follow our intuitive guidance, take actions and steps forward on our path, we also meet our destiny en route,” says Arora. 

“I have always been most passionate about working and learning. Goals and dreams may change, but what I enjoy most is the learning part of it. Learning, working and walking in purpose greatly uplifts you as a human being. That constant opening up of the mind, broadening of horizons, change of perspective, spiritual expansion and blossoming of the energy – all these are very important to me and drive me as a person,” she adds. 

Empowering a worldwide network of women 

Dr. Harbeen Arora’s passion for learning drove her to pursue degrees in multiple fields. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Delhi University, a Masters from King’s College, London University and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and PhD from Sorbonne Nouvelle, University of Paris III. 

Throughout her years pursuing her education and later in her career, Arora again and again experienced great revelations about the strengths we each hold. 

“In 2000, going to Paris for my M.Phil and PhD, without knowing a word of French, and then writing my doctoral theses in French, was a revelation to me of the immense inner strength we hold to accomplish whatever we set our heart and mind on. It greatly built my self-belief, spirit of risk-taking, and self-reliance,” she shares. 

Receiving Award for Women Empowerment from the H.E President of Egypt. (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

“Then again, in 2011, we sowed the seeds of a dream to unite ALL the women of the world as a worldwide web of women. We started the ALL Ladies League (ALL), that forms the backbone of our now famous conference platform, the Women Economic Forum (WEF), and then instituted business and industry chamber Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (WICCI) that gives policy recommendations to the government from time to time, and now our global e-commerce marketplace for our global community, SHEconomy.” 

As of 2020, the Women Economic Forum (WEF) completed 41 global editions across 25 countries. Their last annual event was in March 2020 in Egypt. Since the lockdown the WEF has held their events virtually, which has given them the opportunity to expand their digital reach. 

“We have a Mission Million for 2022 and the digital outreach is, now more than ever, integral to the realisation of that vision. Our completely free e-commerce platform for women entrepreneurs worldwide, SHEconomy, is a game changer in this direction,” says Arora. 

You might be interested: Stacie de Armas on breaking stereotypes and advocating for Latinas

In ALL’s decade-long engagement, they have fostered a worldwide ecosystem of “sisterhood,” for empowering support networks and safe spaces where women can come together to help one another. Arora says, “Empowering women’s social and economic leadership is at the heart of ALL what we do. We are non political, non religious and non dogmatic.” 

Sisterhood, Spirituality, and Success 

With a massive network of 250,000 women and supporters connected worldwide including in Latin America, the WEF are surely and steadily on their way toward realizing their “Mission Million” dream. 

“It helps that we are founded and headquartered in India, the cradle of civilization that has forever welcomed and embraced ALL, with a most inclusive vision for humanity and the world as ‘One Divine Family,’ as said in the Vedic phrase ‘Vasudeva Kutumbkam’,” says Arora. “Our guiding spiritual mantra is ‘Love ALL, Serve ALL.’ I’m a devotee of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and I strongly feel a divine hand and guidance. I’m in absolute awe of what is unfolding for I know the divine feminine is manifesting through this bond of sisterhood, through each one of us who carries a piece and part of the greater feminine.” 

Fostering the spirit of sisterhood is a crucial step toward closing the gender gap, according to Dr. Arora. “We believe that in order to close the He/She gender gap (and by extension, education gap, security gap, respect gap, opportunity gap, wage gap …), we absolutely need to first close the She/She gender gap,” says Arora. “Thus ours is a She-for-She movement, with outreach toward She-for-He and She-for-All. Ours is a movement of Gender Equality without Gender Divisiveness; from a place of Positivity (of attitude/approach/conduct), Power (of self-belief) and Purpose (of the collective aspiration).” 

At Women Economic Forum (WEF) Tunisia 2019, with Nobel Peace Laureate 2015, Ouided Bouchamaoui (right), and then Minister Neziha Labidi (left). (Photo courtesy Dr. Harbeen Arora)

Through the various platforms– ALL, WEF, WICCI, and SHEconomy–Dr. Arora has helped women come together and create a solidarity of “sisters beyond borders.” In this process of pursuing Oneness as sisters Dr. Arora has been spiritually uplifted by a vision of Equality, spirit of Equanimity, and surrender to Eternity. 

“We all have our challenges, and everyone is fighting their own battles. My humble learning over the years while facing challenges big and small is this – our Self-Belief and “Atma-Vishwas,” viz. our faith in the eternity and infinity of our own Soul and Self is the source of tremendous inner strength. By tapping into this inner (divine) strength, one can face all kinds of challenges with courage and resilience. This is the education of the heart and spirit.”

Throughout life, Arora says her greatest challenge has always been understanding herself and her purpose in life and how to implement her highest vibration in her day to day work. This is especially true for many who may think that one’s highest spiritual goals are incompatible with the pursuits of business and real life challenges. However, Dr. Arora says she has learned throughout her journey that it is possible to match both and lead a happy, fulfilling, balanced and successful life. She defines success as awakening. 

“Success is about awakenings and openings, about finding doors so to say, and we indeed hold the key to that. We succeed every moment by simply holding up the attitudes of ‘never say die’, not quitting, and always doing whatever we can to the best of our abilities even in the worst of our circumstances.”

Damaris Diaz

Damaris Diaz shares pandemic stories and how COVID has impacted the Latino community

In our most recent National Conversation with Latina Leaders event, Latina Small Business Post-Covid Recovery: Resources and Trends, correspondent and TV personality, Damaris Diaz joined the conversation in a fireside chat with Latinas in Business Inc. President and CEO, Susana G Baumann.

Damaris Diaz

The free event sponsored by Prudential took place virtually on March 19 from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm EST streaming on Zoom and Facebook Live, featuring two panels of Guest Speakers, including Damaris, and with Keynotes Speaker Stacie de Armas.

Don’t miss our next event! Meet&Greet: SOCIAL MEDIA HACKS AND TRICKS

During the fireside chat, Damaris shared stories of her own experience in the pandemic as well as the stories of others she has encountered throughout her work as a journalist and TV correspondent.

Born in La Vega, Dominican Republic, Damaris moved to the U.S. with her family as a young child, residing first in New York, before settling down in New Jersey as an adult. A Seton Hall graduate, Damaris focused her studies on communications and criminal justice. Now, as a journalist, correspondent, and TV personality, Damaris has had the opportunity to interview countless people and share their stories with larger audiences.

Born in La Vega, Dominican Republic, Damaris moved to the U.S. with her family as a young child, residing first in New York, before settling down in New Jersey as an adult. A Seton Hall graduate, Damaris focused her studies on communications and criminal justice. Now, as a journalist, correspondent, and TV personality, Damaris has had the opportunity to interview countless people and share their stories with larger audiences. 

Some key topics Damaris spoke about were the impact the pandemic has had mentally on the Latino community, essential workers, business owners, and families who have suffered unexpected losses, including her own family. 

Biggest lessons learned during the pandemic 

Susana G Baumann 4:23

I would like to ask you, you know, what, what lessons have we learned from the pandemic? You know, this unexpected devastation? I know you have been covering a lot of personal stories of family, emotional and financial distress.

Damaris Diaz 4:54

That’s right, Susana. It’s been you know, it’s been a whirlwind…So many of us have been affected on so many levels. I have friends who say to me, ‘Oh, wow, you know, I haven’t gotten COVID. And my family’s all okay.’ And I’m like, wow, God bless you, you know that that’s not my story. My story early on, my cousin’s parents both fell ill in the hospital. Here in a local hospital in New Jersey, just two days apart. Ambulance came for the mom, ambulance came to the dad, the next day, within a week…And you know, nobody was prepared for that nobody was prepared for a loss in the middle of a pandemic, where you can’t even congregate with your family and be there for them and hold their hand and be a part of their pain.

And, you know, we all know the same way we’re born, eventually, someday we’re going to die. But to kind of have to face this in the middle of a crisis where we don’t even know like: Is there a cure? Well, you know, what’s the medication? What’s going to happen with our families? And then you start seeing the stories…on a daily basis of young people, people in their 20s, children of all age,  and so we are living with this fear, not knowing ‘At what point am I going to get it? And how is my system going to react to it?’

I think that the lessons we learned, one of the biggest lessons learned here is: you’ve got to be prepared. How do you prepare for this kind of thing? You know, we kind of go through life on a day to day thinking, ‘Okay, I need to prepare for today. What’s my, what’s my assignment for today, I’m going to call and get a permanent release. And I’m going to get my cameraman lined up, and I’m going to get my editor ready, and we’re going to do this.’ We’re preparing for the now, for the now. But there’s, you know, tomorrow and the day after that, and the week after that and the month after that, and there’s so many things that we don’t think about, but this pandemic has put it in our faces, you know, hit us on the forehead, like, ‘Hey, wake up, wake up! Are you ready? Are you ready for this?’ Nobody was ready for this. And we’re like reinventing the wheel every day as we go along, trying to figure out our lives in the middle of this health crisis that’s just not here in the U.S., but it’s in the entire world.

Susana G Baumann 7:54

Correct. Yes. One thing that you mentioned was really, very, very powerful on the inability to be there for your losses, for the people who are passing. I know personally, friends who lost their parents. And like you said, they were not able to even say the goodbyes…rituals are important in any society, and this pandemic put us totally on hold for those very traditional rituals that help us cope with the losses. 

Two sides of the pandemic: from despair to hope 

Damaris then shared various stories of individuals in the pandemic, from the hardships of being an essential healthcare worker to how a small business owner found hope and success helping others. 

Damaris Diaz 8:41

One of the first stories that I covered that really hit hard for me and for so many viewers was a nurse in New York City. She works as a nurse, and so you know, a lot of our first responders were the first ones to get COVID because they had to work there without masks without, you know, the gloves without all the safety precautions because the hospitals weren’t prepared. And so she got COVID, she had to isolate herself, her kids were sent somewhere else. Her mom would leave her food, along with other relatives, at her doorstep. And she’s thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my mom, if she gets it? What’s gonna happen to my children? When can I see them?’ So when she finally got clear to go back to work, she drives across –she lives in Jersey– she drives across the George Washington Bridge, and she said, it was like this magnetic pool, just trying to pull her back to New Jersey, like ‘Go home, don’t do this. And she said, you know, she kept thinking, I have a duty I have to do this. So she said, ‘Oh, God just helped me get past the bridge. Once I get past the bridge, maybe when I get to the parking facility, maybe I’ll have the courage to go.’ 

So she’d park in her car and cry. She’d walk to the hospital and she’d still feel that magnetic pool saying to her, don’t do this go home and just be with your family because the world as we know it has changed and you know, and our lives could end tomorrow. And that’s when she heard the applause. Her shift started when the applause began every night around 7pm. And she says those applause were the ones that got her through, got her through those doors, got her to, you know, to her posts and helping people day after day. But she said she cried, every single day  she drove to work. And you know, now it’s almost a year later, and she’s still working as a nurse, and she probably still feels conflicted. But she’s got a duty, you know. 

I think that when I got into journalism, I thought, I just want to tell happy stories. There’s so many things that are happening in the world that are going to make us sad, that are going to make us feel crushed, I want to tell happy stories. And I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world, to interview celebrities, and movie sets, sports figures, artists, on red carpets, I’ve had the blessing and the luck to do that. But you know, the reality is, that that’s not everything. We suffer through sadness, we suffer through loss, we suffer through pain. And there are a lot of stories out there to be told, you know, of very strong women that have a voice and deserve for their stories to be told. 

So for me, that was such an honor to be able to tell her story, even though it broke my heart. And even though my voice is cracking, as I was interviewing her, you know, as a Latina, you’re, you’re raised to be strong, like, don’t shed a tear. And if you shed a tear, don’t let anyone see you. And so you know, it’s like, wow, this, this pandemic has taken a couple layers off of me, off of the way I’ve allowed the world to see me.

Susana G Baumann 11:31

This has been tremendously challenging for all families, and especially for women. So what are the good stories? Because also, the pandemic has brought, you know, some fantastic ways that he has transformed our lives for good. What do you think they are? 

Damaris Diaz 12:39

Oh, wow, telling good stories is something that I could do with my eyes closed, because it just makes me feel good. And I know that that’s the effect that we have on people when we tell these stories. 

So recently, I interviewed a– una Dominicana de Nueva York, who started her own business before the pandemic. She learned how to make these beautiful, like balloon arrangements. And she said, ‘You know what, we need to celebrate everything, you know, it’s not just a birthday, or Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate everything, let’s make people happy.’ So she learned how to make these balloons, she started to make them and deliver them and she said, ‘I was bringing joy to people. And then the pandemic happened. And it was like we weren’t allowed to be happy. Because everything has to be canceled, celebrations were canceled. We couldn’t even have a barbecue and get together with our family.’  So she started to do these courses online to help people to learn how to make them and she’d send them all the links, ‘You need to buy the supplies. And these are the cheapest ones. And I’m going to give you a whole how-to, right here right now virtually.’

And she said it’s so important to continue to celebrate our children, especially. Kids that are now being homeschooled, that, you know, who knows how their futures are going to look with this experience. This is a traumatic experience for so many children, you know, forget the fact that ‘Oh, you can’t hang out with my friends and I can’t do my extracurricular activities.’ But a lot of them had to see their grandparents die, you know, their loss of their parents, loss of the other relatives, loss of friends. And so you know, their lives are being formed right now. And this woman said, ‘It’s so important to celebrate them. So I wanted to teach parents how to make these beautiful balloon arrangements.’ And so her business went from starting out to nothing to online to now helping other people.

You might be interested: Stacie de Armas on breaking stereotypes and advocating for Latinas 

There are so many beautiful stories to be told. Yesterday, the Despierta America live, we were at a vaccination center in the Yankee Stadium. It’s open 24 seven, right? So you would think the line would wrap around the entire block considering we’ve been anxiously waiting for this vaccine. But what’s happening? Our Latinos, our African American brothers and sisters are having so much trouble having access to the vaccine. First of all, you go online, and it sends you from one thing to the other to the other, and you can’t figure it out and you think you have an appointment, just to be evaluated to see if you can get the vaccine. And you never even had an appointment for that. 

covid-19 vaccine

Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

And there’s this woman in Pennsylvania, her name is Bibi, and online, she started to help people have access to the vaccine. So if you if I called her and said, ‘Listen, girl, I can’t figure this out. My mom needs a vaccine. I know I’m not a priority right now. But she is,’ she will go online, help walk you through the steps, and the next phone call or email you get from her is: Hey, your appointment for your vaccination is on Tuesday, April, whatever. And she’s doing this in her free time. This is an entrepreneur, her little business is suffering. She’s a mother of two, she’s homeschooling her two daughters, she’s got her husband, she’s got to take care of her family and her life. And she’s taking all of her free time to help people that need this service. 

Preparing for the unexpected with Prudential

Lastly, Susana and Damaris discussed the importance of life insurance, especially in such an uncertain time such as now. Culturally, many older Latinos still live by old norms, expecting their children will be around to take care of them in their old age. But this pandemic has opened our eyes to show us that tomorrow is not guaranteed and one never knows when a crisis or health emergency might strike which is why families need to plan now and have these conversations now to be ready for whatever may come in the future. One of the ways to prepare is through life insurance. Prudential 

Susana G Baumann 17:01

So what makes you believe that a company like Prudential can lessen these effects of the devastation of Latino families, especially, you know, those that worry about their finances, and don’t know if they’re gonna make it to the end of the pandemic?

Damaris Diaz 19:01

Well, Prudential, first of all, speaks our language. So whether you’re bilingual or not, Prudential speaks our language. So they’re there to help us and they are experts in this field. I mean, they’ve been around since 1875, before you and I were ever on this planet, and it’s the largest insurance carrier in the United States. So they are the go to place….They understand our community, our values and they know what matters. Like you said, culturally, as we get older, we’re thinking our kids are going to take care of us, right? My mom still has that hope. She still has that hope that my sister, my brother, and I are going to care for her in her older years, because that’s what she was taught. And that’s what my grandparents believed. My grandfather was taken care of by all of his children, seven children, and all of the grandchildren and great grandchildren, until the day he passed about a year and a half ago. We were by his bedside. And before that he, you know, in hospice, every single day, my aunt was there taking care of him, 24/7. 

That’s a full time job and not a full time job, like a 40 hour, you know, full time gig that we would have. Twenty-four seven. And so you know, what we need to plan financially for those situations. 

And those are conversations that we don’t want to have, especially, as a younger person, it’s like, I’m not gonna think about that I have my whole life ahead of me. Really? Something could happen to me tomorrow, and I could be bed bound, God forbid, you know? Tomorrow is now. Like, we have to plan now. And so that’s when a company like Prudential steps in. Prudential understands that  we have different stories. It’s not a one size fits all situation. And so when you speak to one of the experts at Prudential they come knowing what our struggles are.They understand that we speak a different language. It’s not just that hablamos español, we speak a whole different cultural language.

You know, 52% of Latinos do not have an emergency savings.” (Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash)

When my father passed, he was 61 years old, and he passed after a heart attack, years ago, that was like the eye opener for me. I would have never thought about life insurance until that happened. But I remember growing up and hearing them talking about that, and I used to think these people are crazy. They’re planning their death, like they’re buying life insurance….But you know, that’s just the ignorance in a person like myself at that age where I didn’t want to think about tomorrow.

We have to think about tomorrow, we need to have emergency savings, and not just for a month or two months. As hard as that may seem….You know, 52% of Latinos do not have an emergency savings. And that’s proven. And so many people are worried, like ‘how are we going to do this?’ 

It’s not too late. Yes, we’re in a pandemic. Yes, a lot of people have lost their jobs. Yes, we’re in a huge economic crisis, but it’s not too late. Prudential believes that one of the best ways to feel empowered and supported is to learn, educate ourselves, on our finances, have these conversations as hard as they may seem. 

Susana G Baumann 25:00

Thank you so much for your time. We know that’s a challenge for us, for Latinos, for small businesses and uh, but we need to learn to talk about money. We need to talk about money with our children, with our families, with our parents and to plan for the future. 

For more information and resources from Prudential, visit www.Prudential.com/tuSumas

UN Women

Maria-Noel Vaeza of UN Women discusses key issues affecting women post-COVID

In the past year, due to the COVID-19 crisis, women have experienced job loss in record numbers and suffered from economic barriers. To address these issues UN Women is creating a variety of programs and initiatives that will help further the advancement of women globally, increase their access to capital, and promote gender equality.

UN Women, gender equality

Maria-Noel Vaeza, UN Women. (Photo credit: Pablo Sanhueza)

How UN Women is working to support women post-COVID Crisis

Maria-Noel Vaeza is the Regional Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean. A Uruguayan native, she holds a doctorate in Law and Social Sciences from the University of the Republic of Uruguay and a master’s degree in public policy from John Hopkins University in Washington DC. Prior to this role, Maria-Noel served as Director of the Program Division at UN Women headquarters in New York. 

Before joining the UN she also held various positions in the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Political Counselor at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington DC and delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. 

Currently, UN Women are working to develop various programs to support women in business, especially those struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the key objectives UN Women are working to address is advancing gender equality. 

“Advancing gender equality continues to be strategic, and becomes even more important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to McKinsey Global Institute estimates from July 2020, the rate of job loss for women has been 1.8 times higher than that of men,” says Maria-Noel. 

UN Women

Maria-Noel Vaeza, Regional Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean. (Photo credit: Pablo Sanhueza)

According to their estimates, not taking gender-lens actions to address the impact of COVID-19 in a way that would widen the gap in labor participation between men and women would result in a decrease in global GDP by $1 billion in 2030, compared to its value if the crisis had affected women equally. In contrast, if actions were taken now to improve gender equality, so that gender equality improves over the next decade, global GDP could be $13 billion higher in 2030, an increase of 11% over the no-action scenario.”

To encourage advancements in gender equality, UN Women are creating a variety of programs to address gender biases and inequalities in business. One of these programs is the Win-Win program. 

Formed in collaboration with ILO and with financial support from the European Union, the Win-Win program seeks to contribute to the economic empowerment of women, recognizing them as beneficiaries and drivers of growth and development, in partnership with the private sector through the incorporation and/or improvement of corporate management with a gender lens, with the understanding that in addition to an ethical imperative and social justice, gender equality is good business for companies, for the market and society as a whole.

The Win-Win Program’s 3 Key Focus Topics

The Win-Win Program is framed within the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development focusing on 4 Sustainable Development Goals (5,10, 8 and 17). To address opportunities for economic empowerment and open spaces for women, the Win-Win Program addresses the issue in 3 dimensions of work: with entrepreneurs and businesswomen; with companies (supporting them in a gender-focused management) and with the financial sector to develop innovative financing initiatives with gender impact.  

Maria-Noel Vaeza at Forum WEPs. (Photo credit: Rodrigo de la Fuente).

There are three topics that have become essential for women’s businesses and that UN Women seek to promote through the Win-Win Program. Maria-Noel describes these three key focus topics below:

  1. First, the use of digital tools to reach their target audiences, position their businesses and sell, including digital marketing and e-commerce. This crisis is deepening the Fourth Industrial Revolution and digitalization processes, so it is essential to adjust to change and rethink the ways of doing business. 
  2. Second, access to financing. The evidence is clear: investing in women is good business. But for many women, access to capital remains a major barrier. According to the IFC, only 7% of private equity and venture capital is invested in women-led businesses. This lack of capital or funding is not only detrimental to women’s progress, but to social and economic growth itself. Therefore, from the Win-Win Program, we are working on an innovative financing initiative with an impact on gender equality. 
  3. Third, there are the strategic alliances and linkages that can be made between women’s companies and between companies committed to equality, to generate business opportunities or mutual benefit, as well as the promotion of gender-sensitive procurement in corporate or public procurement processes. By gender-sensitive procurement, we mean the review of procurement processes to identify barriers to the participation of women-owned businesses, as well as the possibility of implementing affirmative actions to include more women-owned businesses in supply chains.  

Within the framework of the Win-Win Program, the UN Women have also developed the Investors for Equality Initiative, a space for meeting and dialogue between the different actors of the financial, investment and entrepreneurship ecosystem to raise awareness and mobilize investments with gender impact.

The Investors for Equality Initiative seeks to become a space that puts women at the center of investments, making them visible as businesswomen, entrepreneurs and investors. It also seeks to involve more actors in this effort and to mobilize more capital flows and financial instruments to reduce the financing gaps that women face today and to generate a commitment to the principles involved in promoting gender-sensitive investments and gender equality within organizations in the financial sector.

“To this end, we call on more investors and financial institutions to join us, transforming their internal practices to promote women’s empowerment, generating more innovative financial instruments and mechanisms that incorporate a gender perspective and thereby achieve greater impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment,” says Maria-Noel.

The impact of Latina women and entrepreneurs

According to recent World Bank data, in the Latin American and Caribbean region, women represent approximately 40% of the economically active population. According to IDB data, the average rate of entrepreneurial activity of women in the region is 15%, of which 71% undertake out of opportunity and 29% out of necessity. 

“Latin America in general is one of the regions with the highest rates of entrepreneurial activity, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the six countries with the highest rates are in the region, with Chile and Ecuador at the top of the list. This speaks of a huge opportunity,” says Maria-Noel. 

UN Women, gender equality

Marie-Noel Vaeza, UN Women. (Photo credit: Pablo Sanhueza)

“Women play a central role in our societies, not only because they are almost 50% of the population, but also because women control around 20 billion dollars in consumer spending, and generate around 18 billion, which widens their circle of influence. In Latin America, women make 64% of the purchasing decisions in their households. Data shows that women entrepreneurs generate 20% more income than men, even though 50% less is invested in them.” 

This begs the question: Why, if women generate more income, decide on consumption and undertake profitably, do they have fewer opportunities? According to Maria-Noel, one of the current challenges for women’s economic empowerment is the mobilization of the capital necessary to have impactful businesses, diversify sources of financing, and develop more innovative mechanisms.

Still, Latinas are innovative and eager to move forward,” Maria-Noel says, though they face  “enormous frustrations due to the barriers they face: no access to financing.” 

If these barriers are to be broken down, we must work on social norms and eliminate unconscious biases and stereotypes, which is what the UN Women are striving to do with their various programs focused on promoting the advancement of women. 

Marie-Noel Vaeza, taking a selfie with others. (Photo credit: Pablo Sanhueza)

We have to accelerate the pace for the advancement of women. It is absurd to continue discriminating. What we need to do as society is to start working and advocating toward gender equality. Women represent 50% of the world population, and women’s contribution to global gross domestic product (GDP) is 37%. Women are on the front line of the response and bear greater physical and emotional costs, as well as a higher risk of infection in crisis response.”  

And yet, Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected offices, civil services, the private sector or academia. 

You might be interested: Mariela Dabbah, the perils of a global pandemic for gender inclusion in the workplace

“Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth,” says Maria-Noel. “What we need to guarantee is that human rights, that are women´s right, are respected, guarantee their participation in decision-making spaces, in political parties and in all aspects of society. And that is why the work that we do at UN Women is so important, we focus on priority areas that are fundamental to women’s equality, and that can unlock progress across the board.” 

Moving forward: UN Women’a 4 areas of focus

Moving forward, the UN Women will continue to focus on priority areas fundamental to women’s equality and create programs that will further the advancement of women. Four primary areas of focus are: Political empowerment, economic empowerment, eliminating violence against women, and promoting peace and security. 

Maria-Noel Vaeza, UN Women. (Photo credit: Rodrigo de la Fuente).

Political empowerment: For this, we are working with the electoral tribunals to train women candidates. We have a wonderful platform that is active and has more than 5,000 women who want to be candidates or who are already candidates so that they can continue to be trained in negotiation, public policies. Today, 70% of the parliaments are made up of men, 100% of the presidents are men and 85% of the mayors are men. We have to move the needle and reach this parity. Our goal is parity. 

Economic empowerment: In this line, our priorities are the care economy and gender-sensitive financing and investments. 

Eliminating violence against women and girls is fundamental. To this end, I place great emphasis on prevention, because not enough is being done, and on access to justice. 

And finally, everything related to women, peace and security. Working on how women are placed at the tables to negotiate social peace, for preventive diplomacy, to avoid the conflicts that occur every day in our region and all that is humanitarian aid.

Additionally, this year the UN Women will focus on having women at the center of the response for COVID-19, to ensure women’s needs are taken into consideration for the recovery plans. They will be working intensely with the establishment of care systems in the region, to recognize, redistribute and reduce unpaid care work. Innovation will be at the center of the UN Women’s work moving forward as they also continue to focus on the overall advancement of women and further gender equality. 

women-in-tech

Rosario B. Casas is closing digital divide for Hispanics with #Brooklyn2Bogota

Brooklyn2Bogota is a digital incubator for Hispanic business owners created by BCPartnersTech and led by women-in-tech advocate Rosario B. Casas and Felipe Andrés Forero Hauzeur. The program aims to help close the digital divide post-COVID for business owners and entrepreneurs by focusing on empowerment, digital transformation, and business growth through a variety of activities and mentor lectures. 

women-in-tech

Rosario at TEDxTalk. (Photo courtesy Rosario B. Casas)

Women-In-Tech advocate Rosario B. Casas 

Brooklyn2Bogota leaders Rosario B. Casas and husband Felipe Andrés Forero Hauzeur. (Photo courtesy Rosario B. Casas)

Award-winning women-in-tech advocate, Rosario B. Casas is Co-Founder of Business Creative Partners, BCPartnersTech, leading digital adoption and transformation for Hispanic owned businesses. She is a Colombian-born serial entrepreneur, now based in New-York, with over 8 years of practical experience in data and technology platforms and management roles.  

In addition to BCPartnersTech, Rosario is also Co-Founder and CEO of  XR Americas, a company dedicated to expanding the borders of immersive technologies –Virtual Reality, Augmented, Mixed– in industrial applications. Rosario is a Colombian entrepreneur based now in New York.

As a champion and enthusiastic advocate for women-in-technology, she is obsessed with finding more women and Hispanics using technology to solve key global challenges. To further encourage and support women-in-tech, Rosario has co-founded several strategic partnership models, serves as a member of the Big Data Advisory Board at Rutgers University, and has been a lecturer at TEDx, The World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship , and The World Innovation Network TWIN Global, among others.

You might be interested: Venezuelan tech entrepreneur revolutionizes social storytelling with video-sharing app FlickPlay

How #Brooklyn2Bogota is empowering Hispanic business owners 

Brookly2Bogota is a community for digital transformation and business growth founded by Hispanic talent. Focusing on empowering business owners in the areas of Leadership, Products, and Growth the Digital Incubator Cohort offers valuable insights and guidance to participants through a series of lectures and discussions with mentors and experts as well as various activities and networking opportunities. 

digital incubator

Women-in-tech leader Rosario B. Casas is building a community for the digital transformation and business growth of Hispanic entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy Rosario B. Casas)

The 8-week Incubation Program was initially created as a tool to help reduce the digital divide post-COVID and strengthen the knowledge of business owners and entrepreneurs, especially of Latino origin – both in the New York / New Jersey area and in Latin America.

The training program provides tools for participants to accelerate the growth of their company in the new digital world post-COVID and carry out the digital transformation they require while acquiring knowledge and skills related to design thinking and agile methodologies.

Focusing on the fundamental pillars of Leadership, Product, and Growth, the incubation process takes place over 8 uninterrupted weeks where entrepreneurs receive receive theoretical sessions and panels of specialized topics, dictated by carefully selected mentors for each area.

The thematic mentoring sessions between members of the Network of Mentors and the companies participating in our programs provide participants with expert knowledge and guidance as they move through the program. The cohort offers both private individual mentoring sessions and open conversations, many of which can be viewed here


Finally, the program provides participants with a private network that brings together the mentors and participants who complete the program. This network allows for further connection, collaboration, and exchange of ideas in the future and continued growth for entrepreneurs and business owners. 

Recently the program completed their first 8-week Digital Incubator Cohort. The first cohort provided 8 weekly closed live sessions and 23 open sessions, over 61 hours of live broadcast time, 93 individual thematic mentoring sessions, and approximately 110 hours of individual thematic mentoring. 

Applications for the second cohort are open now. See here to join.

Claudia Vazquez, Prudential

Servant Leader Claudia Vazquez shares 5-step recipe for success

Recent winner of the Mujeres Brillantes award, presented by Prospanica & Prudential, as well as the Prudential Hispanic Star award and Influential Latina award, Claudia Vazquez is a bilingual and bicultural Latina Leader dedicated to diversity and inclusion, education, and uplifting the voices of women.    

Latina Leader, Claudia Vazquez (Photo courtesy Claudia Vazquez).

Currently, Claudia is a Director of Product Management within Prudential’s Group Insurance Customer Solutions Unit. There she leads the Business Resolution Team, which manages key activities and elements of the portfolio sales cycle. Claudia focuses much of her time assessing innovative customer solutions to help solve customer challenges. 

In addition to her work at Prudential, she is also a servant leader who is passionate about education and strives to amplify the voices of women and children. Currently she serves as a Board Trustee of BRICK – Achieve Community Charter School, which services elementary children, the majority of which are Black Americans. Claudia has also done volunteer work for the Greater Newark Conservancy by developing a revamped hiring process for their reintegration to society program, and has volunteered at Northern New Jersey Girl Scouts by facilitating various badge workshops and at her children’s schools by facilitating STEM workshops. 

The “perks” of growing up bilingual and bicultural

Claudia’s passion for helping others, and her career in the insurance industry, began when she was just fourteen years old. Living by the Mexican-American border and growing up bilingual and bicultural “had its perks,” Claudia says. One of these perks was the tourism that came into Baja California, Mexico from the United States. Every weekend, Claudia would receive these tourists and sell automobile insurance to American drivers. This was Claudia’s first job for which she was paid $50 pesos per day, or about five dollars for an eight-hour shift. 

“I was selected to do the job because I was bilingual and able to grasp the insurance concept during a week-long training,” says Claudia. 

Of her upbringing, Claudia says it was different than others living in the U.S. today. Originally from Mexico, her parents met and married in Pasadena, California where she was later born. At just one year old, Claudia and her parents returned to Mexico, settling in Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico where she would live until the age of thirteen. 

“At the age of 13 years old my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to move to Pasadena, California with my aunt, so I could practice my English and learn about American culture,” says Claudia. “I was placed in ESL (English as a second language) classes with kids from all over the world. In my classes there were kids from Vietnam, Philippines, Armenia, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, etc., as well as a mixture of cultures, races and languages that I had never experienced.

servant leader

Learn, do and earn event for High School Students – Newark 2018 (Photo courtesy Claudia Vazquez).

This experience lasted 18 months and helped Claudia become more disciplined, focused, develop leadership skills and assimilated quicker to a new place and environment. She decided to push herself harder than ever before, refusing to take all ESL classes. 

 “I figured that if the purpose of me going to California was to practice English, then I needed to attend all my classes in English! So, I took a risk and requested the Principal and the Educational Director’s permission to be transferred to regular English classes, even though I would struggle in understanding and it would take me three times longer to finish my homework,” says Claudia. 

With permission granted, she then worked diligently, translating her work with her English/Spanish Dictionary by her side. 

“Nowadays, with Google Translate it would be a breeze,” says Claudia. 

Still, even with the added obstacles, she managed to finish the school year and the next with some Honors classes, and mostly A’s and B’s.

This can-do, driven mentality would continue to follow her throughout her childhood and into adulthood as she began her career. 

Stepping up as a servant leader 

At 22 years old, Claudia found herself in Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico. At the time the village had no phones or running water and most houses had dirt floors and were constructed with sticks. Here, she would become an ESL teacher for elementary school children–an unexpected turn in her career. 

servant leader

First time teaching English as a Second Language to elementary students,1994, Zipolite, Oaxaca Mexico (Photo courtesy Claudia Vazquez).

“I got married at 22 years old. My husband is a physician and as part of his bachelor’s degree program, all Mexican physicians must complete one year of social services work in a rural area before they can graduate. Therefore, we moved to Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico,” says Claudia. “We were very lucky because we lived in the small clinic, where we had a small private room and bathroom, and the most beautiful view of the ocean. We were literally a few steps from the beach.” 

Claudia describes these first two weeks as a “true vacation.” She took naps, walked by the beach and read, while her husband worked from nine to five. But after two weeks she began to feel anxious with so much free time. 

“I started to evaluate what I could do? I had only worked selling insurance at the border, at McDonald’s as a cashier and as a sales representative for State Farm, none of which were transferable skills for a location like Zipolite. But I spoke English, and Zipolite received a lot of tourists from the USA and from Europe,” says Claudia. 

It was then that she decided to use her bilingual and bicultural experiences to become an ESL teacher and servant leader within the community. Quickly Claudia set to work and created her own  teaching material by cutting images from magazines and pasting them onto cardboard. Soon enough she was teaching evening classes four days a week to the children of Zipolite.  

As a servant leader, Claudia also began assisting her husband at the clinic in Zipolite during the day. “I learned to give vaccinations, assisted him with the delivery of babies and completed medical history reports that were due at the end of the month. It was then that I realized that my calling was to help others succeed. This 12-month experience helped me become creative, tenacious, and more compassionate.”

You might be interested: 4 Tips for becoming a professional Hispano entrepreneur

5-Step recipe for success 

Washington, DC, 2017 Receiving the Latina Style Company Award on behalf of Prudential (Photo courtesy Claudia Vazquez).

Being a dual-citizen, bilingual and bicultural, and fully embracing her cultural background has given Claudia a unique perspective in her career. From her work in education as an ESL teacher to her leadership roles within the insurance industry, Claudia’s background has helped her succeed and help serve the growing Hispanic population in the U.S. 

“As of 2020, there are 60 million Hispanics in the US, representing 18% of the population. According to Nielsen, by 2023 the buying power of the United States Hispanic population is expected to top $1.9 trillion, which is higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries like Australia, Spain and Mexico,” says Claudia.  

The Hispanic population has tremendous power but many Hispanic individuals face roadblocks on their way to success. Immigrants often struggle to access resources due to language barriers. Claudia has worked to eliminate these gaps throughout her work in the insurance industry. Prior to working at Prudential, she led the Hispanic Initiative at Unum, which was an end to end customer/claim bilingual program to serve non- English-speaking claimants, which resulted in the company saving over $300K in translation services and improving the customer experience. 

Claudia also strives to uplift the voices of Latina women. She is passionate about helping women follow their dreams and achieve success. Over the years, Claudia developed this five-step recipe for success that has helped her on her personal journey: 

Connect with your inner soul and rediscover your true essence

When Claudia was in her mid-twenties, she decided to permanently move back to California. She had a dream that she had been putting off for years: finishing her Bachelor’s degree. It was a dream that could no longer wait. 

This was a plan that had always been in my mind and in my heart, but due to several socio-economic barriers, a move to Oaxaca and then Chiapas, I was not able to do it sooner.”

Have a clear plan with specific goals to achieve your dream

Claudia was determined to break the transgenerational cycle and become the first in her family to graduate college. 

It was at this time that I realized that unless I had a clear goal and a plan to achieve this goal I may not succeed.”

Stick to the plan and adjust as needed

“It took me six years to finish my bachelor’s degree while working full time, being pregnant with our first child, managing the purchase of our first home and volunteering as an ESL teacher and as a Citizenship instructor to more than 80 Hispanic students who achieved their US citizenship by attending my classes at a local community center. The feeling of not being enough, of not belonging, of not being smart enough came several times throughout the six years, when I could not understand certain economic concepts, statistical regression analysis or computer coding. Then once again when I applied to an amazing Fortune 500 company and I was hired at 20% less salary than others because I had not finished my Bachelor’s.” 

Be grateful, every day, every time

“Nonetheless, I did not quit, I did not blame anyone, I did not stop pursuing my ultimate dream. On the contrary, I persevered–I got up every morning and remained positive, determined and diligent. I ultimately arrived at the desired destination at the age of 30. We had our first son, and 40 days later, I graduated with a degree in Psychology. The transgenerational cycle was broken– I was the first one in my family to graduate from college!”

Pay it forward and always find time to help others

“At Prudential one of my greatest accomplishments was being the connector between our Financial Wellness team and various National Hispanic Organizations in the US. As a result, we were able to provide free tools to improve the financial opportunities for over 100,000 Hispanics across the United States.”

Red Shoe Leader Award – 2019 (Photo courtesy Claudia Vazquez).

Finally, Claudia says it’s important to believe in yourself and follow your heart. “I know this sounds easy and sometimes we don’t have role models, support systems, or the socio-economic means to achieve it. But I can guarantee anyone that if you have conviction, people, and resources, opportunities will manifest themselves as that is how the collective wisdom works.

It takes a village. Surround yourself with those who believe in your dreams!”

gender inclusion in the workplace

Mariela Dabbah, the perils of a global pandemic for gender inclusion in the workplace

As 2020 draws to a close, Mariela Dabbah, founder and CEO of the Red Shoe Movement, reflects on the Covid-19 pandemic impact for gender inclusion in the workplace. The pandemic has touched all communities and industries across the globe but most importantly, it has affected the lives of women. The consequential economic crisis is now being called the “she-cession” because women, especially those working full-time jobs, have been mostly affected by having to keep up with their jobs remotely AND managing children and their schooling at home. 

Mariela Dabbah, founder and CEO of the Red Shoe Movement (Photo courtesy Mariela Dabbah)

Mariela Dabbah, founder of a leadership development company powered by a global community of women and men allies who support each other for career success, is working to give women the support they need amid these challenging times. 

The TEDx and International speaker, award-winning, best-selling author and go-to corporate authority for Fortune 500 companies interested in inclusive cultures sat for an interview with LatinasinBusiness.us on this very specific and concerning topic. 

How the pandemic has affected women in the workplace

Despite much progress over the years in regards to the issue of gender equity in the workplace, women are still under-represented in higher level positions, with only 7% of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. “And while many organizations boast of having a higher percentage of women than men at lower levels of the pyramid, it continues to be very lonely at the top,” Mariela says. 

In the post-Covid landscape, some of this small progress is now being dialed back. The most recent research shows how women have been much more affected by the pandemic, with one in four considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce. Many organizations are now losing their female and diverse talent at higher rates than before. 

“This is connected to the fact that women and particularly women with diverse backgrounds and with disabilities have less resources needed to support them at this time. Primarily, reasons include women tending to be the person in charge of childcare, but also, they generally make less than their male counterparts. When a decision needs to be made of who in the household will quit their job, it’s usually women,” says Mariela. 

As the primary caregivers in most households, women were already in charge of the many hours of unpaid work related to raising a family and keeping a home. This past year they have had to shoulder even more of these responsibilities as lockdowns caused children to become homeschooled through distance learning. The struggle of juggling their careers while being a hands-on parent and maintaining their household has forced many women to compromise, step back or quit all together. 

Foreseeing a negative pandemic effect on women in the workplace early on, Mariela and her team developed programs and initiatives to support them. 

The pandemic shock first, the impact later 

“It’s been a very tough year for all of us,” says Mariela. “The first few weeks of the pandemic, I felt as lost as everyone else. It wasn’t so much the change of working from home rather than going to the office. I’ve been working mostly virtually for the last decade. It was more a feeling of unease. Feeling drained. Having no willpower, having not one spark of creativity. As if everything had literally been put on pause, even my brain.” 

This same feeling has been felt by many women struggling to adjust to this new post-Covid reality. It’s hard to figure out what to do next when the future feels uncertain, with no access to resources and support systems to help them navigate these tumultuous changes. 

Women across the globe coming together virtually in solidarity for gender inclusion in the workplace (Photo courtesy Mariela Dabbah)

“It wasn’t long before we started hearing horrible stories of women being overwhelmed by trying to juggle all the new responsibilities. For instance, stories of bosses micromanaging their teams to the point of asking associates to have their cameras on during the 8 to 10-hour workday so they could check on them,” Mariela shares. 

Mariela and her team immediately created a program to address this sense of impotence and being overwhelmed to provide women with a support system that helps them avoid making rash decisions. Additionally, they have launched an initiative that continues to propel the fight for gender inclusion in the workplace. 

 

gender inclusion in the workplace

#InclusionIsNotOnPause initiative (Photo courtesy Mariela Dabbah)

“We launched the #InclusionIsNotOnPause initiative to remind everyone that we needed to keep our eyes on the gender-inclusion ball or we’d lose a lot of our hard-earned gains of the past few decades. This initiative provides a set of tactics that organizations can implement to openly show their support for inclusion of all its talent.”

Continuing the fight for gender inclusion 

Join the #RedShoeTuesday campaign! (Photo courtesy Mariela Dabbah)

Despite the pandemic and the struggles this past year, 2020 has also been a time of growth for many, Mariela included. This strange year has had its ups and downs, and for many the “break” from our traditional routines has led to inspiration and sparked new ideas for innovation. 

“I’ve been very lucky this year just by staying healthy.  Also, the fact that we’ve been delivering our programs virtually for so long played to our advantage; we made tweaks and improvements to everything we offer. My team and I kept coming up with new ways to better serve our clients now that they are all working from home,” says Mariela.

One personal highlight of 2020 that stands out to her is her invitation to present at TEDx Deer Park Women

“It was an amazing opportunity to share my vision for promoting a Global Leap of Consciousness in gender equity with our #RedShoeTuesday campaign.”

What’s next in women equity in the workplace?

“As the pandemic has proven, it’s impossible to predict what will happen five years from now. But our mission is to level the playing field for women and we will continue to do whatever we can to achieve it,” says Mariela. 

The Red Shoe Movement continues to develop new programs to address the needs of its clients and communication campaigns that keep raising awareness to reach gender equity. One of their latest programs is the Allyship Circles to help people talk about problematic issues in a safe environment. “The goal is to foster a culture of inclusion as quickly as possible so that all associates feel like they belong and that they are valued for their contributions,” Mariela explains.  

gender inclusion in the workplace

Wear your red shoes too for gender inclusion in the workplace! #RedShoeTuesday (Photo courtesy Mariela Dabbah)

We have seen many women step into leadership positions this past year, especially in politics. Each time a woman rises in leadership, it shows others that this too is possible for them. That kind of mentality is what Mariela hopes to continue to foster moving forward. 

You may be interested: Gender diversity in the C-suite, where Latinas stand

“The ‘seeing is believing’ kind of effect really works,” she said. “But progress inside corporations continues to be very slow. At the higher levels, there tends to be more women in roles such as HR, Communications and Marketing and many less in other areas of the business. However, since #BlackLivesMatter, the country seems to have experienced an awakening and as a result, organizations seem to be honestly committed to real change. We’ll have to wait and see if these changes stick. For now, we are seeing a wave of companies looking for real solutions to the inequity situation and this will have an impact not only on Black associates but on all under-represented groups, including women.” 

The future ahead is still uncertain, but as we head into the new year, Mariela and the Red Shoe Movement are more focused than ever in ensuring that she and her team continue to help women prosper and thrive in their careers.