Since we launched Latinas in Business in 2014, our mission was clear: To create a dynamic and diverse community seeking to promote, support and stimulate the economic empowerment of Latinas and other minority women entrepreneurs in the United States.
Our collaborative purpose focuses on telling their stories, bringing attention to their innovation and creativity, their power and ingenuity, and providing them with tools, programs, and resources that encourage them to persist in achieving their dreams.
Latinas in Business is a volunteer-based organization, and most of the work is done by the power of collaborations except when services are provided to us by third-parties. With 1600 members around the country, so far we have freely promoted over 800 women entrepreneurs and career women in our LatinasinBusiness.us magazine, organized over 15 Workshops, 5 Annual Pitch Competitions and 4 Annual Latina SmallBiz Expos.
Along these years, we have invited on stage speakers from all industries, starting at the level of micro-entrepreneurs and going up to corporate leaders and relevant political figures – Lieutenant Governor of NJ Sheila Oliver, First Lady Tammy Murphy, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Chief Diversity Officer of the NJ Office of Diversity & Inclusion Hester Agudosi, and Chief Diversity NYC Office of the Comptroller Wendy Garcia, among others.
We have promoted hundreds of events produced by strategic partners, and I have participated as a speaker in many others without collecting a penny.
All done through and in the spirit of the power of collaborations.
Women self-empowerment, what is?
Women self-empowerment is not a new fight. Our mothers and grandmothers and their female ancestors fought for the rights that many of us, and especially younger generations, take for granted. It is passed from generation to generation in the forms that are most unimaginable.
The other day, for instance, I was playing with my granddaughters, 7 and 8. They are in between the age of “princesses,”
“boys are gross,” and happy endings for women mean “saving the world by fighting the odds,” an insistent message that Walt Disney Productions has produced in the last decade or so, in search of new forms of “feminism.”
True it is, that “Tangled,” “Brave,” “Frozen” and “Moana” all feature stronger, more independent heroines, a break from the traditional helpless female characters of Cinderella and Snow White of the Disney classics. Nonetheless, the “princess” theme continues on… and it pisses me off.
Going back to my girls, we started discussing the topic of princesses, and how a woman does not have to be a princess in order to be her own self. It was a conversation about following your talents and inclinations, and making your own decisions when growing up. In the end, we agreed that the lesson was, “I am the boss of me.”
A couple of days later, my son calls me and vents, “What did you tell the girls?” The oldest refused to do something he was asking, citing “Your mother said you are not the boss of me, I am the boss of me.” Long story short, it was not the way the lesson was intended to be passed on.
How a princess becomes a diva and the culture of “diva-ness”
So, reality tells that not every woman is born a princess -although you can become one by marrying an aristocrat man. Moreover, many of the still existing crowns in the world continue to favor the heritage of male lineage.
As a result, we have come to the age of divas, spoiled women who want things their own way and boss people around. This is the only way I find to explain the Kardashians’ phenomenon, and many other reality TV shows. It is also common in the constant adoption of expressions such as “bossy diva” or “bossy Latina” or so many other expressions of falsely understood women self-empowerment. These self-qualifications used on social media with, I believe, provide a very poor image of themselves.
A study conducted about this topic, explained that “fans embed their favorite celebrity in their virtual social network in an attempt to bridge the gap between the desired fame, celebrity life and their own lives, hence reducing the discrepancy between the admired celebrity and their own selves.” In my own opinion, they are looking for external validation, something they probably do not find in their own environment.
Imitating and reproducing behaviors, actions and the image of supposed “celebrities” has caused a false sense of achievement and gained recognition. Brands and marketing agencies, as always, quickly took advantage of influencers for their own benefit -a cheap way to get their brands into grassroot publicity, sometimes just in exchange for trying a product. Ladies and gents, we have arrived to the “culture of diva-ness”!
Being a diva is not being a leader
This ego-centric idea that women self-empowerment embraces, the belief that everything and everybody in the world turns around the self, their sense of entitlement and of “self-deserved” notoriety or, what I call, the culture of diva-ness, is not good leadership. It is not even leadership.
The values held by great leaders are, by opposite, based on humility, integrity, wisdom, vision, authenticity, work and personal ethics, and most importantly, the value of respect, first to themselves and then to others -you cannot give what you do not have-, regardless of differences.
A great leader is compassionate, empathic, and treats others with dignity. Most importantly, it earns the respect of others by showing a constant sense of service to those they lead. Great leaders are recognized by others, they do not self-proclaim themselves.
Last but not least, a great leader shows courage to talk about topics that everybody else is afraid to touch upon.Anthony López, a sought-after expert on leadership and management topics, and the author of The Legacy Leader series, once said, “Leaders might not be born with courage but they show courage when the time comes to make decisions and take action.”
Women, it is time to talk.
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A pervasive marketing culture continues to destroy women in so many ways
In their defense, the culture of diva-ness is not of their own making. In this pervasive environment we live in, in which everything is marketable and “monetizable,” and women are bombarded with mixed and even opposed messages, we must constantly prove ourselves to be “outstanding.”
The individualistic messages of women self-empowerment such as “speak up” and “talk for yourself” were generated in the seventies. A movement called individualist feminism encouraged younger conservative women at the time to take full responsibilities of their own lives and choices about their bodies and their sexuality instead of being subdued by their male counterparts.
The movement had thinkers like Naomi Wolf, a liberal political activist and writer who continued evolving her views into becoming one of the voices of the Third Wave-Feminism Movement. She argued that “beauty” as a normative value is entirely socially constructed, and that the patriarchy determines the content of that construction with the objective of maintaining women’s subjugation.
So now, as you see, the very essence of the movement that had tried to define women in other ways other than by their beauty or their image, has been paired up with the “culture of diva-ness.”
The messages young women receive every day have matched the individualistic sense of women self-powerment -which is a negative message that creates anxiety and mental disturbance if you are not an over-achiever- with the need of been constantly under the spotlight. Women must be perfectly groomed, forever young, and obsessed with a perfect body shape, source of a number of addictive behaviors that puts young women’s lives in constant danger.
Even actresses of my generation, which I love and admire, have fallen to the directives of a male-dominant society that continues to dictate how we should look and behave.
Each season of the comedy series, “Grace and Frankie,” with beloved Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, is the revelation of new stretched faces, to the point that they are hardly recognizable of who they really were. Interesting enough, the show tries to convey the message that “women of certain age” can still be vibrant and successful, even when confronted with the pain of aging. “My body is telling me that I’m getting old,” says Grace in an episode. “This is the first time I’m hearing it” (paraphrased). However, her body and her face “as seen on TV” do not show her real age at 82.
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The role of image, money and success in women self-empowerment
This toxic and explosive message about “women self-empowerment” does not stop there. In addition to your image, you must be “successful,” which in most global societies, translates into having money, power and privilege.
Many times, I have used the expression “the culture of exitism,” to describe the incessant need of younger generations to become successful, not by means of working hard and producing results, -which many do and very well-, but the constant need “to be seen and exposed.” I was excited when I found a fellow Latino talking and explaining the concept on an article published in LinkedIn.
“Exitism is not a word, at least not in English that is. I couldn’t find a word that translates the concept I was working with to English in a full way so instead, I created one. Its root lays in the Spanish word “éxito,” which means “success.” The Spanish equivalent to Exitism is “Exitismo,” which basically means something like “being obsessed with success,” but most importantly it describes a trend, something many, many, many people follow: the obsession of being successful at any cost,” says Alejandro Cabral in his article, A simple reason why not to support ‘Exitism.’
This obsession Alejandro so well describes with being successful at any cost has also pervaded into messages for women, a false sense of women self-empowerment in which it is acceptable to be immoral and unscrupulous -such as the heroine of Scandal, Olivia Pope and every one of the feminine characters of the show, and for that, of many shows- in order to achieve your goals.
Whatever it takes.
Women and money
If I hear the expressions “Nothing wrong with making money” or “How to make your first million dollars” and the likes one more time, I think I am going to scream. I am going to scream as loud as I can on social media and beyond.
The idea of people as money-making machines is not new, and very much ingrained in American society. A highly recommended article on The Atlantic cites, “As corporate consolidation and factories’ technological capabilities ramped up in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, additional techniques of capitalist quantification seeped from the business world into other facets of American society. By the Progressive Era, the logic of money could be found everywhere. ‘An eight-pound baby is worth, at birth, $362 a pound,’ declared The New York Times on January 30th, 1910. ‘That is a child’s value as a potential wealth-producer. If he lives out the normal term of years, he can produce $2900 more wealth than it costs to rear him and maintain him as an adult.’ The title of this article was ‘What the Baby Is Worth as a National Asset: Last Year’s Crop Reached a Value Estimated at $6,960,000,000.’”
As incredible as it might sound, the idea of monetary value of individuals in American society is as old as the country itself -think of slavery alone. “American businesspeople and policymakers started to measure progress in dollar amounts, tabulating social welfare based on people’s capacity to generate income. This fundamental shift, in time, transformed the way Americans appraised not only investments and businesses but also their communities, their environment, and even themselves,” Eli Cook, author of The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life, sustains.
So now, in addition to the pressures of their perfect self-image and self-empowerment, women also have line up in the flocks of self-money-makers, the sad obsession of being “self-made” or becoming successful or rich by one’s own efforts. They can tear each other apart to gain space and be at the top, while they continue in servitude, maybe not so much to the men in their lives, but to a male-dominant society that sets the rules for success.
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How women still lag behind not only in #EqualPay and #MeToo
According to a comprehensive report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Americans gave $6.3 billion to nonprofits focused on women and girls in 2016. The Institute identified 45,000 organizations registered in the U.S. that it deemed “dedicated to serving primarily women and girls” or closely-associated causes such as domestic violence.
While nonprofit contributions gave a total of $396.5 billion that year, with the biggest chunk, $123.8 billion, earmarked toward religious organizations, $6.3 billion only represents about 1.6% of the total charitable giving Americans put forward in 2016.
Yes, you guessed right! There is no real interest in women’s empowerment and women’s advancement in society. Just the disproportionally amount of money given to religious organizations alone, one of the institutions that have most undermined women and other minorities’ advancement in society, should tell you something.
The power of collaboration, a value that must be taught and passed on
So, when you convoke other organizations working on women’s behalf and their leaders, you assume that, as we are all working towards the same purpose, they would respond in the same spirit of collaboration.
But in truth, many only respond following the acronym WIIIFM (What is in it for me? – Thanks to my colleague Carl Reid for sharing such wisdom.) Can you pay me $4000 for a keynote? Oh sorry, I have a schedule conflict. Can you write me a letter for $5000 in-kind donation? Oh, sorry, it’s only business. Can you support our volunteer-based organization promoting throughout your networks? Oh, sorry, I can’t, it will alienate my members’ base.
And the stories just go on, and on and on.
That is why I cherish and value the women who have been by my side from all over the world, day in and day out, my sisters, my cheer leaders, the ones that do not let me throw the towel, the ones that keep showing up every time I call for help, advice or just to vent. The ones I laugh with and cry with. Those have me unconditionally now and forever.
We must teach the female generations in the pipelines that the values of women self-empowerment they so much defend for themselves are “trickled down” not to raise them up. On the opposite, those are the values of “dividing and conquering,” the “winners and the losers,” “the givers and the takers.”
If someone is a “winner,” then I will continue to work with the “losers.” If someone is a “taker,” I will continue to work with the “givers,” until we build a society that values people over profit. That is, to me, the biggest legacy we can accomplish for women through the real power of collaborations.