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Ana Villegas, Latinas in STEM, Latinitas

NI CMO Ana Villegas empowers young Latinas pursuing careers in STEM  

Ana Villegas is the Chief Marketing Officer at NI, a tech company that has developed automated test and automated measurement systems that help engineers solve the world’s toughest challenges for more than 40 years. 

In her role as CMO, Ana leads NI’s global marketing organization and ensures the organization supports their customers and the incredible businesses they lead. NI’s technology helps engineers test and measure the performance of their products, ensuring quality and speeding the pace of innovation in our world. 

With many years of marketing experience across both consumer and B2B organizations, Ana is a frequent speaker at international conferences on B2B digital and modern marketing, diversity and corporate social responsibility topics.

Ana Villegas, Latinas in STEM, Latinitas

Ana Villegas, Chief Marketing Officer at NI. (Photo courtesy of Ana Villegas)

Additionally she proudly serves on the board of Latinitas, a non-profit focused on empowering girls to innovate through media and technology.

As a Latina in STEM, Ana knows first hand the biases and challenges that many women face in this field. Through her work as a leader and mentor she is helping to break those biases and create opportunities for young Latinas in STEM. 

“My childhood set me down a path that didn’t include a career in technology,” she says of her childhood in Peru where she attended an all-girls school where traditional expectations for women were placed on her. 

“The expectation for women was to get married, have children, and take care of the home. And my schooling very much reflected those priorities – I learned to cook, sew, and do other household chores. However, I knew I wanted more,” Ana continues. 

“I worked hard and actively sought out challenging opportunities. I spent time studying engineering despite growing up in an environment that reinforced a limited view of what women can – or should – accomplish. I knew many of those around me had doubts about my plans, but I didn’t allow their doubts to influence me and each accomplishment pushed me further.” 

It was not easy, but Ana kept moving forward on the path she created for herself. She built her own future, seeking opportunities and finding success where others had doubted her. 

Eventually, she would immigrate to the United States from Peru to attend the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University where she received her Masters of Business with a focus in Marketing. Since then, she has worked in marketing roles at Dole Food Company, Dell, and NI. 

“My advice to others: do not let others’ doubts influence your opinion of yourself. Celebrate every victory and know you can achieve anything if you stay focused and work hard.” 

Latinas in STEM need mentors

Another important piece of advice Ana has learned throughout her career is the power of mentors, especially for young Latinas. 

“I have a 10-year-old daughter so it’s important to her future that she has role models and individuals who are there for her. I want her to understand that she’s capable of anything if she puts forth the effort, focuses, and sets ambitious goals for herself.” 

Ana Villegas, Latinas in STEM, Latinitas

Ana Villegas at Startup Chica with Latinitas. (Photo courtesy of Ana Villegas)

In her work as a board member of Latinitas, Ana strives to empower young Latinas and help them cultivate confidence in their abilities and ambitions. 

Through after-school clubs, camps, events and publications, and channels, Latinitas provides a space, both in the physical and online, for girls to express themselves, develop their skills, learn about their culture and discover their unique voice.

Latinitas aims to bridge the gap in access to education and careers in technology and achievement of women in media and STEAM fields. The organization builds future leaders in STEAM who advocate for themselves and their communities and creates a culturally conscious environment that instills pride in identity and a sense of inclusion.

“I’m so proud of the community we’ve created at Latinitas and excited to see these young women flourish as they chart their professional paths.”

You might be interested: Puerto Rican neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez is promoting Latinas in STEM

Ana Villegas, Latinas in STEM, Latinitas

“I’m so proud of the community we’ve created at Latinitas.” (Photo courtesy of Ana Villegas)

Ana’s own experiences with mentors and mentorship has opened doors for her and helped her grow into the leader she is today. 

“While working at Dell, I was fortunate to find a mentor in Carla Piñeyro Sublett,” she recounts. “She was serving in a Latin America leadership role and asked me to join her newly formed team. But I wanted to continue on in a more globally-focused trajectory, so I declined. That was a nerve-wracking moment and answer to give someone who had counseled and helped me in my professional growth journey, but it turned out fine. Years later, when she became the CMO at NI, she called and we finally got the opportunity to work together.”

Today, Ana is able to give back as a leader and mentor herself. As an executive in her field, her priority is to help develop future leaders. Knowing first hand the challenges minority individuals can face in the industry, Ana focuses on understanding and embracing the unique perspectives and voices each person brings to a discussion. 

“We must set aside our own biases to understand others’ experiences and viewpoints,” she says. “This builds trust, appreciation for one another, and ultimately helps people grow. My ‘superpowers’ are my abilities to listen and to help others overcome adversity in a way that’s authentic to them.” 

Ana’s parting words of advice to women interested in pursuing a career in STEM is to surround yourself with others who will uplift and support you when you face challenges and to be your own strongest advocate. 

“Speak and live your truth and don’t be afraid to voice your perspective or challenge traditional ways of thinking. Own your authenticity and the personal power it affords you.” 

Meet Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, the Latina scientist who co-created “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine”

A new COVID vaccine known as “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine” was co-created by Latina scientist Maria Elena Bottazzi. The vaccine—officially named Corbevax—is patent-free and aims to bridge the gap between health inequity among underserved communities around the world. 

Maria Elena Bottazzi is a Honduran and Italian-born naturalized American microbiologist, currently Associate Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, as well as Distinguished Professor of Biology at Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Corbevax was developed by Bottazzi alongside Dr. Peter Hotez and their team from Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. The vaccine is based on recombinant protein, a technology that has been used for decades in drugs such as hepatitis B. 

Corbevax uses a small amount of virus proteins to activate the body’s immune response without making patients sick and is “a much cheaper process than the messenger RNA technology that Pfizer or Moderna used,” said Bottazzi. 

Peter Hotez, Maria Elene Bottazzi

Dr. Maria Elene Bottazzi (left) and Dr. Peter Hotez work with a colleague in the lab. (Photo source: Baylor College of Medicine)

In December, the drug was authorized for use in India with multiple phases of clinical trials determining that it is safe and well tolerated. Data shows that it is more than 90 percent effective against the original COVID-19 strain and more than 80 percent effective against the delta variant. 

Currently, inequality in the distribution of vaccines is a major concern worldwide and has led to many COVID-19 deaths. While 59 percent of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, less than 9 percent of residents in low-income countries have received a dose.

“Everyone talks about equity, but nobody does anything. That is why we created Corbevax, although we are a small team and it took us longer than the large laboratories,” said Bottazi in an NBCNews article. “But we knew that it would not be enough with the projects of the multinationals, if we take into account the first and second doses, plus booster and pediatric doses, we are still missing 9,000 million doses.” 

Bottazzi and her team have been working to create vaccines for neglected diseases for years. Over a decade ago, long before the COVID pandemic was even a thought, the team began researching coronaviruses and developing vaccines for coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. 

Those decades of knowledge became immediately beneficial when the pandemic hit in early 2020. Since then they have used their ample knowledge to create a vaccine that is “free for everyone.” 

Maria Elena Bottazzi, Peter Hotez

Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D right, and Maria Elena Bottazzi, Ph.D, serve as the dean and associate dean, respectively, of the National School of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. (Photo: Terry Vine Photography / Texas Medical Center)

“Peter and I aspire to benefit people, which is why we created a vaccine for the poorest communities in the world. The team that we have built shares the same interest in promoting public health and, obviously, learning at the same time,” said Bottazzi.

And her work has certainly paid off. With the distribution of this vaccine, countless countries will be able to begin to bridge the health inequity gap. Dr. Bottazzi’s accomplishments received a high recognition earlier this month when she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher. 

On February 1st, Congresswoman Fletcher nominated Dr. Bottazzi and Dr. Hotez, stating, “[Their] effort to develop the CORBEVAX vaccine is truly one of international cooperation and partnership to bring health, security, and peace around the world by creating a COVID-19 vaccine and making it available and accessible to all. It is a contribution that is of the greatest benefit to humankind.”

On her nomination, Dr. Bottazzi said, “The truth is that I was shocked, speechless. But we are very excited and grateful, because the simple fact that they have thought of us means that we are already winners.”

If chosen for the Prize, she would become the first Honduran to receive this award.

You might be interested: Puerto Rican neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez is promoting Latinas in STEM

Puerto Rican neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez is promoting Latinas in STEM

Neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez is helping to promote and support Latinas in STEM from her native Puerto Rico and globally. 

Latinas in STEM: The Stats 

It’s no secret that women and racial minorities are still underrepresented in the STEM field. While the numbers have improved in recent years, women and minority groups still lag behind other demographics.

According to The State of U.S. Science and Engineering (2020), only 29% of the science and engineering workforce was women despite making up roughly 52% of the national population. Latino and Hispanics were also underrepresented. The data showed that while Latino and Hispanic people make up 16% of the United States’ population, but only 8.6% of the STEM workforce identify as Hispanic/Latino. 

 

Latinas in STEM

Women, underrepresented minorities, blacks, and Hispanics in S&E and all occupations: 2017 (Graphic source: The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020)

Additionally, due to this inadequate representation in STEM, only 2.3% of all STEM degrees awarded in 2016 went to Hispanic and Latinx women.

Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez’s story 

One Latina who is doing her part to increase the visibility of Latinas in STEM is neurotoxicologist, Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez who is currently a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California, Davis. Born and raised in Santurce, Puerto Rico, she obtained her B.S. in microbiology at Universidad Ana G. Méndez_Recinto de Carolina (former Universidad del Este_Carolina). 

Growing up, Alexandra never thought of becoming a scientist. 

“I was born and raised in Santurce, Puerto Rico, specifically in the area with the most low-income population of the capital, San Juan, I come from a low-income family,” she said. “I didn’t get exposure to a scientist in real life.”  

Latinas in STEM

“I am the 1st and only person in my family with a science degree and a PhD […] and I don’t know other scientists from where I am from” (via @Also_AScientist on twitter)

However, during her junior year in college her father, who had recently been diagnosed with a brain disorder, died. This experience fueled her passion for discovering how the brain works and changes in diseases, and especially how environmental stressors can lead to brain changes that result in disease. 

Currently, her studies have been focused on the effects of an environmental toxin called methylmercury (MeHg) on the human nervous system. 

Her research into the effects of mercury poisoning has become vital because as gold prices have continued to rise, so has the amount of artisanal (small-scale) and illegal gold mining using mercury, which has led to increased mercury emissions to the environment. This contamination has been rising particularly across the Global South and is mostly due to human-driven uses and sources. 

“Anthropogenic sources include the burning of fossil fuels and mercury use for artisanal gold mining,” said Colón-Rodríguez. She added that once mercury gets to water sources, it is methylated (changed to an organic form, MeHg) by bacteria, and starts to accumulate in the bodies of fish.

“Then, populations consuming the contaminated fish will be exposed to MeHg and poisoning effects include visual, sensory, and motor dysfunction,” she said.

You might be interested: Latina entrepreneur combats infants’ pneumonia deaths with biotech

Supporting Women in STEM

In addition to her research work, Alexandra is a passionate advocate for science communication and outreach. As the first in her family to pursue a PhD and after experiencing first hand the limitations in research and neuroscience education in Puerto Rico, she now seeks out opportunities to help increase exposure of STEM to minority groups like herself. 

 

Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez’s words of advice to other women. (via @MillionStem on twitter)

“I am very passionate about science communication and outreach. I believe that we can create a more understanding and supportive society when we (scientists) share the importance of science and the impact it has in our world. Also, as an underrepresented minority scientist I feel the responsibility of encouraging the next generation of scientists like myself by sharing my experience while teaching them about areas that I am very passionate about, Neuroscience and Toxicology.” 

As part of her mission to support women in STEM, Alexandra founded STEAM100x35

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, and 100×35 represents our connection to Puerto Rico which is 100×35 miles. STEAM100x35 mission is to promote and amplify the voices of Puerto Rican women in STEAM around the world,” she said.

The initiative showcases profiles from Latinas in STEAM which are collected using a form and shared across all STEAM100x35’s social media platforms. 

 “As a Puerto Rican, the lack of visibility of Puerto Rican women in science and the little exposure to science I experienced growing up motivated me to become very active in science communication/outreach,” she said.

Through her work as a scientist, mentor, teacher, and communicator, Alexandra hopes to continue to inspire other minorities, especially Latinas, to pursue careers in STEM.

Latinos in technology

Latinos in technology no shortage of talent, a shortage of vision

We are very grateful to Jose Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO at the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, who is sharing this article with LatinasinBusiness.us. Finding Latinos in technology –and other minorities- should not be as hard as large Silicon Valley companies make it sound –and he can prove it!

(First published on Pulse on July 20, 2016)

Jose Antonio Tijerino, Hispanic Heritage Foundation latinos in technology

Jose Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO Hispanic Heritage Foundation

By Guest contributor Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO at Hispanic Heritage Foundation 

With last year’s big news of the dismal diversity numbers reported by tech giants in the rear-view mirror, there has been no real change in the percentage of Latino and African-American programmers as we head into the second half of 2016. There seems to be a lot of activity but not a lot of results, which means attitudes need to change before results do.

First off, hiring qualified African-Americans or Latinos in technology shouldn’t be thought of as a humanitarian endeavor — it’s a business imperative. An actual competitive advantage. A value proposition not just for tech companies or the Latino community but for our nation’s workforce.

The McKinsey & Company report Diversity Matters found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians and 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Among US companies, for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings actually rise.

Are we focusing on the right issues?

Diversity and HR departments also need to focus on successful outcomes and not on tactics, which are safer to measure to somehow claim success. It shouldn’t be. There is only one measurement. How many qualified minority hires were made. Punto.

Not how many diversity-themed meetings or conferences were attended or how many employee resource group activities took place or the appointment of a task force, or even menu changes in cafeterias during Hispanic Heritage Month. Those are all tactics, not outcomes.

It’s not just the companies — nonprofits and advocates also need to be more measurable in their work to diversify the industry. Companies and nonprofits mostly focus on the beginning of the pipeline instead of giving as much attention to the middle and the end, which is why you feed the beginning in the first place. And when there is talent, it needs to be developed, leveraged and put on a fast track.

Latinos in technology abound in numbers but not in jobs

startup business, woman working on laptop computer at modern office

Contrary to excuses, talent exists –as my organization proves it when we host LOFT Coder Summits across the country, attracting hundreds of Latino programmers. Unfortunately the talent that exists has been made to feel like Brown or Black unicorns with laptops. And many of the companies making excuses that there is a dearth of talent aren’t hiring the actual minorities graduating with CS degrees, many of whom are available.

According to a USA TODAY analysis, top universities turn out minority computer science/engineering graduates at twice the rate that tech companies hire them. With the anemic average of two percent African-American and three percent Latino tech workers at seven major Silicon Valley companies which have released their numbers, you would think minority CS grads would be as in demand as young left-handed pitchers with a 100 mph fastballs are to a Major League baseball team. But they aren’t.

I made this point to a member of Congress who had just met with tech giants on the diversity issue. The Representative has been supportive of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s work in diversifying the workforce through our innovative programs and vast network of vetted Latino talent not only in tech but also in engineering, finance, science, marketing and other fields.

So he asked why we weren’t working with more tech companies in addressing the issue. I mentioned that I had offered a solution-based effort to tech companies but they were not responsive to taking new approaches to old problems. In other words, innovative companies have not been innovative when it comes to diversity.

And I can prove it!

To prove my point, I asked the member of Congress to personally try to place one of our top Latino talented students with one of the very companies he had just met with about the diversity issue; an internship or mentorship perhaps but mostly to get this young man’s foot in the tech door.

As a first step, we identified Jaime Lopez, an outstanding Latino prospect from our LOFT (Latinos On Fast Track) Network. Jaime is currently studying engineering and computer science at Stanford University, in the backyard of Silicon Valley.

Beyond being brilliant, Jaime is a leader who understands the greater responsibility that goes along with being one of the only Latinos in the room. (I believe that if you’re placing a minority prospect, they need to be at least as qualified as those they would normally hire. Essentially, many recruiters at big companies hear Hispanic or African-American and they think there will be a drop-down in ability, which couldn’t be more false.)

Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Washington Latinos in technology

Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Washington. HOLA (Hispanic Organization of Leaders in Action) has over 1000 employee members -in unspecified positions.

The Congressperson then contacted a decision-maker at a major tech company that was part of the meetings in Silicon Valley. After an encouraging conversation, the company’s contact said he would reach out to Jaime directly and bring him onboard as an intern or in some capacity. But, Jaime’s phone never rang, or vibrated or played the Romeo ringtone.

When the Congressperson followed up, the person at the company said he never called because he couldn’t get any traction internally for bringing Jaime onboard in any capacity.

Why the experiment worked and didn’t work

The experiment to place Jaime with a tech-company both worked and didn’t work. No, the talented Stanford student didn’t get placed at a tech company which, along with other tech companies, had complained about the lack of minority talent in the field. But what did work was being able to make a very strong point that even when a Congressional Member gift-wraps a sparkling Latino prospect who meets all the criteria a recruiter would dream of … there is still no action.

Maybe if we had offered Jaime’s services as a janitor or landscaper he would have been snatched up más rápido. According to a Working Partnerships USA 2014 report taking a deeper look at tech companies’ labor make up, Latino workers represent 69 percent of janitors, and 74 percent of grounds maintenance workers. Unfortunately Jaime’s education, interests and expertise don’t fit the job qualifications tech companies are hiring for … He wants to be a programmer.