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Latinas are underrepresented in law, says attorney Anna María Tejada

In nearly every industry, Latinas face obstacles and struggles as both women and ethnic minorities. Latinas face greater difficulties establishing themselves in professional industries and attaining high level positions. The gender-wage gap is also greatest for Latinas, who are the last group to celebrate Equal Pay Day on October 21 and earn on average 55 cents to the dollar white, non-hispanic men earn. Equal Pay Day represents the number of months it takes for women to earn the same amount as men earn in a year. For Latinas, they must work 23 months to earn what a white, non-hispanic man earns in just 12 month.  

One industry in which Latina representation is lacking, is law. Currently, Latinos represent 20 percent of the population, however just 5% of practicing attorneys are Latino, and of that only 2% are Latina. Additionally, from that 2% only about .4 are partners at law firms. 

Anna Maria Tejada is Latina attorney working to create opportunities for young women in her industry. (Photo courtesy Anna Maria Tejada)

Anna María Tejada is a Latina attorney who is working to increase opportunities for Latinas in the legal profession. As a daughter of Dominican immigrants, Anna María is a first-generation attorney who benefitted from various affirmative action programs in her education such as Headstart, EOF, and the Rutgers MSP Program. She learned from a very young age the importance of law in our everyday lives. 

“I am too familiar with the immigration experience in the United States. I also am very well aware of the role immigration laws play in the lives of dreamers and individuals who simply want to achieve the American Dream,” said Anna María. “If it was not for the assistance of a legal services attorney, neither my family nor I would not be here today. Acknowledging the importance attorneys have in impacting social change and individual lives, I knew law could change lives. That is why I chose this career.”

Now, with over 20 years of experience in her industry, Anna María is passionate about giving back and aiding other young Latinas in their careers. 

Currently, she is a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP in Newark, New Jersey where she practices labor and employment law, is the  President of Executive Women of New Jersey (EWNJ) and the Vice President of Membership for the Hispanic National Bar Association.  

“It is not lost on me that to whom much is given, much is required.  It is my responsibility to give back to the generation of attorneys coming behind me, which is why I enjoy volunteering with bar associations and other community organizations. I believe that you have to lift as you rise, and for me, the HBA was critical to where I am today,” said Anna María. 

Navigating obstacles as a first-generation law student 

As a first-generation attorney, there was a lot Anna María did not know about the profession when she first started out. Her biggest obstacle at the time was navigating the legal world. As a young student entering law school, she knew she wanted to practice law but was unsure of the steps to take to become a successful attorney. 

“To be successful in this profession, you have to understand the language and culture of the legal world.  I found mentors and colleagues with similar experiences who could assist in navigating this career. I had to seek out spaces where I could network with those who are in law and have a similar background as me.”  

As a law student, the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey (HBA-NJ) provided Anna María with financial support through scholarships. Later, as an attorney, the organization provided a network of experienced attorneys and judges that would serve as mentors and resources. 

Knowing first hand how important mentorship can be to minority youths entering the legal profession, with the HBA-NJ Anna María established the American Dream Pipeline Program in 2013, to provide students with exposure to the legal profession and guidance from attorney mentors sharing similar backgrounds and life experiences.

“It is important for students of colors, especially young women, to see successful Latina attorneys and professionals, so they too can achieve their dreams.” (Photo courtesy Anna Maria Tejada)

The Pipeline Program is geared towards high school students (“mentees”) from urban communities – Passaic and Union City High Schools, who come from families that immigrated to the United States and are likely first-generation college-bound students. The purpose of the Pipeline Program is to provide the mentees with opportunities to meet attorneys and other professionals who have come from similar circumstances and can provide guidance to the mentees as they navigate through high school and start their own college application process.   

“It is important for students of colors, especially young women, to see successful Latina attorneys and professionals, so they too can achieve their dreams,” said Anna María. 

You might be interested: LUCA founder Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, how the pandemic has impacted Latino college enrollment

Strengthening the professional pipeline for women of color 

In her profession, Anna María is a leader and a connector of people. Through her leadership activities, she has made a point to elevate diversity, equity and inclusion issues in her work, which has helped connect her with colleagues and experts across industries and sectors. She brings strong relationships to the firm and in her volunteer and activist work. 

In 2016, Anna María joined the Executive Women of New Jersey (EWNJ), the leading executive women’s organization in NJ. Here, Anna María connected with a robust network of professional women executives who have been on similar professional journeys. After years with the organization, Anna María became President of EWNJ, beginning in 2020-2021.  

“As Latinas, we often feel we can handle things on our own and we certainly can; however, there is nothing wrong with asking for help.” (Photo courtesy Anna Maria Tejada)

“Seek mentors who look like you, but also mentors who do not look like you but are willing to serve as a resource. Seek out organizations that could elevate you and put you in touch with people who could be critical for your professional development, such as Bar and industry associations, Anna María advised for Latinas aspiring to enter the legal profession. “Also groups such as Executive Women of New Jersey whose members cut across all industries and sectors, expose you to a variety of resources for your growth.”

“Number one thing, keep your eye on your goals. With so few Latinas in law, many of us are trailblazers in our communities and in our field of work.”

Most importantly, Anna María says is elevating those coming up behind you by paying forward the help you received. 

“This will help strengthen the professional pipeline for women, especially women of color. As Latinas, we often feel we can handle things on our own and we certainly can; however, there is nothing wrong with asking for help.”

Multi-ethnic businesswomen working on laptop

Purpose leadership, mentoring and mentorship

 Multi-ethnic businesswomen working on laptop

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve had mentors. I never asked for one but, fortunately, my supervisors always decided to give me advice on how to improve certain aspects of my professional life. I guess they felt that I was open to it and it was worth the effort.

I will never forget the day I had my first professional interview at a manufacturing company in Puerto Rico. I had to meet with five (5) different managers. They were interviewing recent college graduates for Production Supervisory positions they had available. The company was undergoing a re-engineering process and they wanted to hire junior engineers to help streamline processes and maximize productivity. I was selected by a very refined, yet extremely straight-forward Cuban-American manager. He said to me, “I chose you because although you seem extremely shy, you also seem to have great potential“. That was the beginning of a mentoring process that at that moment I did not see coming.

I was assigned to work the third shift (10 pm to 6 am). However, every morning after my shift ended, he wanted me to stay around for meetings and conference calls with the company US headquarters.  His goal was for me to practice my English language skills, work on my confidence, and learn more about the business. Every time we had one of those conference calls I felt like I was about to die. I had headaches, dizziness, and stomach pains.

Once, he said to me that even when I was doing a terrific job balancing production lines and implementing productivity measuring tools, nobody knew who I was. He indicated that it was extremely important for me to network with the other managers. That suggestion caused me a lot of stress. I could not understand why I needed to talk to anyone else. I was doing my job well, production output was good, I was even implementing tools to measure production efficiency; so to me, this was mean and unnecessary. However, pushing myself to follow his recommendation helped me being promoted very quickly  to the first shift  and also to be considered for a new position as master production planner helping the company to successfully implement a plant-wide supply-chain system.

Like him, I’ve had many supervisors and colleagues who have provided mentoring advice. It has not been in a formal fashion where you meet purposely to discuss a working plan, yet it has been consciously done. It is very difficult to provide advice when none has been requested; however if you have the opportunity to mentor someone, do not let that opportunity pass. Mentoring is a two-way street and it benefits the mentor and the one mentored.

Here are some key points on how to become a mentor:

  1. Observe and Listen: Observing how people perform and what they say is a good way to identify potential in someone. Usually, people who are introverts also have great performance. These types of people usually associate success with end-results. What they don’t realize is the importance of verbal communication and networking. If you see someone like that, talk to that person. Ask about her/his interests. Let them know that if they need information or guidance, you are more than willing to help.
  2. Suggest extra-tasks: Most of the things that I have done in my professional life and that have been outside of my comfort zone, have been assigned to me as extraordinary tasks. I had no choice but to take on those responsibilities. My supervisors would say: “I need you to do this” or “you will be involved in or leading this project“.  They also highlighted that if I had questions or needed any support, not to hesitate to ask for it. They reinforced their confidence in my abilities to get the job done. Actually, one time, one of them said to me “I have more faith in you than you have in yourself. Go and get that job done!“. It was such an eye opener for me that I’ve never forgotten that moment.
  3. Performance reviews are a great tool to provide honest and well-intentioned feedback: Utilize performance reviews not only to go over end-results and new goals but also to discuss potential projects, areas of improvement, and how you can help that person make progress. You can also discuss and suggest other areas of work, lateral career moves, social activities, and potential professional organizations.

Being a mentor is a great privilege but also a huge responsibility. You can really have an impact on people’s careers. You can also an impact on the performance of the organization. I am convinced that employees feel more accountable and productive when they know and feel the organization cares about them.

I will always remember when I was a production supervisor and I had to convince people to work overtime. I always helped my employees on whatever they needed. I was always available to talk to them. Therefore, whenever the company needed them to work extra time, they always said that because I had been there for them, they were going to be there for me. I truly believe in leading by example.

As leaders, we need to have a commitment to continuous improvement. Sometimes we want the glamour of a job position and the money associated with it but we don’t want the greater purpose that goes with it.

Mentors are life-long friends, people that end up knowing you and being part of your success and your journey. My mentors are people that I truly feel grateful for and will forever be connected to.

Pass your knowledge to others. Teach and share your experiences. Connect with others on a deeper level. That’s part of being a leader. Go for it!

Yvonne Garcia ALPFA Most Powerful Latinas

ALPFA Yvonne Garcia, the impact of Latino leadership on global markets

 

Yvonne Garcia, National Chairwoman of ALPFA

Yvonne Garcia, National Chairwoman of ALPFA

I first contacted Yvonne Garcia to write her profile in 2007 as the Experto de Hispanos for About.com, . She impressed me with her assertiveness and dedication to her career, which has grown and blossomed into national exposure. Yvonne is the National Chairwoman for the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA), a 48,000-member organization that thrives to empower and develop Latino men and women as leaders of character for the nation in every sector of the global economy.

This year, over 3000 ALPFA members gathered in the Big Apple to advance the role of Latinos not only in the national stage but also in the world markets. “We had a record-breaking convention this year in New York,” she shared with LIBizus. “Not only has it been the largest convention ever but the one with the most memorable highlights,” she affirmed.

Among the memorable programs was the Women of ALPFA Day, which featured an invitation-only breakfast with guest speakers discussing the global gender gap; panel discussions and workshops focused on soft skill development for Latina leaders; and the Women of ALPFA Luncheon where the accomplishments of Latinas were highlighted and celebrated.

“Our honoree this year for the Latina Excellence Award was Nina Vacca, Chief Executive Officer of Pinnacle Technical Resources, and Chair Emeritus of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” Yvonne said. “She talked about her journey to over 2000 attendees during the Women of ALPFA Luncheon,” she said.

According to the ALPFA National Chairwoman, Latinas in corporate are making headways and preparing for landing leadership roles. Knowing the personal sacrifices Yvonne made to build her professional career, a topic of our first conversation back in 2007, I was curious to know if the path has become somewhat easier for the upcoming Hispanic women eager to climb the corporate ladder.

“If anything, I believe it is harder now,” she said. “Although we are more aware of the importance of supporting Latinas to ensure more diversity in the workplace, they are now demanded to make even more sacrifices, working longer hours not only in their day jobs but also contributing to professional organizations,” she said.

ALPFA is committed to lead the support for Latinas through a more concerted effort in finding the right mentors to help those in the pipelines. “This is the commitment we ask from top corporate management; there must be a mandate from CEOs to mentor and train our women in order to build not only technical skills but also to develop leadership strength and charisma,” she added.

At her day job, Garcia, presently the Senior Vice President and Global Head of Client Solutions and PMO of the Investment Manager Services group for State Street Corporation, has global responsibility for developing new client relationships, deploying cutting-edge technology and operational processes, and delivering complex consulting engagements for existing and potential State Street clients.

Nina Vacca, Yvonne Garcia, Josefina Bonilla at the Women of ALPFA Luncheon.

Josefina Bonilla, Nina Vacca, Yvonne Garcia at the Women of ALPFA Luncheon.

She was born in Queens, New York, from the marriage of a Lebanese mother and a Dominican father, who came from the Dominican Republic in 1961. Yvonne had diverse experiences growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood but spending the summer months at her father’s country of origin. She learned Spanish as her first language.

Since she was a child, she was interested in the concept of money. At age six she organized a book sale in front of her house. She played with stamps making believe the papers she stamped were bank transactions. Always a saver, even when her brothers asked her to borrow money she would charge them interest.

Yvonne graduated with an MBA from Boston University in finance and marketing and a BA from the Sorbonne in Paris, France, where she lived while studying its economy and culture.

Beginning at the very bottom in sales in 1995, answering calls from customers in Spanish for a small community bank, she was promoted to the department of international staff given her fluency in English and French.

Yvonne Garcia ALPFA Chairwoman Closing Remarks

Yvonne Garcia ALPFA Chairwoman Closing Remarks

She then moved on to Merrill Lynch as a Financial Adviser and decided to continue her studies obtaining a master’s degree in business administration from Boston University, focusing her career in Finance and Marketing. By that time, she had also started a family and had a small baby. Yvonne found a new passion in marketing that, despite being also demanding, allowed her to manage her time in a more flexible manner.

Yvonne was appointed as Vice President of strategic assistance of the Construction Bank of China in America. In this role, Yvonne and her team were responsible for the creation and implementation of sales processes and service within the bank’s capitalization centers, which included implementation of roles, responsibilities, and tools for the sales force and the management team.

In the midst of her travels to China, Yvonne also spent more than seven weeks in North Carolina, where she acquired her certifications as Six Sigma Green and Black Belts.

She recalls China as the largest professional sacrifice because she had to leave her son to travel to China for three weeks in a row, but was also her greatest professional achievement.

She was then offered a position at Liberty Mutual as the VP and Director of Marketing to consumer market segments. In this role, Yvonne was responsible for the creation and implementation of integrated marketing strategies that resulted in the penetration of selected consumption targets throughout the country.

Student of the Year Award ALPFA Convention 2015

Student of the Year Award ALPFA Convention 2015

“I found this role through my network of ALPFA, which opened the doors for this opportunity,” she recalls. ALPFA’s is committed to grow aggressively to 100,000 members within the next two years. Anybody who is seriously devoted to their professional career must consider joining this national organization,” she added.

And she concluded, “Moreover, as the ALPFA Chairwoman in this year’s convention, all the sacrifices I made were well-rewarded when I saw the happy faces of over 40 students who received scholarships in recognition and celebration of their academic achievement and demonstrated leadership skills. We witnessed the talent of Latino students from across the country; they work hard through the year to deserve such important recognition.”