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“With support, people create the most amazing things” says Latina Executive Coach Elena Armijo on the importance of mentors

When companies are looking to hire a leadership position, emotional intelligence often the most sought after qualification.  A recent survey found 71% of employers said they value EQ over IQ, noting that leaders with high emotional intelligence are more likely to stay calm under pressure, resolve conflict effectively, and respond to co-workers with empathy.

Executive Leadership Coach

Elena Armijo, Latina entrepreneur and Executive Leadership Coach. (Photo courtesy of Elena Armijo)

After years as an acclaimed Executive Leadership Coach, Latina entrepreneur Elena Armijo founded The C-Suite Collective, a boutique holistic coaching and training agency with the mission to equip and empower successful C-suite executives, founders, and entrepreneurs with holistic executive coaching programs and customized support for teams that foster culture change, organizational growth, and generational impact for years to come that helps them attain their goals in a healthy, efficient way.

“Emotional intelligence starts with managers being emotionally aware,” Elena says.

Elena offers in-depth and customized executive programs for high performers who are at the top of their respective fields – from CEOs of leading businesses, to professional athletes, policy-focused individuals, entertainers and artists, and more. In addition to her work as a professional coach, Elena also hosts the podcast “In A Manner of Speaking…with Elena Armijo” where she amplifies women’s voices and encourages you to go after your dreams.  

She was inspired to become an Executive and Leadership Coach through her work as a professional opera singer, experiencing first hand the benefits coaching had on transforming her own mindset. Drawn to work with ambitious top performers like herself, she realized she could bring unique insight to the coaching business after spending a decade “on the other side of the table.”

“I was a professional opera singer before I pivoted to coaching.  I had spent over 20 years preparing for a career in opera and came to NY in 2007 to start singing professionally.  My path quickly took off, and at one point, I was traveling 10 months out of the year and only came back to NY to change out clothes in my suitcase.  In 2014, I realized something had to change,” Elena shares. 

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She was burned out at the time, struggling in her relationships and missing family gatherings back home. Working to make a change in her life, Elena decided to hire a coach herself and she soon began benefiting from experience. 

“I was able to see that I had built my entire career from a place of proving my worth to the world and over working.  I had to slow down and learn more about who I was as a person to even begin to find out what I wanted to do,” she says. 

Most of Elena’s own struggles have stemmed from a “core wound” of feeling not good enough in the world. Many with similar limiting beliefs may question their success or doubt their abilities to do a good job and succeed. 

“This has been something I have struggled with my entire life and have done a lot of healing work around,” Elena says. “It showed up for me like questioning whether I could follow through on a contract I just landed, getting a new rockstar client and being in disbelief that I could support them, or worrying that when my team and company grows, that it could all come falling down.” 

After working with a coach, therapist, and healers in the world, as well as sharing what she learned with her family, she has been able to release these limiting beliefs around her self worth and continues to do so today.

“I now have the tools and support system to know that when those feelings come up it simply needs some loving care and compassion. This is something I wouldn’t have known in the beginning of my career.” 

Executive Leadership Coach

“My focus is always on how this benefits ALL of us; no one needs to go without, and better yet, we can all walk away from the table satisfied and happy.” (Photo courtesy of Elena Armijo)

“My mission is to support high achievers in creating more impact”

Experiencing the benefits of coaching in her own life, Elena fell in love with coaching just as much as she loves music, and eventually decided to open her own business in 2015 and become and Executive Leadership Coach to help others who struggled like her. 

“My mission is to support high achievers in creating more impact in the world through authentic expression and experience.  And we all have fun while we do it!  With more support, people create the most amazing things.”

Executive Leadership Coach

“No one does this alone and support changes everything.” (Photo courtesy of Elena Armijo)

Growing up, Elena’s family table was always full. Her parents made sure there was more than enough food for everyone who needed it, and it’s this sentiment that Elena carries with her, both literally and figuratively in her life and profession. 

“I make sure everyone eats. As a business owner, I make sure everyone wins with me. I believe this is one way we can create true equity and inclusion as well as legacy.  So anytime I am speaking to prospective companies, clients, or my own team, my focus is always on how this benefits ALL of us; no one needs to go without, and better yet, we can all walk away from the table satisfied and happy.”

Partnering with Elena, clients have created and achieved the professional and personal impact in the world they once perceived unattainable.

Elena shares the story of one client who was able to completely shift her limiting beliefs and find success. 

“My client, a woman of color and an executive, hired me to work on owning her power and voice in the world.  When she came to me she was afraid, burnt out, and resigned around playing “the game” of getting ahead in a system that was not built for her.  By the end of our work together she said something really simple.  ‘I learned through our work that I may not be able to change the system, but I sure can find ways to be fully me within it, own what I want, and choose my path moving forward if it’s not working.  I finally see the freedom I have in choosing how I respond in any situation.’” 

You might be interested: “We don’t need to do it alone” says SBA’s Bibi Hidalgo, to aspiring Latina entrepreneurs 

These words from her client filled her with joy. Being able to help others find the pathways to their own success is Elena’s personal success, she says. 

For leaders and executives in high pressure jobs, taking the time to cultivate emotional intelligence and a positive success mindset is crucial. To those looking to start shifting their limiting beliefs and opening those doorways to success, Elena advises that you start by surrounding yourself with support.  

“There are so many women that want to mentor, coach, and be by your side to help you rise.  No one does this alone and support changes everything.  Hire a coach, therapist, healer, or mentor that will help you see more possibilities than you might currently know exists. This is how we achieve success and growth together!” 


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Bibi Hidalgo

“We don’t need to do it alone” says SBA’s Bibi Hidalgo, to aspiring Latina entrepreneurs 

Bibi Hidalgo is the Associate Administrator for Government Contracting & Business Development at the SBA and is the first ever woman appointed by the President for this role. 

In this role, Bibi Hidalgo oversees and reviews procurement policies for small businesses hoping to work with the Federal Government. This includes for Small Disadvantaged Businesses, Veteran-owned firms, HUBZone firms, Woman-owned small businesses, and firms in the 8(a) Minority Business Development Program.

In her prior role, she was the SBA Government Contracting Policy Lead for the Biden-Harris Transition Team, developing policies that President Biden could execute in the first 100 days, with an emphasis on underserved communities. In 2014, Bibi and her brother Patrick Hidalgo co-founded Future Partners, LLC, which advised Fortune 500 corporate executives on procurement and minority business strategy, and created a model for how to facilitate significant opportunities for both.   

Bibi Hidalgo is dedicating her work to the memory of her brother Patrick who passed away suddenly at the age of 41 in March of 2020.

“We don’t need to do it alone” 

Working closely with Latinas and other women entrepreneurs, Bibi knows it can be easy to think we must do it all on our own in order to be seen as successful or capable, but that is not the case. 

“We don’t need to do it alone. And that’s really important for us to remember that we don’t need to do it alone. Because every day, we’re asking ourselves, is this the right thing? Am I doing the right thing? Am I alienating myself, or am I ingratiating myself, and you need to kind of touch base with someone to get a temperature check,” says Bibi. 

As women, having a supportive circle is crucial, especially in male-dominated industries where support may be hard to come by. 

“Whether you want to be an economist, finance expert, astronaut, or the best app developer, there is very much your place in your world to be there. And to and to be sure to lean on other women for support. Be sure to create that circle of support, that really wants to see you rise, and that you help each other do that. I have such a strong support system that I’m so grateful for.”

For Bibi, her support system helped her stay strong in the face of challenges and adversity. She advises women to seek out those mentors in their industry, lean into support, and also stay strong and believe in your knowledge and technical capabilities. Don’t question yourself. 

“I am the first woman appointed by the President to be an Associate Administrator of Government Contracting and Business Development. And if I have caved into some of my self-doubt, I would never be here because it’s very much a man’s world. And yet, I set that aside in my brain, and knew that I could tackle this issue, and hang with the guys on such a complicated topic. And now I’m able to lead and we’re effecting change together.” 

Jumpstart your entrepreneurial journey with inspirational titles on Audible today!

“Keep driving it home and pushing hard” 

As a woman in a male-dominated field you may not always be the most popular. You might be the first ever woman in your role, and that can be tough. 

“I very much learned in business, that you have to make tough decisions that not everyone’s going to agree with. And those are sometimes the loneliest moments, as I’ve heard other leaders say, leadership is lonely,” says Bibi. “And so that’s why you have to make sure you have that network of support, where you can get a pulse check every once in a while, and where you can continue to believe in yourself. Because as long as you do that, you’re going to be able to affect change, and then you get to look back on your career and say, ‘Yeah, I did that. It was tough. I have the battle scars to prove it. But I did it.’”

44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Photo credit: Pete Souza, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

For Bibi, there have been many challenges and wins. One story that always stands out is when she first joined President Obama’s Administration, in 2009. 

“Within a matter of weeks, my agency got a call from the White House saying that they were hit hard, they were getting hit hard on the issue of the recovery stimulus, and not enough contracts going to minority owned businesses. And so I was tasked with staffing our deputy, but what they asked us to do was do events around the country, which we did. And the challenge was that there were some folks who were not too excited about this issue…there was a lot of angst about it, and a lot of pushback.” 

Facing these pushbacks made it difficult for Bibi to do her work and as the struggles persisted she began to have doubts that she could get the job done and affect positive change. 

“I had to navigate a lot of complexities and really try to keep faith, which was hard, and it was getting harder day by day. But sometimes you don’t realize you’re at that point. At a tipping point, you don’t know until you’re there and sometimes it can get really, really hard, really tough until you get there and especially as a woman, in my case and Latina.”

However, Bibi persisted and really focused on driving home her key issues. This strategy was critical to her success. 

“If you try to be everywhere at once, you really have to pick one or two things and to drive it home. And so that’s what I did. I learned it really made all the difference to keep driving hard to keep pushing hard.” 

Her hard work was eventually recognized by higher up officials and Bibi was called to the White House to be acknowledged for her work.

“That’s what I mean by ‘don’t give up.’ Follow your instinct, follow your gut, know what’s most important. Because that changed my life permanently. I always go back to that day, that day that I got that request to go into his office, it was the last thing I could have ever imagined. And yet it affirmed the work I was doing and made me realize I was on the right track.” 

You might be interested: Latina career coach and author Cici Castelli shares key tips to unlock your success mindset in new book

Today, Bibi Hidalgo is grateful to be back and able to pick up her work where she left off. 

“So much has happened in the interim, and we have our work cut out for us in so many different ways. Businesses, minority women businesses were not always prioritized. And so we’re trying to get that back in a direction, where it is an important priority among all of our priorities in advancing socio economic groups,” says Bibi. 

She is excited to continue working to create opportunities for women and minority business owners across the country and continue working with and supporting women in business.


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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.” 

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.”

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.

Latina leader Sara Peña impacts young lives through community empowerment

Sara Peña is a Newark native working toward community empowerment. She strives to empower Latinos, especially the youth, through advocacy, legislature, and mentorship. She is currently the Director of the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development in the NJ Department of State, as well as the founder of the Boys to Leaders Foundation.

Community awareness 
community empowerment

Sara Pena, Director, Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development at NJ Department of State.

Born and raised in Newark, NJ, Sara has always had immense pride and passion for her community. As the daughter of immigrant parents, from Ecuadorian and Dominican descent, she witnessed first hand the hardships faced by immigrants. 

“I saw a lot of things that would frustrate me in regards to how my mother was treated just because she didn’t speak the language,” says Sara. 

As children, she and her sister would try to share as much information as possible with their parents, but the language and cultural barrier still made many things difficult. 

“Resources were limited and mentors were unheard of, at least to me,” Sara explains. 

Sara soon took on the “adult” role and with that came an awareness of the many complicated issues affecting her family and community. This awareness motivated her to make a change and become an advocate and leader for other Latinos. 

 

Community empowerment

After graduating from college, Sara returned to Newark to volunteer with various local organizations and focus her efforts on community empowerment. She soon began working with organizations like Leadership Newark, whose mission is to be a catalyst to engage, empower, connect and improve the network of community and civic leaders as they each commit to build, strengthen, and serve for the common good.

Sara Pena addressing a business audience (Photo courtesy Sara Pena)

Another amazing organization Sara became a part of and President was LUPE Fund -Latinas United for Political Empowerment. LUPE’s focus is to educate, empower, and engage Latinas to promote leadership and civic service. The organization also collaborates with other women’s and children’s organizations on issues of common interest, such as health and education, in order to advance the Latino community. 

Volunteering with these organizations exposed Sara to women who looked just like her in executive positions, having families and successful careers, and making a positive change within the community. But what really attracted Sara the most about these women was the advocacy work they do as leaders throughout the state. 

As President of LUPE, Sara supported multiple Latinas in both political sides to run for office in NJ (Photo courtesy Sara Pena)

“They worked tirelessly to ensure we had representation in the legislature and our voices would be heard,” says Sara. “My passion was policy work and I was able to explore more of it in the role of an executive  board member and later in 2017 become the President of the only Latina statewide organization in New Jersey! Here was this little girl from Newark NJ now leading one of the most powerful organizations for women in the state.” 

Having other women as role models and mentors propelled Sara forward on her own journey. One of her biggest struggles early on was simply believing in herself. 

“Others believed and saw something in me that not even I could see,” she says. 

Once she began to surround herself with these like-minded individuals, she began to see just how much potential was within herself. 

“I knew if I wanted to make a change it started with me and everything else would fall into place.” 

Youth mentorship 

As a community leader, Sara’s mission to improve the quality of life and the empowerment of the state’s Hispanic community. One major way in which she has been doing this is through her organization the Boys to Leaders Foundation

Launched in 2013, the Boys to Leaders Foundation empowers and motivates young men by providing leadership training, educational programs, and positive personal and professional development. 

Sara was inspired to create the foundation for her son, Anthony. 

“I saw there was a lack of positive role models that looked like him and as a single mother it was very difficult for me,” she says. 

Knowing first hand the importance and impact of role models and mentors, Sara felt it was an imperative need within the community. 

“It is our job to provide opportunities and guidance to the next generation of leaders,” says Sara. “Mentorship changes lives. We must offer them hope, expose them to bigger and greater things outside of what they are used to. Allow our young people to have choices!” 

Through the organization, Sara has been able to see first hand the amazing impact of mentorship and opportunities. A few years after the launch of the organization, Sara was approached by a young man who was then in his senior year of college. He told Sara that if it had not been for the conference he attended in 2014, he would never have known he could apply to Rutgers Newark, join the Honors Society, and travel abroad to study. The conversation went on for about a half-hour and the two decided to continue meeting at least once a year to see how he was doing. 

“He was so grateful and couldn’t stop thanking me for starting the organization,” says Sara, remembering the moment. “Every so often I get these beautiful reminders that the blood, sweat, and tears I have put into this organization is certainly worth it.” 

The organization continues to impact young lives through its various programs and events. Their various partners include: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties, AspiraNJ in Newark, Newark Public Schools, New Jersey Garden State Scholars Program and many more. 

 This year the foundation is hosting their 8th Annual Latino Youth Leadership Conference in partnership with Dr. Diane Hill from Rutgers University –Newark Campus. Additionally they conduct various events throughout the year to educate the parents and youth on topics that are important to them such as Immigration and Financial Aid Workshops. 

“We bring families together so they understand the important role they have in a young man’s life,” says Sara. 

Sara’s goal now is to expand the work of the foundation statewide. 

community empowerment

Members of LUPE – Latinas United for Political Empowerment (Photo courtesy of Sara Pena)

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Self-empowerment  

Throughout Sara’s years as a professional and community leader, she has learned many lessons about self-empowerment and success. For other Latinas who are looking to start a business or make a career change, she offers 5 tips to live by: 

Be fearless 

Overcoming your fears and getting started is noble, but the true tests of a fearless entrepreneur will be constant, from initiating a conversation at a networking event, severing ties with a partner who is causing harm to the venture, and perhaps failing. One who can fail miserably and not be scared to dust themselves off and try again and again until they are successful is truly fearless. This also applies to starting a career or restarting your next career change.

 Understand finances

Sara Pena has received multiple awards for her community empowerment service (Photo Courtesy of Sara Pena)

Learn how to make your money work for you. Get a coach! Attend a financial literacy workshop 

Grow Personally

Know your strengths and weaknesses and know who to put where in order to make your business a success. You should always seek out ways that work best for you to grow in different areas of one’s life. Whether it is personal or professional development in the end, it all comes full circle. 

Build and Nurture Relationships/Partnerships

All types! (May also come in handy when you are looking for babysitters)

 Self Care

Love Yourself most of all! If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with what you see, how can you market yourself/product into the success it should be. Stay healthy, exercise, yoga, mediate…..make the time. Put on a little lip gloss/red lipstick!

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

― Maya Angelou

 

wellness, freelance

Balancing wellness and your freelance work

Balancing wellness is a critical component of any successful freelance career. Freelancing is an attractive source of income for many, whether it’s part-time or full-time. That said, you must find time for your own wellness if you want to avoid the risk of burnout, as shared by these successful professional freelancers.

wellness, freelance

(Photo credit: Christina@wocintechchat.com – unsplash)

Looking out for yourself

Your freelance work shouldn’t come at the detriment of your own health. This tip holds true for all kinds of freelancers, but especially for those juggling another job alongside their freelancing. Publishous suggests spacing out your projects to give you some breathing room if you can; for those who can’t, consider planning out your work week in advance to give you an idea of what kind of tasks you need to complete.

wellness, hip latinaStructuring your day around a specific plan can help you avoid the dreaded freelancer burnout. Due to the flexibility of freelance work, it’s possible to work to your own timeline. If you are working another job make sure that, as best you can, the jobs don’t overlap as this is sure way to burnout.

While you’re busy planning out your day, remember to leave some time to exercise. HipLatina emphasizes the importance of physical activity with the rise of the body positive movement, and this self-confidence booster helps give you a bit of a break from your busy routine. More importantly, exercise helps give you the physical strength to tackle even the most demanding workday.

Finding communities and mentors

Freelancing can be a lonely job; so finding fellow freelancers within your area gives you a support network of like-minded individuals, which is good for your mental wellness. The best place to find such support is in co-working spaces. These have popped up in all major cities and have transformed how freelancers and solo entrepreneurs work. Industrious outline how top co-working spaces have community memberships which gives users access to exclusive events where it is easy to network and meet fellow freelancers. Having a physical space that puts you in contact with fellow freelancers and entrepreneurs can also give you that much-needed boost of motivation when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Freelancing opens you up to a whole world of possible connections, even from people outside your industry.

Mentorship is likewise crucial for any freelancer to succeed. Mentorship is likewise crucial for any freelancer to succeed. A great mentor will not only help you improve your craft, but will also help you navigate the busy and ever-changing world of what it means to freelance. From introducing you to good clients or teaching you how to deal with bad ones, a mentor makes the lonely freelance path feel a lot less, well, lonely.

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Here at Latinas in Business we are no strangers to finding meaningful work in today’s increasingly competitive environment. While freelancing is attractive, you should remember that the freelance industry is still in its infancy. This means there are a lot of exciting opportunities to come in the near future, but that you should also look to care of yourself amidst the hustle and bustle of working freelance.

Ana Larrea-Albert NENANI Mentoring Future Latina Leaders 2016.1

Ana Larrea-Albert the Latina entrepreneurial spirit applied to mentorship

As many immigrant Latina entrepreneurs, Ana Larrea-Albert has continued to reinvent herself  from one business venture to the next and the key reason for her rapid growth is her unrivaled record of giving back to her community, often incubating future generations of Latina entrepreneurs and corporate aspiring leaders.

Ana Larrea-Albert, Latina entrepreneur

Ana Larrea-Albert, founder of NENANI

For most Latina immigrants, there are obstacles from the very first day they arrive; they face barriers in language, lack of access to healthcare, discrimination and exploitation, and have access to few or no resources. Amidst this gloom and despair, every now and then, one Latina makes it big and opens the door for others to achieve their dreams. And this one person is Ana Larrea-Albert, a Latina who is not only making a name for herself in the world of entrepreneurship but most important, she is willing to share her success.

Who is Ana Larrea-Albert?

Ana was born in Quito, Ecuador and then at a young age moved with her family to Florida. She obtained her MBA from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where she specialized in international business. Today, in a promising corporate career, Ana Larrea-Albert is vice president of Marketing and Customer Experience at ALMACO Group.

Ana Larrea-Albert presenter and panelist at Women Maritime Global Leadership at World Maritime University, Sweden 2015

Ana Larrea-Albert presenter and panelist at Women Maritime Global Leadership at World Maritime University, Sweden 2015

“My journey in the world of mentorship started a few years ago when I realized that there was a severe shortage of Latinas in corporate America,” she told LatinasinBusiness.us.

She then created NENANI, an online platform that aims at elevating the profiles of other successful Latinas who are contributing to their communities.  Through this website, she has opened a pipeline to mentor young Latinas as future leaders and entrepreneurs.

In addition, through her Human Accelerator Program, she also spends time coaching successful female executives so that they can reach their maximum potential. Ana realized that just like her, Latinas by virtue of their ability to speak at least two languages and their entrepreneurial spirit, could become major players if they were provided with the opportunity.

Ana Larrea-Albert WeLead event at Florida Atlantic University

WeLead event at Florida Atlantic University

Latina entrepreneurs’ struggles became her inspiration

The inspiration behind NENANI were Ana’s own struggles which she faced when she first entered the corporate world but rather than being defeated by negative comments, she actually thrived and overcame adversities.

She built courage and gradually started to take a vocal stance for all Latinas. “When I started out, there was very little diversity in corporate America and there was very little support for women, in general,” Ana said.

Today, through NENANI, Ana is fulfilling her dreams of making a global change by regularly featuring up and coming Latinas who not only have achieved success but who are also making their contributions to society, irrespective of their political affiliations.

Ana’s biggest motivating factor has been her desire to succeed at all costs. Like most spirited Latinas, Ana has never been afraid to take risks. When going beyond her comfort zone, excitement and courage has allowed her to achieve more and led to greater personal satisfaction. Lastly, she feels that the key reason for her success has been an unquenchable thirst for learning and wanting to constantly absorb the world’s knowledge.

However, Ana is fully aware that to make a significant change in the lives of Latinas, she needs to network with and prepare these women with leadership qualities at a much younger age. She is a firm believer that NENANI will enable her to reach the masses and help most of them achieve their dreams. She has now partnered with Florida Atlantic University’s Mentoring Project to reach Latina students and give them the tools necessary to become successful leaders and entrepreneurs.

Ana Larrea-Albert, mentor -mentee high school student

Ana Larrea-Albert, mentor -mentee high school student

“Everyone should take on a mentorship role.” And she added, “We don’t need to have a C-level title or have several decades of expertise. We each can be that guiding light to someone who looks up to us or could learn from our experience. Mentor someone in your office, students at your Alma mater or even family members, all of which I do. In turn, you will learn so much from your mentees; you will feel inspired and proud of your mentee’s progress. The more comfortable we become with the role of being mentors, the easier it will be for the next generation to find a helping hand. Let’s create a culture of mentorship so that nobody needs to look desperately for that perfect mentor,” she stated.

Ana Larrea-Albert today

Ana currently sits on the Think Freely Latino Advisory Board, a new U.S. Hispanic and Latino outreach project focused on Latino empowerment. She has also served as a Board Member on various Latina Professional Organizations that encourage diversity and independent thought. For her work at NENANI, she was recognized as a 2017 Latina of Influence by Hispanic Lifestyle Magazine.

Her vision is to achieve greater levels of talented and capable Latina representation in corporate America and the Government. She is fully aware of the challenges that face her but she knows there is no turning back.

Ana Larrea-Albert and Susana G Baumann at the 2016 Latina Best Business Awards

Ana Larrea-Albert and Susana G Baumann at the 2016 LatinainBusiness.us Best Business Awards

“Latinas have waited a long time and have started to climb the corporate ladder but to get to the top, all they need is a little push, and bit of mentoring,” she concluded.

In 2011, Ana Albert-Larrea she was named Marketer of the Year for her business initiatives in Latin America. Previously, Ana has also held financial positions with the Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and a few other multinational companies.

 

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