Facing Latina Stereotypes in the Workplace
See how 3 successful Latinas found their voice and carved out careers they take pride in.
From having too ethnic a name or too strong an accent to feeling like we have to make jokes about our heritage to put others at ease, we face plenty of challenges every day at work. But as more Latinas enter the workforce, we’re proving we’re a force to be reckoned with. See how these three women have found success while wearing their heritage proudly.
Brenda Toro Quintana, Communications Strategist
As a college grad with three bachelor’s degrees, you could call Brenda a classic overachiever. But early in her career, she faced discrimination for being a woman, and for being Latina. “I realized that my workload started getting heavier, but they never wanted to adjust my pay for it,” she says. “Eventually that pushed me out of that company.”
That’s when she took a few weeks to get to know herself and examine what mattered to her most in a career. She realized how important diversity is to her – she grew up in East L.A. and lived in Mexico for a while, and Spanish is her first language. Within three weeks, she found a new career where her dual heritage is not only accepted, but seen as an asset – serving clients who prioritize inclusivity and progress.
“I’m not going to let this experience harm my career and hold me back from doing something amazing. … I feel like [Latinas] have a superpower to turn around, shake it off and do what we have to do to get the job done.”
Vanessa Diaz, PR and Marketing Consultant
Vanessa grew up in a small town near the California-Mexico border (Calexico and El Centro, CA), but now she’s a full-fledged city dweller living in Los Angeles. She says she got her work ethic early on by helping in her aunt’s Mexican restaurant (La Terraza) , and then later when her mom helped her get a temporary job at a radio station. It was at the station where she met someone she considers a mentor.
“The whole radio station was backed by a Latin organization, and the woman (Ana Lilia Barraza) running it at the time had gone to Columbia University and was Latina. So for me, that was amazing to see somebody who had reached such a high level of education. Really, those kinds of experiences empowered me to continue my education.”
And Vanessa has combined her education and experience into creating her own PR and marketing consultancy, proving that women don’t just succeed in business, they thrive there.
“If a woman is confident, that should be celebrated. If she’s showing she’s confident and knowledgeable, we should extract that information and say, ‘You have a great idea, and I want to hear about it.’ Allow us to have a seat at the table.”
Sandy Rubinstein, Chief Executive Officer
Sandy says that growing up in Miami, where a large percentage of the population is Cuban or Puerto Rican, being Latina was no big deal. But when she moved to New York after college, explaining her Chilean heritage to people who had never heard of the South American country was a bit of a culture shock – but one she has turned into a personal education mission.
“People take visual cues and make a lot of assumptions. Sometimes people don’t even think I’m Latina – they think I’m Greek or Mediterranean – and I’ve had people talk about me in Spanish not realizing that I’m Spanish.
“But it’s something that makes me who I am. I see it as sort of my personal challenge – I feel like everyone is given things for a reason and I was given this gift for a reason, and I want to make sure that people understand that there’s so much a Hispanic perspective and a Latina woman can offer.”
That perspective has helped Sandy climb to CEO status, and as head chica in charge, she makes sure everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas.
“It’s really about inclusivity at all levels and offering solutions. … It’s important for everyone to understand that they’re equals, no matter what level you are or your background or your depth of knowledge. … Everyone’s voice is equal and everyone’s ideas should have similar weight and everyone should have an opportunity to share.”
Sandy firmly believes that Latinas bring a special passion and drive for change. But where do we get it?
“That’s totally from our mothers,” she says, laughing. “We had feisty Latina moms, and we all became feisty Latina daughters. … Our mothers raised us to be fighters, to go further than they did. To build more than they could. … That’s how we were raised. It’s engrained in our personalities, and that’s what drives us.”