Be a Trailblazer

Inside IT: Blazing Trails of Innovation
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A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with two Latino high school students from Los Banos, California. They sought advice and coaching on their oral presentation for a national science competition. The boys were freshmen who had defeated older and more experienced students at the local, regional, and state contests. They wanted to sharpen the presentation that led to the national finals in Philadelphia.

The duo had collaborated on creating a prosthetic arm. The device was an impressive contraption. Their presentation was excellent and needed just a few adjustments on style and substance. It was clear to me from the outset that these young men were engineers in the making who have the talent and potential to be executives someday.

I was giddy about their unlimited futures until reality set in. The Washington Post printed an article in February that confirms what Latinos in Silicon Valley already know to be true – Latinas and Latinos are grossly underrepresented in the valley’s workforce, especially in management.

Apple, Inc. was highlighted in the Post article. The piece indicated that “only 7 percent of the (company’s) leadership is Latino and 3 percent is black, according to Apple’s website. Blacks and Hispanics each make up 8 percent of the company’s tech workers.” That’s double the percentage of other major high-tech firms. Twitter is in the basement with only 2% of its workforce identifying as Latino.

Unfortunately at Apple, the lack of diversity isn’t changing anytime soon. The Post article cited an Apple spokesman speaking off the record “that the company prefers to promote within its ranks, so change at the senior level will take time.” Without a doubt, the rest of Silicon Valley maintains the same hiring and promotion practices.

Silicon Valley managers have long pointed out that there’s a lack of qualified Latino candidates and the education system isn’t providing a pipeline of talented people of color. This is a common response for organizations and institutions that claim that the problem exists with the talent pool, not hiring practices. It’s noteworthy that the National Society of Hispanic MBAs alone has over 30,000 members in 40 chapters across the country, including Silicon Valley. Somehow that fact has evaded Valley decision-makers.

It’s clear that Silicon Valley has some work to do in recruiting Latino talent. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, Valley executives were beginning to understand that there are “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.” Two years have passed without any progress and it could be decades before the bias demons are exorcised.

Latino professionals can’t afford to wait for society to catch up with the reality that there is a large pool of candidates already in the pipeline. In the meantime, what are smart, talented, and ambitious Latina and Latino professionals to do?

Be a trailblazer. Take matters into your owns hands.  Here are few tips to get you started:

  1. Work Hard

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Getting ahead takes an enormous amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance. There’s no other way around it. All of the successful people I’ve ever encountered were passionate and dedicated to their craft. This can take a million hours a week or far less, it just depends how you manage your time. Just make sure to give it your all. A college education gets you to the front door. Hard work gets you to the corner office.

As I made my way up the corporate org chart from manager to director to vice president, I was the first to raise my hand when upper management was looking for someone to take on an extra project. When the corporate office executives needed support for an initiative, I packed my bags and traveled throughout the country to lend a helping hand. It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart too. The hardest and smartest working employees get first crack at a promotion.

  1. Find a Mentor

Learning to master a craft from a successful person is the best education you’ll ever get. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice once said that aspiring leaders should, “search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.” In my career, the best mentors have been people who truly cared about my future. I’ve been blessed to have five men in my professional life that fulfilled that role.

The most valuable asset each of these men brought to me was a sincere interest in my growth and development as a leader. There are people like this in everyone’s life. You need to identify them and seek their guidance. One more piece of advice from Secretary Rice, “you don’t have to have mentors who look like you.” Just make sure that they genuinely care about your potential as a leader.

  1. Keep Learning

According to Pulitzer Prize historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this concept is one of the ten qualities that made President Abraham Lincoln a great leader. Lincoln spent countless hours with generals in the White House and on the front lines of battle to better understand the science of warfare and the causes and effects of his decisions. He’s perhaps our nation’s greatest wartime president.

Make your personal development a priority. As a student of Goodwin’s theory, I’ve never hesitated at an opportunity to take advantage of leadership development. I studied community leadership as a fellow with the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and corporate leadership with the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Today, I continue to learn from the talented people I encounter in my role as an executive coach.

The most exciting thing about the Latino future is that it’s happening right now. As a Latino professional, you have a chance to chart your own leadership path until the rest of society recognizes that you have what it takes to move into the corner office. There are countless Latinas and Latinos in the pipeline. Those two young men from Los Banos and others like them are counting on you to lead the way.

P.S. The boys earned second place in the national competition!!

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