In my last post, I wrote about how the ability to take a risk is a key factor in growing personally and professionally. Not possessing the inborn inclination to step out of comfort zones could be a major barrier to that growth. Can people who aren’t natural gamblers learn how to undertake calculated chances? The short answer is, “yes.” I believe that anyone can learn how to take on new opportunities that are uncomfortable.
In my work coaching emerging Latina and Latino leaders, I’ve learned that the fear of losing a well-paid and comfortable position keeps many talented people from seeking leadership and executive roles. From my own experience and through many years of thinking about this issue, I believe that the way society views Latinos and our acceptance of that perspective are the leading causes of the reluctance to push the career advancement envelope.
I can’t say for sure what comes to mind when non-Latinos think about the Latino community. Given a lifetime of interactions with people from all walks of life, I can say that the perception isn’t very good, not to mention grossly inaccurate. Images of Latino drug dealers, gangsters, “illegal” immigrants, and welfare moochers flood the media.
The good news is that in recent years we’ve reversed the “lazy” myth as most Americans now believe that Latinos have a strong work ethic. The bad news is that belief applies only to those who toil in menial and back-breaking physical work. The white-collar Latino hasn’t even reached the American consciousness yet.
Despite a growing population and modest inroads in economic and political influence, generalized (and negative) Latino impressions still result in unjust misunderstandings. How do I know this? In more than two decades working at the highest levels of the corporate, local government, and education worlds, I’ve heard non-Latinos say the darnedest things about us. I don’t believe these off-the-cuff comments are made in malice or with racist intent. The comments are just plain ignorant.
Latino professionals subconsciously participate in the perpetuation of these images. We tend to play it safe once we’ve “made it.” When the discussion in the conference room gets heated, we shy away from engaging in the ruckus. Our working-class upbringing teaches us to work hard, and keep our heads down and mouths shut. Let’s be honest, white folks in power positions can be intimidating. We’re worried that we might say something wrong, or worse, something stupid. We’ve all been there.
There’s some justification for that reluctance to speak out. This reality was played out last week on the national stage when Senator Kamala Harris (a black woman who served as a prosecutor and California’s attorney general before election to the senate) was rudely reprimanded by Senators John McCain and Richard Burr for “harassing” Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a senate hearing. No other senator on that panel was subjected to that kind of intrusion. Senator Harris, a seasoned interrogator, continued her questioning without missing a beat.
Society has a way of making people of color, even those in leadership positions, appear a cut below their colleagues. That could lead to self-doubt. How can we respond like Senator Harris? The solution is for you to just believe in yourself. Sounds easy, huh? Confronting the fear of taking risks and fighting negative stereotypes can be discouraging and tiring. But you have to step out of your comfort zone to advance.
I don’t mean the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy that seems to be all the rage today. That doesn’t work. You should never fake it! By definition, that means that you’re not qualified. I’m talking about taking stock of your successes and confirming that you’re the real deal.
I’m currently working with a Latina executive who’s contemplating a career change. She has extensive experience in her field and has progressively advanced to higher leadership roles in the organization. Her teams have earned several industry awards in addition to the individual recognition mementos that gather on her desk.
She has three options in front of her: (1) make a lateral move into management at her organization’s headquarters, (2) seek advancement opportunities within the industry, or (3) stay in her current role. I’ve advised her to take a serious look at options #2 and #1, in that order. Both are risky. Her initial response was to question her own qualifications and preparedness.
We did a simple exercise to get that absurd notion out of her mind. She dusted off her resume and started listing her professional accomplishments and accolades. When the dust settled, she had an amazing resume that impressed even herself! She had been so busy being successful that she didn’t realize the extent of her experience and preparation.
Once it was on paper, I could see in her eyes that she truly believed in herself. She’s still nervous about the possibility of taking a leap. The natural sense of anxiety that comes with stretching one’s boundaries will still linger as she thinks about her next move. At least she now believes that she has what it takes to achieve her goals.
The moral of this story is to block out influences that are barriers to your success, obstacles like fear of taking professional risks and the negative effect society has on our tendency toward self-doubt. These are powerful forces in keeping talented Latinas and Latinos from striving to occupy the corner office.
As a Latino professional, you’ve educated yourself and work hard. Learn how to take regular stock of your accomplishments to remind yourself that you have professional value and worth. This will give you the confidence needed to take that risk that will lead to the next level in your personal and professional life.