Latina Leadership: How Far Have We Come, How Much Further Do We Have to Go?

As I begin this Latina Expert series, I dedicate these blogs to young Latina professionals who are the leaders of the future. Women of my generation, baby boomers born between 1946-1964, have spent our careers fighting different battles and learning very different lessons than the next generations that follow us. Having said that, I believe that our experiences shed valuable light on the current political and economic realities that younger Latinas are facing. My hope is that future leaders can stand on our shoulders and see further as a result of our struggles. Much has changed since the late sixties when I graduated from college and began my professional life as an organizational consultant, researcher and university professor. Unfortunately, much has not changed. Latinas were then and continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in all institutions and sectors. I was considered a rarity when I achieved academic and organizational positions of authority. My background was traditional working class which meant that my father had a high school diploma and worked in a steel mill while my mother was a stay-home worker raising eight children. I had no role models for pursuing an education or a professional career. When I encountered sexism or racism, I was unprepared to even recognize much less confront those experiences.

One of my passions as a researcher, consultant and trainer has been understanding Latina professionals and supporting their development as leaders. Frequently young Latinas want to know how I have overcome the barriers I have encountered and want advice about how to deal with the challenges they face. Older Latinas tell me their "war stories" about how they have broken through glass ceilings and how they continue to struggle to balance demanding careers with their over-committed family and community lives. I see great benefit in having us engage as Latinas across these generational divides. There is much we can learn from each other. I can see that my daughter's generation of young women have special skills and self-knowledge that my generation didn't have. I want to better understand how gender roles have changed and how they are forging new partnerships with their male counterparts in the work world. I don't agree, however, that gender is no longer an issue or that women have achieved equality in today's society and I worry about the impact of naively claiming victory over sexism or racism. There are still too few Latinas seated around the table when significant decisions are made or where power is wielded.

In future posts I will explore the complex range of factors that maintain the current state - some are very real organizational barriers and others are equally powerful self-limitations that we have come to accept as normal.

A recent example demonstrates my point. In the current election frenzy, there is much speculation about the role Latinos will play in electing the next President in 2012. A recent article by Carlos Harrison on February 20th in the Huffington Post went so far as to ask "Who could be the first Latino President of the U.S.?" He conducted his analysis without a single mention of any prominent Latinas who would even be considered. It apparently didn't even seem worth mentioning that only men were worthy of his speculation. If this were the 1950s, I might have been prepared to be ignored - but in 2012, really?

So the challenges to Latinas being taken seriously as leaders and power brokers in this country continue to be significant. Strategies to address these challenges require sophisticated and nuanced analyses. I invite Latinas from various generations, sectors and regions to join me in asking these tough questions. And I hope we won't rest until we find answers that matter. Donde estan las mujeres? We are neither invisible nor are we silent - our voices need to be heard now more than ever before.