Leadership Lessons From Latinx Trailblazers: raceAhead

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Leaders should think about how they use their platforms and privileges to help others. 

That’s the challenge Dr. Carmen Rojas, CEO of The Workers Lab, which funds projects that aim to find solutions for workers, puts to those in leadership. It’s a way of wielding a kind of power that gives more than it takes, and starts with one question, best asked daily: “Am I using my position of authority, power, and resource to be of service to a broader community?”

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (which ends October 15), Rojas tells raceAhead about some Latina executives who she considers to be doing just this—and encourages everyone to follow their lead. 

They’re “people who are dreaming before they think,” says Rojas, citing the great Toni Morrison. Leaders like Ana Oliveira, head of the New York Women’s Foundation who directs their grant-making towards empowering women who are poised to advocate for equity and justice in their local communities, are being “audacious and ambitious.” And there’s Monica Ramirez—who helped spark the Times Up movement—who shows through her work that she has a “finger on the pulse of what the Latinx community can look like.”

“I think that we as people of color, that we as Latinx people, often get the message not to dream. That we get a message that we should, again, bend over backward, assimilate, and conform,” says Rojas. “That we should shrink into our smallest selves and not bring attention to ourselves.” 

But when leaders step up, they’re not just giving a voice to people around them, but reimagining a more inclusive corporate-led economy, she says.

The stakes are real. The Latinx community is a major contributor to the U.S. economy. In 2017, for instance, Latinx people contributed about $2 trillion in “Latino GDP,” according to a recent report commissioned by the non-partisan group Latino Donor Collaborative and reported by NBC. And, in five years, Latinx workers will make up 20% of the U.S. workforce, says Forbes.

That’s why women like Marisa Franco matter. She’s the head of mijente, a grassroots organization (and yes, it’s spelled correctly), whose work entails “holding companies accountable,” through its political efforts. And Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen summit star Karla Monterrosso, CEO of Code2040, is closing the opportunity gap for people of color in tech, vital and important work, says Dr. Rojas. They’re both making sure the Latinx community “has a voice in shaping, not only what our democracy looks like, but also what our economy looks like.” 

As Rojas transitions to a new post next year as head of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, a philanthropic foundation, their examples will serve as inspiration. And that’s saying a lot: She’s leaving The Workers Lab with quite a diverse team, with the majority being people of color and LGBTQ hires. 

Rojas says the spirit of intentional inclusion can help anyone build truly welcoming cultures.

First, ensure everyone not only feels safe and heard, but “essential to the work.” And, of course, commit to sharing power. The best leaders, she says, are those that realize “it’s ‘us,'” it’s a “collective ‘we.'”


On Point

Federal Judge rules in favor of Harvard admissions affirmative action policy A Boston federal judge ruled yesterday that Harvard University’s admissions were not discriminatory against Asian Americans. The lawsuit was brought forward by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which is led by Edward Blum, and in it, they claimed that Asian-American college applicants were passed over, their spots given to other students with similar qualifications in what the SFFA considers a form of racial balancing. Clearly, Judge Allison D. Burroughs disagreed. Harvard’s admissions policy, she said, is “not perfect,” but race was never considered to the detriment of an applicant. “[T]oday we reaffirm the importance of diversity—and everything it represents to the world,” said Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow in an open letter following the decision.

‘Too much at stake’ in landmark LGBTQ rights case Next week, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Aimee Stephens, along with two others, as it considers LGBTQ discrimination. In 2013, Stephens was fired from the funeral home where she worked following her decision to come out as transgender to her boss. And that kind of outcome is “not unusual.” Per The Guardian: “Only 21 out of the 50 states in the U.S. have specific civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. While it is now legal for same-sex couples to marry in any state, they can still be fired for coming out across much of the country.” Read this feature on Stephens, and how there is “too much at stake.”
The Guardian

On Background

The homeless are increasingly scapegoated on social media Users on Nextdoor, a social media network meant to connect people within a neighborhood, often express anti-homeless sentiment. Users, Rick Paulas writes, have shown outrage towards the homeless for “calling trash personal possessions” (a user in Los Angeles), to blaming them for an increase in a town’s coyote presence (a user in Portland, Ore.). And those sort of anti-homeless sentiments, Paulas points out, is prevalent across various social media platforms. And it’s not just exacerbating negative feelings towards the homeless, but causing “real, physical consequences.” Violence against these populations, “always a constant,” has increased recently.
One Zero via Medium

The problem with the international food aisle Why are rice vinegar, coconut milk, or adobo seasoning placed in a separate, so-called ethnic aisle in supermarkets? Because of an “invisible ceiling,” Momofuku founder Chef David Chang tells the Washington Post. And there’s a need to discuss the persisting racism that has allowed these aisles to remain. Looking at the history of how these aisles were incorporated into larger supermarkets definitely betrays “racist underpinnings,” the Post says. But, for some markets now, it’s just a matter of business—grouping the products together in a separate section increases sales. But to Chang, they stand as a “bastion of racism.” Give this a read and pick a side on the international aisle debate.
Washington Post

‘Digitizing’ schools could leave more students of color behind While there is hope that the increased presence of artificial intelligence will improve the educational system, “due diligence” is required to ensure A.I. bias doesn’t seep in as well, write Andre M. Perry and Nicol Turner Lee in this Brookings post. Yes, the introduction of A.I. in schools could prove promising—think less time grading homework for teachers—but “[d]evelopers must intentionally build [A.I.] systems through a lens of racial equity if the technology is going to disrupt the status quo.”


“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”

Toni Morrison