For the past year and a half I have worked for a company in Miami that made me feel like I was in a 1970s battle for women’s civil rights. The men in charge promoted women with low-cut dresses and played footsies with assistants at board room meetings.
But after attending The Latina Style Business Series on Nov. 30, 2007 at the Doral Resort & Spa, I learned that I have been my biggest obstacle, not men.
“If a man tells me I’m beautiful at a meeting, I take it as a compliment and feel empowered to move on to business,” said Victoria Villalba, who started her multi-million dollar human resources company, Victoria and Associates 15 years ago. “I don’t compromise my values. I stand my ground.”
Panel after panel, successful Latina businesswomen talked about walking into boardrooms with their shoulders back, their focus on closing the deal and having faith in a higher power that their careers would take them to the places they wanted to go. They offered their advice, experiences and lessons to a conference room that should have been packed with Miami’s female “lone riders,” a.k.a. entrepreneurs.
Patricia San Pedro accepted an award for Entrepreneur of the Year, Sonia Green director of The Florida Initiative GM Motors talked about her ascent from Nuyorican Brooklyn to Avon and Cosmo International, and Liliam Lopez, president of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, recalled her encouraging male mentor telling her, “Ay mijita, if you can’t do the job with your 4.0 GPA, who else can?”
Confidence. It’s something we’re all born with. For some of us, it fades during our tumultuous teen years and gets lost once we enter male-dominated work atmospheres. Our cultural upbringing informs us that modeling, motherhood and organizing files for male CEOs are appropriate life and career options for women, so when we go against the grain without support, we can get lost and frustrated.
I naively incorporated my company in 2005. I’ve been writing my own contracts, deciphering the legalese of other people’s contracts, refusing to work with men who say, “A woman’s stock plummets after 42,” and clumsily managing my own business account. My biggest problem is that I have been too shy to ask for advice or help because I’d been burned so many times.
I have been relying on my gut and passion, like Maria de Lourdes Sobrino, CEO and founder of Lulu’s Desserts who had nothing like the Latina Style Business Series when she was first getting started.
Apparently, I’m the one stuck in the 1970s! There are so many support networks out there to help me be successful like the Small Business Administration, ACCION USA and Wachovia Bank, which were represented on the first panel of the day.
“Latinas are still starting businesses with their credit cards and taking out a second mortgage,” said Robert Bard, president and CEO of LATINA Style Magazine. “They risk everything, but this is not what is done in the general market. Women still face barriers when they go to the bank.”
Now, I’m no dummy on this subject. For the past year and half, I published an online newsletter and web site about angel investing for a private equity company in Coconut Grove. I learned all about due diligence, scalability and investors who are looking for the next Google.
It was great information, but as a journalist, I only understood 50% of the language investors spoke. The Latina panelists, on the other hand, were like my long-lost aunts who explained it to me in Business 101 for clueless Latinas-style. They didn’t assume I grew up hearing about term sheets and valuations in my blue-collar household, and explained that there is a chain of capital that women with no rich husband or daddy can follow before climbing to the angel level.