2016 NCLR Annual Conference

'Diverse women are the sleeping giant of America'

By John Marth, Senior Content Specialist, NCLR

As Beyonce blasted from the speakers, attendees to “A Force Unleashed: The Rising Economic Power of Latinas,” were greeted with a vibrant scene of empowerment that continued throughout an incisive panel discussion led by best-selling author and entrepreneur Nely Galán.

The economy-focused town hall held Sunday at the 2016 NCLR Annual Conference featured Patty Arvielo, President and Co-Founder of New American Funding; Cynthia F. Figueroa, President and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos and Vice Chair of the NCLR Affiliate Council; and Zixta Martinez, Associate Director of External Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

2016 NCLR Annual Conference
From left: Zixta Martinez, Cynthia F. Figueroa, Patty Arvielo

The women discussed several barriers that keep Latinas from realizing their potential. While there are obvious factors like limited access to money and other resources, the group emphasized the importance of having the mindset of deciding to succeed.

“Diverse women are the sleeping giant of America,” Galán said. And she’s right: In his opening remarks, former NCLR Board Chair Jorge A. Plasencia pointed out that 80% of woman-owned firms are owned by women of color. And since the Great Recession hit in 2008, there has been a 200% increase in the number of Latina-owned businesses. 

The mindset, according to Galán, has to be that of an entrepreneur, whether or not that’s the career path you’re interested in. “Begin by setting a goal. It’s scary, but all of our stories are important. Our narratives cannot be told by other people,” she said.

The steps Galán took to grow her brand can translate to fulfill any other kind of aspiration. She said that a large part of the attitude is not downplaying your talents out of modesty: “Don’t say you like to cook. Say you’re a chef.”

Be informed

“Why don’t we know about the opportunities earmarked for us?” Galán asked. She pointed out that there are billions of dollars available in grants and funding from the government, corporations, and nonprofits, but it’s no use if the community isn’t aware and doesn’t apply for funding.

For her part, Martinez admitted that even though the CFPB has provided more than $11 billion in relief to families since forming five years ago and receives 20,000 claims per day, the bureau still struggles to inform the community about the opportunities available to them. “There’s lots of work to be done to let people know that the opportunity is there,” Martinez said.

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Fake it ’till you make it

All of the panelists pointed out that it’s natural to feel intimidated when thinking about change. “Fear is not a fact,” Galán said. “It’s a cloud. Get through it and the turbulence will be over.”

She insisted that she feels nervous whenever she speaks in front of an audience or meets someone new, but she fakes it by pretending to be someone else. “I’m gonna pretend to be Ana Navarro when I’m scared," she joked, and added "just pretend to be someone else. It works!

Understanding that failure is inevitable is vital, a lesson that can’t be learned too early. “Early failure dictates earlier success,” Figueroa said. Learning what doesn’t work can create a roadmap to what does work, forming a clearer path to meeting a goal. Figueroa emphasized that the fear of failing leads to never trying at all. “We wait to be invited to the table but sometimes you have to ask,” she said.  

Be a mirror

"People need to see me," Arvielo said. As president of one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country, she wants to inspire Latinas and minority women to fight for their passions the way Galán inspired her. Any underrepresented group knows that it makes a difference to see a success story from someone you can relate to. “You have to get out there and be the example,” Arvielo told the crowd.

Representation will soon be as important for corporations as it is for consumers. With the United States rapidly becoming a majority-minority nation, Galán pointed out that “if your company doesn’t look like us, you’re not gonna make it.”