By Leanne Ryder, Workforce Development Senior Program Manager, UnidosUS
The Latin American Association’s (The LAA) Atlanta office is located off a busy, six-lane road in the northeast neighborhood between Atlanta and Decatur. The building’s floor-to-ceiling windows, welcoming façade, and ample parking are a beacon to members of the Latinx community across greater Atlanta. Founded in 1972, the LAA is the region’s leading agency representing Georgia’s Latino issues and offers a variety of community services, including immigration legal services, leadership programs for youth, families, and job training opportunities for adults. It is here that Maggie and Deborah began their journeys with UnidosUS’s Latinos in Finance program, offered by the LAA and locally known as Unidos in Finance (UIF). The bilingual banker training is generously supported by Bank of America and propels Latinx participants into careers in commercial banking.
The LAA has offered the program since July 2019, and 73% of participants have been women. The program has become even more salient as a response to the disproportionate impact and financial losses that Latinas experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Latina unemployment rates spiking to more than 20% during early 2020 and Latinas being more than twice as likely as white women (49% vs. 24%) to have wiped out their savings during the pandemic.
Maggie and Deborah’s stories are each unique but share the common themes of intrinsic motivation and perseverance that allowed them to overcome obstacles and reach their career goals. Both women have generously allowed us to share their stories with the hopes of inspiring and encouraging others who are starting their journeys.
ASPIRATIONS FOR THEIR NEW LIVES
In 2016, Deborah moved from Venezuela to Georgia, seeking better opportunities. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and 11 years of experience in banking, but feared that “my degree, qualifications, and experience would not work in this country.” Deborah applied for the UIF program for the first time in 2019 but did not pass the selection interview. “After I failed, I focused on a regular job and lost my dream to work in a bank again. By 2021, I acquired new skills […] and improved my English language skills, so I applied again to the training, was accepted, and participated in the 10th cohort of Unidos in Finance.”
Maggie’s story starts in Mexico City, where she was finishing her last year in college and working customer service and sales jobs when she met and fell in love with her now-husband, “I just knew I wanted to be with him no matter where.” She said yes to his proposal, and in January 2020, they moved from Mexico City to his home in Atlanta, with, as Maggie describes, “‘one hand forward and one hand behind,’ with nothing, just with love and enthusiasm.”
Maggie got her work permit and a seasonal customer service job at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. She wanted to strengthen her English language skills, emphasizing the importance of daily practice. Maggie impressed the staff with her commitment and was promoted to supervisor. At the end of the season, the position was eliminated, and Maggie looked for another job without success. “I was beginning to feel sad, but I knew that if I gave up, the only one who lost was me,” Maggie remembers. She persevered and started a new job at Chick-fil-A at the same time she was accepted into the UIF program.
GETTING READY FOR THE JOB THEY WANTED
Both women faced and overcame challenges during their time in the program. Deborah felt frustrated because she was scared to use a computer, and because of the pressure she was putting on herself. “After a few lessons, the teacher and classmates made me confident to be a part of the group. In each part of the training, I learned new things about banking, finance, security, and customer service in this country,” she said. Maggie was exhausted. “At that point of my life, I was working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and even though I was tired, I changed to professional clothes getting ready for the evening class because I wanted dress for the job I wanted,” she shared.
When thinking about the benefits they experienced from the training, Maggie and Deborah both highlighted one of the most important parts—the connection to industry partners. “For me, there was great value to be in contact with real bankers who trained us how resolve some situations. It was also a BIG opportunity to show what we know in front of the recruiters in the mock interviews,” Deborah said. Maggie remembers, “During this incredible course we had the opportunity to learn from professionals from Bank of America, Truist, and the Federal Reserve, so we could expand our horizon in the industry. All of the practice interviews helped me improve the way I presented myself for future interviews.”
This is thanks to the deep partnership that LAA has with Bank of America and other financial institutions like Truist Bank, Wells Fargo and Synovus Bank. Representatives from each of the partner banks volunteer their time to bring the curriculum to life, to review resumes, and to help participants become stronger interviewees. It’s a win for all involved: talented participants network with bankers, practice their interviewing skills, and learn about career pathways in banking. Banking recruiters meet qualified and highly motivated participants with a demonstrated commitment to the sector who can provide culturally and linguistically relevant customer service in bank branches across the Atlanta metro area.
After eight weeks of learning and growth, Maggie and Deborah each graduated from their respective cohorts, ready for the next step. Bank of America was ready to hire! Deborah joined their team as a Relationship Manager – Business Specialist, earning 35% more per hour than her previous role as a quality specialist in manufacturing. Maggie came onboard as a Relationship Banker, “with great benefits and over 50% more than my prior job.”
DON’T STOP DREAMING
In reflecting on her experience, Deborah shares, “The LAA changed my immigrant story. I came to this country with a lot of dreams that I forgot after a few failures. The (Latin American) Association gave me back my faith and the desire to fight for those dreams again.”
Maggie echoes Deborah’s sentiment. “I am incredibly grateful with this amazing course that helped me to get ready and be more competitive to get a job in the banking industry.” She ends with a word of advice: “I want to express that no matter what adversities there are, if you really want to do something start today to look for the opportunity since they only show up once in a lifetime. This country has a lot of opportunities, but we must look for them, work for them, and not stop dreaming.”
Deborah and Maggie both expressed their gratitude to the LAA’s team for the program and their support, in particular, program manager Jose Valer, and “each person that makes it possible for immigrants to have quality training in collaboration with companies that connect participants with better job opportunities.”
To learn more about The LAA’s Unidos in Finance course or to apply, click here. The UnidosUS Latinos in Finance program is offered by 23 nonprofit partners across the United States. For more information, contact Leanne Ryder (Lryder@unidosus.org).