From Neither Here Nor There: Navigating Corporate America as a BIPOC

By Lydia Zepeda, Senior Marketing Strategist

As someone who grew up in rural (and predominantly white) Maine, I am far too familiar with being the only person of color in a room. I am far too familiar with teaching people how to pronounce my name, having to translate documents for my parents at an early age. The list goes on and on.

As one of the only people of color in my hometown, I often sought to blend in with my classmates. In many ways, I willingly gave up parts of my heritage so that I wouldn’t draw any attention towards my “otherness.” To my classmates, I was foreign—to my family, I was Americanized.

I struggled with my identity for many years — from answering questions on my college applications, the FAFSA, or even a job application. It wasn’t until I went to Emmanuel College and joined my school’s Latino organization, H.U.E.L.L.A.S. (Helping Unite Emmanuel Latinos Lead and Achieve Success), that I realized my experiences weren’t just unique to me. It felt like a huge relief to suddenly be surrounded by people who truly understood. Like many first-generation students, I felt a myriad of emotions as I navigated college, internships, and job searching without any form of a roadmap.

“Sometimes, being a child of immigrants can feel like you’ve been set-up for failure.”
-Lydia Zepeda
Source: ALPFA Boston

My time at Emmanuel and as part of H.U.E.L.L.A.S. helped me find confidence in my “Latinidad.” I was able to find my community and build a support system that has carried me throughout my early career. Although my time at Emmanuel helped me embrace my identity and understand that I wasn’t alone in the pressures of being a successful first-gen graduate, I still felt unprepared to navigate the corporate world as a young woman of color. From wondering how to break into the marketing industry as a creative of color to learning how to negotiate my salary, the roadmap to my career felt non-existent.

About two years into my career — I sought out organizations tailored to people like me. I no longer wanted to be like J Balvin, asking, “ y donde está mi gente?” It was then that I discovered organizations like ALPFA Boston and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. 

Suddenly, I became surrounded by professionals of color across industries, sectors, and backgrounds. Through connecting with fellow BIPOCS, I began to see what a successful career could look like, and, most importantly, I found friends and mentors who were there to support me through the ups and downs of being a professional of color. Without a strong foundation of mentors, friends, or leaders who look like us — it is hard to envision success for ourselves. Organizations like ALPFA are critical to the success and well-being of rising and established Latino professionals.

Investing diverse talent not only creates a sense of belonging— but a recent report by Mckinsey’s found that investing in diversity also strengthens the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance over time.  

While creating an inclusive workplace doesn’t just happen overnight, there are steps that organizations can take to make positive change. From enhancing hiring practices, to providing educational seminars, or creating internal DE&I committees (like we have at SHIFT), there are many ways organizations can make strides towards creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace.   

A version of this post originally appeared on the ALPFA Boston blog.

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