If you were a young girl who grew up in a Latino household, you most likely heard your mom or abuelita constantly remind you that “Calladita te ves más bonita,” which translates to “you’re prettier when you’re quieter.” This was certainly not an expression that your brothers or boy cousins heard when they were growing, so from birth, we Latinas were already being conditioned to think and behave a certain way.
Today (Nov. 2nd) is “Equal Pay Day for Latinas”, which according to the National Women’s Law Center and Labor Council For Latin American Advancement means that Latinas need to work an extra 11 months a year in order to catch up and make the same money as white men. Or seven months more then white women, and four additional months than African-American women. Latinas are the most underpaid women of any demographic in the U.S., and this is not because we have jobs that pay less, even in high leadership positions, Latinas get paid approximately half the amount white men get paid who hold the same positions and degrees. Whether you are a doctor or a housekeeper, if you are a Latina in this country you can expect to make on average $1.5 million less than any white man over the course of your professional career.
So what’s the deal? … Does our country really discriminate more against Latinas than anyone else? Or, should our moms and abuelas share some of the blame for handicapping our self-confidence by instilling old fashioned ideals as part of our cultural upbringing? Could it be that they programmed us as soon as we could talk, that speaking up for what we deserve is not necessarily attractive or considered ‘good manners’?
I was born with a very “passionate” and outspoken personality — one that constantly got me in trouble at school. So, I can remember clearly hearing “calladita te ves más bonita,” both from my sweet Mexican abuelita and my highly-educated, PHD Psychologist mother. Yup, even she believed that keeping my head down and not speaking up, even if I was right, was the proper thing to do. She raised me to always be grateful for what I had, and encouraged me not to speak up and ask for more, even if I deserved more.
For years, I tried to be the obedient girl my family wanted me to be, until one day I hit rock bottom, when I was verbally bullied on my school bus in middle school for my “chilanguita” (Mexico City) accent. From that moment on, I decided I would be calladita no more.
My first hard salary negotiation happened a few years later, when I was 15 years old. I worked at a local radio station, co-hosting a show with my friend Marco Antonio Regil (yes, the now famous game show TV host!). He thought we should both be getting paid more and encouraged me to negotiate along with him and if we did not get what we deserved, we would both quit our jobs.
I was so grateful for the opportunity to be working at the radio station, even though I knew I should be getting paid more, so the thought of upsetting my boss by asking for more money made me sick to my stomach. But I followed my friend’s lead and we took the owner of the radio station to brunch to renegotiate our deals over huevos rancheros.
Marco Antonio did most of the talking, and I was in awe of his self-confidence. He calmly stated the value we brought to the station, as there was no one in the market that understood ‘youth’ the way that we did. He then talked about all the great work we had been doing and cited our high ratings as a tangible example, before finally pointing out how we had been working at multiple live events on the weekends without receiving any extra pay.
Sure enough, we got our double raise and from that day on I took that important lesson in having self-confidence.
A few years ago I was invited to the White House to speak to a group of female entrepreneurs that the former First Lady, Michelle Obama was hosting. I was asked to share how my partners and I were able to raise $40 million and build mitú into the largest digital media brand for Latinos, especially since I had never raised money before or built a digital media brand in my entire career. My answer consisted of three words: Self-confidence and swagger.
What I’ve learned over the years is that we can’t be victims of our circumstances and do nothing about it. In fact, I often find myself consciously trying to reboot the ‘overly-eager-to-please’ Latina chip I’ve been carrying with me. For example, in every big meeting I take, I pump myself up and make myself feel extra confident and empowered when I see that no one else in the room looks like me. I have confidence knowing that no one else there has my insights or expertise, and that this knowledge is invaluable, both as a woman and a Latina, especially when Latinos are the ones driving economic growth and are the gateway to American youth in our country.
The faster that we can un-program our brains that in order to be good or liked, you need to be quiet and obedient, the faster we will be able to empower the next generation of Latina leaders to be strong, confident and expect no less then to be equal to everyone else.
Five Tips To Help You Get What You Deserve
Tip #1 — Try and get your boss or client out of the office and into a neutral setting when asking for a raise or closing a deal. Btw, providing them with good food is always a plus!
Tip #2 — When possible, try not to have important conversations with your boss or client too late in the afternoon, as you want to avoid them from being overly tired or not as receptive as you would like.
Tip #3 — Be prepared to clearly articulate why you deserve a raise or the compensation you expect with as many facts as you can.
Tip #4 — Being a Latina is an advantage. You have innate insights that are valuable to every company that needs to thrive and survive in this culturally diverse country of ours.
Tip #5 — Always carry yourself with confidence.