December 8th is Latina Equal Pay Day. That means Latina women have to work all of last year and until December 8th of this year just to earn what white men earned last year.
And while National Hispanic Heritage Month ended last week, the six Latina founders – featured at the first of a series of nationwide events honoring Latina disruptors – say this is just one small example of why it’s important to keep the celebration and momentum going, well beyond October 15th.
The inaugural “Celebrating Latina Disruptors” event was hosted by veteran business executive Sandra Campos and Stacy Berns, founder of Berns Communications Group and co-founder of The DealmakeHers, an exclusive community of female dealmakers, and was moderated by Forbes’ Maggie McGrath and MSNBC’s Daniela Pierre-Bravo. It featured six successful Latinas who shared advice on how they overcame challenges, relying on their community of allies and sponsors, to help build their brands.
Honor your culture.
Women on the panel admitted to feeling shame for hiding their background, at the early stages of their careers, in order to be included. Pierre-Bravo says she intentionally lost her accent to fit in. Babba Rivera, a Chilean immigrant who grew up in Sweden, spent her youth also trying to fit in. Eventually relocating to the US for work, Rivera witnessed an enormous void of Latinx representation in the beauty space and founded her clean hair care brand Ceremonia. “I spent my entire childhood running away from my culture and I’m now spending my adulthood honoring it,” she said. Ceremonia is now the first Latina-owned hair care brand in Sephora.
Restaurateur and Mexican immigrant Dafna Mizrahi also found a way to honor her culture while building a brand. Frustrated with the liquor salesmen that would come to her restaurant, most of whom knew little about tequila, Mizrahi cofounded her own tequila company. “Curamia is more than a tequila brand – it’s about showing the authenticity of Mexico itself,” she said. Mizrahi points out that most new tequila brands have come from Hollywood celebrities. “Is Hollywood really where tequila comes from? No, it comes from Jalisco.”
Accept the dinner invitation.
While working at Facebook, Bianca Gates nervously accepted an invitation to dinner at Sheryl Sandberg’s home. She discovered that Sandberg hosted monthly dinners to connect, and foster networking, among the women of Silicon Valley. “The confidence I gained by being in that room gave me many more opportunities to try new things,” said Gates. Now the co-founder of footwear brand Birdies hosts her own peer-to-peer mentorship circle, which has been meeting every month for ten years.
Take a leap of faith.
“No one is going to hire me, so I better hire myself,” thought Daniela Pierson, the daughter of a Colombian immigrant mother. As a sophomore in college who struggled with mental health and learning issues, she pivoted and started the women-focused newsletter, The Newsette, today valued at $200 million, out of her dorm room. “I was laughed out of every VC’s room,” says Pierson, now 27 and estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of $220 million.
Estefania Lacayo was told by her college professor that it was impossible for a Latina without a working permit to get a job in fashion in the US. Emboldened by that challenge, Lacayo cold called Vogue, was offered an internship and thus started her career in fashion. Today, Lacayo is the co-founder of the Latin American Fashion Summit, an organization that aims to support and elevate those in the Latin American fashion and design industries.
Focus on Profitability.
The key to being a woman of color and accessing the boys’ club of the venture capital world (women of color only receive 0.2% of all venture dollars), according to Gates, is to “build a really (expletive) good business!”
And while Silicon Valley often prioritizes growth over profitability, Karla Gallardo recommends a different path. The co-founder of lifestyle brand Cuyana says, “We have always thought of profitability as our north star.” Focusing on profitability, one best seller at a time and an agile backend with an efficient supply chain has allowed Gallardo to successfully scale her business.
Find Sponsors for Support and Funding.
As a non-conventional founder in the beauty space (she is neither a celebrity hair stylist nor an ex-beauty brand executive), Rivera needed sponsors to be taken seriously as she was building Ceremonia. Rivera advises other early-stage Latina founders to seek sponsors in the form of angel investors. In addition to providing start-up capital, she says, “Angel investors can be validators, giving you a stamp of approval and they can also be door openers.”
Representatives from Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Palladium Equity Partners, all sponsors of the event, reiterated their commitment to Latina founders.
Bank of America, with a commitment to providing capital and connections to Latinas, has invested $400 million in minority-sponsored and minority-owned venture capital funds and has a multitude of support services for Latina and other minority-owned businesses.
Morgan Stanley and Palladium also announced their continued commitment to invest in Hispanic entrepreneurs. “Over the last 20 years my partners and I have invested over $1.5 billion backing Hispanic entrepreneurs or companies we believe will benefit from the growing Hispanic market in the US,” said Palladium partner, Leon Brujis.
As we seek to extend the momentum for Latina-founded businesses beyond October, Campos recommended that all women founders focus on sponsorship. “Mentors speak to you, coaches speak with you, but sponsors speak about you,” she said. “Today is all about sponsorship.” And Pierre-Bravo agrees. “Give the woman the opportunity. Amplify her. Give her space. Introduce her to people she doesn’t have access to. And talk about her when she’s not in the room.”
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