From LLN to NLBWA, there's a veritable alphabet soup of networking organizations for Hispanic women across the country. The recent explosion in the number of these groups has been driven by two main factors: increasing numbers of Hispanic women pursuing higher education, and an exponential growth in the number of Hispanic women-owned businesses.
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Hispanic women participating in higher education grew faster than any other minority group, as Hispanic women earning bachelor's degrees increased by 150 percent, while those earning master's degrees increased 164 percent. And many of those women are going on to launch their own businesses. According to a 2003 HispanTelligence Special Report, the number of firms owned by Hispanic women experienced a growth rate of 39.3 percent from 1997 to 2002, outpacing the overall total growth in number of firms owned by minority women. As their success has increased, many professionals have started their own networking groups as a way of giving back to the community.
So, you want to be a part of this revolution, but aren't sure how to choose which group is right for you?
Traditionally, purely professional associations such as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs or the National Association of Hispanic Journalists focus on providing exclusive access to people or information that can help you boost your career. Organization members are exposed to the experience and knowledge of mentors who present advice on all aspects of career development, from interviewing to landing business loans. Additionally, members often have an inside track in the recruitment process, as companies seeking to diversify frequently turn to minority professional associations for assistance in the pursuit of fresh talent.
Some professional associations view their mission from a broader perspective, adding aspects of political activism and personal development into their agendas. Like purely professional associations, organizations such as 100 Hispanic Women and The Latina Leadership Network (LLN) seek to provide their members with access to advancement opportunities that would be otherwise unavailable. However, they also foster the personal development of young Hispanic women as community and business leaders. These organizations advocate aggressive outreach and networking to encourage successful professionals to give back to the community once they have established themselves in positions of power and leadership.
One such professional is Shirley Rodriguez Remenesky, president of 100 Hispanic Women, who, after holding several senior level positions in government, decided to focus her efforts on building a new generation of leaders. While it is an organization that helps members connect with jobs, 100 Hispanic Women steers women specifically toward careers that influence public policy.
"Latina networking organizations add significant value to personal and professional growth of their members, and play a critical role in providing access to professionals in key positions in the private and public sectors. Access that they would not ordinarily have, especially at the start of their careers," Ms. Remenesky says.
For anyone interested in starting a group of their own, she advises, "Identify the needs of your constituents and provide them with the tools necessary to help accelerate their personal and professional growth. Let the corporate and public sector know what you are doing in the area of economic development, technology, financial management, healthcare, anything and everything that will make your organization a viable resource."
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