News Column

Networking, Latina-style

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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."

Like Ms. Remenesky, Elida Moreno of the Latina Leadership Network feels that organizations for Hispanic women professionals create a kind of snowball effect, helping to develop new leaders by promoting interaction between up-and-comers and established professionals.

"Too often Latinas assume leadership positions at many levels, but they do it quietly. We need to be visible to gain support, to give support, to educate, to learn," Ms. Moreno says.

Ms. Moreno, who became president of LLN in March, sees dissemination of information as a key function of her organization."Too much information is not shared, not because people are not willing to share, but because people live extremely busy lives, and if it weren't for those venues we'd do even less sharing and learning. Networking brings many heads together, and the ideas, which often are different, can lead to more refined ones," says Ms. Moreno.

Ms. Moreno adds that the LLN sponsors functions that facilitate the spread of information, including annual conferences and other events. They give out five scholarships to outstanding Hispanic students every year, and they also hand out awards for professionals who promote the advancement of Hispanic women. Similar to 100 Hispanic Women, LLN is based on a set of goals established to promote and dismantle discriminatory practices.

Although both 100 Hispanic Women and the Latina Leadership Foundation actively seek to offer their members access to opportunities for advancement, they differ from purely professional associations in their emphasis on social progress, political parity and personal development. Profession-specific organizations may be a better fit for those who are primarily interested in career development.

April 2004: National Hispana Leadership Institute Latina Empowerment Conference
New York City, NY
April 14-19: National Hispana Leadership Institute Program JFK School of Government
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
April 20-21: National Latina Business Women Association, Los Angeles Chapter "Business and Legislative Days"
Sacramento, CA
April 21: 100 Hispanic Women, Inc. 8th Anniversary Gala Celebration
New York City, NY
April 23-25: Latin Business Association Women's Small Business Expo
Palm Springs, CA

Dr. Donna Maria Blancero, chairwoman of the board for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA), says, "The opportunity to network with other professionals within your own industry is an advantage of membership in a professional organization. In particular, involvement with a strong and nationally recognized professional organization, such as NSHMBA, provides additional opportunities such as exposure to senior executives (both Hispanic and non-Hispanic) who share valuable information on how to be successful in one's career."

"My research shows that those who are mentored by a senior executive manager are more likely to be successful, as measured by salary, promotion, and satisfaction," says Dr. Blanceros.

For those of a more entrepreneurial mindset, The National Latina Business Women Association may be a good networking resource. According to Emily Robinson, president of the Los Angeles chapter, the group offers help with every aspect of starting and running a business, from getting loans to navigating the red tape involved in landing state and federal contracts.

View a list of Hispanic Business Magazine's Career Quarterly Diversity Leaders

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