Empowerment begins with embracing your identity and ends with rewriting the rules of your own success. Join us for an inspiring episode as we continue Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month with a deep dive into the world of empowerment, identity, and career development. Our guest, Kathleen Chávez-Rège, takes us on a remarkable journey through her career and her transformative role as a trusted advisor at LatinaVIDA. As a second-generation Latina, she discusses her personal journey and the importance of identity in her life and career. Discover how LatinaVIDA is making a significant impact on young women, people of color, and underrepresented groups by helping them find their voices and empowering them to take charge of their careers. Kathleen provides a detailed look at the organization’s programs, including “Rise to the Top,” “PODER,” and “Rise,” designed to guide individuals at different stages of their careers. Throughout the episode, Kathleen proves how LatinaVIDA is leading the way for Latinas, one empowered voice at a time. Tune in, be inspired, and join the movement towards a world where everyone can lead and succeed.
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LatinaVIDA: Breaking Barriers And Empowering Careers With Kathleen Chávez-Rège
This episode is to launch Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month. We are celebrating experts who happen to have a Latinx or Hispanic heritage. My guest is Kathleen Chávez-Rège, who has good things to tell us about LatinaVIDA, an organization that she’s been part of from the beginning on the board. The official bio is that Kathleen Chávez-Rège is a trusted advisor committed to working with people of diverse backgrounds from mid-career through C-Suite to explore and strengthen their identity and embrace the confidence to take advantage of new ways of engaging.
In addition to serving on the board of directors for LatinaVIDA since 2015, she also provides executive coaching to leaders dedicated to creating diverse, participative, and inclusive cultures that become the foundation for shaping their organizations, their talent, and how they perform. She’s a native of Silicon Valley with a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Psychology. Her vision and guidance strengthening leadership impact is grounded in many years of experience leading organizations and companies from startups to Fortune 100.
Kathleen’s philosophy is that we each have hidden potential, and it’s important to our health sanity and general well-being to take time to invest in ourselves, figure things out, consider alternatives, and harness new pathways that bring us peace and strength. Now, on to the interview with Kathleen Chávez-Rège.
Kathleen Chávez-Rège, thank you so much for joining us on the show.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m so happy to be here.
I’m delighted to have you. We had a little back and forth to get you on here, but I’m excited to talk about you and this topic and kick off Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month with you. This is good but before I get into asking about all the interesting things that you’ve done, tell me who would be your dream interview. If you could talk to somebody who’s not normally around, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?
It is a woman who was a strong advocate and sponsor of mine. I didn’t realize it until after she had passed away but her input and support catapulted my career for me. She was a Latina. The opportunities that she opened the doors for me changed my life and career trajectory. What I would tell her is just that. She had the most significant impact on my career and self-confidence. She believed in me that I could do things that I never would have thought of myself. The people who should be listening are women who are in a position to empower, support, sponsor, and be advocates for other women.
What was her name?
Her name is Connie Simmons. Young women who are interested in developing their careers should seek people to be their sponsors and understand that developing strong relationships can often result, without you knowing it, to somebody being an advocate for you. It’s wonderful. It launched me into a career that I have always loved.
Go back and say thank you to the people who helped you early on. Maybe you didn’t realize it as much at the time. Kathleen, you’ve had a very interesting career in Computing in Silicon Valley. We’re talking about Hispanic Heritage Month and facing discrimination. What did you learn about discrimination in your early career working in materials, supply chains, and all of that?
The foundation of my career and everything that I’ve ever done was built upon a grounding in trying to get people to do something new or very foreign to them. I was doing that by empowering employees who didn’t have a voice to be able to speak up, make decisions, and be more engaged in their work. These were primarily employees who were immigrants, first-generation, and non-native English speakers. They represented about ten different countries. It was in that setting that I realized the systemic discrimination that takes place in organizations, not only from the White leadership and the power base that was in place but also between and amongst themselves.There is a systemic discrimination that takes place in organizations not only from the white leadership and the power base that was in place but also between and amongst themselves. Click To Tweet
What were you doing?
I was working with hundreds of employees throughout a five-year span to help them understand how to solve problems and speak up, how to make decisions, and how to advocate for themselves rather than having to go and seek permission, speak to a supervisor, or wait until a staff meeting when they’re asked for input. It is to get them to take initiative and speak up. A lot of that came from helping them ground themselves and what their identity was. They were smart. They were a machine operator or a stock clerk. They had the expertise to do their job better than anybody else.
As you were doing this, did it work helping people to speak up? Did it make a difference?
It was huge. One of the statistics was they would always measure quality in manufacturing organizations. The quality was probably about 70% first-pass quality and we got it up to Six Sigma which is 9.966666. That was done because we had influential folks out there in the manufacturing operations who stepped up to be informal leaders and ultimately, to be more formally responsible for operations.
They encouraged their colleagues. Some of these people, especially the women who were working in those organizations, didn’t have a voice at home. For them to have a voice at work was significant. It was wonderful. It was one of the best periods for watching individuals find their voice and power, and then take the initiative to do things differently.
In the course of all of this, you were present for the beginning of LatinaVIDA, which is where you are on the board. Tell us a little bit about what LatinaVIDA does and how it got started. You were driving somewhere.
LatinaVIDA is focused on helping young women, people of color, and people in underrepresented groups find their identity and voice and empower them to take the initiative to develop their careers. Not letting their career happen to them but for them to take a stake in and start driving their future. The way it started was our Founder, María Hernández, and two other women Santalynda Marrero and Julia Arellano-Sullivan, got together.
We’re talking about what it took for them to be successful in their careers. We talked about the things that they were observing that were missing for Latinas in the different careers or being around a table. María and I noticed that we had the fortunate opportunity to be at the table with decision-makers. María Hernández and I have been consulting colleagues for many years.
We would talk all the time about what it took to be successful in this White man’s world. I feel very fortunate to have been early on in a discussion with María about LatinaVIDA and what it meant. She invited me to become a board member. I’m delighted with the progress that we’ve made over the years. I’m touched by the dedication of all of the volunteers that we have that help make LatinaVIDA successful.
If somebody is curious and feels like they need help, what can you get at LatinaVIDA? What does the organization provide?
We provide a number of different programs. Primarily, we have four programs that are focused and geared toward career development. The first one is called Rise to the Top and PODER. PODER is a leadership academy. We partner with different organizations to sponsor us and the program within their organization. It’s focused on different learning opportunities and networking.
We bring in guest speakers and sponsorship programs. Over the course, usually we do one session a month. Sometimes, we’ll do two a month inside the organization. We help make sure that the organization gets what it wants out of it, which is to retain, attract, and promote women and people of color. We make sure that the candidates in the program have the skills and confidence to be able to step up for those opportunities.
We also have a public Rise to the Top program that we offer quarterly. This is aimed more toward women and people of color with 5 to 7 years of experience. It’s a fast-paced program. We bring in speakers. We have homework assignments every week. It culminates with them having an architected vision for their career and a playbook as well to help guide them through that journey.
We have another program that we started for college students. It’s called Rise. It’s a multi-year program. We try and get our participants in their freshman year. It’s to help them navigate college and make that transition into the workforce when they graduate. For corporations, we have another program called OLA, which focuses on helping organizations develop their employee resource groups or inclusion councils.
We provide resources and best practices to help organizations implement those. We provide one-on-one coaching and coaching services. We have sixteen coaches at LatinaVIDA. We have a number of different outreach channels. We do blogs. We have two podcasts a month, a newsletter, Twitter groups, networking teams, and things like that. We provide a number of different services.
What impact have you had? Tell us some stories.
We don’t typically ask our participants if we can tell their stories so I will take that back to LatinaVIDA because it’s a great question. I’ll share three different stories.
You could change the names but describe the situation.
We have about 26 different marquee organizations that we’re working with and these range from retail to high-tech, healthcare industry, transportation, education, and finance. We’ve run the gambit across different sectors. In those programs, the primary focus as I mentioned for those organizations is retention, promotion, and recon of talent. Here are the three stories that I’ll share. One is a woman who came to us for career coaching. She didn’t go through one of our on-site programs.
Her focus was to understand and look at what it would take for her to get a promotion from being a communications and outreach manager to becoming a global director for the communications team. When we do coaching, we coach with the same profile and focus as the LatinaVIDA program. What she said about her coaching experience was it took six months for her to get her promotion.
I have a quote from her. She said, “I used to have a fear about voicing my opinion at work because of my Imposter syndrome and wondered what people would think. Now, I’m not afraid anymore. When I do use my voice and give my opinion on projects, I’m not afraid. If they don’t accept my input, that’s okay. I let it go and move forward. I stayed true to the mission of the organization and I work on bringing my authentic self to work every day.” That’s a wonderful testament to what LatinaVIDA is about.
You were talking about someone who has risen in the organization and started as a volunteer. Tell us about her.
She came to us as a volunteer. She is a PhD student. We were always happy that we could use the help of volunteers. She moved into taking a role that included a stipend. Her focus was outreach for LatinaVIDA and getting us in contact with different organizations, speakers, and things like that. She became a facilitator of the Rise to the Top program.
As a result of her leading those discussions, she had all these conversations with participants about the challenges and what they were finding valuable in the program. She interpreted and included all of these exercises for herself. She was able to land a role. Her first job was as a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Specialist. We’re proud of her. She did excellent work for us. She was with us for about three years as she went through her program. She helped us understand not only the early career component of LatinaVIDA but also the transition program for people who are moving out of college and into their professional careers.
We have one more story I’ll share with you. This is a woman who participated early on in one of our first corporate Rise to the Top programs. It was with Microsoft. She was a senior manager at the time. Throughout the program, she was focused on making sure that her career journey was realistic. She had the right people on her team and understood networking. She was focused on not only developing advocates and making sure that she had advocates but also becoming an advocate for others.
We were proud to hear that she was promoted from being a Senior Manager to a Global Director for Microsoft, which is a huge shift in the focus of her career. That was wonderful. She credits our career playbook with helping her stay focused on her journey. She said that she still uses it. It’s wonderful to hear that our tools are pervasive. They will last.
It’s a wonderful organization. There’s one more thing about LatinaVIDA, and then I’m going to ask you another question about the work that you do. You told me what VIDA stands for. It means life in Spanish but also, you use it as an acronym. Tell us about that.
Julia, Santalynda, and María were thinking about what it takes to be successful. It was Visibility, Identity, Determination, and Action. Those take on different meanings for our participants, whether I’m applying those to myself or I’m moving through different stages of my career. It can apply differently to determination and commitment. I’m focused on establishing my career. It is different than if I am in a difficult situation. I want to be able to work through it. There are flexible definitions for those words but it’s Visibility, Identity, Determination, and Action.What does it take to be successful? It is the visibility, identity, determination and action. Click To Tweet
You talked a lot about workplace politics and how you can navigate the politics of a workplace. Politics and perseverance, tell me why those fit together and how they fit together.
Throughout my career, I was largely focused on helping organizations implement new things like new computer technology, methodologies for getting work done, and different go-to-market strategies. That all required that somebody do something different than what they were comfortable doing and push back everywhere in those situations.
What I discovered is that you get invited to sit at the table. I would get invited to sit at the table because we had these important decisions that needed to be made. What was important to me was that they could see and hear what I had to say and understand why I was there. I was there to make people’s lives easier but their filters were like, “She’s going to ask us for money and ask us to do something differently.”
When I look at VIDA, applying perseverance and understanding how you get a seat at the table and stay there, I define them a little bit differently. Visibility is not only what people see when you walk into the room but each of us is the essence of who we are in the way we show up. I can show up as a leader or follower. Visibility takes on that definition.
Identity becomes how you want to be known by others. Managing political situations requires that you’re very clear about what you bring to the table. Determination is making sure that you’re committed to your outcome and that you know what the outcome that you’re looking for or the journey that you want to take. Do you want to put up a good fight or facilitate a win? Those two things are different.Determination is making sure that you're committed to your outcome. Click To Tweet
Taking action. It’s important enough that you’re getting a seat at the table so you better do your homework and make sure that you’re taking the initiative to get prepared which sometimes takes much longer than you might think it would when you’re getting a lot of pushbacks from different folks. When we look at the importance of managing different tricky situations at work and being politically savvy, it’s important that women especially are clear about why they’ve been invited to that table and what are their roles at that time.
I have a whole bunch of roles when I’m doing my job but when I’m at that particular table, it’s important to know who else is at that table and what they expect of me and being able to fulfill those expectations. Be clear about how you engage when you’re at that table. “What’s your focus? What’s your vocabulary? What’s the energy that you’re putting into the room and sharing with other people?”
Make sure you know how to work the table. There are people who aren’t going to say anything and in not saying something, they say quite a bit sometimes. Being able to move from telling your story to fostering dialogue is a good way to make sure that you are hearing the voices around the table and being able to speak to their concerns.
In identity, it’s important to be relevant. You want people to understand, “Here comes Kathleen. I know that she knows what’s going on. She’s more than three questions deep when I want to ask her questions about fill-in-the-blank,” whatever the project is. Have agency and make sure that you know what it is that your stance is. What actions are you going to take? What do you need from other people?
Your identity becomes a resource and somebody that people can go to for answers. A lot of that comes from determination, doing your homework, and making sure that you understand the agendas. You seek the opinions not only of stakeholders but key influencers in the organization. As you go out and do your homework, you have to demonstrate a willingness to ask questions and listen to feedback that you might prefer not to hear but you learn a lot when people are pushing back from you if you can stay open to their questions.
Accept that you might not have the best answer until you go and talk to those people and you get some pushback. That determination to listen and understand becomes the perseverance part of it. Put all that learning into action. Make sure that you understand those advocates out there. Socialize your ideas and listen to what people have to say. When you’re listening to what they have to say, that gives you content and context for fostering dialogue when you get around the table.
Ask people for your support before you go into a meeting. If somebody raises a question, ask them, “Can you raise that question when we’re in this meeting because other people will share that question with you?” I look at VIDA and the components of VIDA as helping to give grounding to that perseverance so that you can understand the needs and demands of the people around the table. Do what you need to do to make sure that you’re meeting them.
How has this affected you as a person? Are you a first-generation or second-generation Latina?
I am second-generation. My great-grandparents are Belgian, Mexican, and Apache. My parents came to California in 1951 on a motorcycle. My father was a mechanic and my mother was a homemaker. Growing up in California in the Bay Area, our parents told us that we were Californians. They’ve never said that we were Latinos. They did that because they didn’t want us to experience the same discrimination that they had experienced in El Paso.
My grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles all spoke Spanish at home. We thought nothing of your elders having a secret language. Most of my friends in elementary school, their parents spoke a foreign language as well. I thought all parents spoke a foreign language but it wasn’t until the Equal Rights Amendment was passed. One day, my dad came home and got us all together. We thought we were getting a puppy and he’s like, “If anybody asks from this day forward, you’re a Chicana.”
We thought that was terrific. We didn’t know why but it was a lot of celebrating and things going on. I was about ten years old at that time. Slowly after that, it became clear that there was this beauty in history that was unknown to us at the time. We learned to celebrate and understand the journey and the lessons that our family had learned all along the way. I’m so blessed that happened. I wish it had happened earlier in my life. That’s my story.
That’s wonderful, Kathleen. Thank you so much for having joined us on the show. LatinaVIDA is a wonderful resource. I’ve had great fun reading through it and looking at all the marvelous work that you’re doing. This is an organization to be celebrated. I love the idea of using the word life as your acronym, so VIDA. That’s one of the delightful things of, “Let’s do this. Let’s lead a good life.”
I hope we’re going to build a world where our daughters and sons will say, “What do you mean you had to make a law to help women be equal? What is that?” Hopefully, we’re building at least a couple of those generations so that our children won’t have to deal with this kind of discrimination. I’m an optimist, but it allows me to get up in the morning and say, “We can do better today.”
We are very fortunate to be building these communities and watching young women take advantage of opportunities that a lot of us weren’t afforded back.
Societies evolved at the times that they evolved. The pendulum swings one way or another. I think of it as a spiral. Hopefully, we’ll be back here again, but we’ve learned a little bit more in the meantime. Kathleen Chávez-Rège, thank you so much for jumping in at almost the last minute to be the guest. This was a delightful conversation. If you enjoy the conversation and you learned something, please tell your friends. Subscribe to us on whatever platform you use like YouTube. Best of all, leave us a good review on Apple Podcasts. That’s the one that matters and will allow us to bring more interesting people like Kathleen. I’ll see you on the next one.
Thank you, Elizabeth.
- Kathleen Chávez-Rège
- YouTube – Elizabeth Bachman, Strategic Speaking for Results
- Apple Podcasts – Speakers Who Get Results
- https://www.LinkedIn.com/in/KathleenRege /details/Experience/
About Kathleen Chávez-Rège
Kathleen Chávez-Rège is a trusted advisor committed to working with people of diverse backgrounds, from mid-career through C-Suite, to explore and strengthen their identity and embrace confidence to take advantage of new ways of engaging. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for LatinaVIDA since 2015 she also provides executive coaching to leaders dedicated to creating diverse, participative, and inclusive cultures that become the foundation for shaping their organizations, its talent, and how it performs.
A native of Silicon Valley she holds a BS in Organizational Psychology. Her vision and guidance strengthening leadership impact is grounded in over 30 years of experience leading organizations in companies from start-ups to Fortune 100. Kathleen’s philosophy is that we each have hidden potential and it’s important to our health, sanity, and general well-being to take time to invest in ourselves, to figure things out, to consider alternatives, and harness new pathways that bring us peace and strength.