Why Asking For Help Is The Best Leadership Strategy For Latinas With Patricia Murillo

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Podcasts

SWGR 122 | Asking For Help


Latinas comprise a huge percentage of the entire country’s workforce, and yet their voices and efforts matter so little. These amazing women can change the market tide by simply asking for help and allowing themselves to be coached. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Elizabeth Bachman sits down with Patricia Murillo, who shares her work empowering women leaders through the organization How Women Lead. She talks about providing training and support to people of color who are usually treated as inferior despite their high skill levels. Patricia also shares how their global advisors change these women leaders’ lives, transforming their own lives in the process.

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Why Asking For Help Is The Best Leadership Strategy For Latinas With Patricia Murillo

Helping Overlooked Leaders Rise To A New Level

Before I go into our guest, Patricia Murillo, I’d like to invite you to see where your presentation skills are strong by taking our free assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are strong and where your presentation skills are strong, and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition you deserve.

My guest is Patricia Murillo, and we are recording this in order to play it during Hispanic and Latinx Leadership Month. It’s from mid-September to mid-October. What I do is I bring in experts who happen to fit the group that I’m highlighting that week, but are truly experts and Patricia is one of them. I have known her for some years, and she is now the Chief Learning Officer for How Women Lead, which is an organization I have spoken about many times on this show.

She brings over 25 years of progressive nonprofit leadership experience, effectively leading organizations and initiatives to greater impact. She is passionate about designing and facilitating people-centered learning experiences. With a background in education, social work, and organizational development, she has worked on equity and social justice issues throughout her career.

As a first-generation Latina who came up from working the fields in Watsonville, California, she has been on a mission to provide support and opportunities for marginalized communities and to give back to the many hands that uplifted her throughout her education and career. She served as the Chief Program Officer for the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership. She’s been a consultant to diverse organizations and projects, training corporate partners on nonprofit board governance, facilitating strategic and long-range planning processes, and organizational development, including culture, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

She was the Executive Director of Alternatives in Action, where she expanded the programs and scope and served as the Senior Director of Program Services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco. She’s an awesome expert. She has wonderful things to say. We talked about what you learn and how you learn from your mistakes, which was what I did. When I started out my leaders, I wish I had known Patricia when I first ran an opera company. It would have helped me a lot. You’ll enjoy the aspect, but I know you will enjoy the conversation. Let’s go to the interview with Patricia Murillo.

Patricia Murillo, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much. It’s great to be here.

It’s fun to have you. In this month we are celebrating Latino, Latina, and Latinx leaders, all those Ls there. I knew I was going to find time to interview you on the show so I’m glad to have you here. Before I get into my long list of questions for you, who would be your dream interview? If you were to interview somebody who’s not with us anymore, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?

I would say, Chavela Vargas. She was respected as a long tenure musician, Mejicana. She was also a very butch lesbian. She was performing as early as the ‘40s and ‘50s and would dress as a man. As I think about gender and certainly as a Latina within Mexico, the gender norms can be pretty rigid. For her boldness to do that and to be so clear about who she was and unapologetic, she certainly paid some cost for that, but what an incredible human being.

Didn’t she have a famous affair with Kahlo?

The one that always catches my eye is she’s rumored to have had an affair with Frida Kahlo. It’s just incredible.

I remember seeing something about her in Acapulco. All the Hollywood stars would fly down there and everybody slept with everybody. She had a lot of notches on her belt, as the old saying goes. She came back as in her older years as an elder and her career was redone or reborn.

She struggled with the personal cost of keeping identities hidden and all of what I’m sure she struggled with, but she struggled with alcoholism for a long time. It took a huge toll on her health. She had significant years of recovering and that is one of the reasons she was able to come back and reclaim her music and have a 2nd or 3rd chapter in her career. She died at 93 in 2012.

There’s a good movie all about her, which I can’t remember the name of. When you mentioned Chavela Vargas, I said, “I remember that. We went to go see it.” You’ve done a lot of things. What are you doing now and why does it matter?

My career has been solid in the social impact sector. I have been 30-plus years working in the nonprofit space very much centering around social justice and equity, mostly in education. I am the Chief Learning Officer for How Women Lead. How Women Lead is doing tremendous things. They have a network of over 15,000 executive leaders across the country now. It’s gone national in part as a result of the pandemic.

As much as diversity, equity, and inclusion get talked about, the dial on these topics has not moved significantly. Click To Tweet

They strive for gender equity to create spaces for women to be first and foremost connected and cheerleading one another. In that way, amplify impact and voice in three areas. They do a lot of work around corporate board leadership, knowing that if women are in those board rooms are leading companies that outcomes on all sorts of things for organizations are much better.

They do a lot of work around general women’s leadership. We have a leadership and fellowship program called Women Leaders for the World to lots of different kinds of opportunities for women to self-reflect and to level up their skills. They operate an investment fund called How Women Invest, and they do a lot of work around supporting women who maybe haven’t considered an investment. Financial services can be incredibly male. Sometimes women have a harder time accessing what is relevant and useful to them. Supporting women to be able to understand more about investment, understand the opportunities, and then invest in some incredible companies.

Women founders, right?

Women Founders, How Women Invest at this point, it’s been the only investment fund that is only about investing in women companies. The organization is committed to centering women of color. One of the pieces that I love about the investment work is that the majority of the women that are investing are women of color. Over 50% of our investors are LPs are women of color and close to 70% of the companies that are getting invested in are led by women of color. We are in a situation less than 2% of dollars goes to women-led companies. To be able to be actively making things happen in that space is amazing.

What do you say to the people who say, “We have got space for women?” It’s White women. How do you expand that to women of color?

Julie Castro Abrams often says that.

Julie Castro Abrams is one of the first interviews I did, and she was my 100th interview. Search in the list on the show page to have two great interviews with Julie Castro Abrams.

She’s pretty amazing and she’s pretty clear. Her racial and gender analysis is very sharp. One of the things that she often says is, “As a White woman who grew up middle class in the Midwest, my needs are going to get met. When we focus on what are the needs, whether it’s African-American or Latina leaders, when you center those experiences, then you are ensuring that more people’s needs get met.” For me, that’s the important piece.

The reality is that for as much as diversity equity and inclusion get talked about, we have not significantly moved the dial in this country on gender, never mind on the intersection of gender and race. There’s so much work that needs to be done. I also think that this idea that if the system isn’t ready to move, then we are going to create our own system is something very powerful.

Talk a little bit about Latina’s insight initiative, being visible. One of the parts of the How Women Lead credo is to be unabashedly visible.

SWGR 122 | Asking For Help

Asking For Help: The economic power of the Latino community is significant. Their voices must always be integrated into making company decisions.


We launched it months ago and the focus was that we know the research shows us that Latinas, in spite of having significant numbers demographically in this country, are the least represented in every leadership space. I’m talking about the corporate C-Suite and boardroom in the nonprofit C-Suite, executive team, leading up organizations, and boardroom. Philanthropic dollars go to organizations that are run by Latinas or the center Latino communities.

In every single area, you can see that the representation issues are significant, and very much in keeping with our approach. Even the power of connecting high-level leaders to one another is going to cause something to shake out. First and foremost, the commitment for Latina’s insight is that we are going to connect 1,000 senior Latina leaders to one another.

By doing that, we know that conversations are going to happen and opportunities are going to get raised. Our hope is that against our programmatic pillars which again are corporate boardrooms, social impact leadership, and investment. We will be able to engage more Latina leaders to think about how they amplify opportunities in those spaces.

Why does it matter? Besides being good for society, what’s the business case for making room for Latina leaders?

First and foremost, if you are certainly in states and out of states where there is high Latino representation in the United States, we know that the economic power of the Latino community is significant and that if you are not integrating voices from everything to how employees make decisions about whether they are going to stay at a company or not to what products or in what way those products are getting or put out into the market, all of those things are much better with diverse representation.

We know that the research is clear about that. Specifically, around the Latina leadership case, there are all sorts of specific things that have to do with the way that Latina leadership shows up. It’s more likely to be multiracial. For example, Latinas are networkers. You see all these other pieces of the puzzle that creates deeply more opportunities for more people.

When those voices get shut out, which is what’s happening now. This was why we chose Latina’s insight as the campaign message for this initiative. Latinas are very much invisible. They are not identified in the pathway to leadership early enough. Oftentimes, their opinions and perspective are not taken into account. For those issues, we believe that putting a clear spotlight, one, on the incredible number of Latinas in the How Women Lead network is causing tremendous things to happen. Secondarily, it’s this amplifying effect of letting folks know that these are issues that need to be addressed.

That’s one of the reasons why I do so much work with How Women Lead. I love the community. Tell me about Women Leaders for the World and where that fits, not just Latinas.

The Women Leaders for the World is a one-year fellowship program operated by How Women Lead. As someone who had participated when I was an executive director of a nonprofit in a number of different leadership development, this fellowship provides so much support and connection for leaders. The fellowship is focused on women who are leading up. They are either nonprofit leaders, philanthropic leaders, or social entrepreneurs, and they are leading up efforts in social impact.

They are connected to an organization. They are the number 1 or number 2 in that organization. What we know is that the nonprofit sector, in general, is where resources come from, but not similar to what we know about corporate settings. The opportunities for women leaders to be able to scale up organizations and all of those things to be able to have a bigger mission impact sometimes comes at a cost.

Latinas, despite having significant numbers demographically, are the least represented in every leadership space. Click To Tweet

The work for those leaders can be isolative. We are seeing right now a huge gap in leadership in the nonprofit sector where it’s hard to build executive leadership positions. We also know that there’s a lot of research on nonprofit leadership that says that most executive directors will do it one time. There will be an executive director one time, and then that’s it.

They are burnt out. I ran a nonprofit for eleven years. I remember that.

So did I. For exactly eleven years, I often would feel the calling to do this work. I lead the facilitation and it’s one of the programs that I’m overseeing. If I had that support, I would have been able to stay longer, be more strategic, and be able to do more. The program is centered on how do we give leaders their own personal board of advisors, their own kitchen table board where they can go and break down some of that isolation. How do we give them access to bigger networks so that they can influence and be able to get what they need in terms of resources without having to struggle as much?

It creates this beautiful community amongst the leaders so that they can be with their peers in a different way. If you are an executive director or even if you are a CEO, people in your organization are not necessarily in a bad way, but folks have an agenda. Your board has an agenda. Your staff has an agenda. Everyone needs something from you.

To be able to be in structured spaces where folks are there to support you as a leader is pretty fantastic. They get executive coaching. They get matched with two global advisors that are there to help them focus on a particular body of work, and then they get this rich skill-building and learning opportunities through webinars and all sorts of other development.

Give us an example because there are some interesting stories and it’s women from all over the world.

That’s one of the things that’s magical about the program. You are being able to talk with folks from all over the globe. We had a graduation that was beautiful. In this cohort, we had eighteen leaders. I want to say there were twelve countries represented. We had two groups of folks come together. It was a virtual graduation. They wanted to be with one another so they got together in person in DC. We had some folks who flew in from the UK. We had folks who came down from Canada, and then we had folks who got together in Lagos, that came out from South Africa. That was magical to see people making that commitment to be with one another.

It’s a global leadership and that’s pretty much the demographics in any given cohort will have, that level of diversity coming from all sorts of sectors. We have one of the alums that are close to my heart these days, Monica Menini. She was a Director for an organization in Argentina called Catholics for the Rights of Women to Choose. They were the backbone for over ten years or maybe more of working in Argentina to get abortion legalized, which they did now a few years ago.

In her campaign, they did an interesting thing. Visually, they had women as they were demanding their rights wear a green scarf. You can see that green scarf when Mexico legalized it. When Poland legalized it, we saw that green scarf there. In Texas, someone sent me a picture of a rally that was happening and you see all these leaders wearing this green scarf. To think about trans global and transnational movements, it’s remarkable.

As a facilitator, what is it that you learn by helping by working with these women?

SWGR 122 | Asking For Help

Asking For Help: There is a huge gap in leadership in the non-profit sector, where it is hard to build executive leadership positions. Executive directors cannot do everything on their own.


Huge amounts. One of the things that I’m incredibly and consistently impressed by is people’s persistence sometimes in tremendously challenging situations. The persistence and focus on mission, and then the other piece is the generosity of folks to extend to one another. People are coming up with all sorts of creative solutions to what sometimes people hold as intractable problems, so that’s the other piece.

The women that I get the opportunity to work with have a tremendous vision. Sometimes they don’t have the support that they need to be able to actualize that vision, but being able to support them to declare their vision and then figure out how can we build some support together. That’s huge. I think about Rebecca Darwent. In Canada, she’s one of our alums. Her and a collective of Black, mostly women, had a vision of creating the first endowment for Black-led organizations in Canada. They secure $200 million from the Canadian government to make it so.

It’s a big vision for change, and so many of our leaders have that. One of the things that I’m trying to tussle with always is how to be able to share or create spaces to share the vision that these women leaders have for making change because their solutions are important and we need to let more folks be able to hear about them.

Tell us who the global advisors are and what they get out of this.

The leaders get executive coaching and we have a group of executive coaches that are ICF-certified and work with them, but they also get these other relationships. The global advisor part of the program is mostly corporate. There are women senior leaders that are in our network. Some of them are in social impact. Most of them come from the business sector, and they get matched with one of these leaders based on what the leader is needing as well as what the global advisor’s interest and specific skills and experience might be. They make a commitment for a year.

Over the course of that year, they provide technical assistance. They provide executive mentorship on a particular project. All leaders have a one-year fellowship project that they are working on. The global advisors are having an opportunity to work with someone with high vision and high commitment to social impact who’s trying to make something big happen in the world. There’s that basic altruism that’s getting fed by being a part of someone’s narrative.

The other part that I have seen is that the global advisors are building up a different skill set. They are being asked to mentor an executive leader in an organization that they are not usually familiar with and sometimes in countries that they are not familiar with. Nonprofits also function differently than what you see in the private sector. They are having to stretch and adapt the way that they are able to provide support.

It helps to cultivate a nuanced leadership development that helps people to build the capacity to maybe be in a boardroom or maybe be in a different role because it’s not hands-on at all. It’s about how do I support you in what you are trying to get done, and know that I’m not going to get in there and fix it for you. I’m going to try to stay in my little bit of a consultive, support hat. It’s fun. Some of those relationships have been incredible to watch. We had two of our fellows were in Ukraine when the war broke out. They are both Ukrainian and from different cohort years. They are global advisors.

This is a few years after the program had ended. Their cohort year had ended. Those global advisors extended themselves. They were some of the first people the fellows outreached to. Both of them are now outside of Ukraine and transitioning to Germany. We helped that leader get connected to some contacts in Germany to try to figure out how she was going to get employed because she left her company. These levels of support are amazing. They are real relationships over long periods of time.

It’s the thing that I wish I had known to ask for when I was running the opera company. I did the classic thing, “Good girls don’t ask for help.” I was trying to do it all myself to a certain extent. There was help available. I just didn’t think I was allowed to ask for it. It’s one of the reasons why I left. I’m glad now that I did because the work I do now combines everything I learned while running an opera company.

What makes women leaders different is their leadership from the heart. They are committed to the success of each other. Click To Tweet

I might have left it with more money in the bank if I’d known how to ask for help. This is one of the things that you and I have been talking about is the How Women Lead program training women for boards. One of the things being a global advisor for Women Leaders for the World is also training for a board. Talk about that, please.

As a global advisor, you have to learn a different system sometimes in a different country quickly. You have to build high relational trust with the leader that you are working with in order to be able to be effective. You have to deliver support in a way that isn’t about you getting in there and doing it. All those things are governance skills at the end of the day.

How do you adapt your knowledge to different situations quickly and how do you do it in a way that requires high emotional intelligence to be able to build that relationship connection to build out your area of focus to be able to make an impact through someone else’s leadership? It’s an amazing way. You get so many benefits from it of which the relationship I always think of is the most valuable. That nuance skill of adapting your skill and knowledge to be able to bring value to a completely different system is an important skill.

I want to go back to something you said. Someone said this to me many years ago and it has stayed with me which is that men’s leadership is always assumed and women’s leadership is tentative. Some of the ways that women leaders can isolate themselves are about that. There’s so much pressure to show that you are perfect and worth it because it’s tentative. That’s some of what we are still navigating very much so. The ability to be able to ask for help, you have to have a level of trust and confidence that that request isn’t going to somehow indicate to someone that you are vulnerable.

You are not good enough if you don’t know this piece.

That somehow, it’s going to reflect negatively on you to make your request. We are still coming up against that on all sorts of fronts. You don’t want to diminish. There were multiple reasons why those requests weren’t coming. Part of our work with Women Leaders for the World is how to create spaces where everybody is there for that. The global advisors are there for that. The other leaders that are in the program are there for that, but it’s clear that you should not be expected to do it by yourself.

In looking back, there was support out there and I didn’t know how to ask for it. One of the things I often look back, it’s why I do the work I do now. I have made all of the mistakes. I now see, “If I had taken the risk to ask for help, help would be there, if I had taken the risk to admit that I didn’t know something.” I do remember early on calling one of my unofficial advisors to say, “I understand how much money it’s going to take to rent pianos for this opera company.” In order to print the brochure, they want $3,000. Is that a lot or not? For them to say, “$3,000, that’s a good price. You are getting a deal,” but not knowing how to fit that into the budget because I’d never done that part. It keeps on going.

One of the things that I learned about running the Tyrolean Opera Program was that I left it for good reasons, but I learned a lot about being a boss. Those were these things that I now see. The conversations that we are having nowadays, years later about women’s empowerment and learning to ask for help make me then recognize, “That was me. That’s what I didn’t do.”

I didn’t have an advisor such as the global advisors who would say, “It’s okay. Ask for help. Get a coach. Hire somebody.” Sometimes in the corporate world, that comes along but often not, or often it’s there, but women don’t dare ask because they are afraid it will show them as weak. I highly recommend that anybody who doesn’t know about How Women Lead should pay attention and find Patricia because she’s been through all those pieces herself. You, too. I don’t know if you’ve made all the mistakes that I did, but I imagine you made a few.

Patricia, thank you so very much for this. The whole point of doing the themed interviews that I have started doing this 2022 is to have people who are experts who happen to fit with the theme of the month. I will certainly be replaying this elsewhere during the month, talking about how to reach out. What we have talked about most now is how to ask for help. If somebody’s reading, what should they do first? What would be the first thing you would have somebody do who says, “They are talking to me?” Where do you start?

SWGR 122 | Asking For Help

Asking For Help: Women leaders often isolate because of the immense pressure to be perfect.


There are a few different things. At How Women Lead, we do an Ecosystem Call every single month. It’s our website. It’s usually the second Tuesday of the month. It’s an hour to get to know the organization. We spend time in there encouraging folks to get to know each other. That’s the piece. That’s the magic. How do we get connected to one another? How do you find your tribe? If someone is a senior leader in an organization, whether it’s nonprofit or corporate, chances are that they are at a place where they are wanting to be connected with like-minded folks.

What happens is that you are so hunkered down in the work for so long that you’ve lost some of that capacity to network outside of your system. Come to an Ecosystem Call. We have robust events. It was a big piece of that. What stands How Women Lead apart to me is always about the heart. It’s about this idea that what does it mean to be committed to one another’s success? What does it mean to help each other and to hold that? I would say come.

Now that it’s a global organization, you can. You don’t have to be local. That’s one of the things that the pandemic has done for us all. There is no group like How Women Lead, but How Women Lead has been a great benefit for me, and for my business. I have seen so many other people blossom through the things that How Women Lead teaches and this community of strong women. Patricia, thank you so very much. We have known each other for quite some time and I’m happy to have finally gotten you as a guest on the show. Thank you.

Thank you so much.

This has been the episode. If you enjoyed this, please rate us on Apple Podcasts. That’s the rating system that matters. I have learned that. Subscribe on YouTube. Subscribe to us. There are so many other great experts that I have been able to get on the show. Please enjoy this. Tell your friends, and this is the way you can get the results you need and the recognition that you deserve. I will see you at the next one.


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About Patricia Murillo

SWGR 122 | Asking For HelpPatricia Murillo is the Chief Learning Officer for How Women Lead. She brings over 25 years of progressive non-profit leadership experience effectively leading organizations and initiatives to greater impact. Patricia is passionate about designing and facilitating people-centered learning experiences. With a background in education, social work, and organizational development, she has worked on equity and social justice issues throughout her career. As a first-generation Latina who came up from working the fields in Watsonville, CA, she has been on a mission to provide support and opportunities for marginalized communities and give back to the many hands that uplifted her throughout her education and career.

Most recently, Patricia served as the Chief Program Officer for the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership. She has been a consultant to diverse organizations and projects training corporate partners on nonprofit board governance, facilitating strategic and long-range planning processes, and organizational development including culture and equity and inclusion initiatives.

Patricia was the Executive Director of Alternatives in Action where she expanded the programmatic and organizational scope and served as the Senior Director of Program Services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco where she led internal and external initiatives including developing a Behavioral Health department, program improvement, and evaluation strategies and a comprehensive professional development effort.

She has taught at the high school, community college and college level and has served on several boards including the Latino Affairs Commission of Santa Cruz County and the On the Move Board of Directors. She holds a Bachelor’s from Vassar College and a Masters in Social Welfare (MSW) from UC Berkeley with a concentration on Management and Planning.