Can Google Help Reshape the Latina Narrative? (Yes, But Not Without Your Help)
As many who follow my writing know, I am a big advocate of the art and science of narrative. Narrative helps to define the value of a cause, the trajectory of a cause, and, if done with care and precision, the many different kinds of participants that are required for the cause. And I prefer the word narrative to story because of one small but important distinction. Story is best used when describing the journey of a single player — a single human being, organization, or corporation. Narrative is best used when describing the journey of an ecosystemof players, and each of its constituent parts.
I was reminded of that distinction last weekend while connecting with the leaders of a most interesting community of Latina leaders that are converging on theGoogle GOOGL -0.91% campus in Mountain View tomorrow morning. Latinas Think Big is the brainchild of Dr. Angelica Perez-Litwin, and derives its power from a large and growing cadre of Latina leaders, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders who have come together to “showcase the innovative ideas and groundbreaking projects of Latinas around the country,” accelerate the entry of Latinas into STEM careers, and connect them to “high-caliber networks.” It’s both a platform and a national tour that so far has stopped at Columbia University in New York, Google in Los Angeles, and now Google HQ in Silicon Valley. That Google is supporting is meaningful. But not for the reasons one might suspect.
The role of large businesses
I exchanged emails with about a half dozen Latina leaders who are taking part in tomorrow’s event, and all were quick to credit Google for its support. Caroline Sanchez Avakian, an entrepreneur and former TV correspondent, sees both business and PR value in Google’s support. As Hilda Ramirez, a Silicon Valleybusiness leader and longtime advocate of Hispanic causes noted, the symbolic value alone might have great impact. “Other firms will take notice,” said Ramirez. “And that’s exactly what is necessary to make the ‘shift’.” The shift she’s referring to is the movement’s goal of addressing the much-publicized underrepresentation of minorities and women in Silicon Valley, a narrative, by the way, in which Google, among many other companies, has been cast as an antagonist. It’s an opportunity, therefore, for Google to support a counter-narrative. The Latinas I spoke with seem to agree. One reason: it’s not the first time Google has supported ventures like this (see my coverage of earlier Google projects, here and here). For Google, and other organizations that have supported Latina causes (notably, The Kapor Center for Social Impact), the support is believable; it’s not just good citizenship, but good business. “There is a 35% higher ROI on women-led companies,” said Mahrinah von Schlegel, Director of Strategy and Business Development at Chicago-based Earlybird MVP. “In approaching the trillion-dollar US Latino market, who could be better poised to lead that opportunity? And who is to say what the as-yet unmeasured opportunity of us leading technology-related organizations has the potential to truly become, especially in terms of the globalized opportunities that technology represents? Our entrepreneurs need to be supported and invested in.”
The role of the media
Others Latinas I spoke with saw another necessary player for the new Latina narrative: the media. Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, a Silicon Valley writer and entrepreneur, lays much of the blame for the old narrative on the mainstream press and entertainment. The new narrative is a healthy response. “No longer willing to tolerate the mainstream media owners’ continued false definition of the American Latina (100% immigrant, dumbed down, boobs exposed, maid outfit, cooking food from the ‘home country’ in kitchen for her white hubby, etc.), today’s highly- educated Latina innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, veterans, professors, corporate executives are intentionally stepping into leadership in very visible places in society, to redefine the faces of innovation that exclude so many with today’s narrow view of who works in our STEM fields.” In fact, bringing attention to the roles that Latinas are already playing in technology and the sciences is one of the core objectives for Perez-Litwin’s national tour. “My vision with Latinas Think Big was to bring talented Latinas and thought leaders to the stages of well-regarded institutions like Columbia University, and powerful companies, for the world to ‘see’ how Latinas are contributing to this country’s social and economic well-being,” said Perez-Litwin.
The role of individual leaders
Will projects like this help the media find better and more accurate depictions of Latinas in the US? As a writer, and as a Hispanic, I’ve made a commitment to do my part here, for a mainstream publication that has made space for coverage on the new Hispanic entrepreneurial market. But in the final analysis, neither big business nor mainstream media will get behind a new narrative until there is a new narrative; like God, Google helps those who help themselves.
This is where organizations like Latinas Think Big can make a difference. Part of the challenge is knowing how to tell one’s own story. “To encourage Latinas to enter the innovation economy, we first need to understand how to communicate effectively with young Latinas and their families and find messages and policies that work,” said Andrea Guendelman, co-founder of Colorado-based DevelopHer. Another challenge — just as big, perhaps — is knowing how to assemble all those stories for the bigger narrative. Katina Rojas Joy, a former deputy director with the US Department of Commerce, gives big credit to Perez-Litwin. “She secured corporate funding, got over 350 people to follow her and secured speakers and panelists on their own dime.” And the speakers she’s secured for tomorrow are slated to tell their own stories for the new narrative. They include Frances Colon, PhD, Deputy Science and Technology advisor to the Secretary of State; Alejandra Castillo, Esq., National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency at the US Department of Commerce; Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; Sylvia Flores, Co-founder of Manos Accelerator; Monica Feliu-Mojer, PhD, of Ciencia Puerto Rico.