The Power of Role Models: Calling All Non-Traditional Mentors

Aspiration is essential to growth. People who aspire tend to be changemakers; they not only have a vision and aim for it but also work hard toward their goals. Consequently, those who aspire are key to the success of any organization or cause; organizations should actively seek people who aspire to advance their causes. How do organizations attract aspiring talent? Quite often, role models provide the human blueprint for potential pathways to success. And although anyone can be a role model, shared affinities make a big difference.

I am a young Latina professional. Over the course of six years in the nonprofit sector, I never encountered a Latina in a leadership position. My only role models were non-Latino white men and a few white women. I could not see myself in any of their shoes, mostly because we were so different. They came from diverse backgrounds and had particular worldviews. A Latina or another minority woman in a leadership position might have persuaded me to stay longer and made me feel more empowered. She could have helped me see myself becoming a leader as well.

I think a young Latina woman who sees an executive board member, whose contributions inspire and command respect, will want to follow the board member’s footsteps. Although the younger Latina may see herself as having similar barriers to success, she may also perceive the same opportunities to build upon. Cultural, ethnic, and gender-related barriers are too easily accepted as part of one’s identity. One could assume that without role models, Latina women cannot become nonprofit leaders. How likely will a young Latina woman aspire to be a leader? It is true that role models come from various backgrounds and persuasions; what matters most, I think, is whether or not one can aspire to follow their footsteps. In my case, I would have loved to be mentored by someone with a similar background and who could understand where I professionally and what my potential was.

Nonprofits interested in diversity should focus on filling their executive boards with diverse role models with whom younger professionals can identify with—executive boards need to be as diverse as the talent they seek. Latinos, in particular, are an increasingly important segment of the population, so integrating their talents is essential. Prominent Latino leaders need to be on nonprofit executive boards because aspiring young Latino professionals need to identify with them and, in doing so, map pathways for the success of the next generation of leaders.

Author Bio:

 Cherise Tolbert works for LatPro.com, an award-winning diversity-focused job board that connects Hispanic and bilingual job seekers with employers throughout the Americas. Cherise specializes in social media and communications and has a master’s from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

DiversityJobs Editor


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  • Are you for real? You cannot see yourself in the shoes of white executives because your backgrounds are “so different?” You make it seem like being Latin@ is like being a martian, when we are some of the most adaptable people in the world. I’m shocked that you have trouble visualizing your own future as a leader simply because you feel too different and don’t see someone resembling you already there.
    I’ve always thought that what made us different as Latinos is that we embrace our conflicting backgrounds and our challenging situations, and are still willing to build new lives in new places, often without our languages and families. We tdnd to relate easily to others and build amazing friendships with them (even when they suck at being hospitable.)
    Sorry for being blunt, but this post was rather pointless and upsetting, so I realize you and I might be very different ourselves. I am a Latino who immigrated at the age of 14, worked my way up from minimum wage jobs and community college, and am optimistically building my own life in the US. You sound like you’ve been here all your life and are dealing with career paralysis and not having things handed to you. I would love to advise you to travel and maybe relocate to Latin America, where there are many non-profits run by Latin@s, and your (U.S.) identity will be valued and welcomed. In fact, you can make more of a difference over there, where businesses could use more U.S.-style punctuality, respect for rule of law, quick sandwhich lunches, etc.
    I realize you probably wrote this post on a whim and did not expect it to be read. It was thought provoking. Thank you.

  • Seeing people that look like us succeed gives us the inspiration we didn’t know we needed. If we see more people of color and women running tech companies and gaining their NVLAP certifications, more young girls will be encouraged to pursue careers in the field. I hope to see more Latinos in prominent positions in the future.

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