We are highlighting a previous episode of the ¿Quién Tú Eres? podcast, where we explore the conflict we often face between "professionalism" & being our authentic selves.
Natalia Lara is a proud Latina from El Salvador who works at Opportunity@Work, an organization with the mission of building a labor market so that all the potential STARs (workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes) can work, learn, and earn their full potential.
Natalia is passionate about diversity, inclusion, and equality. And in this conversation, we hear all about how her passions have come to life in her personal life and career, bringing her life story into a full circle.
These are some of the episode highlights:
“As a Latina... as a Salvadorian, there are still parts that I'm trying to color in because I need to discover those parts.” -Natalia Lara
In her early years, Natalia found herself in a school environment where the Spanish-speaking kids were mostly Dominicans and Puerto Ricans. And to fit in and feel like she belonged, she redefined herself. She told everyone that she was Dominican and lived this lie for a long time.
Eventually, she reached a point when she let go of the mask she was hiding behind and proudly recognized her authentic self as 100% Salvadorian.
Now, as an adult, Natalia continues to work on her authenticity by finding ways to explore more of her roots, history, and culture and build the connection that she didn’t get to experience growing up.
“I definitely suppressed things of my Latinidad that I felt were going to hinder my progress.” -Natalia Lara
Her first corporate job was in Bank of America, a workplace with a structured idea of professionalism and where people are trained from day one to represent themselves properly in a corporate setting.
In this work environment, Natalia felt the need to suppress her Latinidad because, in such a competitive setting, she feared that sharing things about her life that showed the differences between her and her peers would hinder her progress in the company. As a result, she became reserved about her life and focused mainly on her career growth.
“You had to fit a certain mold, which I absolutely hated.” -Natalia Lara
While this job gave Natalia the confidence to conduct herself in ways that allowed her to advance in this corporate setting without having a four-year college degree, she still felt exhausted by this mold that everyone had to fit in to represent "professionalism".
So when working as an HR recruiter, she felt there was no room for her to be her authentic self. She worked in a position where she had to be the example for everyone else and could not express herself how she wanted for fear that this would threaten her job.
Thankfully, the work cultures have been evolving, and to see that in HR and even higher positions, people feel freer to be their authentic selves, wear their hair purple, or have piercings if they want, has been a relief for Natalia.
Natalia encourages us to look beyond degrees and appearance.
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