Cultural Challenges for Latina Business Women — by Ilieva Ageenko

For many career women success means achieving not just professional recognition but also a fulfilling family life and personal happiness. But what is the price is paid by a career women and other women leaders in the diversity of culture they represent? There are many different answers to this question and the diverse cultures are key. My answer comes from the perspective of a Latina working for a Fortune 500 company who also constantly feels the need to challenge cultural differences in leadership styles. At the same time, it’s coming from a person who looks for life work balance, whether that means enjoying time in the kitchen cooking my favorite traditional cuisine, or impressing upon my children the value and importance of their multicultural background.


Last year, as the sponsor of the mentoring program for our division, I wanted to add a Women and Leadership track to the program and I became curious about the gender composition of the program. It did not come as a surprise that the number of women enrolling in the program as mentees was increasing every year.

At first, I thought career development was the main area of concern for career women who came seeking mentoring and advice. Later on, I found that for many of them the main concern was work and life balance and personal goal setting. I realized they were looking for advice relating to individual challenges of nurturing both a personal life and a career and how to juggle all these things at the same time while raising their children.

Mentoring and leadership training is an important area of opportunity to address the needs of emerging women leaders. For the most part corporate leadership training provides women with career development guidance, but the majority of training curriculums continue to emphasize the male model of leadership and are not designed to meet women’s needs.

Like many of you, I have also attended numerous leadership training programs through my career. I recognize that, while some gender issues women face in corporate America are the same across cultural groups, other issues have their roots in cultural traditions. Moreover, while most leadership traits transcend differences, it is also true that gender, generational, and cultural differences can help bring authenticity to leadership.

Corporate leadership training teaches us about leadership and career development, and some training programs will include a small point about achieving work and life balance. The question is: where do women go to learn about setting a successful plan for balancing and making trade-offs between career and personal goals? Here is where mentor and women’s organizations play a pivotal role in filling this gap of role models that professional women face.
Looking at my personal experience and the experiences of many women leaders with multicultural backgrounds, an area of opportunity for organizations is to incorporate the cultural aspect of leadership into corporate training for leaders.

One rule does not fit all. If leadership is about authenticity, then leadership principles should not prevent us from having different multicultural leadership styles. I believe that when women seek advice, we are not looking for generic recipes but for personalized guidance. Mentor relationships that last are based on common understanding and personal connection. During my career, I met people with good intentions that wanted to give me a word of advice but they could not relate their advice to my situation because of a diversity barrier of gender and cultural background.

As women, are trying to develop their success plans or revise the ones they have, I encourage them to seek the advice from several mentors. Often you need a mentor for career development that is different from the mentor for personal goals or how to raise your children.

Do you have a formula for success? Women should develop their personal formula for success. I call mine the ‘4P Formula’: Planning, Preparation, Perseverance, and Passion. I use this formula for goal planning and to increase my personal effectiveness.

Always remember that having a dream to be successful in both your career and your personal life is a challenging but achievable goal. Having it all is possible but requires not only the 4Ps, but also (and especially) the courage to make trade-offs.

Beginning to work in corporate America in 1993, I immediately became aware of the obstacles I would need to overcome to ‘compensate’ for being Latina and having an accent when I speak English. I actually regret using the word ‘compensate,’ because this word implies that my multicultural background was a liability instead of an asset to the company, enhancing the possibility of a successful career in a Fortune 500 company. However, in 1993, my multicultural background was viewed as a liability, and many people associated my accent with a lack of professional knowledge and expertise.

Is this all relevant to mentoring? Absolutely, because women in general and women from minority groups in particular have a higher need for role models and mentors who understand diversity.
If you are an executive woman, consider that mentoring is a two way street and get involved in mentoring. Mentors can gain new or fresh perspectives from their mentees about emerging trends and business models particularly in career mentoring.

Talking to young women and men about their personal goals has helped me to develop a better relationship with my children who recently graduated from college. Not to mention, using your success to provide a role model to other women can be a very fulfilling process by itself.

If you are a young, emerging or aspiring leader, then consider working with at least one mentor as part of your career and personal development plan. Better yet, seek a variety of informal mentors with different perspectives, backgrounds, and personal experiences to help enrich your life from a multicultural perspective.

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One thought on “Cultural Challenges for Latina Business Women — by Ilieva Ageenko”

  1. Excellent article, Ilieva. Very inspiring! So proud of your success as a woman, a mother, and a Latina professional who has overcome the many well known barriers associated with a multicultural background. Congratulations!

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