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La RED TIG Week: Finding my Leadership Identity as a Latina (Reflections from a Leadership Seminar Specifically for Latinx Professionals) by Tatiana Elisa Bustos

Hi evaluators! I am Dr. Tatiana Elisa Bustos, a community engaged evaluator. I wanted to share some takeaways from recent leadership trainings as a Latina in the evaluation space. 

Background: My worldview and values are strongly shaped by my most salient identities as a bicultural Latina who grew up in the US, a child of immigrants from Nicaragua, and as a first-generation college and doctoral graduate. I am the first woman in my family to pursue a professional career and one that focuses on research and evaluation. I have been doing research and evaluation for over 10 years across different spaces. Importantly, a lot of my practices are informed by the experiences of my mother.

I have always wanted to be a leader, but not in the usual sense. As a Latina, I may not have the qualities expected of a leader in the majority culture of the USA. In fact, this has been one of the biggest obstacles to advancing my career; so many times, expending significant effort and time “proving” myself until I realized this would always be an issue. This is only one of the many challenges evaluators of color face in their careers.

I decided to pursue leadership development training that was specific to people of color within and outside of evaluation. This encouraged me to think about how my cultural identity is tied to my leadership identity. Here are some takeaways: 

  1. Reflect on how your cultural identity informs your evaluation practice. 

I regret to say that I spent years hiding my cultural identity when I started doing research and evaluation, particularly in predominantly white spaces. This is not unique to my experience; about 76% of Latinos have reported that they repress parts of themselves at work. I often forced myself to speak differently to be seen as competent enough to join the discussion, adjusting my tone to minimize misunderstandings, and was reluctant to speak Spanish in the office. I learned that I needed to take time to reconnect my cultural identity to my evaluator identity more intentionally. Finding my leadership identity in the roots of my own history encouraged me to think about the unique assets that I bring to the work from my culture. 

For instance, when I design evaluations, I am thinking about the communities, their history of experiences, their strengths and beliefs, and where we can work together to make sure I develop something meaningful, accessible, and worth the value for their needs. For me, communities with which I work always come first. My cultural identity also informs how I engage with others, placing value on relationships and fostering connections.  

Resource: A mind map can help you visualize key strengths that you bring from your cultural background. 

  1. Redefine leadership and create your own. 

Shifting mental models is hard. People already have their preconceived beliefs and biases about what constitutes a leader. Research has suggested that Latinas’ authenticity in the workplace requires the creation of new environments that embrace their unique strengths, experiences, and cultural assets. Learn what you need from an organization and team to succeed. Make a list of strategies that make you an effective and valuable contributor. Find your power to redefine leadership and create your own leadership identity that leverages lived experiences, cultural scripts, stories, and strengths. This may be an obvious note, but reflecting helped me become more critically conscious of traditional leadership doctrines. For me, leadership is demonstrated when we advocate for the voices not in the room, trust and build the capacity of others, have a collaborative spirit, and are accountable to our actions. The loudest in the room is not the most powerful but rather the one who actively listens and learns with compassion. 

Resource: Recognizing La Cultura

Other Rad Resources

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Latina/o Responsive Evaluation Discourse TIG Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from LA RED Topical Interest Group members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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