Latin American Heritage & Women’s History Month: Breaking into Tech, Together

October is recognized as Latin American Heritage and Women’s History Month. With this year’s Women’s History Month theme as Through Her Lens: Celebrating the Diversity of Women, NPower Canada recognized both observances through an event called Breaking into Tech, Together, in collaboration with Microsoft, on Thursday October 12, 2023.

Beginning a career in the tech industry often comes with unique challenges for both women and Latin American folk. A 2019 report by the Brookfield Institute stated that only 1.7 percent of the Canadian tech workforce is Latin. Similarly, about 2 percent of NPower Canada’s alumni are Latin-identifying. These percentages are even smaller when it comes to women and gender diverse Latinx individuals, and as an organization, NPower Canada is striving to change this for the better.

To highlight the voices of Latinx women and gender diverse individuals, NPower Canada and Microsoft invited staff to speak to their lived experiences as Latinx women in our Breaking Into Tech, Together panel. The panel focused on the unique strengths of Latinx women, advice for breaking into tech, and hopes for the representation of Latinx women and gender diverse individuals in tech in the future.

Our host, Denisse Alejo, Senior VP of Industry Engagement and Business Development at NPower Canada, shared her opening remarks at the panel:

“I was excited about the opportunity to host this event, as a Latina, born and raised in Mexico. I came to Canada as a young adult navigating my career as a first-generation immigrant, and know that breaking into any career as a Latinx woman can be challenging.”

Panelists included NPower Canada’s Selene Ricart (Digital Marketing Specialist) and two Microsoft staff members, Katherine Lopez (Global Talent Acquisition Recruiter), and Elsa Reyes (Senior Business Strategy Manager).

The three panelists were first asked to reflect on the ways their heritage has influenced the values they hold in their careers.

We heard from Katherine Lopez. She reflected, “Having a sense of belonging and community is what helps me focus at work.” She felt that her cultural perspective was inspiring, and bringing it into the workforce has helped her feel more authentic. “I am always on the hunt for who can help me make an impact in my community. Looking toward tomorrow is what helps me focus on my career as well as perseverance. This is a value that is shared across our community.”

Next, Elsa Reyes shared her experiences. “I am proud of my heritage, it is a part of who I am”, she stated. Moving from Latin America to Canada, Elsa said, “I like improving my communication skills in Canada. I also want to celebrate who I am, my family history and my intersectional identity.” When she started her role as a Senior Business Strategy Manager at Microsoft, she felt accepted into a company that valued inclusivity and a unique perspective. Elsa said she enjoyed thinking about what makes people unique, and felt that Microsoft embodied those values. Her culture has taught her to value family, positivity and being open to growth. Elsa shared that she enjoyed translating these beliefs into her work ethic and amongst her team.

Selene Ricart chimed in. “I am a purpose driven, solution oriented Latina and professional,” she said. Looking back on her path both personally and professionally, Selene felt determined from a young age, as “her adversities made her mature and resilient”. Not only has she transferred her cultural values into her daily work ethic, but she shares these values with her colleagues.
“I learned to help others while also being on the path to success”, Selene remarked. Throughout her journey, she developed a strong sense of perseverance, leading her to innovate and pave the way for those who will come after her.

Selene was asked to speak about how pillars of Latinx culture, community and collectivity, has influenced her. This what what she had to say:

“Success is not a solo effort, it is collective,” said Selene. “In my background, I was taught to always have a way to make things work as a collective. Living in those areas can have difficulties, so we might as well work together for a brighter future.”

Katherine, a Global Talent Acquisition professional, transferred her cultural values of community building into the workforce. She shared some words of advice:

“Getting a mentor and guidance can help your career move forward,” Katherine remarked. She added, “Please remind yourself that you are enough. Know that your values align with organizations when you are interviewing for roles.”

Elsa transitioned into the tech field from consulting. Her unique path and desire to learn is what led her to being at Microsoft. When asked about her transition, Elsa spoke about the adjustments she made:

“I am observant and curious about how the world works. In my professional career, I needed to bring my analytical skills into the workplace to bring value. I am continuously learning. Regardless of industry or type of job, this is needed everywhere.” She added, “Know your strengths, especially as women in the workforce. Celebrate your success and have the courage to take new opportunities, as tech is evolving.”

To wrap up our event, panelists were asked, “What is one hope you have for Latinx representation, especially for women and gender diverse individuals, in the future?”

Selene began: “My big hope for Latinx representation for women and gender diverse individuals, is to be understood as strengths and not weaknesses. I hope our differences can be set aside and people with power can diminish the biases and misconceptions, to recognize our talents, skills and work ethic. We deserve a seat at the table too.”

“I’d like to see progress in the numbers, things that we can measure. Also in the intangible, that our voices are heard across Canada. I hope to see a commitment to the creation of equitable spaces, especially for our community,” shared Elsa.

“I hope we can serve as role models, mentors and advocates for others who are underrepresented or marginalized in the tech industry.” Katherine remarked. “We do bring value to the table. Our positions are not granted to all of the community, so we must continue to do so.”

We want to thank Microsoft for helping us to organize this event, and Selene, Katherine and Elsa for their participation. Thank you to our attendees for celebrating Latin American Heritage and Women’s History Month with us!