Rocio van Nierop is the CEO of Latinas in Tech.
Rocio van Nierop is the CEO of Latinas in Tech. Latinas in Tech

This article is part of The Latin Times' Latinas 2024, a thematic week focused on Latina's impact on the U.S. economy, culture, and politics. Although Latinas comprise more than 30 million people in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, they still face major day-to-day challenges, including underrepresentation, the gender pay gap, labor discrimination, and sexual harassment. Discover our articles and interviews exploring the complexities of being Latina in the U.S. today.

Rocio van Nierop is the CEO of Latinas in Tech, a non-profit organization with a mission to connect, support, and empower Latino women working in the technology industry through professional development, mentorship, and recruitment opportunities.

The origins of Latinas in Tech can be traced back to Silicon Valley in 2014, when a small group of colleagues and friends from different companies began sharing experiences and information.

"As a Latina, encountering another Latino in tech companies wasn't very common. We felt like we had a big business, but at work, it felt small, like we lacked significance. That's why we started to come together, to grow stronger," Rocio recalls.

Born in California to Mexican parents, Rocio's family soon emigrated back to Mexico, where she lived half of her life. After returning to the U.S. and developing her professional life, she's proudly preparing to host the organization's eighth Latinas in Tech Summit, which will take place from May 16th through May 17th, 2024.

Today, Latinas in Tech includes more than 30,000 women from over 15 countries working at more than 200 technology companies.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

"Latinas are not being promoted and paid at the same
Latinas are not being promoted and paid at the same level as other demographics," Van Nierop asserts. Latinas in Tech

Why is it important to support and empower Latinas in this field?

The most important thing is to be able to evolve Latinas in Tech's objectives according to the global landscape. We initially had a strong desire to exchange experiences and ideas within our small field. Then, as some people moved to other cities, they began to open new chapters. This happened in Sacramento, in Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, New York, and then Mexico. We started to see that Mexico has its own issues and opportunities.

Firstly, there's an issue of representation, of how many Latinos and Latinas are in the technology field. If you're in Mexico, your problems aren't the accent with which you speak or that you went to a university that nobody knows in the United States. But in Mexico, you do face stereotypes like "you'd better study something more feminine" or, later when you're working, clients don't want to work with a female consultant because they don't believe they have what's required. We've been a movement for a decade now, and there's been a significant transformation both in Latin America and the United States.

How has the scenario of Latinas in technology changed in the U.S.?

Today, Latinos already make up almost 20% of society. We represent $3.2 trillion of the American economy. If we were a country, we would be the 5th largest in the world. It's no longer just a matter of "Hey, let's pay attention to the brown people." It's about whether you want to remain relevant in the market you're trying to sell to. If you do, you better step up your game now and hire Latinas because you're going to lose money. This is a type of rhetoric that other demographics don't have right now due to the volume and exponential growth potential we have. So, this also changes our narrative, giving us more advantages and potential to continue growing.

Are there any specific barriers in the Tech field for Latinas, such as glass ceilings or others?

The answer is like a smoothie with different ingredients. Latinas are not being promoted and paid at the same level as other demographics. But I like to think of it differently. Nowadays, it is not just the humane thing to do; it's the smartest business move. If you don't do it for yourself, you're going to miss out because everyone else wants a piece of the pie. So, having Latinas in your workforce shouldn't be because they're the ones cleaning your bathrooms or cooking for you; it should be because there are plenty of qualified individuals out there. The fact that you haven't seen it for many decades is another matter.

If you're a white man with blue eyes who went to a school for white men with blue eyes, and all your friends and beer buddies look like you, and I ask you to refer me to a friend, how is your friend going to look? Latina? No. And that doesn't mean you're bad or racist; it's just the circle you move in. To make this change, to be inclusive without lowering the bar, people need to make intentional decisions and step out of their comfort zones. You don't have to lower the bar, you have to raise your own. So, that's the issue: companies need to be more intentional because things won't change organically; it requires deliberate action. They are the ones lacking inclusion, not us, while of course, both sides need to invite and include each other intentionally.

"Latinos represent $3.2 trillion of the American economy"
"Latinos represent $3.2 trillion of the American economy. If we were a country, we would be the 5th world power," Van Nierop explains. Latinas in Tech

How would that be?

Let's consider the case of a promotion. If you don't cross my mind and you don't come to me and stand in front of me to ask for a promotion, I'm going to give it to someone else. If I already have an implicit bias and you don't raise your hand either, you will go unnoticed. This is a huge component. Latinas never raise their hand to say, "Well, I've been here for two years now and I've exceeded my goals, and maybe I would like to discuss a salary increase." We are not wired that way. And the reality is, based on my experience and having interviewed HR executives from different tech companies, about 95% of promotions and job upgrades go to people who ask. Those who ask and obviously have exceeded their goals. In a talk with Latinas, I asked them to raise their hand if they have been asking for a raise and saying they have exceeded their objectives for more than a year, and four people raised their hands. Four. So we are doing something dramatically wrong.

And it has a broader impact, right?

Yes, if there are no promotions, we don't reach the decision-making table, and we also get paid less. And this happens in job interviews as well. When there are multiple positions available and a Latina woman presents herself alongside perhaps a white American man, there's an implicit bias as to which position you're going to apply for, how I see you fitting into the role. And, from the other side, women also tend to apply for positions when they are 100% qualified, while a man, with his hand on his hip, will apply when he's only 80% or 70% qualified. What happens? You end up with mostly men because women are self-discriminating.

One of the main issues that I think Latinas are facing in the US is feeling that our community is under threat, that by looking different, by sounding different, people can believe we are less. But let's never forget who we are, and let's make it clear to people how worthy we are. Our accents are a testament that we speak more languages than most people. Our diversity is only an advantage to any company we work for. We are the innovation. We understand as consumers they want to get to. So remember that even though it looks like our community is under threat, it is all about flipping the script because it isn't. We are $3.2 trillion of the economy. They cannot get rid of us. They need us to keep living. My call is to never feel under threat. Own your power.

Lastly, how do you anticipate the outcome of the 2024 elections impacting the future of Latinas in Tech in the U.S.?

Politicians believe they can clip our wings, but what they fail to remember or acknowledge is that we are Americans. We are educated, we have doctorates, we know how to code, we are resilient, and we contribute $3.2 trillion to the economy. Without us, Latinos, the United States will face its biggest crisis. We are the largest consumers of many of their companies. We are no longer a charity. We demand respect. We are a necessity for their stock prices to remain stable and continue to rise. If they do not involve us, they are the ones who will suffer. So if politicians want to clip our wings, they will be the first to feel the consequences.

© 2024 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.