Inclusion helps businesses and communities value diverse backgrounds
During my K-12 experience, my parents never fully understood my extensive after-school curriculum activities. Staying late after school might even seem wrong to them. While it was difficult at the time, the language barrier and cultural differences within my own family laid the groundwork for my self-reliant, independent nature. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my challenges turned into opportunities for my future self.
I brought my Mexican culture and somewhat complex, diverse background to college, which helped me differentiate myself from my peers and think differently. I was placed in leadership programs that offered opportunities I could never have accessed on my own. I attended banquets, luncheons, retreats, extrastate conferences, political events, meetings and welcomes, and state and local leadership forums. These experiences opened my eyes to my complicated yet vast community and ignited my passion for the fascinating and powerful world of politics.
After earning a degree in International Business and eventually a Masters in Public Administration, I served as the business development liaison for the Oklahoma City YWCA. Desiring to change the broken systemic pipelines across the ecosystem of our social, judicial, and advocacy communities, I decided to run for political office. This race opened up connections, funding streams, and community support that I didn’t know were available. I learned the domestic ways of America and who is really pushing the buttons behind change. I was keen on politics and enjoyed politics, but I wasn’t willing to choose one side or the other.
Coming from a Mexican-American family, I understand and feel both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, that meant I couldn’t win a seat in the Oklahoma House. I started working in higher education helping parents of Hispanic students understand what my parents found difficult to understand due to the differences in our languages and cultures. I’ve also partnered with Hispanic students to find clear pathways to the colleges of their dreams.
While this part of my career was fulfilling, I aimed to capitalize on my business degrees. This search led me to the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, where I have had the privilege of working with the organization for nearly four years. It was there that I learned about the power of home ownership, urban planning, plaza design, real estate development, public spaces, and everything City Hall-related. This experience opened up a whole new landscape of knowledge and possibilities for me. The CFO jumped at the chance and hired me even though I had no experience in local economic development, nor any idea what his mission entailed – “coordinate land, incentives and economic tools to make Oklahoma City even more attractive to businesses and developers.” do.” Still, she hired me and changed the trajectory of my life.
I am now the Managing Director of the gBETA program in Oklahoma City for gener8tor, a global venture firm and startup accelerator. In my new role, I lead a seven-week free accelerator for young entrepreneurs looking for mentoring and networking opportunities to grow their business. I am expanding my knowledge in the field of venture capital and management consulting.
My hiring experience at gener8tor was very conscious. The Talent Acquisition team took into account my background, what makes me special and why. The team didn’t just focus on my work experience. This new approach was different for me, but still very inviting. Using this method when hiring a new teammate is proven and will continue to add value to the organization.
I’m not a lawyer, but I have an insider’s understanding of the broken immigration system and its impact on the economy. I can’t put that knowledge on my resume, but the gener8tor hiring team figured me out quickly. Why? Because they asked about my background and my thoughts on equity and inclusion.
So why did I share my story and professional history? Why is my account important? People of color from a low socioeconomic background bring social skills, social skills and soft skills that are hard to find on a resume. But we beautify a professional workplace in such a way that a degree or a professional career can only scratch the surface.
Crucial moments in my career contributed to my individual growth. The knowledge that I and others like me acquire does not remain only with us. We use it to build our communities of color. I share everything I learn with other people I meet. I share my background and perspectives with the board I serve on, the students I mentor, and most importantly, the community I represent. I stand on the shoulders of my immigrant parents and those who have allowed me to work with them—every teacher who has encouraged me, every college professor who has believed in me, and every hiring manager who has chosen me. I, and others like me, are committed to raising and elevating other Hispanic youth who are just trying to make sense of life and become hard-working professionals.
My hope for the readers of this article is that the next time you’re on a selection committee or in a hiring position, you’ll consider the deep backgrounds we all bring to the table and add some value to the cultural insights we share with you will share.
Elizabeth Larios is a young economic development professional focused on inclusion through community engagement practices.