From left to right: Maybel Marte, Ana Maria Guijarro, Gabriel Vazquez and Beatriz Da Cunha
Growing up, Gabriel Vazquez never imagined working for a Fortune 500 company like BlackRock—even though our Manhattan office is within a 15-mile radius of his childhood home in Queens, NY.
“I thought a career in finance and consulting was only for people who were already wealthy,” says Vazquez, who is now a software engineer at the firm. “And I think part of that is just exposure; I didn’t know these opportunities existed, so I simply didn’t strive for them.”
Since he joined the firm in 2017, Gabriel has thrived and was able to make the transition from an administrative assistant role to software engineer within two years. But it wasn’t until he joined the Somos Latinx & Allies Network that everything truly clicked into place for him. “For me, Somos has definitely been a big part of creating a sense of community at the firm,” he says. “I met people I could talk to and relate to in a way that made me feel at home.”
Somos, which translates to “we are” in Spanish, is one of our newest employee networks. It was founded in 2019 by a few Latinx employees in New York; today, its members span locations around the world, including San Francisco, Atlanta, Mexico, and Europe.
Here, four Somos members share how they came together to build a community where they can learn from one another, share interests and experiences and support the career success of other Latinx colleagues globally.
Helping junior Latinx talent navigate the world of work
Beatriz Da Cunha, a founding executive member of Somos, knows firsthand the value of career development programs: She’s participated in several of them throughout her 15 years at the firm, where she’s grown from being an entry-level Analyst to Chief Operating Officer for BlackRock Sustainable Investing.
Beatriz believed that her Latinx colleagues could benefit from a development program tailored specifically to them—and the Career Collective was born.
“Many members of our BlackRock community are first-generation college students or the first generation to work in a professional setting, so we wanted to create a safe space to ask questions in order to help employees thrive early in their careers,” she says.
The program forms cohorts with junior-level Latinx talent led by a senior leader and a moderator. Over the course of six months, cohorts meet as groups, as well as through one-on-one coffee chats with each other. As a result, employees not only get to connect with mentors in a more organic way, but also build a network of peers they can turn to for advice.
The discussions revolve around situations young professionals often grapple with in their careers—such as promotions, internal mobility, or navigating difficult conversations—while also acknowledging how someone from the Latinx community might experience them differently.
“Let’s say we’re talking about promotions: What does that look like from the Latinx perspective?” asks Gabriel, who also helped launch the program. “Culturally, there is often this mindset passed down from our parents that says, ‘You have a great job, be grateful and don’t be a disturbance.’ But we need to be reminded that to receive a promotion, we need to ask for one.”
Building connections across the company
Ana Maria Guijarro made a cross-country move from New York to San Francisco when she took a sales job at BlackRock right out of college. Becoming a member of Somos’ Operating Committee not only helped her make friends in a new city, but it also allowed her to quickly broaden her network within the firm and develop new skills.
For example, when Ana Maria moderated a Career Collective conversation about developing executive presence, she was learning alongside the other participants. “The senior sponsor gave us ideas on how to read a room—watching the speed and tone—and how to be comfortable with silence when you’re presenting, which has helped me when I speak to clients on a daily basis,” she says.
Taking on a more active role within Somos has also given Gabriel the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with senior leaders across the firm, which has been a game changer for him. “Being in constant dialogue with people at this level definitely helped me bring more confidence to my work,” he says.
Even as a director, Beatriz leverages Somos to expand her personal network across the firm and connect the dots between her work and that of other teams. “I’ve met people I wouldn’t otherwise have met and realized that we were working on similar projects in our respective business units and should be talking more often,” she says. “There’s a lot of impact in terms of just connecting with colleagues on a different dimension, and there is a business-positive outcome as a result of that.”
Having conversations about identity
Maybel Marte says she was used to people mispronouncing her name at work. She has spent most of her career in finance, navigating predominantly white spaces as an Afro-Latina from the Dominican Republic.
“Over the majority of my career, I wasn’t looking at another Latino or Latina across the table—the person I was aiming to make a connection with and find commonality with was a white male or female,” she says.
But things have been different at BlackRock, where Marte is a Managing Director within the company’s Global Credit Group. Through Somos, she is able to have conversations about the varying identities and experiences of the Latinx and Hispanic communities, “whether you’re blonde and green-eyed or brown-skinned with a curly frizz like me,” she says. “Identity is a really nuanced thing that we are still trying to figure out as a community and find the points where culture and race intersect. We don’t all walk the same walk, but somos Latinos.”
Bridging the gap for future generations
Gabriel realizes that his influence goes beyond just impacting other Latinx colleagues. As he continues to grow his career at the firm, he is also looking at ways he can pay it forward outside of work. For example, he volunteers at the nonprofit The Marcy Lab School, a software engineering program for underrepresented and underserved students. He hopes that some of the students he’s training will join him at BlackRock someday.
“I’m really passionate about trying to build that pipeline of Latinx talent into the firm,” he says. “And when I go back home and talk about my job, people will see that, ‘Oh, Gabe’s a software engineer. Maybe that’s something I can aspire to as well.’”
A version of this article was originally published on The Muse.