When you hear the words “Puerto Rico,” a few things might pop into your mind right now, a looming financial crisis, unpayable debt, a fleeing population, and now, a Category 5 hurricane named María & Irma that has destroyed much of this beloved island. The island is still working to recover from the devastation of the hurricanes as many still lack power and water, so when a few say, “Puerto Ricans want everything to be done for them” – we can only prove this to be false. With that said, we’ve rounded up a few Puerto Ricans who have (and continue) to overcome huge obstacles to achieve success, proving that “Puerto Ricans” surely know how to turn lemons into lemonades….
When San Juan native Matilsha Marxuach launched Concalma, a designer line of tote bags 11 years ago, she turned to a local collective of seamstresses in the mountain town of Utuado to manufacture her fashion-forward handbags. The small business owner and artist said her company’s mission is interwoven in the product: to raise awareness of fair trade, to promote local manufacturing and sustainability.
“In 2006 I was concerned with the resources and the production processes in the design industry in Puerto Rico, as a designer, I was looking to raise awareness of fair trade, local design, local production in a place where mass consumption of the fast fashion products is the standard. I was interested in thinking ways that the local/design production could assure cultural diversity and promote the local economy through conscious products and at the same time think about a base for domestic workers to build an economy and have access to jobs,” -Matilsha Marxuach
Matilsha Marxuach. Photo Courtesy of Merodea
The own woman factory in Utuado, Puerto Rico was then the start of what is now an eleven-year non-stop working relation. It was a round-up idea that matches all the essential aspects Matilsha was interested in: opening space for the job, creating a local production that responds to fair trade guidelines, and my desire to design an ethical product.
If you are looking to gain some recognition, then take some advice from someone who makes her living getting brands noticed. Puerto Rican and Bronx native, Madeline Familia, is the CEO and Founder of New York City-based public relations firm, Creative Voices PR. Before launching her business earlier this year, Madeline has worked with L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble brands, in addition to holding positions at a few leading New York City public relations agencies. As an industry expert, Madeline has provided insights on how brands can target millennials. She is one to keep an eye out for as her business focuses on promoting minority and women-owned businesses and start-ups.
“I decided to start creative Voices PR, as a result of my own struggles fitting into “Corporate America.” I noticed that a lot of companies were passing up on real talent, merely because they are not open to diversity and when I say diversity, I don’t mean just race, I mean all walks of life. I was born and raised in an impoverished neighborhood in the Bronx by a Puerto Rican mother who did not speak a lick of English," says Familia. "Working in corporate America after college was honestly a huge culture shock, I felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I noticed I was getting critiqued for how I spoke, dressed and behaved. I was being judged for traits that I've developed because of my background and upbringings, but where not traits that affected my true talents - my ability to creativity spin a story, find unique story angles and fight for the brands I believed in. I was being forced to assimilate, in order to be accepted and succeed within these organizations. Therefore, ultimately, the reason I started my own business is for the reason that, culturally, I felt as if I didn’t fit in anywhere else. Despite my talents, I saw entrepreneurship was my only viable path to prosperity." States the founder of Creative Voices PR.
Flora Montes. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times
Thanks to Flora Montes, The Bronx has its own biannual Fashion Week, which corresponds with New York Fashion Week. Flora Montes, started Bronx Fashion Week three years ago with her last $200 unemployment check and gumption to spare. “I have to believe that somewhere along the line I was meant to be the vessel that brought it to life,” she said. Fashion enthralled this Bronx-born single mother of two from the time she saw her first runway show in Manhattan, in 2014. “That was a Saturday,” she recalled, “and on Sunday I started to get the legal paperwork together and reach out to my small network of supporters. I thought, ‘The other boroughs have their fashion week, and now it’s time for the Bronx to step up.’”
Her first event, overextended three nights in September of that year, and drew close to 1,000 visitors who watched models of diverse backgrounds, races, ages and body types model the work of local designers. Some designers were even unable to pay to debut their collections. “But I don’t turn my back on anyone,” Ms. Montes said. “I don’t have the heart to say, ‘No, you can’t show because you can’t pay a fee.’’ For Ms. Montes, the show’s success seemed surreal. “I had no connection to the industry,” she said. “I’m no fashionista. My daughter used to tease me: ‘Mom, you used to walk around the house in sweats and a ponytail. When did you get into fashion?”’ She said to The New York Times.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.