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Owning Your Seat at the Table (Part I)

Humble Rising E72

[00:00:00] Arivee: We all deserve to have fulfilling careers and lives. We deserve to experience joy and peace, and freedom and all of those things that make us feel truly alive. It takes a lot of courage for us to take the reins in our lives and take action that honors the deepest parts of ourselves in this current season of life. It takes a lot of courage to lean into growing and to lean into learning, and to know when it's time to make a change. I’m Arivee. I'm a first generation Latina, mom of three and life and high performance coach to women just like you.

[00:00:50] And this podcast is for all of us looking to grow and learn and explore what a joyful and fulfilling life and [00:01:00] career can look like, and how to start living into that life right now. We're going to go deep, and we're going to honor our truth in this podcast, and the best thing is we're gonna do it together. So welcome to the Humble Rising Podcast.

[00:01:26] If you've ever wondered whether you belong at the table, if you've ever wondered, or you feel like you've played it small or you've shrunk yourself even a little bit or a lot to fit in. If you haven't owned your worth or your voice yet, or you've been struggling with that, or if you ever thought to yourself, “How do I lean into my unique superpower? [00:01:53] How do I own that? How do I figure that out?” If you wondered about any of those things, you are in the right [00:02:00] place because this conversation with guest and powerhouse Illiana Acosta is going to help you- one, understand you are not alone; two, give language to the things that you are feeling; and three, help you navigate those feelings in those roadblocks.

[00:02:16] Look, I'm gonna be honest here, I felt so motivated and inspired after my conversation [00:02:22] with Illiana [00:02:23] that among other things I did, I started making the bed in the morning because the way that she explained the reason why it's so important to make your bed in the morning right when you get up was so simple and so powerful that I started doing it and I felt exactly how she said I would feel once I did it. And my mother even came to my house one day and she's like: “Oh, oh, you made the bed! [00:02:48] Oh, you made the bed today.” I said, “Yes, I was inspired.” You know, I don't wanna give too much away here on that front. You have to listen to this episode to know what I'm talking about. But [00:03:00] before we get into part one of my two-part conversation with Illiana, let me tell you a little bit about [00:03:07] her. Illiana [00:03:08] is no stranger to community building and her leadership with employee resource groups goes hand in hand to help people and organizations amplify their connection to community, leadership and belonging. She has an infectious positive perspective, confidence. Man, she got a lot of confidence, and I love it.

[00:03:29] Compassion layered with high energy, she draws inspiration from humble beginnings that taught her a great deal about choosing a future outside of what she saw in front of her. With 20 years of experience in AdTech, partnerships and sales, Illiana is a senior manager at LinkedIn. She manages global AdTech partnerships, and her work focuses on accelerating innovation, revenue and customer growth.

[00:03:58] Though she's grateful [00:04:00] to have the opportunity to work in corporate America, she faced challenges and at times she felt alienated, tokenized, or excluded. And it was really important for her to find her way, her voice, and the support that would lead her to feel empowered enough to show up as herself. And she shares that joining LinkedIn was the first corporate experience where she saw others that looked like her and spoke her language.

[00:04:30] So she is the global co-chair of LinkedIn's Latino Employee Resource Group. She's a member of the Chief Network. She serves on the National Board of the 100 Hispanic Women Organization, and she is the co-president of the Cornell Johnson School New York alumni organization. She is also the author of an amazing newsletter on LinkedIn [00:04:56] you must subscribe. She's the author of [00:05:00] this newsletter called ‘Lost in Translation’, and it focuses on highlighting challenges and limitations for historically excluded groups with experiences that have shaped who they are and how they show up in their personal and professional lives. Like I said, she's a powerhouse.

[00:05:20] I am so glad you are here. Here’s part one of my conversation with Illiana.

[00:05:28] Illiana, thank you for joining me on the podcast today. Thank you so much for being here.

[00:05:33] Illiana: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

[00:05:35] Illiana, would love for you to share your story, your background. You can include your family, how you grew up, and how you got to where you are now so the audience can know where this powerhouse conversation is gonna come from.

[00:05:48] Illiana: Oh, you only got an hour. You sure you want me to start? Yeah. I can definitely share a little bit about my story. I was born and raised in New York, in Corona, Queens. My parents [00:06:00] are both Dominican, so straight of Dominica, but my mom was a single mom with my brother and I. He is almost seven years older. I say that because we did not get along when we were younger because the age difference was way too wide and there was a lot of friction with my brother.

[00:06:18] Now I love him. But before nah, nah, no thank you. And my dad had a couple of wives. He was a rolling stone and so on. With my dad, I'm one of 10 kids my mom has just the tube. And grew up with very humble beginnings. Not to use that word, but it is very true. And check to check KFC was a fun night. And that was like a fancy night.

[00:06:42] Or Jardin de China, if anyone listening is from Queens, New York, Jardin on Junction Boulevard was the truth. That was like, special occasion dinner and it still hits. I'm sorry. It's really good. And yeah, and I just grew up going to Catholic school, which is [00:07:00] a fun fact. I don't think many people know for eight years and after school would go to my grandma's house and my family wasn't well off and there was drugs all over. In those times, [00:07:11] I'm not gonna date myself and say my age, but in those years, a lot of drug usage, everyone was just trying to survive and I didn't really know what the blueprint looked like for someone to be successful. I just saw things around me and from a really young age, I just knew that's not the life that I wanted.

[00:07:29] And so I said, “Let me do everything that I don't see people doing.”, which is going to school, going to college, putting myself in different environments, and even going to high school. I didn't go to high school in Queens. Partly because everyone around me was going to my zone school and I didn't think it was that great.

[00:07:49] But secondly, because my brother was just overbearing and knew everyone in Queens and he would ride me and I was like, “I need to get outta here”. So I went to a school in Manhattan and [00:08:00] commuted. So at 14, I was taking the subway by myself which now thinking back I'm like, “That's so scary.” In New York, it’s crazy.

[00:08:07] And I saw way too many things that a 13 or 14 year old shouldn't see as, I won't get into details, but nevertheless, made my way into college, studied marketing, and I was like, “I'm gonna do marketing. I'm 100% gonna do marketing.” And then I get out of school and I was like, “Oh, I'm gonna do sales.” And I fell into sales.

[00:08:27] And it's funny because I always thought as sales as like door to door encyclopedia salesman. And I was like, “I will not do that.” And then once I got into it, it was like, oh no, it's about value exchange. It's about really telling a narrative and telling a story and really connecting with the customer, understanding what are their needs, challenges, [00:08:48] and talk about the good stuff you got. And so I'm like, “Oh, those problems- all good. I got you. I got you. Let me talk to you about what I'm doing right now.” And so it really, that just for me, [00:09:00] sparked me. Cause I'm like, I love to solve a challenge. I also love challenges. I don't back out from it. And so sales provides that for me.

[00:09:07] It feeds me, it fills my cup and it excites me to no end. And as I navigated through my career, I started out in print. That definitely tells you how old I am. And then evolved into digital and into AdTech. I went to startup mode and mid-level startups, which I thought was great because it gave me the exposure that I needed to wear multiple hats and really understand how different business functions work and dip my toe in different waters and really understand the mechanics of what it is to build something.

[00:09:38] And that to me, I love to build. So that building and working with people that are all about achieving goals together, that's exciting to me. And after Startup World, went to work at a more global company and then worked my way over to LinkedIn, which is where I am now as a senior manager across our ad tech channel business, which is essentially, I lead a team of incredible [00:10:00] people that are all high performers- shout out to my team- and they work to [00:10:05] establish, retain and grow partnerships with AdTech platforms that help to drive incremental value for our LinkedIn marketing solutions, customers. I also moonlight, or let's just call it my second role at LinkedIn, is also the global co-chair of our Hispanics of LinkedIn Alliance, ERG across the world, which is super exciting.

[00:10:24] It absolutely pours into my cup in multiple ways in helping to drive change or sustainable change for our LinkedIn employees as well as our members and external customers. I am also on the board of the 100 Hispanic Women Organization, which really pours into our young Latinas and helping to prepare them for their future, helping to create more opportunities.

[00:10:46] I'm also the co-president of the Cornell New York alumni chapter, and so that's really pouring into our Cornell alumni, and I also advise on different startups. So I'm a little busy, but it's all good. I'm still here. [00:11:00] I'm busy. Yeah.

[00:11:02] Arivee: You said, “I love a challenge”. When you were talking about your journey and your story, you mentioned things that you got excited about and that filled your cup. And then you mentioned how you are co-chair of the ERG, right? The Latino ERG at LinkedIn. And I am curious as to what you see are the biggest challenges for, you can say Latinas in the workplace.

[00:11:26] Illiana: Generally, what I see is a lot of them struggle with what fills a cup, and a lot of them struggle with other things like, oh, I could go so many places with that question.

[00:11:35] Let's start off with pay. Pay, me Latinas are paid 57, depending on what source you look at. It's either 49 or 57 cents to the dollar than our white male counterparts. That's the problem. So we literally have to work an extra like almost 11 months to get paid what someone got paid the previous year. Ay problema. And so I think that there's a couple of things that impact that.

[00:11:58] Probably several, right? But a couple that comes to mind [00:12:00] right off the back is one, we are placed in a box and that's what a lot of companies or maybe leaders might see that's our worth. So that's one. And we also have to like, that's when Latinas feel like we have to try harder, take on more, work later hours.

[00:12:15] All the things that I'm sure you can relate to. And then on the other side, there are cultural limitations and learned behaviors that we have learned throughout our lives with our own families. [Spanish] And so for those who don't know Spanish, if you look prettier, you shut up. And if you think about when you get job offer or a promotion or, God forbid, you get the courage to ask for a raise.

[00:12:44] Right? Those things, like they bring on a lot of anxiety, particularly for Latinas because we were taught to be happy with what you got. Oh my God. You got an opportunity, be happy. Make sure you look the part so you could keep the job, straighten your hair. [00:13:00] Don't wear lipstick. Wear studs.

[00:13:02] Wear all the things. And so I think it's a combination of things that we have not historically demanded our value, and we really haven't been empowered throughout our lives to ask for what we deserve. And so when you have a combination of all those things, it will take time to change that because we've settled, for lack of better term, for the bare minimum because we were just happy to have an opportunity to be at the table.

[00:13:32] But that's not enough. And I was definitely a victim to that in my career, like early on. And my throat chakra was completely blocked. I say this all the time, and now your girl's like, free, I just say it all with. You gotta play chess. Yeah. You gotta know how to position things and when timing is everything.

[00:13:49] All the things. But I most certainly know my value and I will not settle for anything less. Arivee: Wait, tell me about the throat chakra. Tell people about it. Illiana: Yeah. It's similar to this, right? Like [00:14:00] asking for what you deserve, or you're at a table and you look around and no one looks like you, right? So you're just like, “What they said sounds interesting, but I have a question, but I'm the only one that looks like me [00:14:13] so should I say it? Is it gonna be welcomed? Am I gonna have an ally here? Is someone gonna back me up if I say this? That confidence level is down. Imposter syndrome is real. I don't know if I should say this.” And you don't say it. So you’re just keeping that seat warm, and they're just checking a box for having a Latina at the table.

[00:14:34] And so what are you gonna do with this seat right here? And so that is a big problem. It was a big problem for me years ago. And it continues to be a big problem for many Latinas, and I don't wanna say Latinas. Women. Arivee: Yes. Illiana: Women, and women of color in particular, it impacts us, right? Because we don't feel like we're gonna have the support from other people around that table.

[00:14:56] And it's a hot table. But what we need to realize is [00:15:00] we're sitting at that table. They gave you an opportunity. I'm a hiring manager. You made it through like hundreds of applications. Arivee: Yeah. Illiana: You made it through 4, 5, 6, 7 rounds of interviews. They took a chance with bringing you on board. So what are you questioning about your ability and what you gotta say?

[00:15:17] You worked your way. Everything that you did up until that point prepared you for that moment that you're sitting at the table. So what are you gonna do about it? So my throat chakra is on block because once I realized that that opportunity was given to me and I worked for it, it wasn't handed. It wasn't like, “Here's a role.”

[00:15:34] No, I worked for that, like really hard. Everything I have done has led up to this moment right here. Even now, talking to you. Everything that I have done has led up to this moment. And it's important we realize and we give ourselves our flowers for achieving the things that we have achieved because we are [00:15:53] quick, quick to focus on the things that we have not yet achieved. Arivee: Yes. Illiana: Or the things that, “Oh, I thought I [00:16:00] have this on my thing and it's taking me too long.” Okay. But you're still progressing. Slow progress is still progress. You're still taking a step ahead. You're still 1% better than you were yesterday and just feel, again, the throat were blocked a lot and I don't want anyone to feel like, “Oh, it's just me.”

[00:16:15] It is not just you. It is a thing, and a lot of it comes from generational trauma and cultural limitations that have been placed around upon us. Like our moms felt like they couldn't speak. So what, they taught us the same. Their moms felt like they couldn't speak. They taught us the same. These are immigrants that are coming to the US, not fully accepted, judged, criticized.

[00:16:37] It's looted. I'll pick one. Of course. And I don't blame my mom or my grandmother. I don't blame any of it. Why? That's all they knew. Arivee: That's right. Illiana: If that's all they knew, how are they gonna teach you any different? Arivee: That's right. Illiana: But now you know better. So what you gonna do? You gonna pass that down to your children or the next generation, or are you gonna change it?

[00:16:53] Arivee: When did that change for you? Meaning it's like we have to unlearn these things, right? [00:16:58] Well, we have to recognize that's [00:17:00] why and then unlearn these things. When for you, did it switch? You're like, “Oh, I'm gonna speak up. Oh, I'm gonna flip this around.” Like when, and maybe it wasn't one moment, but often people ask me, and I talk to people a lot about this, like “How do I unlearn?” Like “How do I just say something?” And I'm wondering when it switched for you, like when you noticed the change. Because I'm like you, Illiana. Early in my career I was like that. And then as I got older, I had kids. I just got older in my career. I had just more confidence. I don't know what it was specifically, but I grew into, you know what, so and so and so don't have a better idea than me, so I'm gonna just speak up and say my idea, what's the worst that can happen? They don't like it, so what? But I, it took me a long time to get there and I think it was more of a [00:17:44] progression of just trying it and seeing how it felt.

[00:17:47] So I’m wondering, for you, what did that change look like for you? Illiana: It wasn't one moment. I think there was a culmination of things that happened. One, I started realizing my superpowers.

[00:17:59] I think [00:18:00] for a long time I probably thought that my superpowers were basic and that everyone had them. But you are only one of one. Your superpowers are you and my superpowers are me. And once I started realizing my superpowers and how to leverage them and the impact that I saw they started to have, I started to really come into myself and start to be more confident in leveraging those superpowers and more so valuing them, and again, giving myself those flowers.

[00:18:30] Whoa, I didn't realize I had this power. And once I started seeing that, which was not, it's like that long ago, I would say like six, seven years ago, not that long ago, and I realized that I started to speak up more, ask more questions, felt less anxious. I started realizing how to play chess in corporate environments and in life, right?

[00:18:53] Pick your battles, people. Everything is not a battle. Know when to speak up. Know how to speak up. [00:19:00] Know what to say, to bring people along on the journey with you. Arivee: Yes. Illiana: And working at an organization, and this is by no means a plug, but I am going, this is a fact, right? Working on an organization that empowers me to be just me while doing good work, only intensified that for me.

[00:19:19] And so when I feel supported by my leadership, given access to opportunity by my leadership, given opportunities to invest in my own growth and development by the organization, and really having a platform allows me to contribute to the change that we need to see in this world. That to me inspired me and empowered me to just be me.

[00:19:49] And I just don't have any qualms about saying many things anymore. I say it in a way that resonates with people. I want people to hear me. Right? So I don't say things [00:20:00] off the cuff and crazy because I think that there are things that need to be said, and there's a way to say them. Arivee: Yes. Illiana: And so that's where am I right now.

[00:20:08]Arivee: How did you realize your [00:20:11] superpowers, like I [00:20:12] know you said, “Oh, I noticed that when I would say sayings people would resonate with that, and I realized I could leverage that.” Illiana: Yeah. Arivee: But how did you even know superpowers existed and that you may have them? Illiana: I think talking to people when I meet people is so crazy.

[00:20:27] People just tell me their life stories. I could be in an Uber. And just me saying, “Hey, good morning. How are you?” Get in the car. And then they ask me a question. I'm like, “Oh, we're, this is happening. We're having a conversation. Cool.” Now as a back and forth, I literally need the Uber knowing this man or woman's like social security number and address, what's up.

[00:20:46] So that's a superpower because I think a lot of people, I provide psychological safety off the back, which is great. I know that I do that with my team now, and I love that because that's what allows me to build trust and strong [00:21:00] relationships. And so I started realizing I have these powers. The more I talk to people, the more relationships I built.

[00:21:05] And I have mentors and coaches now that have given me feedback and I have a ton of sponsors that give me a ton of feedback and they remind of my superpowers. And every day is a great day, and I firmly believe that. But there are moments in a day that may not be as great. When I'm having a moment, [00:21:27] that's a good reminder. Thank you, my people. I appreciate that because I'm having a moment right now and I say that no day is a bad day because every day I wake up, that's a good day. There are many people that have been impacted, they're sick, they've passed on, et cetera. I'm alive. I'm healthy, I'm well.

[00:21:45] I'm awake, I'm moving. All my limbs are healthy, like everything is working in my body. It can't be that bad of a day if I'm in good shape. And so there are gonna be bad moments in a day that they might consume you for maybe five minutes, maybe five [00:22:00] hours, maybe it'll fill into another day. But at the end of the day, you're still having a good day, because today you woke u. And so you have the power to change that.

[00:22:08] So yeah, I think it's a combination of self-awareness, realizing how people interact with me, and then just hearing from people around me that support me in different ways and empower me to be great.

[00:22:22] Arivee: I love that perspective. [00:22:23] A lot of women of color come to me and ask me, Hey, I've been doing really hard work. I work really hard. I've been trying my best. And they're good. Like they're really good at what they do, but they have trouble finding people, like they're trying to find their sponsor or find people that [00:22:40] can really advance their careers, can [00:22:42] really speak to them in a real moment like that, right? [00:22:47] Like where you [00:22:47] can be honest with someone. [00:22:48] You can be you and they can [00:22:50] meet you where you're at and respond to you and help you and support you. And so I'm wondering what you say [00:22:55] to those women who could be 20 years [00:22:58] into their career and they feel like, [00:23:00] “I don't really have a mentor sponsor” And I'm gonna tell you that I have talked to people who are really high performers who I'm like, “Oh, so who's like your mentor? [00:23:06] Who's your mentor? They're like, “No, I don't [00:23:08] have one.” And I'm like, “What? You mean no one? Yeah. Illiana: It's surprising because I didn't even know what a mentor was until I was in like my late thirties, straight up. I was like, “Oh, I think I know what that is.” Yeah. But in my head, I just thought about a mentor, being a mentor for high school, young women, young professionals, not seasoned professionals.

[00:23:28] So like I've mentored young women for a while now and I love it. That's why I'm on the board of the 100 Hispanic women like I, it feeds my soul, it fills my cup. Like, how can I help the next generation to be better than me? I want people to surpass me. Go crazy. Like the world is your oyster. And I think what I would tell them is to seek it.

[00:23:52] Right? Pay more attention to who's around you, because I think a lot of times, one, we're like our own worst enemy. “Oh my gosh, what are they saying [00:24:00] about me?” You'd be surprised that people are singing your praises. They're in the rooms that you're not in, right? One, make sure you humble brag, people. Give yourself your flowers.

[00:24:09] If people are not seeing your work first hand, “Hey, can I have a quick 15 minute chat with you? We would love to pick your brain about something I'm working on. Here's where I'm at with it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Like you have to take initiative. You are the owner of your own journey. Ain't nobody like responsible for you but you.

[00:24:26] So if you feel like you're not having sponsorship or you don't have sponsorship within your organization, is it a ‘you’ thing? What can you be doing better? Because I don't really focus on problems, I focus on solutions. So if you feel the problem is you don't have sponsorship within an organization, then seek it.

[00:24:42] “Hey, I admire this leader here. They're close to my business. I wonder if they realize when I'm working on A, B, C, that may impact their business, their team, et cetera. Let me schedule a 20 minute chat with them.” And now they realize, “Whoa, I didn't realize you were working on all of [00:25:00] that.” “Hey, can we chat once a month so I can get the low down?

[00:25:03] Why aren't you on these calls that we have about A, B, and C?” And now you're being pulled into different conversations and being exposed to different leaders and teams. Go ask for it, people. It’s right there in front of you. Go ask for it. If you don't ask for it, you don't get it. Ask for it. If you don't feel like you have sponsorship, I promise you that there are people that are ready and willing to support you.

[00:25:25] I didn't realize that early on in my career at all. But as I started working for different leaders and different teams and feeling empowered and realizing my value and looking at my superpowers, I'm like, “How are you not gonna like this? Lemme tell you about what I'm doing.” And so you know that, listen, I'm a work in progress.

[00:25:41] Everyone is. This is a part of evolution, right? But where I am right now, I feel really good. I'm genuinely happy where I am right now. I have things I wanna accomplish for sure, and I'm not nearly where I wanna be in terms of like my end goal, but I am really proud of the work that I'm doing right now. [00:26:00] And I'm gonna humble brag about the things that I'm doing that are really driving value for a team and value for an organization.

[00:26:07] And as you are navigating your career within an organization, seek those sponsors that can benefit from hearing on the things that you're working on so that they can then sing your praises about the things that you're doing now that they know. Can we talk about mentors really quick? Because it's the same concept.

[00:26:23] If you admire someone, by the way, they don't have to be in your organization. They don't even have to be in your industry. They don't have to have the same path, like none of it. They typically have more experience, right? Life experience, professional experience, things that they can add value to you and so that you can be more aware of certain things, et cetera, but like just so go seek it.

[00:26:43] I'm telling you right now, there are people itching. Literally itching. I just had a conversation with this white leader, a woman. I say white because I wanna specify this. She wants to develop people, not people of color, just [00:27:00] people. And she says, “I wanna find mentees. I don't know how to seek them. And I, yes and no one's really approached me and she's, I wanna give back in my own way. [00:27:09] Hey Illiana, I know that you co-chair the Hispanics of LinkedIn Alliance ERG. Do you think someone can benefit from learning from me? I'm like, “What? Girl, you are a senior leader up in here. Yes. We need our allies. She's a crazy, awesome active ally and we need our leaders to step up. Absolutely. We got you. I got you.”

[00:27:30] So my point is that there are people willing and able and ready to do this. You just have to ask. Yeah. And be consistent and committed, right? Yes. You ask and then it's the keeping in touch is the maintaining the relationship that's on you too. Absolutely. What you have is the consistency of like what's the cadence of your conversations and also I'm a mentor.

[00:27:52] I really appreciate when my mentees come in with an agenda. because whether it's a 30 minute or 60 minute conversation, like, “All right, [00:28:00] this time is yours. What's up? What do you want? What do you need? How can I help you? Where can I support you? Where do you wanna work on today? Like all the things I can give you activities to do, [00:28:07] absolutely. But this is your time with me.” And so be prepared for those conversations because they got the goods for you and you wanna soak it all up in a very intentional way that you feel you can extract the most value from those conversations.

[00:28:31] Arivee: Thank [00:28:31] you so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed that conversation as much as I enjoyed having it with Illiana. Don't forget to come back next week for part two of this two-part episode. [00:28:45] See you then. [00:29:00]



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