By Christine Bolaños.
The question of whether Latinas can break barriers in the workspace has evolved into: What innovative business ventures will they invest in next? A prime example of Latinas’ “staying” power is in Washington, D.C., where Latinas, like in cities across the United States, are surpassing their male and non-Latina counterparts in record numbers when it comes to entrepreneurial pursuits. Latinas are leaving their mark in a variety of fields, ranging from government to public relations and culinary arts to entertainment and everything in between.
“Latinas are making their mark on our nation. They are starting businesses, holding leadership positions, and running for office at record numbers,” says Nina C. Roque, who serves as Executive Director of the National Women’s Business Council. “Latinas are entrepreneurial in spirit, innovative, multicultural and multilingual — they are a force.”
The organization serves as a federal advisory council providing policy and program suggestions to the White House, Congress and U.S. Small Business Administration. According to data from the National Women’s Business Council, and sourced from the SBA, Washington, D.C. has 50.3 percent, or the third highest percentage of Hispanic women-owned businesses relative to the men-owned and equally-owned businesses, in the United States.
According to Roque, the SBA oversees the Women’s Business Center which provides help to Latina and other women entrepreneurs on how to start and grow their businesses by providing vital counseling and training.
“Qualified Latina entrepreneurs can also apply for certain federal contracting programs that set aside a portion of government funding for participating small businesses,” Roque says. “Our programs such as the Women-Owned Small Business federal contracting program and 8(a) business development program helps to provide a level playing field for women-owned small businesses and those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities by limiting competition for certain federal contracts to participating businesses.”
When sisters Geraldine Barrientos Roig and Mariana Barrientos Roig, founders of ROIG Communications, LLC, launched their business there weren’t as many resources for women of color-owned businesses.
“However, the support we received from other Latina entrepreneurs and our local community was key to our success during the early days, when resources were scarce, and times were challenging.” shares Mariana Barrientos Roig, who also serves as VP of Strategy. “Our involvement with Hispanic Chambers expanded our horizons and network.”
For them, the relationships and network they built over the years became their most valued asset.
“We are empowered by the very same communities we seek to empower, and we have proven that that’s a pretty solid business model,” she shares.
They believe that Latina businesswomen who empower each other may be the key to their success in cities like D.C.
“Washington, D.C., has certainly become more diverse over the past decade, both socially but also economically,” shares Geraldine Barrientos Roig, who also serves as President. Latina business owners continue to play a significant role in that socio-economic development, but that role has grown even more with better access to capital and resources over the past years.”
Their firm was birthed on the idea that campaigns by multi-national organizations targeted at the Hispanic market were culturally inappropriate and ineffective and used one-size-fits-all outreach strategies.
With the Latino market continuing to grow they point out that it’s not an option but rather a necessity to reach Latinos.
“There are a number of successful Latinas in communications, and the number will only grow in the coming years,” shares Mariana. “The gap is wider than the existing agencies, like ROIG, to fill and we’ll absolutely need more Latinas in communications to help engage the Hispanic community in the economic future of this fast-changing Washington, D.C., region.”
As President and CEO of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Nicole Quiroga knows first-hand the importance of empowering and supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of Latinas.
“As our population increases and we grow our share of voice, the need to nurture this entrepreneurial spirt becomes even more urgent. Although we are still working to the higher ranks of wealth other groups do — such as white males — we are extremely consistent with our paths to success,” Quiroga says. “We provide jobs for family members and others in our communities, sustain our families as head of households in many cases, send money abroad and always look to educate ourselves to achieve more and more.”
She says Latina entrepreneurs are no longer sticking to industries perceived to be traditionally Hispanic, but rather, deep diving into technology, IT, digital media, manufacturing, health care, finance and consulting. There is room for Latina leaders to grow in the engineering and construction realms, however.
Washington D.C. has a myriad of resources to assist with business growth. Quiroga’s advice is to do research before launching a business and fully understand what resources most benefit you. In addition to visiting the Chamber another place to start is the District of Columbia Small Business Resource Center – a hub of key District agencies that offer information and services to entrepreneurs and companies looking to launch and strengthen their business.
Quiroga said they can take advantage of technical assistance available to businesses at GWHCC, including guidance on marketing, financing, strategic planning, management, product development and sales.
“Opening your business is one of the most intimidating and satisfying experiences of your life,” Quiroga states. “Be confident in who you are and your ability to succeed. Understand that you are surrounded by people who want to help you and ask for help when you need it. Being a Latina today is powerful. We have grown and evolved over the years to become strong and inspirational voices to our family, friends, coworkers and community. That means we must be responsible and diligent about the way we contribute to society…and strive to continue educating ourselves, growing in our workplace, participating on boards and voting.”
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