Alma Guajardo-Crossley knows how to pay it forward. At the top of her field as the Director of Diversity Initiatives at General Motors, Guajardo-Crossley devotes herself to developing talent and promoting, supporting, and leveraging diversity inside and outside of the company. She came from a humble background; her father worked difficult jobs and moved their family from Texas to Michigan in hopes of getting better paying jobs.
Alma, the fifth child, was the first to be born in this new state. He would tell her “There is nothing more important than education so you don’t have to work as hard as me,” she says.
In order to go to college she knew she would have to get a scholarship. Her older brother heard of an opportunity at General Motors Engineering & Management Institute, that would allow her to rotate going to school for three months then work for three months, and it paid for her education. She then accepted a position in sales and marketing in the 1980s. It was a glamorous time, she said, though she didn’t see many Latinos as her colleagues. She worked her way up the ladder; moved all over for the company, eventually leading her to the roles of Director of Minority Dealer Development and Diversity Manager for the Hispanic American segment.
She feels a responsibility to help others advance just as she did. “I love working with the youth and mentoring, I’m a sucker for someone who asks for help.”
Guajardo-Crossley also has a wealth of info for Latinas in the workplace. Here are just a few of her thoughts on developing your career.
Guajardo-Crossley recommends developing a personal board of directors. These are key people from different industries and backgrounds who you look to for guidance. If you choose wisely the result is a diverse and dynamic group with a wealth of experience and insight that can help navigate you through tricky career issues, and also through life challenges.
“Diversity of thought and experience is important, they don’t have to all be professionals – it’s really about who is going to help you at the end of the day,” she says.
When you decide to build your board, study potential directors, she says. If you have someone in mind, understand them and their business, and connect with them. Most people will feel honored to be asked, and it gives them an opportunity to help someone who is up-and-coming.
Look for a company that appreciates diversity and offers the things that are important to you. If you are a working mother; flexibility is important. Look at everything that is available to you as an employee, but also make sure you are happy in the kind of environment the job demands.
Latinas are one of the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, and we’re known to be strong in growing our own businesses, she says. “We have such a strong drive that we are almost guaranteed to succeed.” If someone has a passion to start their own business or work in corporate America, that is where they are going to be the most successful, she suggests. No matter what your ultimate career goal, the process for finding your niche is the same. Find out what the most important things in your life are, and pursue what is going to get you to a position that allows you to flourish, she says.