- Ernesto Felix is a technical leadership development manager at Intel Corporation and was recently re-elected for his third term as the board treasurer for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
- As the second-generation son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in a community of people who looked like him. But when he got to college, he found himself called derogatory nicknames by peers — but also found himself questioning his identity as an exchange student in Mexico.
- When he first joined Intel, he found that it was easier not to address his heritage — he could pass as Caucasian. But when he moved to Brazil to lead Intel’s Latin America Region HR group, he began to rethink how he presented himself.
- He helped recruit the first 16 members of Intel’s Latinx Leadership Council (ILLC), and is now involved in several initiatives. For fellow Latinx professionals, he recommends taking pride in your differences, building your network, and understanding your value.
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As a second-generation son of Mexican immigrants, I’d always grown up thinking I was a typical American kid, since I was surrounded by people who looked like me and could speak Spanish. It wasn’t until I left my small hometown in southern Arizona to attend college three hours away that I became aware of my differences. At college, I was called “the Mexican” and “the Beaner,” along with other nicknames referencing my Mexican heritage. During my junior year of college, I embraced the opportunity to become an exchange student in Mexico. However, my experience there was a similar story, with a different nickname — this time, “the Gringo.”
Although the names were always said in jest, they set off an identity crisis within me that I struggled with for years. After graduating college and interning at a company which was hit with a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination, I noticed people who hadn’t even been directly impacted by the actions of the company received part of the settlement. This went against the belief my parents had instilled in me, “If you work hard, you will get rewarded,” and I resolved never to benefit solely because of my ethnicity.
During the early part of my career, including after joining Intel, I found it easier not to address my Hispanic heritage. Due to the way I looked and my name, I had the privilege of walking into a room and passing as Caucasian. Externally, “blending in” at work didn’t cause me any issues. Internally, I was still confused about who I was, and where I fit into the world. My struggles were also apparent to those closest to me, and my older brother often criticized me for not embracing my Mexican roots.
In 2000, I had the opportunity to move to Brazil and lead Intel’s Latin America Region HR group. The new office and city provided an opportunity for me to rethink how I presented myself to others. More importantly, I had moved with my wife and two children, and I began to think about how my actions affected them as well. I wanted my children to be proud of their Latin heritage, to embrace the legacy of their rich culture, and not to be afraid to be themselves.
In the early 1990s, employee resource groups (ERGs) at Intel were in their infancy. After moving back to the US in 2001, I was eventually recruited by corporate diversity to manage and extend Intel’s employee group program, and I also helped recruit the first 16 members of Intel’s Latinx Leadership Council (ILLC), which has grown to 62 leaders. I also became more active with Hispanic organizations, including Prospanica, Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). The Hispanic initiatives we started contributed to Intel’s global workforce becoming more aware of unique differences and culture Hispanics brought to the company. I was also evolving and embracing my heritage more every day.
Here’s the advice I’d give to Latinx professionals and others starting out in their careers:
- Be proud of your differences. While it can be tempting to hide aspects of yourself for the sake of fitting in, embracing these qualities will make you stand out from the crowd. Research shows diverse companies are more likely to be profitable and innovative, so speak up! Not only is diversity of thought likely to lead to stronger ideas, but it may give someone else the confidence to speak their mind.
- Build your network. Your career will benefit by having a strong network of people who can provide mentorship and training, alert you to new opportunities for advancement, and connect you to others in your company and industry. Employee resource groups are a great place to start, as many have formalized resources and networking opportunities available. If employee resource groups don’t exist, look into starting one and/or join professional or industry associations.
- Be confident and understand your value. Although workplaces have changed from when I first began my career, the truth is there may still be times when you are made to feel like an outsider, or your contributions overlooked because of how you are perceived. Don’t be discouraged — sometimes a brief acknowledgement of the issue can help the person realize what may be an unconscious bias and turn it into a teachable moment. Above all, stand your ground and know your opinions are just as valuable as the next person’s.
I now look back at my history and wonder, with such a beautiful heritage, why did I ever blend in? While the political climate we live in today makes this more challenging, being true to yourself and your background is the only path toward personal fulfillment. Embracing this aspect of myself has helped my family, career, and network. Above all, the most important benefit has been finding people who truly appreciate me for who I am.
Ernesto Felix is a technical leadership development manager at Intel Corp.