By Al Ortiz, Communications Lead at PNC
My first interview in the corporate world was nerve wracking, and that’s an understatement.
I wasn’t nervous about the interview itself. Nor was I taken aback by the shiny marble floors or the modern conference rooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology in what is now PNC Plaza in Houston, Texas.
My self-doubt came from observing two employees wearing freshly pressed suits who were chatting in the hallway. I assumed they were in the middle of rounding out a major financial decision that could make a huge impact on a small business, corporation, consumer, or community. It was an intimidating sight for a young Latino professional who had never been in that environment before. It also brought up an unexpected question in my mind:
Do I really belong here?
PNC Unidos Hispanic and Latino Leaders Forum
I never felt more out of place. Before the interview’s first question, I was already telling myself that I didn’t fit in. I’m sure my story isn’t the same for all Latinos in the corporate world. However, I can’t help but think that most have wrestled with the feeling of belonging at some point in their career.
This experience has been running on a constant loop in my head lately, and for good reason.
In mid-September, on the cusp of Hispanic Heritage Month, I attended the inaugural PNC Unidos Hispanic and Latino Leaders Forum in Miami, Fla. The two-day conference gathered select Latino and Hispanic leaders from across the bank to discuss leadership, challenges, and career growth, among other topics.
I heard a number of relatable stories, especially from the keynote speaker. He spoke about how he immigrated to the U.S. from Spain, his journey towards fitting in and learning a new language, and building credibility in any way he could, including serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan before a successful stint in pro football.
Challenging Limiting Beliefs
That concept of building credibility and fitting in was an underlying theme throughout his speech. His experiences struck a chord with me because I took a similar approach during my first days in the corporate world. I chose to say my last name without a Spanish accent. I was also careful not to reveal too much of my Mexican heritage. I also wanted to present myself a certain way while I built that same credibility our keynote speaker described.
My physical appearance became an obsession. My tie had to be impossibly straight. Not one shred of lint, no matter how small, should be on my suit. My anxiety level reached unprecedented heights every morning when I stepped in front of my bathroom mirror.
“You don’t have to wear a suit every day,” my supervisor told me one time.
“It’s ok, I like wearing suits,” I responded.
While I do love a good suit, I insisted on wearing them because I needed to “fit in." I needed to dress better than anyone else. In my mind, that’s the only way I could be taken seriously as a Latino in Corporate America.
One of my favorite parts of the Unidos forum examined this type of behavior during a seminar about challenging “limiting beliefs” to be your true self at work. The presenter spoke of authenticity instead of repressing parts of your persona, like choosing not to speak Spanish, saying your name a certain way, or over-modifying your appearance to conform to traditional standards. It sounded all too familiar. I kept thinking back to my first year in the corporate world, and how many limiting beliefs I didn’t challenge.
The Right (Corporate) Culture
In overcoming that self-imposed obligation to be a certain way, two developments helped me.
First: I eventually – and confidently - decided that I did fit in. One of my parents worked in the corporate world at one point. Both eventually became successful small business owners. My upbringing and the example my parents set for me didn’t allow me to continue thinking that success was unreachable.
Like our keynote speaker said in his speech: “Defeat is a personal choice.”
Secondly, the more I worked at this company, the more I noticed that my employer saw me as a distinct individual, not just an employee ID number or just “a suit and tie." They saw me as a person with a certain background, heritage, culture, and more. I could bring my authentic self to work and not repress the parts that make me who I truly am.
I learned that they encouraged diversity, equity and inclusion. When PNC acquired that company, I quickly saw that they lived those same values.
I see it even more after attending this forum.
The entire event was complex, deep, and multidimensional. To me, though, the bottom line to the PNC Unidos Hispanic and Latino Leaders Forum was simply this: I felt heard. We felt heard.
There are now more than 6,500 Latino/Hispanic employees working at PNC. The forum's launch speaks volumes about how much the bank is committed to listening to our unique perspectives for continued growth.
The day of my interview with what is now PNC seems like a lifetime ago. But I can still remember the uneasy emotions bubbling furiously in the pit of my stomach. I wish I could tell my past self what was to come. That I was about to step into an environment that not only accepts your background but celebrates and promotes it.
In that situation, I’ve learned that you can both fit in and flourish.