I was an executive for a global beauty company making a six figure salary. I was successful, focused and passionate, and I thought I had done everything asked of me in "corporate America" to be thought of as a good employee and to secure my job. I tried to be thoughtful and creative in my work. I had helped the company create a minority scholarship program and a fellowship program for women pursuing scientific careers, which also served as a platform to position the company's leadership in the science of beauty. The science fellowship was a tremendous success, prized by the CEO and recognized by the nation's leading science organizations and one of the best such prizes.
As one of the few Latinas in an executive position, and the only one in the corporate communications department, I became an ambassador for the company's commitment to diversity and promoted it as a good corporate citizen.
But my relationship with the company unraveled. I worked in a department run by women and thought it was a sisterhood, but I was the only minority woman and was often made to feel like an outsider. I was discouraged from seeking promotions even though my reviews were stellar and my bonuses grand, while other people hired after me were promoted within six months of starting.
Eventually one woman's campaign against me drove me out of the company altogether. She used her influence and position as senior vice president to get me fired. The day I was dismissed, I was invited into a meeting to face her, the human resources representative and the head of my department—all women. They did not look like me. As I sat before them and listened to their dismissal of my accomplishments and their description of the person I was not, I felt disrespected, disregarded and disenchanted.
At that moment, sitting across the table from them, I decided that I had to be better than this. I had to help, to mentor and to encourage other women in business instead of discrediting, devaluing or dishonoring them.
I decided to walk out with my dignity and my compassion intact, and to be better than those who had attempted to discredit and dehumanize me. I decided that women needed to be supportive of other women, no matter their circumstances, their ethnicity, their religious beliefs or their station in life. I decided not to be afraid of what lay ahead of me, though it was not clear. You cannot teach diversity, you have to live it and understand it.
A very wise woman, a leading scientist whose accomplishments should have been recognized by the Nobel Prize committee a very long time ago, said to me, "As long as we are offered only one seat at the table where decisions are made, you will always have a dearth of capable women helping to make important decisions that will increase the number of seats for women at the table. And you will always have fierce and often unfair competition for that one seat."
I am leaning in now as I build my public relations business with the help of an amazingly diverse group of women who are all contributing to my success and who continue to show me by their intelligence, creativity, vision, power and character, that I am not alone and that there is a net beneath me if I fall once, twice or many times.
I now look back on that moment six years ago and think to myself, wow look at me, I survived. I hope others facing similar circumstances know that everything they are dealt in life can become a lesson that will make them that much better, that much wiser, that much kinder.