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018: Gloria Lara

Gloria Lara

With more than 25 years of experience in non-profit and for-profit boards of directors, Gloria Lara uses her voice to ensure that un-heard voices are in fact, heard.  Currently the Executive Director at LEDA (Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance), she is skilled in forging strategic partnerships and unlocking hidden opportunities.  Meet Gloria Lara on our next Powerful Women: Let’s Talk!

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full transcript:

Powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real. Produced by women about women. Powerful women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live.

Greetings, everyone! I'm Jennifer Moss it's time for another edition of powerful women, let's talk and I'd like to introduce you to today's powerful woman Gloria Lara, she is the executive director of the lakeshore ethnic diversity alliance or LEDA- welcome Gloria, it is so good to have you here today

Thank you so much, I'm really pleased to be here. Thank you for asking me.

To give our listeners some perspective here, you have an extensive experience in the nonprofit as well as for profit sectors you’re a native of Los Angeles I found out and since 2010 you really have been focused on nonprofit leadership. You have extensive experience showing a lead in finance marketing and sales plus strategy and project management in executive positions at IBM, Chrysler, United Technologies automotive and a lot more and your board members are saying and I quote” she is the perfect person to lead the organization into the next chapter” of course we're talking about at the lakeshore ethnic diversity alliance. An awesome resume I must say and you're also on or have been on countless boards in our community as well as previously being the shore to shore Girl Scout Council CEO, so again we are happy to have you here. First we want to start talking about your work at LEDA again the lakeshore ethnic diversity alliance, which you started working with them over a year ago right?

Just over a year ago one last September.

Congratulations on that as well.

Thank you, thank you.

We view LEDA as a bridge builder between different communities it's been around for a while. Next year will be our 25th anniversary so it's been sort of quiet in the lakeshore area of Holland but, everyone around knows that there’s a place to go if they want to learn about diversity or how to engage with different members of the community. So we are known for our big event which is our summit where we get a about 700 people face to face usually to listen to a key note, then do the different workshops and that's usually held in the late spring, but what also makes us unique is we have programs for children for both middle schoolers and high schoolers called Calling All Colors. We've been doing this for almost 20 years and students get together once a year for initial face to face and then they break up into the different schools and do work throughout the year and then they come back together at the end of school year but, because of covid we've had to do a lot of changes in how that happens but, what I’m really excited is during our last fall get together,r one of the school teachers said attended Calling All Colors when she was in high school. So now we're getting into the second generation.

That’s exciting.

Yes, it is a so, we've been building this up,  it's a long-term effort but, we’re trying to get a lot of younger people who have been to Calling All Colors.

And it's and that's important and it's kind of going from generation to generation and it's also bringing about information for change things and that you say people can come to you if they're interested in learning about diversity and the like and so you are kind of just a mainstay in the community where people can find out especially during these times what they need to do or how they can interact and I mean you are there to offer help to the community.

Correct. So, after Covid hit we closed our offices. So we were working remotely from home. But then after George Floyds death we were inundated with many requests plus the fact is, you know as LEDA we had to actually do something and I felt very strongly that a statement offering support wasn't going to be enough so that's when I started our LEDA community conversation so similar to you so I'm doing live streams every Wednesday with a different members of the community both in the lakeshore area and Grand Rapids. But what I'm trying to do is provide a voice for people, to have a voice who you usually don't hear from and these are voices of black and Indigenous people of color, so for right now for Hispanic heritage month. I have a bunch of different Latinos or Latina talking about different ideas but I've had the organizers of some of the peaceful protests, a major a church leaders community members business members all being able to speak out about what it is like for them as a person of color, but also to really engage with the rest of the community to say hey you know we're here and this is what we do to help everyone else.

And Gloria as you look at that and you talk about how important is it for you all to be there to start those conversations or to keep the conversation going because it's critical during these times I would imagine?

Well, you mentioned a little bit about my career going throughout but, the thing that has been common in all my different positions whether it’s for profit or nonprofit is I've always been a voice. Like in the automotive industry, I’ve been a voice for women in product and in design, in advertising and in planning. Then with Girl Scouts a voice for girls. I was with the Michigan Hispanic chamber based in Detroit and voice for business a Hispanic owned businesses so now I'm a voice for so many different type of diverse populations and so I thought it was really important- OK I have a voice, I'm not afraid of using it and I use it all the time, but now, what I'd like to do is give or give other people you don't always hear from a voice. I'm trying to also get to younger leaders. We have an amazing amount of younger leaders within this whole Western Michigan area and I’m trying to get their voices to be heard as well.

And all it takes sometimes for someone to open the door and those voices can be heard and actually one of my questions I was going to get to was so you say you have the voice and you've been a voice what did it take for you to find that voice-- to own it and be comfortable in your own skin? Because not everyone can do that, not everyone is willing to share or step up to the plate like you have in some of your meetings and the places that you've been in the places that you worked.

Well so I was born in East Los Angeles and my parents were also born in California but, their parents, my grandparents came from Mexico, my father always said never forget where you came from. OK so that was you know, so that always been a huge influence on me and going to business school and 50% of our grade was based on classroom participation.  So you had to speak out in order to make it through and it had to be excellent comments otherwise people would look at you like you know, she's such an idiot. So you really have to be careful about what you were talking about, but, also make your point. Then my first position after business school was the Chrysler corporation I was involved in a project which involved young managers. We were all in our 30's and what we were doing is trying to understand why a major Japanese competitor of Chrysler was able to make vehicles to sell them to younger people, but Chrysler just couldn't get that together so we reported directly for final presentation to Lee Iacocca who was the CEO and chairman of Chrysler corporation then. We are standing there making the presentation specifically telling Lee Iacocca that his strategy is not working.

You told Lee Iacocca that?

Yes, I told Lee Iacocca that and we didn't get fired. In fact they kept us after the presentation asking us for 2 hours asking this question tonight, but it's what I learned from that- is to speak truth to power and so I've always, since early in my career- that's how I found my voice because it's like well if Lee Iacocca didn’t fire me then.

Absolutely give you that confidence too that you that you needed. So I like that speak truth to power and that could serve especially for a lot of young women who are looking to find their voice that could be a serving statement for them- truth to power, so you know as you progress we look at powerful women we know that it's not always an easy road. What are perhaps some of the barriers that you may have had along the way whether it's climbing that ladder of success just trying to meet the needs of the people in the community and whatnot. What are some of your barriers?

It was interesting because I didn't really key in on those barriers until after I joined LEDA as their executive director and so I'm going through our curriculum and how we train people and one of their major workshops is on implicit bias. Ok, so I started reflecting back on my career and I remember asking why did so & so get promoted to that job and I didn’t? And the vice president said “well he reminded me of myself and I was that age”. Really? It's like OK. This is a young white engineer OK, I'm a you know a young Brown Latina, not an engineer I definitely did not remind him of himself. That's at hand and so I realize that that was implicit bias, it had been in place many, many times in my career without me realizing it and then also without people being aware of what implicit bias is.

Again that understanding and then understanding how it may have impacted you like you said it took a while, but when you think back on your career, you’re going wait a minute? You think of those conversations--


And I think earlier on you just kind of go well I’ll just keep trying or not even recognizing that it's just the system or a trend and many in power I should say

And you know back then people really weren’t aware of it, but I mean now we have become very much aware of it and that's what we try and do is to have people understand what are your implicit biases? Not that implicit bias is bad but, what are your implicit biases and once you recognize them how do you address them?

How do you address them and how are your implicit bias impacting others I would imagine, as well. So being a CEO executive director and the like, you obviously are the one who knows how to take the reins and you lead- what leadership traits do you like to see with those that you work with or perhaps those that you mentor?

I like people to take initiative and I like them to really look at how they can do,  what they’re doing better and then how can they expand what they're doing for the good of the organization or the community. So when people come to me with ideas and I say hey let's go ahead and do it they look sort of shocked that I say look you won't know until unless you try and we can always tweak it and we can always get input from other people or other places but, I think it's an excellent idea let's get going on that. For example at LEDA, people keep asking us well to note, you know any a minority owned businesses Black owned businesses and they kept coming to us and I said you know, let's start a Web page and its not up yet it will be up hopefully in November. Lets start a Web page with minority owned businesses. Black, Latinx, indigenous, etcetera. And so I gave that to our main person in the office I said okay run with it and she's coming up with all sorts of ideas of how to expand that and I think that will let them know that you have the confidence in them. Do the job and when they come back to you saying I don't know if I can do this or a road block like you sit down and its almost coaching, that's what I try to do is I try to coach people.

And leading your company's to success at the same time because you're all working on the same team and important question I always ask and that is so and I don't know your family status, how many kids and what not but, how do you balance your work life with your personal/family life and how do you do all of that? Because being I mean in the positions that I listed off are not positions that you can put it just a little bit of time, you cannot just give him a couple hours here or there -takes a lot of time for CEOs executive directors. How do you balance it?

Well we have a 30 year-old daughter and right now she's living with us because of covid and all that and my husband's also working full time as an executive recruiter so when we were all shut into the house, he was working the lower level, I was in the middle level and she was up in her bedroom, but we'll put a calendar on the wall one of the calendars and we put that when we were going to be using the zoom site and then I got tired of have them asking “what's written it? What’s written it?” But you know, we're sort of work together as a team you know when my daughter was younger if my husband couldn't pick her up then, I would pick her up or we had someone else that would come and pick her up from school for a couple of hours. But we were able to really balance that out really well and since we both had commanding positions we understood especially since we were both in automotive we both understood what needed to be done in order to move your career along.

The career and you and your family life, keep everything together.

So with all of that again kind of bouncing back to the positions that you've held what is it that you do for fun to kind of let loose I know you're busy but everybody, especially during this pandemic perhaps are doing something that maybe you weren't doing prior to the pandemic or pre-pandemic, what do you do for fun?

Well, my fathers a gardener. He’s a grounds keeper and so I've always enjoyed growing plants and I used to have a vegetable garden a long time ago before I moved to this side of the state so this past fall, I thought you know, I'm going to live in a townhouse I said OK, I'm going to sign up for a community garden plot. So I signed up for community garden plot and I got assigned it in February before the pandemic and so now all of a sudden everyone, wants a community garden plot.

Of course they do.

So I planted all different types of tomatoes and all sorts of plants, so that’s how I would relax. I would go there and just focus that. Then I was actually able to grow enough tomatoes to can a few them.

Oh Nice.

Because I learned how to can a few years ago and but, I actually would go to the farmers market and I purchased a lot of tomatoes think a bushel from a Latinx owned farm.

Oh nice.

Right and so I have- I don't know how many jars of tomatoes but, jalepenos and all sorts of things but, what was really cool about the gardening is because since it's a community garden everyone sort of talks to each other, sort of look at each other's plots and where you gardening and all that. So the plot behind mine, the people were from Guatemala but, they were growing one crop and  it was like a big kind of herb thing is something that they grow there traditionally and they sell to other local Latinx supermarkets. So then there was another plot just a few down that the woman is from Africa she was growing something that she had brought over to sort of help remind her of the food that you grew up with. But what I felt was interesting is everyone grows tomatoes.

They're a popular plant and vegetable.

Exactly, that was the thing that to me that was that was my relaxation during this whole time because it’s nice to get outside, get some fresh air, do some work and see the results.

Because you could see the benefit of your labor, but also you were social distancing, you're out in the open so it was one of those things that you could really do an concentrate and I bet it gave you a little relaxation,

It did.

And that's wonderful and so on that same theory what makes you laugh, you, your family, what you guys do for fun?

I think we're always all so busy we just I laugh at silly things you know I think I have pretty good sense of humor and sometimes life's absurdities are to me it’s like  oh, that is hilarious and just laugh because I try not to take myself too seriously and sometimes take other people too seriously.

That's probably a good thing too.

Exactly but, I smile a lot. I laugh a lot. I’m a very positive person, even throughout all of this even with all the challenges that we've had I always try and find that silver lining or like with Covid. Covid hits we have the 700 person face to face, summit planned so my staff is looking at me, my board is looking at me and saying “what are you gonna do?”. So it was originally schedule for May so at the beginning of March I said “Ok, we will postpone this to July.” But then looking at the data by the end of March I said OK, we're going virtual and they were like in shock, it's like what are we going to do? We’ll figure this out so we had one of the large churches become our technology to bring in all the different keynote speakers. Our keynote speakers because one was from New York City, one was from Philadelphia and then we had like 5 or 6 workshops in the morning and the same number in the afternoon we brought everyone in virtually, so it went smoothly.

Michelle Jockish Polo was part of that wasn’t she?


I watched part of her presentation. That was an amazing task, amazing thing you pulled off -that was wonderful.

Right so you know, so it is you know like build the confidence and extract the confidence. Ok so now we’re doing all training virtually so where can we train about 400 school teachers in that school district so we were meeting with assistant superintendents yesterday, how we going to do this? I go “don’t worry, we’ve done this before we got this.” but, the great thing to remember talking about Calling All Colors when the children get together?

Absolutely. And to think they can't get together now days but, because everyone now is used to working and doing things virtually, one of the things that we’ll be able to do during the school year, now remember I said that they would come together at the beginning of the school year and then they would go off in their little school groups and do the work throughout the school year? What we’re able to do this year and what we're going to do is connect the students in the different schools virtually during the school year. So we will be matching schools.

Very nice. So that's something that's completely new that we’ve never been able to do before, but because of the capabilities that we have now we're able to do that.

Do you think when the pandemic subsides and goes away that you will pull the kids back together again or were you thinking would you consider that keeping it virtual? A lot of people are being asked questions because everything so much has changed.

Exactly. and they're seeing that things can happen virtually business trips etc. a lot of things are kind of maybe going to the wayside now. What about things like that that involve our kids?

So once the pandemic is over and they're able to gather together at the beginning at the end of the school year. I think it really helps for them to see each other face to face. However, you still keep some of these elements we will still keep connecting them throughout the school year

I think they probably need at considering after the pandemic people are going to, they’re yearning to see and get back to some sort of normal life and just public or you know attention and gatherings together with people instead of being alone, you know, so many students are really hurting for that companionship of their fellow classmates

Right so sad but, that not combination of both just like for Summit for next year. I'm thinking that people still will want to get together with 700 people even you know June or July.


So for us actually doing everything virtually makes a lot of sense because then we’re able to bring speakers from around the country.

And that opens a new door for you

Exactly. So and that's what I mean about you know pivoting and which is you know a strange word, but that's what we've had to do and it's like yes, were able to do this but, I will tell you something that's not in my resume -so in high school I went to girls Catholic High School in the Los Angeles area. I wanted to take a physics class and the girls high school didn't have it, the boys high school had it. But when I went to go see our principle-- a very stern mother superior type of person she said absolutely not. I go well and then I head to plan B  I said well if you won't let me go to the boys high school can I go to the local Community College and was I able to arrange my schedule so I could go to Community College during the school day

And take physics.

And I didn't take physics because they didn’t offer it, I took computer classes.


and so this is way back in the days with the punch cards and all that so that's why having had that experience and knowledge very early like in high school this is before Silicon Valley shows you how old I am but, so that made me very comfortable with technology. So all these years I’ve always used technologies

So you were ready for today?

yeah, yes, you know check out the things that we can do- this not a problem- like we're talking how many breakout rooms can we have ?OK we can have 50 breakout rooms, don’t really want to get to that many.

Yeah but you have the knowledge and the background there so parting thoughts Gloria what is your favorite saying if you have one or a motto perhaps that you pass along to those that you generally are encouraging through your work?

I've already said a couple of them,

I know what I like, yeah,

I learned the most from my father never forget where you came from. You honor that in your history and your background because that really makes you who you are, so don't forget that and also speak truth to power but, do it in such a way that it's not blatent, I mean,  I don't like to do that blatently in someone's face. But in a way that they can really consider and think about what you're talking about and understand that's why she is saying this.

That meaning is that the light bulb goes off and then they get it.


And a lot of times I like to tell stories to sort of illustrate and most of them is where I you know I feel like it's sort of making fun of myself or some something that I did but, it has people realize that number one your human, but number 2 okay that's a lesson that you learn from that.

All about leading and teaching at the same time. Gloria Lara, thank you so much for joining us today.

I'm so glad that you took time out to talk with us and of course I also want to thank all of you for joining us for this edition of powerful women, let's talk I'm Jennifer Moss,

Thank you so much.

Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe Powerful Women, Let's Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters are Grand Valley State University.

Powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real.

Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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