“I’m going to show the world Latino culture in a positive light,” says Blanca Gonzalez, vice president and general manager of North America West Territory for Nike.
This philosophy, a driving force in Gonzalez’s life and her career, is one that she adopted as a teenager shortly after a pivotal meeting with her high school guidance counselor. The counselor told Gonzalez and her sister that they were “not college material,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was three years old, and English is her second language. The Gonzalez family regularly visited Mexico throughout her childhood and, because of that, Gonzalez feels she was encouraged to embrace her culture and heritage. “I’m proud of my identity,” Gonzalez says. “Both my Mexican heritage and that of being American.”
Though her parents were supportive of Gonzalez and her goals, they weren’t able to help her get into college because they didn’t have the information or resources to do so. Gonzalez and her sister were on their own. “My sister said, ‘We’re going to make it,’ and so we did it together,” she says. “I worked hard to get my education.” Gonzalez and her sister were the first-ever college graduates in their family.
She brought an unwavering determination, pride, and perseverance with her throughout college and into starting a career with Nike fifteen years ago.
Gonzalez began in Nike’s entertainment department in Los Angeles where she worked with product placement. From there, she went to brand marketing and management to merchandising products, and then on to general manager roles. “It’s been a good, dynamic experience,” Gonzalez says. She’s been able to work internationally as well as in her hometown of Los Angeles.
Part of those experiences has included transforming these offices to become more reflective of their communities.
When Gonzalez worked at her office in Mexico, she was the only woman in a leadership position, and she was puzzled as to why that was the case. She worked with talented, powerful women on her team, “so, why were none of them in leadership roles?” she wonders.
Gonzalez says the major reason for this was cultural. The city and its residents were more culturally traditional and conservative, so many of these women felt weren’t capable of putting in the time, she says. Gonzalez made it a personal mission to coach and mentor them. They had breakfasts and lunches together. “They just needed the confidence,” Gonzalez says. “The office continues to grow.”
She carried on the same approach when she returned to Nike West office. Los Angeles’s population is approximately 50 percent Latino, and making sure that representation is reflected that in Nike’s office is important to Gonzalez.
That diversity in thought helps Nike better connect with consumers, Gonzalez says. This is especially important with millennial and Latino consumers. “Latinos are super consumers,” she explains. Los Angeles is kind of like a lab because of its demographics, so Gonzalez and her team are able to use what they learn here and transfer that to the rest of the world.
The importance of these connections also stretches into Gonzalez’s philanthropy. She regularly speaks to young Latinas, saying that because she’s been blessed with mentors and coaches, it’s important for her to do the same for others.
She recounts a story from fifteen years ago when she spoke to a group of young girls. Gonzalez asked them to raise their hands if they planned on going to college. Not one raised her hand. Then Gonzalez shared her story, and she saw the girls’ eyes light up.
“I could do it, and you can do it, too,” she told them. Gonzalez stresses the need for Latinas to be able to see themselves as more than the sexy Latina trope. Gonzalez wants to help give the next generation the tools they need to succeed.
“If you change one person’s life, you can change the world,” Gonzalez says.
Nike Gives Back
During the 2016 Summer Olympics, Nike collaborated with Brazilian artist and designer Muti Randolph on an interactive digital art space. The projects showcased focused on competitive sports. Nike also hosted free activities in Rio including: running, soccer and basketball.
EAST LA COMMUNITY STORE
Nike’s community store in East Los Angeles opened in 2015. Community stores aim to enrich and improve the health of the surrounding area, especially in underserved areas. According to Gonzalez, the store hires 80 percent of its staff within a five-mile radius of the store.
Nike partnered with Marathon Kids in 2015. Marathon Kids is a nonprofit that aims to improve the health of children through running. Throughout the school year, Marathon Kids engages kids in a running program that challenges them to run the equivalent of four marathons.