Yolanda Gamboa grew up on the southwest side of Chicago, the oldest daughter of a railroad worker and a candy-manufacturing employee. Neither of her parents graduated from high school, but they both knew the value of an education and worked hard to ensure that their three children went to college.
“Education was held in a high place in our household,” says Gamboa, who was the first in her family to go to college. “My parents believed in the opportunities that a good education could provide.”
Gamboa’s upbringing and nurtured love for learning not only motivated her to earn a law degree from the University of Chicago, but prompted her to work with young Latinas in her area to show them the power of an education. “My parents saw that having an education was the key to succeed in life,” says Gamboa, who is assistant general counsel at Bank of America. “And I have found that my education has increased the number of opportunities that have opened up for me. I would love for others to have the same opportunities as well. I try to serve as a role model and give different kinds of people exposure to the types of careers you can have. I hope I can encourage young Latinas to aspire to do what they want to do.”
Mujeres Latinas en Acción
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Firmly believing in the importance of giving back, Gamboa started her career at the United Way, then left to work on her JD at the University of Chicago. After graduation, she clerked for a judge before going in-house at LaSalle Bank Corporation to focus on banking law as a consumer finance attorney. Now at Bank of America, her team handles the legal needs of the bank’s online and mobile channels and ever-changing offerings.
“Making and changing opportunities for a large group of people is very interesting to me,” Gamboa says. “At the United Way, I worked in development and focused on agencies. It exposed me to different aspects of community development and the resources that are out there. It also highlighted the power that legal education has within society as a whole and what a great tool it could be.”
While Gamboa volunteers through opportunities available to employees of Bank of America, she has given much of her time to Mujeres Latinas en Acción. The Latina organization provides after-school programs for youth and teens; parent support programs; counseling, crisis intervention, and court advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; court-supervised visitation for noncustodial parents; referrals to medical and financial support resources for women in need; and leadership development programs.
“Mujeres supports a lot of the needs of Latinas in Chicago,” Gamboa says. “It has always been part of the community in which I was raised. It started 40 years ago as a grassroots initiative by a small group of women. It’s grown into a well-respected, well-run organization that works to strengthen women and families. Another Latina lawyer tapped me to become part of the organization, and I was thrilled to serve on the board.”
Gamboa sat on the board of the organization for six years, and though that position expired in June 2013, she is still very active in the organization. “If there is something I can contribute, I’m happy to do so,” she says. “Just because I’m no longer on the board doesn’t mean I’m out of game. I am part of a larger community around the organization, and I participate in and support events.”
While on the board, Gamboa helped provide oversight for the staff. During her tenure, she reviewed the organization’s finances, impacted the funding, and made decisions about how to focus on resource development. “We were able to grow participation in the board, and we established a young-professional advisory committee to get younger Latinas involved in Mujeres and provide them with mentorship opportunities,” she says. “The goal was to then have some of those women serve on the main board.” Today, three of the young professionals serve on the board.
With her expertise as a lawyer, Gamboa also served on the board-governance committee, which made sure the organization was operating according to the bylaws and keeping in line with its mission. “It was no coincidence I was also asked to do things that would require me to think from a risk perspective, evaluating the big picture and thinking about long-term impact,” she says. “Having a legal background provided me with an interesting viewpoint. The board has members comprised of all kinds of careers; we all had a role to fill.”
Gamboa says board members are required to sit out for year before coming back. “I would like to come back pretty quickly,” she says. “I’m still committed to it, and I don’t like to be away for long. I consider myself on the bench, and I’m looking forward to making my reentry.”
One of Gamboa’s passions is sharing the opportunities a career in law can offer. “I like to focus on people who would normally not consider careers in this area,” she says. “I want kids to see all of the options that are available to them. Throughout my career, I’ve been exposed to a lot of great work and causes that different people are embarking upon. Being able to have a small part in any of these causes is important.”