NextGen Collective recently spotlighted The First Gen Mentor Giovanna Gonzalez. Read about her work, the importance of speaking up, and more.
Where are you from?
I’m Mexican American. I was born and raised in El Centro, California, a small agricultural border town in Southern California. I’m currently based in Chicago, Illinois.
What do you do today and where do you want to go in your career?
I’m a former investment professional turned financial educator and TikTok influencer. I teach personal finance and practical career advice at universities and employee resource groups, as well as on my TikTok account @thefirstgenmentor. As an influencer, I’ve worked on marketing campaigns for brands like Fidelity, Credit Karma, and TurboTax. Long term, I want to be a best-selling author and the go-to financial pundit for all things first gen and Latinx.
Whose career really inspires you?
This one’s easy: Eva Longoria! I’ve looked up to Eva for years. She truly does it all. She’s an actor, director, producer, beauty mogul, political activist, philanthropist, and businesswoman, and she’s hilarious. Did you know she went back to school (as an A-list actress) to get a master’s degree in Chicano Studies to help her be a better advocate for the Latinx community? Amazing.
What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?
At the start of my corporate career, I wish I’d known the first gen experience doesn’t end in college. I mistakenly thought that just because I’d graduated from college I’d “made it” and that my hard work at the office would speak for itself. I’ve learned career advancement is a combination of optics, visibility, skill, and hard work.
As an entrepreneur, I wish I’d known how much mindset work is needed. It’s normal to doubt yourself as someone in a new space. I’ve been able to navigate this new chapter with the help of an experienced business coach.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see for Latinx professionals early in their careers?
A lack of community and representation. If your workplace lacks diversity, it can feel very lonely to be one of the few Latinx within an organization. I was oftentimes misunderstood in white spaces. I was labeled unapproachable and angry. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m the furthest thing from that! If you find yourself in a similar scenario, seek community through ERGs, Latinx-serving nonprofits, or your alumni group.
How can Latinx professionals better advocate for themselves?
First, we need to understand that corporate America values employees who speak up and drive their own career. This is very unnatural to most Latinx professionals, because culturally we have been raised to be humble, to not rock the boat, and to work hard. The system we operated was not created for us, so it’s important to know that until we get more diverse representation at the executive level, we’re going to have to “play the game.” Playing the game means having regular career discussions with your manager about your career advancement, asking for high visibility projects, negotiating a raise/promotion, and gaining support from influential sponsors.
This will feel uncomfortable because it clashes with our upbringing to work hard and put our head down. You can learn how to manage your career by reading career advice books, working with a career coach, or finding a workplace mentor.
What are you most excited for in 2022?
My upcoming book! I’m dedicating my time in the second half of the year to focus on writing and publishing a personal finance book for First Gens. I’ve read over fifty personal finance books so I know the First Gen perspective is needed in financial education. I plan to launch in March or April of 2023. Stay tuned! 📖
What behavior or personality traits do you attribute to your success?
I’ve thought about this before. In some people’s eyes I’m very lucky to get paid to do what I love. I monetized my passion. Some people may think it happened overnight but it’s been a long time in the making! For ten years I struggled through corporate America as a young Latinx professional. This gave me a lot of perspective and showed me what worked and what didn’t.
I’ve also volunteered for years. I’ve served as a mentor to college students and taught financial literacy at a nonprofit. Volunteering while holding a full-time job is not easy. It meant sacrificing my personal time to serve others. It was very intentional. My new career would have been much harder if I didn’t have these experiences.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
Getting selected by the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement’s (HACE) 40 under 40 list. Never in a million years did I think I’d receive that type of recognition. I’ve admired HACE for years for all the incredible work they do to elevate Latinx professionals in the workplace, and it’s such an honor to be affiliated with them.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Inspiring young Latinx to take action and make better financial choices. Money is so important. It affects all aspects of our life. But unfortunately nobody teaches us how to manage it. We’re not taught in school. We’re not taught at home. We’re not taught at work. I get a lot of DMs from my community thanking me for my videos, saying I’ve inspired them to open a Roth IRA or to be more intentional with their spending. This is the stuff that lights my soul! I know money is a powerful tool, I’ve seen firsthand how being smarter with my finances gave me the opportunity to quit my stable corporate job to pursue my passion. I want my community to enjoy this same freedom. Whether it’s to retire early, start a business, travel or spend more time with family.