Monica P. Navarro would like you to flip the script—or maybe even tear it up. The assistant general counsel for the Americas at the Freudenberg Group moved from her native Colombia to pursue a legal career at eighteen, and she has repeatedly learned how often people are underestimated because of their accents.
As a fully tenured professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, Navarro received an anonymous student evaluation written in all caps that said only: “SPEAK ENGLISH.”
“This wasn’t an isolated incident,” Navarro admits wearily (in very clear and precise English). “Those kinds of experiences can make people settle into becoming the expectations others create for them. It can lead them to blaming these biases for their station in life. I call it the Script of Discontent. I tell people you have to do your own thing and do it well. Rip up that script.”
Navarro’s desire to help Latinos rise above stereotypes and low expectations has played out both in her professional life and in her dedication to volunteering her time with multiple organizations.
Navarro wrote her own script, becoming the first lawyer in her family and building a career in healthcare law—a field that she barely knew existed in law school. Healthcare law would provide the entry into corporate and business law that would lead Navarro to the Freudenberg Group, a leading international conglomerate that manufactures everything from automotive, aerospace, and other industrial materials and components to medical devices.
Freudenberg’s wide portfolio and global presence drew Navarro to the company, where she was hired as senior counsel in 2016. Her success in that role led to her recent promotion to assistant general counsel Americas, where the lawyer’s purview will extend to the better part of the Western Hemisphere.
“That breadth of work has always been an attraction for me,” Navarro explains. “But there are two other reasons that have made Freudenberg a good match for me.”
Navarro adds that the company’s commitment to both DEI and sustainability are perfectly aligned with her own personal mission. From a diversity perspective, the lawyer says, it just makes good sense that a global company would value diversity at such a high level. She describes Freudenberg as a great example of a company that recognizes her cultural competence, her language skills, and her international orientation as differentiators to an already outstanding legal skill set.
“I work at a place where people from all backgrounds are welcome and embraced,” Navarro says. “It’s real and measurable in a way that’s reflected in the respect that people exhibit toward each other here.”
Additionally, Navarro says, Freudenberg’s continuing path towards broader sustainability is one that she’s committed to supporting. The company is operational in more than sixty countries and is committed to complying with the most stringent of environmental standards. Freudenberg aims to be climate-neutral by 2045 and its extensive sustainability efforts are evident via Freudenberg’s website. By reducing the energy consumption and emissions of its products, the company can have a two-fold impact on its sustainability efforts both from within the company and beyond.
That impact is important to Navarro, because it’s precisely what she personally aims to accomplish outside her day job as well as in it. She’s been involved with an impressive list of organizations, including the State Bar of Michigan, the Oakland County Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan (HBAM). Through HBAM, she is helping promote diversity in the legal profession: the fact that only a small percentage of Latinos become attorneys is yet another script Navarro wants to flip.
“Lawyers are the policymakers,” Navarro explains. “If you have underrepresentation in the policy-making space, that has huge social justice implications for Hispanics.”
Navarro says HBAM is engaged on multiple fronts, both directly and indirectly. The organization funds scholarships for Hispanic students while also mentoring Latino students from high school all the way through their law school graduation. The organization is conducting a moot court competition for high school students in Detroit, giving them a chance to interact with Hispanic lawyers.
“These are kids who have maybe never thought about law school or their futures at all,” Navarro explains. “It’s a chance for us to be of service to our Hispanic community and hopefully be a mentor for the next generation of leaders.”
Navarro aspires to help Latinos live up to the potential she sees for them. “I look at my ethnicity as my superpower,” she says. “It’s what made me hungry to succeed and what has allowed me to be successful in a global company. Recognize your own secret power. Those things that make you unique can make you an asset. Don’t get bitter. Get better.”
Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP: ”Monica understands the importance of collaboration and routinely provides us her industry knowledge and prospective. Together, we find creative solutions. Her dynamic personality and communication prowess contribute to an enviable relationship as we maneuver and stay ahead of business and legal challenges.” —Jennise W. Stubbs, Partner