Identity is defined as the distinguishing character or personality of an individual. Woman. Latina. Daughter. Sister. First-Generation Immigrant. Millennial. These are just a few components to my identity. And while, of course, there are so many other components that make us who we are, I’ve had the challenging but rewarding opportunity to discover these areas of my life in the context of my career. I am a proud first-generation immigrant woman in a leadership position at an emerging company. And as trivial as a remark like this may sound, it’s taken me years to embrace this and to see these parts of myself as my strength and not my weaknesses.

It’s because of this that I am driven to share a specific experience I had this year. In February, we had the incredible opportunity to work with the the U.S. Department of State, for a second year in a row, on an International Visitor Leadership Program called Women and Entrepreneurship. The project included participants from twenty countries, including women business owners, entrepreneurs, government officials, academics, political leaders, and non-profit practitioners. What I found so special about this project was that it illustrated the impact of women‑owned businesses on the U.S. economy and explored the progress that women have had in participating more fully in the global economy. The group visited our Alley powered by Verizon 5G Lab in Chelsea and we started with a group introduction to everyone. As each person introduced themselves, it was a special moment to take a step back and learn about all of these different women in the room and how they didn’t let the identities given to them dictate their future, but fuel it.

 U.S. Department of State Women and Entrepreneurship program visit Alley Chelsea

As the introductions wrapped up, it was my turn to introduce myself. One of the first questions I received was “how did you accomplish this?” It’s a question that has stayed with me since, and was a driving force for me to even publish this article. I’ve been completely humbled and ignited by my journey over the past (almost) 5 years at Alley. And while my experience here could (and maybe should) be an entirely separate article, overall, I’ve hardly allowed myself the opportunity to look back and actually soak in the work I’ve put in and the result of it. Because in the constant pursuit of wanting to be great, women are taught to not speak up, command respect, and be proud of what they’ve done. And in that moment in the midst of answering her question, I felt a responsibility to continue to tell my story and live my truth so that other women who I have the opportunity to come in contact with can realize that you should never have to apologize for wanting to be extraordinary, just as I had to learn. It’s clear that we have more work to do around empowering women in leadership positions, women-owned businesses, and overall, women in the workplace. In our thriving market where men can start companies, not be questioned for their competence, and raise capital at a rapid rate, the question continues of how are women being included, supported, and respected

The unique realization that came from this is that I don’t have to do the work I do, but I get to. And that is the reason that as long as I continue to take part in building Alley, this remains one of my biggest focuses. Diversity & Inclusion isn’t a stamp that you put on your brand. You have to live it. It has to be baked into the DNA of your organization. And the leaders of organizations have to support the lenses in which their employees view the business.

‍ U.S. Department of State Women and Entrepreneurship program visit Alley Chelsea

So, to all my women who may be reading this, I hope you realize you are extraordinary. You are worth listening to. And most importantly, you powerful. And if the past 5 years have taught me anything, it’s that you are your own asset, so never let anyone shame you for investing in yourself and your future. At the end of the day, the story you’re creating is of yourself, and not anyone else’s. Lastly, thank you to the incredible women who participated in the 2018 International Visitor Leadership Program. What an honor meeting you all!