Everyday People, Make the World Go Round – Meet Angeles Valenciano
Name: Angeles Valenciano
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Company: The National Diversity Council
Major City Where You Work: Houston, Texas
City Where You Live: San Antonio, Texas
Please, share your personal and cultural background with our readers.
I grew up in the town of San Luis Potosí, a city in Mexico. After I finished college in 1993, I immigrated to the United States where I have lived ever since.
In terms of my cultural background, I strongly identify as Mexican. People always ask me if I identify as Mexican or American. I personally do not feel that I had to arrive in this country to be American. North America does not just belong to one country, it is a continent. The traditions of my Mexican heritage, my faith, and my upbringing has shaped me into the woman that I am today.
I identify as a global citizen and do not feel that who I am as an individual is tied down to one specific geographical area. Living and working in several other countries has provided me with a variety of different perspectives, lifestyles, and cultures. Where I grew up, you honor other people’s culture and heritage – if you expect the same in return.
Please share with us a current typical day or week in your everyday personal life.
As a working single mother, I am very intentional and disciplined with my routine. I am an early riser and start my days at five in the morning. I wake up, meditate, pray, exercise and walk my two dogs. I also love to cook for my family that is an everyday occurrence, when I am home and not traveling. I maintain an extensive social and professional schedule that entails traveling, meetings, conferences, and events. I really enjoy meeting and spending time with others. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted my daily routine, as well as many others that have been affected over the course of the past couple of weeks. I like to find ways to ensure that I am connecting with my loved ones virtually while maintaining the tight-knit professional and personal relationships I have cultivated over the years.
Please share with us a current typical day or week in your everyday professional life.
I am responsible for managing the operations for the National Diversity Council (NDC), a non-profit organization that serves as a resource and an advocate for the value of diversity and inclusion. I work alongside our 25+ state chapters to host numerous diversity and inclusion events for companies and individuals throughout the year including our LGBTQ+ Summits, Women in Leadership Symposiums, and the National Diversity and Leadership Conference, where we had the honor of hosting President Barack Obama in an intimate keynote.
I believe that it is critical to contribute to and support other organizations. Over the years, organizations that I have collaborated with have invited me to sit on panels and serve as a keynote speaker for initiatives related to the diversity and inclusion space. As a leader, I also ensure that my staff is supported and make it my mission to be present and engaged with my team. I balance my daily commitment to my staff along with travel, which up until recently, I traveled about 35 weeks out of the year supporting the mission and work of the National Diversity Council, across the country and internationally as well.
As COVID-19 has changed the way our communities interact and engage with others, the National Diversity Council has been mindful of following stay-at-home guidelines, while supporting our staff, corporate partners and board of directors virtually. Over the past couple of weeks, my agenda has been quite busy filled with virtual team calls and online meetings with our board members and corporate partners, as we continue to promote inclusive workplaces and provide resources for employers to support their staff during this time.
Tell us why you do, what you do, for a living.
I arrived in this country not speaking English very well at all. As a Latina, there were a lot of barriers when I first arrived. My experiences when I first lived in the United States propelled me to find my calling and passion for the value of diversity and inclusion. As a woman of color, I do not choose how I present myself externally. This is who I am. I have to live in this reality as many others follow in my footsteps as well, navigating the space between their cultural and professional identities. Despite the struggles presented to me, I have adapted to a culture and country that has not always been so welcoming to foreigners or people that have come from other countries. My own experiences have led me to want to be an advocate for others that have been marginalized.
Tell us about the factors that shaped your career and business aspirations.
I came from humble beginnings and was very fortunate to put myself through college by working full-time while attending school. In my hometown, there was an organization that was a subsidiary of General Electric (GE) where I worked as a receptionist during my college years. While I was pursuing a degree in business and computer information systems, I met my first mentor who was an information technology (IT), engineer. He was a very inclusive leader whose team was made up of people from different backgrounds and communities across the world. He exposed me early on to what it means to be an inclusive leader and showed me the importance of diversity in workplaces.
I worked in his office for four years while I was in college, which ultimately led me to receive a scholarship in the United States. I have modeled a lot of my principles for how I engage with our various communities through his style of leadership that I witnessed over the years. I find that every person has a unique story and background that can help propel a company forward and expand diversity in thought and leadership.
How did you end up in your line of work? Was it accidental or were you strategic about it?
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I was at the right place at the right time. I was always able to identify opportunities through learning the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, in the late 1990s. In some ways, I was put on the path towards this career trajectory and took advantage of it. I was very driven to learn more about the power of diversity and inclusion and how it could shape and add value to the work I was doing. I am proud of the journey I took to reach this space, as I am now able to be in the position to impact others and help them to understand how they can create more equitable workplaces.
Share how you balance the work-life challenges…what have been the rewards.
I balance these challenges by ensuring that I have a great work-life blend. As a woman, I believe that we can do, have and go for it all at the same time. As a Latina, family is important to me and I prioritize being around my children. Being a part of the National Diversity Council afforded me the opportunity to balance my professional career with my personal commitment as a mother. I worked in corporate for 10+ years and found it sometimes challenging to manage my expectations of work-life balance, with the reality of demanding work schedules, global travel and long hours in the office. Being able to work from home with the National Diversity Council allowed my priorities of work and family to co-exist.
Did your ethnicity create any obstacles for you? Any advantages? How so?
Unfortunately, my ethnicity created more obstacles than advantages. When I arrived in the United States, I had very little knowledge of the English language which created a big barrier when it came to communication. Due to my speech and coming from another country, I was not accepted by many. I was told on numerous occasions to “go back home”; “you don’t belong here”; “you have an accent” and many other horrible things.
I learned to work around those obstacles. Being able to deal with all of those obstacles and challenges built my resilience and I became very aware of who I was, what I looked like and sounded like. This made me assert my position and tell myself that I am not going anywhere. Every time my culture or my heritage is brought up, it gives me even more of an opportunity to prove who we are and what we are able to do and accomplish. Who would have known that an immigrant from an unknown town would end up being the CEO of the National Diversity Council? Being in this position has provided me with the opportunity to lead, explore and share my experiences with others so that they can speak up when their identities are questioned as well. My story is the story of so many of us that are here and are doing extraordinary things for our communities and workplaces.
What advice would you have for other Latinos in the business sector trying to make it day after day?
Regardless of background, for women, it is always harder to make it work. When I arrived in the United States, I worked for multiple companies where I never saw a Latina in a position of leadership. I did not have a corporate role model to look up to or identify with. That really stuck with me. As the CEO of the National Diversity Council, I like to bring in thought leaders across multiple backgrounds to showcase diversity in leadership and provide information for professionals to excel in the workplace.
I also focus my time on building the next generation of Latina leaders and I have a sense of responsibility to provide mentorship and advice about opportunities that were not always presented to me during my corporate career. The advice I would give Latinas growing up today is that being Latina is a superpower that we should be proud of. It is imperative to take all of the things that come with our heritage and translate it into the workplace to develop and grow.
When I look back on the journey that the founder of the National Diversity Council, Dennis Kennedy and I embarked on, I am proud of the movement we have created to empower individuals to prioritize the importance of equity, inclusion, and diversity in and outside of the workplace. I want all women of color to realize the value of not being afraid to fail. You ask, why me? You are worthy, you deserve it and you earned it.
What inspires you in your work life? What turns you off?
Diversity has been a subject under attack for the past couple of years. My team does the important work needed to be done every day and it inspires me to continue to advocate for inclusion in and outside of the workplace. In this climate where xenophobia is present due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I very much dislike to hear how a specific segment of the population has been unfairly targeted. As an organization, we released a statement denouncing the discrimination and misinformation targeted towards the Asian community. I will continue to speak up and empower others to have the courage to use their voice for acceptance and inclusion.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to not be afraid to be yourself or share parts of your identity. Be proud of your heritage, pronounce your name in Spanish and do not be afraid to advocate for yourself. Fear holds back a lot of women. I think back on all of the opportunities I was afraid to accept or did not go after due to imposter syndrome. I would tell myself and all women to go after those opportunities, do not be afraid and be certain of who you are. And if opportunities are not given to you, then you go out and create them for yourself and others – always bring others along with you. I did just that, six years ago when I launched and led the National Latino Leadership Conference. It is my mission to seek and find all of the stories no one talks about our community and exemplary leaders. Every year we rotate this conference to a different city where we recognize those Latinos doing extraordinary things all over the country. If all goes well or as I usually say “Si Dios Quiere,” we will be in Miami at the 2020 The Rise, Power and Influence of Latino Leaders.
Do you think you have ever truly “made it” in life?
At this stage of my life, there is still so much I want to contribute, accomplish and do. I want to attain my Ph.D. and I believe that education is power. As one of my favorite leaders, Dr. Héctor P. García said, “education is our freedom.” I will always constantly strive to evolve, grow and understand that I will sometimes make mistakes while choosing to pick myself up again.
If you could have dinner with any Latinx person—living or dead–who would it be? Why?
If he were alive today, I would have dinner with Dr. Héctor P. García, a Mexican American physician, surgeon, World War II veteran, civil rights advocate and founder of the American G.I. Forum, which was a congressionally chartered Hispanic veterans and civil rights organization founded in 1948. He was also the first Mexican American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I admire him greatly for his commitment to advancing the rights of Mexican Americans and I would ask him how he overcame his own struggles. It would be an honor to converse with him.
What is your favorite quote/saying? Give us your own personal quote to commemorate at LBT.
“Por muy alta que sea la montaña, siempre habrá manera de llegar a la cima” -Unknown.
The National Diversity Council
A non-profit organization committed to fostering a learning environment for organizations to grow in their knowledge of diversity. The council affords opportunities for organizations to share best practices and learn from top corporate leaders in the areas of diversity and inclusion. More information about the National Diversity Council is available at www.