Veronica Castillo is quick to point out that growing up, she was not fed by a silver spoon.
“My parents are of Mexican descent,” she explains. “My mom raised me as a single mom and migrant farm worker. We had a humble life in a border town in the deep south of Texas.”
With a bit of strategy, the right mentorship, and an incredible amount of grit, she is now Assistant General Counsel at investment firm Invesco.
We chatted with Veronica about being a first-generation professional, how she became a Latinx leader in an industry that historically has sparse Latinx representation, and what others should know about how to nurture Latinx talent.
Thinking Like a Lawyer
While many people follow the professional career paths of their parents or close role models, Veronica didn’t have that advantage.
“There was no one in my family that could show me what a professional career path would look like,” she reflects. “I was the first person in my entire extended family to go to college.”
What Veronica did have was a strategic way of thinking. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA and securing a paralegal job at an NYC firm that services the finance industry, she used this strategic thinking to choose her next step wisely.
“I thought that working as a paralegal would be a good way to see if I wanted to get an MBA or go to law school,” she explains.
She turned out to be right: she discovered that she likes pondering the gray area that legal work operates in, as opposed to a more black-and-white business mindset.
“The way that I think is a bit different from people that have more of a business mindset, and see things in black and white,” she explains. “I see the gray. I enjoy navigating the gray, forming an opinion, and then providing advice based on my interpretation.”
After that pivotal realization, Veronica decided to study law and specialize in the finance sector — a field where Latinx representation was almost non-existent.
Taking Up Space in White Male Spaces
Veronica admits that the financial services industry is still white-male-dominated.
“It can be intimidating for women of color to enter some of these spaces. Sometimes there's an expectation that you're not welcomed,” she says.
Veronica’s decision to work as a lawyer in financial services may never have happened without the influence of a mentor — and not just any mentor, but a Latina who was a partner at the same firm she had worked at as a paralegal, where she also got her first job out of law school.
“What pushed me toward finance was the fact that there was one Latina partner at my firm. I looked up to her. I used to observe the way she carried herself in meetings, and how she communicated with clients,” shares Veronica.
Having one other person who shared her cultural background made all the difference. Veronica also realized that if she and her mentor were there, more Latinas could move into finance.
“The fact that there are so few Latinas in financial services, I saw that as a challenge. I thought, ‘here's an opportunity where I can enter a space and then maybe make it more inviting for others.’”
And that’s exactly what she’s done at Invesco.
The “Human Element” of Invesco
When Veronica accepted an opportunity to work with Invesco, she was able to move back to Texas, where she could be closer to family. What’s more, since joining the company she has entered her favorite stage of her career so far.
“I am so content at Invesco,” she declares. “I feel very supported by the general counsel, and by my business partners. The culture is very inviting, and people are eager to get to know those who join the company.”
Veronica has been pleasantly surprised by what she calls Invesco’s “human element”. It’s not out of the ordinary for executives to make time for check-ins with individual contributors, or have coffee with employees to get to know them better.
“That kind of culture is hard to find in financial services, but there is a human element here at Invesco that I haven't found anywhere else,” she notes.
Because of this welcoming environment and professional support, Veronica has had time to create an ERG to connect Latinx professionals working within Invesco.
“Our ERG has helped build a feeling of community. The feedback has been incredibly positive because people feel a sense of representation and connection that they've never experienced at work before,” she explains.
Veronica also supports the Latinx community outside of Invesco by donating to organizations that assist asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.
“I am heavily involved, in a non-legal capacity, in organizations that provide pro bono legal work for people that seek asylum in the United States,” she says, adding that she is very passionate about this issue.
How To Uplift Latinx Professionals in the Workplace
Veronica points out that there are key invisible factors that can work against the advancement of Latinx professionals. If you’re a leader, a member of the hiring team, or even a supportive colleague, these are the things Veronica wants you to keep in mind:
- Recognize the diversity within this community. “Diversity isn’t only around nationality,” notes Veronica. “It includes ethnicity or race, as well as diversity within immigrant experiences.”
- Provide guidance to the first gen folks. Veronica explains that many in this community may be the first generation to become professionals and may need guidance for the sorts of things that are often taken for granted, such as knowing how to carry oneself in a board meeting. “If people can be an ally for individuals, and give them little nuggets of wisdom to make them feel more comfortable, it can go a really long way.”
- Be the first to reach out. First-generation professionals may not know how important it is to reach out to potential mentors and sponsors in order to build their careers, so Veronica thinks that sometimes it’s best for leaders to reach out first. “If you recognize a Latinx professional, that is a star that stands out, reach out to see what you can offer that person in terms of sponsorships or mentorship,” she advises.
To other Latinx professionals from humble origins, Veronica offers this encouragement:
“Growing up with a mother that was a farm worker and having a very humble upbringing, I really wasn't armed with any of the skills, networks, or experiences of many of my colleagues, but I did it. And if I can do it, anybody can.”If you are a professional looking for a welcoming and supportive workplace, Invesco is hiring!