How many of us grew up thinking that the hard sciences were a man’s thing? Moreover, how many of us had to change our passions because it wasn’t what “a woman should do”? This reality is as palpable in our day-to-day lives as it is in all industries — especially in Tech.

Despite being an important segment of the workforce, Latinas continue to be underrepresented in the tech sphere. We are 12 million women workers, representing 16% of the workforce. Yet, we are only 4% of all technology workers.

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But not all news is bad. Women like Rocio Van Nierop, co-founder and CEO of Latinas in Tech, are changing the rules of the game.

On the eve of the upcoming annual LiT Summit, the largest event for Latinas in the tech space in the U.S., FIERCE spoke with Rocio about her career and the fantastic work her organization does.

After all, Latinas in Tech reaches more than 18,000 members in 19 cities across the U.S. and six international chapters. The community serves as a wonderful microcosm of today’s tech reality.

Latinas in Tech and the mission to create a community

Latinas in Tech was born in 2014 as a space for Latinas in Tech to come together and connect. Moreover, it grew out of a reality that Rocio Van Nierop and Gretel Perera were experiencing firsthand. When these Jefasmet, Rocio worked on Prezi, and Perera worked on Evernote. “We realized we were often the only Latinas in the room. And that there was a need for greater representation and more connection between Latinas in the tech industry,” Rocío told us.

What started as a duo quickly grew to four and then sixteen women. Before long, more than a thousand Latinas were looking for a real community. Over the years, more Latinas have come to find a safe space to be vulnerable. To connect and learn from each other. 

Today, nearly 60% of Latinas in Tech members are in the early stages of their careers. At this pivotal stage, the organization offers a range of resources and support. This includes mentoring programs, networking opportunities, skill-building workshops, and access to employment opportunities.

Simply put, women of color no longer have to feel alone in the “boys club” that is the technology industry.

The importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Knowing how necessary it is for organizations and industries to promote the fair treatment and full participation of all people, particularly groups who have historically been underrepresented, Latinas in Tech is making a fundamental change.

As Rocio explained, some of the most effective strategies for creating more inclusive workplaces are fostering a culture of belonging, providing diversity and inclusion training, and amplifying underrepresented voices. “It’s essential for organizations to prioritize DEI efforts and commit to creating environments where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to succeed,” she said.

According to recent reports, Latina entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing group of business owners, leading nearly two million businesses nationwide. We form businesses six times faster than other U.S. groups. For Rocio, this is due to a combination of factors. “Firstly, Latinas often possess a formidable work ethic instilled by cultural values that prioritize hard work and perseverance. This dedication fuels their entrepreneurial pursuits, propelling them to overcome obstacles and pursue their goals with unwavering determination.”

“Additionally, Latinas demonstrate remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. Many have navigated challenging circumstances, whether economic hardships, discrimination, or other barriers to success. This resilience empowers them to confront challenges head-on and to adapt to changing circumstances, qualities that are essential for entrepreneurship.”

However, Latinas continue to face many obstacles when it comes to entrepreneurship in the technology industry.

“Some systemic barriers Latinas face in tech include a lack of access to education and mentorship, unconscious bias in hiring and promotion processes, and a lack of representation in leadership roles,” Rocio explained. “Latinas in Tech addresses these barriers through our programs and initiatives, which focus on providing access to education, mentorship, networking opportunities, and advocacy for equal representation and opportunities.”

The highlight for Latinas in Tech in this mission is precisely its annual summit. The organization is looking for Latina-led startups that demonstrate innovation, growth potential, and a commitment to positively impacting their communities. The $60,000 award will provide these startups with the resources they need to scale their businesses, bring their ideas to life, and contribute to the diversity and vitality of the tech ecosystem.

This is particularly important, considering Latinas receive less than 2% of all venture capital funding in the United States. 

That’s where Latinas in Tech comes in. As Rocio explained, the organization “works to connect Latina entrepreneurs with funding and resources through our network of investors, mentors, and partners. We provide access to funding opportunities, pitch events, investor networks, and mentorship and guidance to help Latina entrepreneurs navigate the fundraising process and secure the resources they need to succeed.”

When one Latina succeeds, the entire community succeeds

Latinas in Tech’s work is more than organizational. It is a vertical initiative that expands the reach of success for women of color. “Latinas are motivated by a profound desire to create opportunities not only for themselves but also for their communities,” Rocio explained, “Many Latinas are driven by a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to making a positive impact on the world around them.”

In that vein, the co-founder of Latinas in Tech assures that the first thing a woman of color who aspires to enter the tech industry or climb the career ladder needs is to believe in herself. “Seek mentorship and support, and never stop learning. The tech industry is constantly evolving, so staying curious, adaptable, and resilient is essential. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your worth. And, of course — join Latinas in Tech!”

Beyond an event, Latinas in Tech wants to revolutionize the world of technology

Presented under the theme “Her Tech, Her Future,” this year’s Latinas in Tech summit will feature more than 80 speakers and is expected to attract more than 1,500 attendees. It is the largest event for Latinas in the technology space. Attendees will meet Latina tech professionals, ERG leaders, and allies ready to provide access to professional development resources.

Finally, if you are hesitant to embark on a career in Tech because of the rise of AI, Rocio and her team will emphasize these new technologies during the 2024 Summit. The event will feature Latina trailblazer Joanna Peña-Bickley as one of the keynote speakers. She was a pioneer in AI-assisted generative design and one of the team’s core members responsible for the creation of Alexa.

“AI is a pivotal technology shaping the future of every industry, including Tech. By focusing on AI at our summit, we aim to equip our members with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in this rapidly evolving field,” Rocio concluded. “As AI becomes more prevalent, Latinas in tech with AI expertise will be well-positioned to lead innovation and drive change in their careers and the industry as a whole.”