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A Nonprofit That Supports a Diverse Workforce Finds Resilience

Mujeres de HACE, the nonprofit organization’s women’s Leadership program, empowers high-potential Latinas to succeed professionally and thrive personally. Photo courtesy of HACE.

In December 2019, our organization – the Chicago-based Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE) – was getting ready to sign a new five-year lease. As a growing team, we needed more space and a modern feel for us to meet and provide a more productive work environment so we could fulfill our mission of ensuring the country’s workforce reflects its growing diversity, especially for Latinos. Our board chair, head of operations and I visited the space a few times, as it was an open floorplan where we could decide the placement of office spaces and windows.

Right when we were ready to sign the agreement, the broker fell off the face of the Earth – not returning our calls or emails. After connecting with his superiors, we found out the space was given to a higher-paying customer. We were never given the chance to negotiate. Although I was bothered initially, I remained calm – my mindset was that it was out of my control, and that HACE’s goal of providing training, networking, and leadership development opportunities for Latinos in the U.S. workforce could still be achieved.

I asked myself what I could learn from this situation. I needed to figure out the next plan to pivot forward, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic grew and HACE prepared what to do. Little did I know, this mentality and pivot would become a constant for the year ahead, and for the new way of work ahead of us. This included being agile with our financial and strategy plans.

When things do not go as we expect, it is critical to remain positive, make quick decisions, and search for the silver lining. I joined HACE in 2010 because I believe in the importance of closing the educational and workforce gaps that underserved and underrepresented communities face. I know the lessons we’ve learned from our recent challenges will go a long way as we achieve our mission – and that the country’s workforce, at all levels, is more inclusive. As we transition once again into new workplace norms, below are some lessons we are taking with us.

Keep People & Mission First

HACE’s programming became virtual in 2020. This allowed the nonprofit organization to expand its key programs from 11 to 25 cities in the United States. Photo courtesy of HACE.

Checking in with everyone’s health and safety, while also continuing to serve our members became vital during this time. And we stood firm on prioritizing the needs of our staff and members.

  • As we transitioned to remote work, we implemented regular check-ins and provided transparency on our status to ensure the team had as much peace of mind as we could provide. This continues to be important, and we are always looking for the best ways our team can work together, including conversations about whether they would like to transition into hybrid or remain remote now that the world is opening back up.
  • For our members, we knew that the HACE mission was more important than ever, as many faced challenges in the workplace. We decided to continue the leadership programming as planned while also adding additional support like weekly check-ins and livestreams for our members to hear not only about enhancing their career, but from health coaches about the best ways to stay safe. Our typical programs included our Mujeres de HACE Women’s Leadership program, which this year focused on helping women across the nation handle job loss, transition to remote work, all while balancing schoolchildren and more. Our Emerging Leaders Program offered a safe space not only for learning, but sharing concerns around the pandemic, Virtual Career Fairs helping to match those seeking employment. In addition, we ramped up to offer free weekly coaching sessions and webinars on topics ranging from Racism in Corporate America to Colorism in the Latino community. We were even able to offer students that were affected by the pandemic $500 grants.

View challenges as a learning opportunity

  • The delays we experienced with the new lease were challenging but this forced us to explore remote work, and we realized that it worked best for our team. It also allowed us to expand our team nationally without any major bumps in 2021.
  • When it came to our leadership programs, not only did we decide to continue delivering everything that was already planned, but we added relevant events and services, such as transitioning all formal programs to an e-learning model and hosting events virtually. This quick pivot gave us one of our biggest opportunities to grow during a time of need. In 2020, HACE was able to expand programming from 11 key markets to 25 and grow financially at least 40% from the previous fiscal year.

The overall changes in 2020 made us realize that since we couldn’t control our situations, making the most of them instead allowed us to focus more on what we could control.

Anticipate & Take Action

HACE’s Career Fairs went virtual in 2020, which allowed the nonprofit to host two during the year. One was dedicated to students and recent graduates. The other one was for experienced professionals. This image shows a Career Fair before 2020. Photo courtesy of HACE.

During those unprecedented moments, our fight-or-flight response kicks in. Heeding them is essential in times like this. It can help us prepare and be better equipped to weather any storm coming our way. As nonprofits and business leaders brace themselves, considering the following steps that we at HACE follow can make a positive impact in reducing the risk of leaving yourself and your team vulnerable:

  • Communicate and educate employees – Create a pandemic preparedness plan that will show your staff how to be ready in the event of another pandemic.
  • Start the process of budgeting expenses early on, to avoid falling short when you need the financial back up.
  • Do not hesitate to take the non-traditional route – In the face of adversity, setting aside our comfort zones, such as relying solely on a five-year strategy plan vs. agile planning, helps us see the many other ways we can deal with situations.

From ensuring staff was taken care of, to pursuing all avenues to financially securing the organization as best we could, to continuously offering programming and then some, we worked hard to help HACE continue to thrive during such a challenging year.

As I reflect on all of this and we chart HACE’s future in an increasingly diverse country, I know that challenges – while overwhelming – can be addressed when we work together for a common goal. Inclusion in the United States is worth the effort.

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Patricia Mota is President and CEO of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE). Photo courtesy of HACE

Patricia Mota serves as President and CEO of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE). She leads strategy, fundraising and development, professional and student leadership programs, and expanding organizational reach on a national scale. She is a passionate, innovative trailblazer, dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of Latinos across various stages in their education and career. She is also a Walmart Fellow.

This content was paid for and created by Independent Sector.

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