Ep. 14: “Feisty Latina” CEO finds the fuel to succeed w/Raquel Tamez

by | Mar 13, 2021 | Podcasts, The Virtuous Heros | 0 comments

Podcast episode

About our Guest

   Raquel Tamez 

As CEO for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Raquel Tamez has the honor of serving an organization with a unique, transformative mission: using Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) awareness, access and support to empower the Hispanic community to realize its full potential.

On today’s podcast, Raquel shares about her shift as an attorney to CEO of this mission critical non profit.  Raquel bravely shares how her “MeToo” experience in early life fueled her drive to succeed. 

Raquel has received the Hispanic Corporate Achiever Award by the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, been named among the 2015 Corporate Counsel Trending 40 by Legal Bishow, and twenty-five most influential Hispanic lawyers by Leading Latinos Magazine. 



Hannah: Thanks for watching our podcast! Here at Spirit Consulting, our services include business strategy and human resources consulting. In HR we offer executive search executive coaching and work psychology consulting. Please visit us at spiritmco.com, where we fulfill our client’s dreams virtuously. Enjoy your show!

Chris: Welcome back to the Leading Virtuously Podcast. So excited to have this guest on the show. Oh, this is going to be a good one. Raquel, who are you? 

Raquel: I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me and who am I? I am a Latina leader that happens to have the title of CEO. And right now I serve as the CEO of SHIP, the society of Hispanic professional engineers.

And I’ve been in this role for three and a half years. 

Chris: Awesome. Can you tell us a little bit more about a SHIP its mission and maybe like the impact that the organization is having? 

Raquel: Sure. So SHIP is the society of Hispanic professional engineers at its core. Is about the education and the empowerment of. Hispanic students and professionals in stem, science, technology engineering, and we have been educating and empowering those Hispanic students and professionals for 47 years. SHIP was born in a garage in east LA. It was inspired by five civil engineers that wanted to create a network for Hispanic engineers. And over the 47 years ship has grown into the premier national organization for Hispanic’s 

We have a near 14,000 members across the us. We are organized into student chapters as well as professional chapters. So there’s likely a SHIP chapter at your university or college, and now community college is and HSIs, but also for professional chapter. In a metropolitan city near you. We have a bevy of programs along, the entire pathway.

And our main focus is that university student three years before and three years after. So we do have junior chapter members. These are high school members as well as young professional. We partner with some of the best companies in the world, through our industry partnership council, they are essentially our think tank and we launched this year or academic partnership councils.

So these are 85 of the best very diverse academic institutions so that they serve as the brain trust for SHIP. We have Nine signature events. Seven starting with seven regional leadership development conferences, Nila, which is our Institute for leadership at SHIP. So bring in all the student leaders professional chapter leaders, regional leaders, and national leaders.

And then of course, what we’re really known for is our convention. It is the largest gathering of Hispanics in stem. And we hosted for the first time ever this past October, 2020, our first virtual convention. And we hosted nearly 10,000 attendees. 

Chris: That is a lot of attendees for sure.

Yeah. I’m sure that wasn’t also easy for you either to be able to shift on a dime, to transmit gathering of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics Latinos within this organization, either for going digitally, which is usually always been an in-person conference as well. So kudos to you for being able to transition that.

Raquel: Thank you. Yeah, I’m so appreciative. To my team, we are a team of 20 and they’re nimble, they’re focused, they’re feisty. They’re definitely passionate about the mission of ship and yes, we were able to pivot from an in-person onsite where it’s truly a very emotional experience. It’s very fast paced at our conventions, lots of learning and lots of fun.

And we were able to translate a lot of that virtually and we got great kudos from our partners and from our members as well. So I’m very pleased. 

Chris: I don’t think I could ever hang on your team Raquel, because most people call me, slow a little heavyset, not very bright not fitting, but love the way you described your team.

So that’s very good. Raquel, how did you get to this leadership position? Cause I think that’s super interesting that an attorney by trade is leading this engineering and stem 

Raquel: Yeah, who would’ve ever thought that a Latino lawyer would be leading an organization of 14,000 stem students and professionals that here I am.

And let me tell you it was a long road and not an easy one with lots of ups and downs and ins and outs and emotional in many parts of it. But. When the recruiter reached out to me about the opportunity at SHIP, I was really at the top of my game, in my legal. Career. I was a chief legal officer, general council, senior vice president of legal for a national organization whose mission was all about the creation of employment opportunities for persons with significant disabilities, including service disabled and combat disabled veterans.

And I was very passionate about that mission. And so when the recruiter called about the opportunity at SHIP, admittedly, I was like, SHIP who SHIP? What do they build? Boats? Where are you calling 

Chris: I don’t know anything with boats why?.

Raquel: And so I had to do all this research on ship and I’m like, how do I not know about this organization? I’d like to think I’m a Latina leader in the know, and I didn’t know about SHIP. And so it was like the best kept secret. And I was like and when I did my due diligence on the organization and looked at all the corporate artifacts that were available to me and talk to people and interviewed folks I was like, wow, this is an amazing organization.

And they provide programs and services and this network, the sense of Familia and these opportunities very much. Those things that supported me in my career and in my career trajectory, for example, mentorship, internship, professional development, leadership development. Network as a sense of Familia that circle of trusted peers and advisers.

And I was like, wow, if I can gather all of my, skills and credentials and experience and bring that to the organization and add value I would love to do that. It would be an honor to do that. And then, Bumping that up against what I was seeing as far as socioeconomic factors and all of these factors coming together.

For example, what was going on in immigration, what was going on with employment and labor and stem, the demand for stem, the population numbers for Hispanics, our impact or positive impact on the economy. I felt that as a Hispanic community that there was a sense of urgency, to do something more.

And and to do my part. So I said, look, things are lining up. It makes sense. I’m going to pursue this. Honestly, I didn’t think I had a chance because, Hey, I’m a Latino lawyer and this is a stem society. But here I am, almost four years later and the organization is stable and growing exponentially, we’ve broken all kinds of records.

The profile of the organization is elevated. Not on, not only, how do we have this national footprint, but we’ve been on the international stage. SHIP was one, the one professional society that attended the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. We were one of five organizations to be a part of the first ever Hispanic delegation.

So super proud about that. In September we’ve rang the bell on NASDAQ and so different in got the world’s attention, right? So I’m really excited and proud of what my team and I have been able to do in the three and a half years. But I would have never have predicted being a CEO or certainly not being a CEO of a stem society, but that just goes to show that it’s not so much a title as it is, how you carry yourself, how you navigate your personal life, your professional life.

Always I’m a continuous learner. I love to learn. I heard recently a quote that leaders are readers and I’m constantly reading and reading books, all kinds of books and then connecting the dots. And I bring that those insights into everything that I do personally and professionally.

So I think it’s about. Leadership, wherever you are, whatever station of life you’re in, whether you’re a student or professional, young professional, more senior professional and looking for opportunities and stepping in and stepping up. And if someone’s not recognizing you then asking. For those opportunities, raising your hand to ask for that stretch assignment, tooting your horn, but not blowing it and getting credit for what you’re doing.

And showing up and being prepared always being over-prepared and being excellent, or at least striving to be excellent at what you do and everything that you do.

Chris: I love that. Thank you. You had said that in your upbringing, this has been a long journey and road that I know that you had communicated that when you were growing up, that you grew up in an impoverished area in Texas. And that you had to ride a bus an hour to be able to go to private school. And and you mentioned, so you also had talked about the fact that when you were in this community, that one of the ways that you had coped was to basically like always be learning.

And I, obviously can see that, still to this day and that, that transcended itself into the great grades that you had got in and progressed all throughout your life. But I’m just kinda curious, Did you ever feel. Especially being in that society, did you ever feel like burnout from always having to be on because you felt like you were operating at a different level with other kids.

And so the reason I asked you this question, because I would imagine that some executives that have recently been promoted, they might be feeling like they’re hanging with a new level and, starting to feel a little bit of that burn as they’re being stretched to, to grow it and operate at a higher level.

Raquel: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. And I’m going back right thinking, and I’m picturing myself in my room, in the house that my parents built and still live there in the hood in Houston. And I don’t remember feeling burnt out. And it’s not as if my parents were pushing me Hey, you need to go do this.

You need to go do that. You need to make good grades. You need to get into this activity. It was just something within me. I think. Being the youngest of six and seeing my older sisters and brothers being 

Chris: I’m number five of six, by the way. So I know what the chaos looks like.

Raquel: There ya go, and I think I just, was an old soul, and just always very observant. And thankfully my father would indulge my curiosities too. But I learned early on that in order to get out of the hood. It needed to be about education. And I think my parents did, I think, notice that I was smart and thankfully they did something about it.

And I ended up going to vanc Vanguard program where I had to ride the bus for an hour to get to River Oaks, which is the wealthiest neighborhood. In Houston. So I went from being from one of the poorest neighborhoods to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods and yeah, lots of learning there. And I’m seeing how the better half lives. And I think that was a motivator. And then for middle school and high school my parents did send me to private schools because the schools in my neighborhood weren’t that great. And honestly, I think my parents were concerned that I was going to get into trouble.

So they made all these sacrifices to send me to private schools, but then those private schools, very wealthy families and students they always seem to have more and better, and that I used as a motivator to deep down without anyone saying. So I felt that I could be just as good that I was just as good and that if I had to work harder, I was going to work harder and longer and faster.

And it was that inner sense of competition and wanting to win and wanting to be good enough because I knew that I was good enough and that I was not less than, and that has always been a driver for me, a motivator for me. But really at the core is that education was going to get me out of the hood.

And, being that youngest child and seeing my sisters go from my father’s house to their husband’s house, I didn’t necessarily want that for myself. And part of that, I was influenced. And you and I talked about this part of that was influenced by my me too experience at a very early age when I was in the fifth grade.

And so that definitely influenced my sense of purpose that I wanted to be able to fend for myself, take care of myself. And really not have to be dependent on any one person or any one thing other than myself. And that has also been a driver for me.

Chris: Wow. So we’ll thank you for your vulnerability to share that not many people have the. The courage to, to be able to publicize that. So can, and can you share a little bit more about that experience and how that’s shaped you and affected you as a leader? 

Raquel: Sure. And it hasn’t been long that I’ve been able to talk about it and I don’t talk about it in detail.

But I am grateful for the me too movement. I think it’s afforded a lot of us, a platform, a safe place to say that something traumatic happened and to find shared language with others. It took a very long time for me to tell my mother that was, I could’nt sleep. I was having nightmares and didn’t want her to tell my dad and here I am at 50 years old and I still don’t know if my dad.

I was embarrassed. I was ashamed and it wasn’t anything that I did. And it was outside of my family. But it impacted how I navigated around men in my family, even my brothers and my father. And that was unfortunate. They didn’t know. And had they known. It would have not been a good outcome for the perpetrator.

But I didn’t know how to process it for a long time. And my mom wasn’t necessarily equipped to help me process it. But she did what she could and tried to protect me. And sometimes it felt like I was being punished. And I’ve had to process that and deal with that. And it’s interesting.

It was only a year ago that I actually shared it with my sisters and they were so surprised and and in a way hurt that I hadn’t shared it with them, but I was only really prepared to talk about it, to share. About a year ago, and this is something that happened when I was in the fifth grade.

I can empathize with women with girls and women who have had even more tragic experiences or repeated experiences. It is very traumatic and it does shape who you are and who you become and how you navigate the world. Thankfully, and I don’t know where it came from, but I found the wherewithal to use it as a fuel, as a motivator to study.

And so that I could not just have a job, but a career and that I could take care of myself. And that was a way of protecting myself. And being able to navigate a really VUCA world, right? Volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world that we live in. But I have to wonder sometimes had it not happened and I have an amazing relationship with my father and my brothers.

And unfortunately, they’ve both passed away. But I’m very close with my father, despite what happened with this other person. And I am who I am today because of my father, because he is always made me feel invincible. And I wish that for everyone out there to have someone that believes in them and helps them to feel invincible.

And I’m lucky to have, handful of people like that in my life. I have a mentor and a career sponsor and an advocate who has aspirations for me that I don’t even have for myself. Like how awesome is that? Yeah, it really is. And if you’re out there. Whether you’re a girl or a boy, a woman, or a man, I think in many instances we’ve had me too experiences and some of us are ready to talk about it and share and draw upon it.

And some of us aren’t like how long it took me. And I was just having a conversation with one of my closest friends and she admitted that she had a, me too. But she wasn’t prepared to talk about it. And I respect that. And what I told her was, Hey, when you’re ready, I’m here and when you’re ready to talk about it and maybe you never will.

And I think that’s okay too. And so we have at least started the conversation and she said, look, I never even admitted that to anyone. And so I think she’s starting her healing process and it is when you’re able to share something like that. It’s part of the healing. And and so for a really long time, I was healing in different ways, but healing in silence.

Chris: And I’ve got a question for you as a followup to that. Do you have any regrets about now having gone over the last year to be like, all right, I’m going to let this go and stop allowing it to have power over me. Do you wish that you could’ve shared it sooner to, to diminish its ability to hold power over you in that way?

I’m just curious, like also what your healing journey has been like for the last year. 

Raquel: I think maybe it did have power over me for a while. Right when I was between fifth grade and sixth grade and I was trying to figure it out and. Trying to reconcile it for myself. And I wasn’t sleeping and I was having nightmares.

It helped right to share it with my mother, but like I explained before, I also used it as a driver, as a motivator. No doubt it did influence how I carried myself and how I navigated the world, especially around men. I don’t think that it has been to a total detriment. I don’t think I will go back and say, oh, I did it wrong, or I could have done it different, or it could have done it sooner, expressing this, sharing this, it happened the way it needed to happen.

And the me too movement helped prepare set up a platform, a venue. By which to do that and feel safe, right. Without judgment. Because me too is a shared experience. And although I always knew that there were other girls and women out there, and even boys and men who had those experiences, it wasn’t, there wasn’t necessarily a platform or a forum by which to share that and feel safe and be vulnerable.

Yeah. But yeah I don’t go back and regret going through the process that I went through on the timeline that I went through. And I wouldn’t say that it has held power over me. I used it to power myself to empower. 

Chris: Thank you for sharing that. And just so that I can help clarify from my vantage point, I had a similar experience too, a little bit younger than you.

And then just like an unfortunate steamrolling of circumstances that led me to a rooftop to on the verge of committing suicide at 22. And I never really learned how to share my feelings and what was going on in my heart until basically like in my thirties. And so I just, for me the outcome of a lot of that stuff ended up being a very detrimental.

To my own mental wellbeing. So from that basis, that’s why I asked the question. If you like now being as you’re going down, this healing journey, if like looking back, if you wish, if you had the opportunity to communicate that sooner, would you have? I know, and again, it sounds you use, you flipped it where you empowered yourself and wanted to, it was a motivator for you.

For me, I want the exact opposite way. And if I had the chance to do it over. Easily communicated that sooner because it did hold power over me. And I really feel like it, it I guess put me through a lot more suffering than I knew I needed to go through.

Raquel: I’m sure, along the way there were times where I felt dejected, down and out question. Who I was and who I was becoming. And why was, in this frenetic pace, right? That, trying to control that, which I could control because in that moment, as a fifth grader, I didn’t have control.

Something happened to me that didn’t have that I didn’t consent to. And so I did flip. But I now for flipping the script on a lot of things when somebody, when an executive called me a feisty Latina and I was stunned and didn’t know how to respond, and I’m never at a loss for words.

But thankfully a mentor helped me process that. And now. I tap into my feisty Latina.

I encourage other Latinas to be their feisty selfs and I encourage the Latino men in their lives to support their feisty Latina. So I have a tendency to flip the script and use it as fuel. 

Chris: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that and the power that comes with being able to be vulnerable in this way and allow this stuff to, to, take control.

And so yeah, so I really appreciate that. And so the, this podcast is all about virtuous leadership. So can you speak a little bit about where virtue and business intersects for you? 

Raquel: No, that’s an interesting question. For me, it’s not so much an intersection as it is an integration, right?

For me, value-based leadership. Virtuous leadership is in my DNA. It’s how I navigate being a leader, being a CEO. And there are certain virtues, certain Richards that I really tap into that are at my core, for example, integrity honesty, those things are, have always been my compass. It’s part of my character.

It’s a lot of a lot of my values. Are were instilled in me very early on by the example and the role models that are my parents. I could not ask for better parents. I’m grateful to still have them in my life. My dad is 98 years young. And my mom is 90 years young. And they’ve been together over 70 years.

Yeah. Like you don’t hear that very often. And they still live in that, in the house that they built when they immigrated from Mexico. And I’m lucky that I, that they are my parents, that I have them as my people. And they weren’t able to give me everything I wanted, but they were able to give me the most important things and that’s unconditional love and support.

And my dad has always been my rock. He’s always like I said earlier has always made me feel invincible and a lot of who I am as a woman. As a human being is because of my father. He is the wisest person that I know one of the funniest persons that I know the best cook and chef that I know.

And I just really love him and enjoy him and so grateful to have him still in my life. And so going back to your question about the intersection of virtue and. And business and leadership, I think.

Virtue virtuous leadership. And I’ve mentioned this book, right? And virtuous leadership is something that I’ve read and because it just makes sense to me. And I read based on my values or at least I try and lead based on my values. And I think if more leaders did that and we’re all leading.

You don’t have to have a certain title. We’re all leading in some way and our homes and our workplaces on campuses in our own personal life. We’re leading ourselves in life. And so I think if as leaders, we could be more mindful about virtues and. The aspects of those virtues, each of those virtues that we would all be better off.

They’ll have a lot of work to do. I am. 

Chris: I wanted to transition the next conversation because this incredibly bright and feisty Latina that I know had one said that leadership is learning. So just was curious, you never 12 for yourself. Are there any virtues that are you’re like that this current role is stretching you for the opportunity to learn that you’re currently learning and walking out right now,

Raquel: Expressing compassion. I’d like to think that I am a compassionate person. I don’t always come across as a compassionate person. I think sometimes we get caught up and I get caught up in the image of the CEO and trying to be objective and fair. And not playing favorites. And what does that look like and how does that matter?

Especially in a really small organization with a small team where everybody knows everything. And so it’s really that how do you run an organization and still show that you care and that you are compassionate? It’s it’s something that I’m still figuring out. So it’s something that I’m working on as I evolve as a leader and as a human.

And I think we all right now with everything that’s going on with this, the economy and our political landscape and the social unrest, people that have been impacted by COVID, especially communities of color. I think we would all benefit from being more empathetic and more compassionate and actually demonstrating.

That empathy and that compassion and not just saying the words. 

Chris: Yeah. I think in order to be able to have that level of compassion, though, you need to be able to have some form of reflection. Christians may call that prayer. Religious might say the term prayer, new age may call that mindfulness.

But I think that unless we’re reflecting. And we’re able to tap into a source outside of our own self. It’s hard to do that because yeah, it’s just I heard another person recently on the podcast say like the way that she defines that bar is like, how would I want my mom and my sister and my dad or brother loved ones?

How would I want them to be treated? And then basically like that as their principal. So then if we’re just looking at this purely from a secular standpoint, then it’s like in your time of reflection, thinking about yourself and your actions, like where was I? The best version of myself and where was I going?

And being able to use that principle of okay, and the golden rule am I treating people the way that I want to be treated? I want my loved ones to be treated. And that gives you like the guiding post to recognize am I heading in that right direction or not. And then, from that, then recognizing those moments as to where you have triggers, where you’re not being the best version of yourself and then be able to, to.

Every single day it’s they call it the present because every single day is a present to be able to start over and work again towards the best version of yourself. But thank you for sharing about compassion. Yeah, because yeah, I I think that. I think I’m, my prayer is that we as a society and especially in business, like this whole thing of the coronavirus and having, people have lost a lot of loved ones.

All of our working situations have changed dramatically. And I’m hoping that we as leaders recognize that there’s an opportunity to change that when all restrictions are removed and we go back to what is hopefully some level of normal. That we shift and we change. And we look at some of the ways that we haven’t been compassionate.

We haven’t been loving towards other people, and we recognize that it’s time as a society that we make those changes. So thank you for sharing on that as well. And it’s been a real honor to be able to interview the, on the podcast and your stories are so inspirational. So thank you for sharing that as well.

Raquel, how can people get ahold of you in the work that you. 

Raquel: Sure. Social media, no, I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, if you type in Google, which helps meds, CEO SHIP, you’ll find me. My email address and I pride myself in being responsive is Raquel, R A Q U E. T as in Tom at SHIP.org.

And I’ll just add, the whole, the part about reflecting. I couldn’t agree with you more. And I often say that leaders are readers, but they also reflect. 

Chris: Darn it. I missed the quote. Oh, was so close, but missed it. Oh, our readers you’re like Chris. No, that’s not what I said. I said, leaders 

Raquel: Readers are leaders who learn too.

It’s about continuous learning and you continuously learn through reading. And I think something very connected. 

Chris: The executive pool was this guy, this fiery Latino Christopher Gomez,

but yes, leaders are readers. Got it. 

Raquel: And they reflect is what I add. But very connected to you leading a virtuous life, virtuous leadership. A lot of research and reading around stoicism because they really are at the core. It is about values and virtue. So it’s something you might explore for yourself and readers out there.

It’s I think I’ve always been a stoic. I just didn’t know it. 

Chris: Thank you for sharing. I will. I have not done that amount of research so we can talk offline about the resources. That would be good. And overall, I’m just so excited. Just meet a fellow sister and I feel like we’re on the same journey, so I love it for sure.

Yes. This has been so good. Thank you for sharing and look forward to keeping the dialogue moving forward and thanks again for being on the podcast. 

Raquel: Thank you for having me and thank you for doing this. This was a really delightful experience. I appreciate the time. 

Chris: Hey, Chris here.

Hope you enjoyed the episode where we discussed all things going bald, just joking, the Leading Virtuously Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode and the podcast, will you please subscribe on YouTube or apple podcasts or Spotify, or you can also share it with a friend that would be tubular. I hope you have an awesome day.

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