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Stepping into power with Paulette Pinero

Paulette Pinero is helping create a world where women can step into their power. In this interview, she talks about self-doubt, how her experience with bad managers inspired her business, and how she’s working to help the Latino community become more efficient leaders.
Read all about her journey in this week’s Trailblazer Spotlight!


The first milestone on your trail is “self-doubt” – can you tell us more about what you experienced in the college process and how it shaped all of the milestones and accomplishments that have come after?

Growing up I always wanted to be a computer engineer. I was fascinated by how computers work on the back-end and how to develop programs that help folks resolve their biggest problems. To me, it was a way to bring my experiences in social impact and community engagement that I had been doing since I was 13 with modern technology. There’s a very competitive program at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez that partners with NASA so students can do internships and have a track to work with the agency, and I got accepted into the accelerated program. On my first day, I showed up in a room of all men and just me. They made fun of me and I felt horrible, so I drove back home and enrolled at the local private college. I told my family after, my grandmother had already paid for a whole year for my apartment and everyone was extremely disappointed. That situation has been my motor for the work that I do. I want to create a world where women at any age can step into their power and if they are the only women in the room, stand strong and find ways to bring other women too.

“I want to create a world where women at any age can step into their power and if they are the only women in the room, stand strong and find ways to bring other women too.”

After that, I had a very successful career in human services and education, but now that I am almost 35 I am sure that my next chapter is doing a master’s degree in something that ties together technology, marketing, and my passion for research. Hey, I even built my business around that same vision, to create a world where leadership is diverse, purpose-driven, and joyful.

What made you shift from your dream job as director of strategy to start your own business as a full-time consultant and coach?

My manager and mentor left the company, and she not only advocated for me as a leader but also had a vision for expanding the programming that disappeared when she was gone. The organization continued to do amazing work, but I didn’t want to go back to running programs, and I enjoyed the freedom of finding innovative solutions to the community’s biggest challenges. I worked in educational policy after that, but my love for building diverse teams, mentoring great bosses, and removing obstacles so organizations can increase their impact was my calling, so I decided to try consulting and coaching for 6 months full time and go back to a full-time job if it didn’t work out. Great news, it worked out and my business is turning 2 in a couple of months.

You focused your business Lead Media on helping Latinas accelerate their careers — why was it important for you to help the Latino community?

I had a really bad boss. Like one of the bosses in movies that you look at them and realize, how did I not see how evil this person was in the first hour of the movie? When she joined the company, she told me she wanted to be my mentor. She is Latina and her parents were from Puerto Rico, so we connected around our cultures and traditions. I had spent many years looking for a Latina mentor, and here she was, an executive and successful leader I can aspire to be.

I saw how she treated other women of color and then used the excuse of “the world is hard, they need to get used to it” and created a culture of competition for the women at the company. I had co-workers who ended up at inpatient clinics because of the stress and toxicity and I was having panic attacks almost every day. After going to Human Resources, I sat with her and she said “If you spent more time with the white leadership here at work instead of having lunch with the rest, you would have a more successful career”.

That night I almost ended my life. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, and that I would never achieve anything in my career because it was impossible for me to live the way others wanted me to live. I didn’t see a path forward, and success meant sacrificing who I was. I cried so much that night, and above all, I felt so bad for her. Her life had to be so sad for her to believe this. I quit the next day and started my therapy journey.

“To see that so many Latinx folks perpetuating white supremacy culture against other communities of color while at the same time advocating for equality made me realize that we also need people from our communities that can guide us and teach us that this is not a competition, our path of liberation has to be for all marginalized communities.”

To see that so many Latinx folks perpetuating white supremacy culture against other communities of color while at the same time advocating for equality made me realize that we also need people from our communities that can guide us and teach us that this is not a competition, our path of liberation has to be for all marginalized communities. That’s how I started doing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work and focusing my professional development around those topics.

I bring that framework to my coaching and consulting approach. I want to uncover what is the real challenge and roadblock and highlight the areas where we can lead from our strengths and bring other perspectives to overcome the obstacles.

I see that you’ve contributed to a couple of books in the last year and that writing your own is an aspiration of yours! What is the big vision for your book?

Once I had one of my direct reports stand in a meeting with her peers and say that I only got a promotion because I was the diversity hire. I got the promotion over a co-worker that had been at the company for a longer time, and many people in the team were upset. At that meeting of over 20 women, only 2 stood up and said anything. The person who didn’t get the promotion and an Afro-Latina co-worker. I was heartbroken by this because I had mentored and coached this direct report and her husband was a Latino immigrant. She talked about his journey and the discrimination he faced at work. She wanted to be a better ally and she asked me for this mentorship.

I had to prepare for my talk with her, and I went back to my library of over 30 management books, and at the time none of them could tell me what to do, other than fire her for insubordination. I value psychological safety and radical candor in the workplace, but with all-white leadership what was I supposed to say? I handled it pretty well but realized that leaders also need to see themselves as the authors of the books we love.

The vision for my book is to create a manual for Latinas who are first-time people managers. I craved books by women of color, but especially from Latinas who like me wanted to be good bosses but have the language to speak up about discrimination, honor our cultures, mentor others, build diverse teams, and not sacrifice their souls along the way. I want to have chapters with content, exercises, and recipes from my own kitchen to honor the way our communities celebrate. Hey, you had a successful check-in, here you go, make a flan, you deserve it.


Looking to connect with other Latina leaders? Want to share your story with bosses good and bad? Connect with Paulette on OwnTrail!

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