Originally published on Forbes.com.
This Trailblazers series takes a look at the pivotal milestones that make up the life trails of inspiring women from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. We all know what social media profiles display about the end results women have achieved. This series is intended to take a deeper, more authentic look at the journeys they have taken to get there.
Lorena Soriano is an entrepreneur, a community leader, and a Forbes 30 Under 30 Fellow. She is on a mission to change the workforce stats in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to ensure that the people who design and create products and services are representative of the populations that use them. She has founded three organizations, including her most recent venture every POINT ONE, and shares her own journey in STEM and entrepreneurship on Instagram.
After learning more about the trail that Lorena has blazed, I got the chance to ask her some questions.
Rebekah Bastian: You shared how growing up, you wanted to be a scientist or doctor, but felt discouraged because you didn’t see people in those professions that looked like you. Why is it so important to see people who share your same identities in the places you aspire to?
Lorena Soriano: The phrases seeing is believing, you can’t be what you can’t see and representation matters all come to mind. As children we learn by mirroring our parents and those closest to us, but if we only see a specific demographic of person in certain roles we begin to build foundational beliefs that the role must be reserved for their group alone, and we focus our attention on more relatable role models. When we are able to identify with people in those roles, the barriers to entry are never built.
Bastian: You mentioned that you took a promotion into people management against the advice of one of your mentors. Why do you think he had recommended you not taking that promotion, and are you glad that you did anyways?
Soriano: Simply put, he knew the person I would be reporting to and the complete lack of support structure to help me thrive. He was definitely right, but I’m still glad I accepted the promotion because I was able to survive a baptism-by-fire and learn lessons at a young age that helped me throughout the years:
- If you mess up, acknowledge it, own it and ask for help.
- You will fail in life and it won’t be the end of the world.
- Don’t kill yourself trying to deliver — no one sprints a marathon.
- Control the controllables and take the rest in stride.
Bastian: How did you overcome the imposter syndrome that you experienced being the only woman of color in many of your pre-med classes, and what advice do you have for others that experience this feeling?
Soriano: The first step was acknowledgement, and allowing myself to feel it and dwell a bit. It’s a real thing. It’s not a flaw or fault. The next step was action: I needed to prove to myself that I understood what I was learning and that I belonged. So I began breaking down course content in layman’s recaps on social media. In the comment sections of my posts I discovered a supportive community of women who empowered me to start sharing my ‘imposter syndrome’ feelings. In opening up, I quickly learned that everyone felt the same way. We became each other’s support system as we navigated everything from quantum chemistry to entrepreneurship.
I love actionable advice so I’ll say:
- Realize ‘imposter syndrome’ exists because you are challenging yourself — you are leaving your comfort zone to accomplish something new.
- Know that with every passing day you are forging and solidifying a path for people to follow in your footsteps.
- Give support to those who reach out to you. Your story and empathy may be exactly what someone else needs to break through.
Bastian: After “accidentally” becoming an entrepreneur with the nonprofit you started, Global Girls Give, you gained the confidence to leave your corporate job and found two more companies — Isoline Consulting and every POINT ONE. From these experiences, what would you tell other women who aspire to be entrepreneurs?
Soriano: I learned lessons and had different entrepreneurship experiences with each of my companies:
- Global Girls Give taught me that sometimes there’s a need so great you have to deviate from your original plan to create a solution — entrepreneurship as a side effect.
- Isoline Consulting taught me that sometimes imposter syndrome is so heavy, it can bury you. I stopped pursuing a business focusing on technology because Isoline’s scope was something I had a background in and felt comfortable doing — entrepreneurship as a compromise.
- every POINT ONE taught me that when you step out onto the ledge and accept risk, your goals and ‘why’ can become greater than yourself, leaving no room for imposter syndrome or hesitation. It becomes the best version of starting a new business — entrepreneurship to make an impact.
Just remember, when you’re “starting over” you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.
Bastian: How are you working to bring more diversity into STEM fields at every POINT ONE, and what can we all do to help with your mission?
Soriano: Take a moment and ask yourself, what would the world look like if Alexa was multilingual when she first launched in 2014, instead of five years later? What if Google incorporated the translate option in 1998 instead of after eight years? What if companies brought products to market that are representative of the population that will use them instead of making updates as afterthoughts? If more clinical studies were performed by women of color, would we have realized sooner that the maternal mortality rate is three times higher for African-American, Native American and Alaskan Native women compared to white women?
Every Point ONE challenges companies to build an inclusive workforce and clientele and to reduce data bias. We provide a platform of digital mentorship and content for diverse individuals in STEM, and aim to help them accomplish their goals.
We invite people in STEM to join our community and share their experiences and lessons learned to help pave the path for the next generation. Organizations that want to recruit more diverse employees, clients or research participants can reach out to us, so that we can work together to improve representation and help make STEM more inclusive.