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Latina Equal Pay Day: An Interview with Financially Savvy Latina

Latina Equal Pay Day via Shutterstock

Latina Equal pay day is here, and it’s actually later than last year. The wage gap had continued to increase with Latinx women working into the 11 month of the year just to earn the same as their white male counterparts.

This “double wage gap” is based on ethnicity and gender. It cripples our upward mobility and limits our earnings to 53 cents on the dollar compared to men. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the type of occupations and lack of education remain critical factors.

“The gap narrows—but not dramatically—when we control for education, years of experience, and location by regression-adjusting the differences between workers. Using this method, we find that, on average, Latina workers are paid only 66 cents on the dollar relative to white non-Hispanic men.”


Translation: not nearly good enough.

So what can we do about it? I recently spoke to financial guru, Natalie Torres-Haddad of Financially Savvy Latina. When she graduated from college she was facing $40K in student loan debt. Her incredible journey from humble beginnings to financial expert is a harrowing tale of personal grit, ambition, and a willingness to take risks.

Through her channel Financially Savvy Latina, the bilingual author, speaker and podcast host teaches others to do the same. She’s made it her mission to share this essential knowledge with those who need it most. During our conversation she gave us some pro-tips and inspiration, and told us what she wants all millennial women to know about money.

Get ready to level up.

What prompted you to start Financially Savvy Latina?

I saw women not only lacking the same opportunities like the ones afforded to men, but many were also lacking the education in order to increase their confidence to take risks and invest in themselves and rise in their careers. For several years I ran a nonprofit called L.A.’s Prom closet. We gave away everything young women needed for prom and provided a financial literacy workshop. The organization ended after the seventh year, and we helped over 1,000 girls throughout greater L.A. I immediately saw the value of teaching financial literacy.

After winning a business bootcamp almost a decade ago, people were calling me and interviewing me as, “Oh, that financially savvy latina,” because of the name of my first book being too long, Financially Savvy In 20 Minutes. The book also went on to win an International Latino Book Award in the Economics/Business category. So I decided to embrace it.

Your family uprooted from El Salvador and came to L.A. during the ‘92 riots—what was it like growing up?

This is still very difficult for me to talk about but my family fled El Salvador and came here in the early ’80s. By the time I was about 10 years old the L.A. riots affected our neighborhood greatly. We lived in Inglewood, CA. Lennox to be exact. I still remember blocks from where we lived, many of the mom and pop shops and restaurants were not only looted but a few of our local family-owned restaurants were burned to the ground and never reopened. The L.A. Riots only lasted a few days, but was devastating to our city for more than over a decade because we were a city already struggling financially. To this day, the local mall has never reopened.

We could longer play on the streets as my parents feared for us and after 5th grade they moved me to a private school in a nearby city so I lost all my friends. Most private school kids start from kindergarten and continue to 8th grade, so my 6th grade year it just me and one other person from my neighborhood there and we were new to the entire school. I was out of place. I came from one of the poorest cities, and was now surrounded by families that were well-off and unaffected by the L.A. riots because they just saw it on TV like many people.

How does it feel to be the first in your family to transcend?

Grateful and fortunate! I am here because of all the love and support from my family. My parents, even though they have no college education, impressed on me that education would open up many opportunities, and they were right. Becoming the 1st generation grad student with a masters makes me part of the less than 4% of Latinx with this type of degree in the U.S. It makes a big difference. Those extra initials after my name (Natalie Torres-Haddad MPA, AWA) allow me to be paid much more and has built so much credibility in my field. I get to hire more people, I get to shine light on my family and friends because their continued support is why I am not only surviving today but thriving!

Were you always good with money?

Yes, and no.

No, because I still have a lot to learn. For example, in my TEDx talk The Foreign Language of Financial Literacy I mention its an evolving language. So when I had to learn how to pay off my $40K student loan debt, or needed to buy my first place or my first rental property, or got married, or lost a job…I had to learn how to navigate that new financial chapter in my life. It’s an ever-evolving language.

Yes, because when you grow up not having money, you learn how to manage with the little you do have. I always say if you don’t know how to manage $1, you won’t know how to manage a thousand, and so forth. My motto is “have fun, be fabulous and frugal.” No need for the excessive stuff. Simple is just as good.

Latinas make 53 cents on the dollar compared to men. In what ways can Latinx women be empowered to fight that delta?

Ask for more! I know it’s easier said than done. How to do that? Watch my next TEDx talk called The Confidence Gap. Learn how to ask, how to come in with why you deserve more, and show off all your accomplishments and your challenges. Unfortunately, there are so many factors why there is a gender wage gap and the lowest for Latinx. But one thing that can be changed starts with us. Culturally speaking, our families have taught us not to brag about ourselves. I think this is bull. We need to work in order for people to see what we have overcome and accomplished despite the circumstances. For most of my career I have almost always been the only woman, person of color,  and immigrant at the companies I have worked for.

For example, I had to remind my male counter parts, that I had to work 3 times as hard just to be seen as an equal. When I bought my first place at age 24 I had been saving since I was 16. I worked full-time while going to college full-time and struggled against the gender bias towards women. I had to overcome their negative comments, microaggressions, and people’s lack of knowledge.

Another important thing to learn is how to make your male counterparts your allies—your cheerleaders that will brag for you. I was surrounded by many men that really were incredible in helping me grow, trust my abilities, and shined light on my accomplishments when I felt I wasn’t good enough.

You have spoken at TEDx twice. What did it feel like to be up on that stage as an immigrant woman in America speaking on the topic of financial literacy?

Funny you ask this, my next book Share Your Ideas Worth Spreading with a TEDx Talk will be coming out on February 20, 2020. Basically, how to get offered a TEDx talk. I documented my journey, and both audiences were great but no were near as diverse as where I live in Los Angeles. The first talk was in Davenport, Iowa. I still work in many parts of Iowa but I had never spoken in Davenport and wasn’t sure what to expect, especially being the only Latinx speaker out of the 17 who were at the conference. The second talk was in Rapid City, South Dakota, near the Black Hills which was a little intimidating. I was only one of two people of color speakers, and maybe less than a handful of the audience were POC. Luckily the TEDx community is very open, but I admit that during my talk, as I looked out into the crowd, I wasn’t sure if my message was resonating with the white men—how it sucks to be paid half of what they tend to make.

To this day I still get emails and comments on my TEDx talk so I will be forever grateful for that experience. During the end of my presentation I made mention of my grandmother, who died about a month prior, by adding, “You are your ancestors wildest dreams.” I truly believe I am.

As a woman in the financial sector, what have been some of the obstacles you have faced?

I can write a book on it. A few that stand out have been: when buying the first rental properties on my own as a single woman I was asked, “Are you sure you want to do this without a cosigner like your parents or a boyfriend?” It sucked because I was already doubting my capability, but luckily I preserved and laughed to the bank after selling both those properties later. Passive income is the best revenge. Another is being hit on so many times that for a few years I wore a fake wedding band. I wore it during work and networking functions, to avoid the uncomfortable awkwardness. There were awesome allies, men from the office, that knew I wasn’t married but didn’t blow my cover because they understood my frustration of just trying to be taken seriously.

The one that will always haunt me or drive me, is when I was recently engaged at 31 and I almost was hired for a dream job, but I failed to hide the ring because my soon-to-be-boss said, “Oh I don’t feel right sending you off for 3 months to another state to be trained as a soon to be bride.” I was hurt. The human resource lady said you can sue, but I thought, eh, not worth being apart of an old school way of thinking. My husband and many of my male friends have said, “Wow, if you were a man that wouldn’t be an issue. If anything, I would have been praised just for landing a great position.” I know too many lawyers and executive women who would not wear their wedding rings during job interviews because out of fear of not being taken seriously.

How do you achieve work-life balance, given your busy schedule?

I don’t, there’s no such thing. I call it like yoga. In yoga you are constantly learning how to balance yourself and be still for a few moments and then flow into the next position. Once in a while, you can achieve complete stillness. As far as family, some days I give more than take, such as when my grandparents were sick. I took care of them. Sometimes my husband has to give more, like when I travel across the country for work and he has to handle everything back home. As for work…some days I am so focused that I forget to eat at a decent time, work out consistently or see my friends and family as often as I like. However, every single day I journal either at night or in the morning what I am grateful for, and I meditate everyday for at least 15 minutes, so that helps me stay grounded and feel more “balanced.”

Looking at the statistics for Latina women, it could leave you pretty bummed. Despite the circumstances, how are you able to find joy in your work?

I see progress. I get emails from mentees and clients that tell me they are reaching their goals. Like the one who recently bought her first home in Seattle at age 24 (she said she felt she could do it because I did it), or a married woman who decided with her husband to purchase a duplex out of her home state in New York, and is generating great rental income. She said it was because I gave her the courage to do that after hearing me speak on a panel. Connecting with other like-minded women. My new event Money Moves with Millionaires 11.19.19 sold out! My goal is to inspire as many women as I can to take action.

What is the most important thing you would like young millennial women to know?

As a millennial myself (elder), I want them to know that they can do it. They can ask for help. They don’t have to be afraid to take the risk. Big risk can sometimes mean big reward. If they don’t see someone they can be inspired by in their field—they should feel empowered to be that for themselves. My mom’s best advice was, “If you don’t see someone there to represent you, then be that representation for others.” She’s right.

This past decade I became the first Latinx immigrant woman to advocate for financial literacy on stage at TEDx and it was such an honor. I also participated in a 60 Second Doc called Fluent in Finance. It went on to become the most watched of the series. I even landed my first national commercial with Honda Latino in partnership with We are Mitú, as a financial expert helping millennials transition into adulthood. One of my go-to mottos from my nonprofit days says the key to achieving a larger dream, is first making the small ones happy. That may be taking some financial literacy workshops, or buying my book, or talking to a colleague to help you brag about your work. I want them to know, “I will always be happy to brag for you, you worked for it, you deserve it!”

Jessica Hoppe

Jessica Hoppe is a New York-based writer and social media strategist who founded her blog, Nueva Yorka, in 2015. She has been featured in Vogue, Yahoo, HuffPost, PopSugar, Who What Wear, Ravishly and worked as Lifestyle Editor for StyleCaster. Jessica has been passionate about writing, diversity and Latin American culture from an early age. Having grown up in a Spanish speaking home, her father is Ecuadorian and her mother is from Honduras.

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