Mi Historia Interviews - Leslie Parra on Taking Risks
/ What is your name? Do you know the story behind your name?
My name is Leslie. Yes, there is a story. My mom didn’t want to call me Leslie—she wanted to call me Leday Di. It was right around the time that Lady Diana died.
She thought she was graceful and elegant 👸. The nurse didn’t hear that, maybe it was because of my mom’s thick accent.
/ How do you self-identify your race and ethnicity?
I identify as Latinx and Hispanic. I was doing a survey recently, and it forced me to pick a race. It is a more complicated question than one thinks 🤯.
For example, my mom is super light skinned and would be considered White Hispanic. When it comes to race, I am automatically black, because no one would assume that I am white. I go through a process of elimination in my head when I am filling out a survey.
/ Do you identify with the term Latinx? Do you call yourself Hispanic?
I always identify as Hispanic because we speak Spanish in my household. In middle school, I went to a 55% African American school. It wasn’t until high school that I started recognizing that I was Hispanic, and I definitely felt more conscious about it in college. In college, that’s when you even get into deeper discussions about one’s identity.
/ Share with us more about your upbringing. Where were you born? Where do you grow up?
Born and raised in the Bronx. New York has its own mini culture, so I was surrounded by Dominican culture (in Dyckman) 🇩🇴.
My mom immigrated to the U.S. when she was pregnant with my older sister. She still has an accent. I grew up in a very Hispanic environment and went to Catholic school ⛪, so that influences a lot of my values and ideas.
/ What did you want to be when you were a child? What were your career aspirations and why?
I wanted to be a police officer 👮♀️, then a lawyer ⚖️, and later a math teacher ➗.
Closer to college, I wanted to work in an office 🏢, and my mom tends to prefer those types of positions due to stability and financial security. We kind of struggled when we were younger, my sister and I.
She didn’t let us have jobs in middle and high schools, since she wanted us to focus on school. “Don’t get a job at Mcdonalds”, she would say. She had a specific job that she preferred we focus on 💰.
/ Let’s start with your K-12 experience. Tell us about the schools you went to, and how did they help you prepare for a job or carer?
I was lucky that there was a program called Junior Opportunity Program and they took the top 10-15% of the class. This program was weekly, and it helped you build your resume, volunteer in the community, and find an internship. They partnered with nonprofits and local companies. My junior year, I interned.
I didn’t like what I was doing. It was a hedge fund. I didn’t know what that was at a young age. However, this opportunity did help me find more opportunities in college ☑️.
/ Was the plan to always go to college? How did you choose which college you wanted to go? If you didn’t go to college, why? Did college help you prepare for a job?
It was always the plan to go to college. My mom and my dad had master's degrees. However, it didn't benefit my mom because her degrees didn’t help her get jobs in the US 😣. Again, the end goal was financial stability, and that was the message from my mom. It was more about college and how we were going to pay for it.
I got many fortunate opportunities that fed each other. I also got nominated to join the Posse Foundation Fellowship, and I was able to become a scholar and attend Babson College 😊. I was always in love with math, so I thought I wanted to be an accountant.
/ Did you participate in any internships, campus jobs or apprenticeships while in college?
Yes, I ended up pursuing accounting at a large firm. I liked it so much that I spent two of my summers there. However, I thought, “Should I go for a change 😕 ? And explore other things 😕 ?” I decided to go for it and ended doing internships I didn't like, but it was great because I was able to rule those careers out. This helped me figure out what I actually needed to thrive and succeed at work.
I bumped into Marketing and Sales in Consumer Packaged Goods in particular, and I became curious. I made the tough choice of saying no to a career in accounting. I felt the industry was too white, and didn’t know if their efforts to find diverse talent were moving quickly enough ⌛.
As a result, I started to prioritize myself and my needs and what I wanted to do. However, switching to a whole different field in marketing and sales wasn’t easy. I had to compete with people who had media internships, or consumer package experience. It took a big hit to my big ego 😥.
I had to ask myself difficult questions, since I wanted to make sure I was putting my best foot forward. What exactly about this company makes me interested? Or am I applying just because this is a brand name? 😔😔
/ Where did you end up?
I landed in Clorox in San Francisco for a sales role. I am a bit far from family and in a new field, but I had to leverage the opportunities in front of me. If I am going to take a chance, now is the best time to do it 💯.
When I interviewed with Clorox, I hadn't interviewed with anybody in a while becauseI thought I was going into accounting. At first, when considering a sales position, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to make cold calls all day. That was my first idea of sales. However, it was more than that and I have been having a lot of fun working at a leading and established brand 🎉🎉.
/ Were your families or friends critical in choosing where you want to work?
My mom got really sad about it 😟😟. “Why did you transition? Why don’t you stay closer?” she’d ask me. She was half joking, but I could tell she was serious. My older sister was in New York. I am the only person in the immediate family who moved away from home for a non-school-related reason. California is expensive to visit and it requires some time to travel back and forth 🛫.
We knew the implications of time and costs. It was hard to explain that it is not that I want to move, but I liked the job, and I couldn’t find the same opportunity in NY. Eventually my mom understood. “Of course, I support you,” she said 👩👧. I visited NY a few times, so I had to budget for family trips. I haven’t missed any holidays or the important stuff yet. I could never imagine living the rest of my life and having a family and living in a place so far from the entire family 👪. Short-term, it does have an impact. It has been rough.
/ What would you like to bring to the forefront regarding the conversation about Latinos in the workplace? What do you think is the important element of this conversation that is not talked about as much?
I think of how we can bring our culture, food, music and language to the forefront of discussion everyday, of social activity. I’ve noticed the way American culture becomes the default for everything, but we can bring our own culture into the conversation in smaller and larger ways, like bringing food to a potluck with employees. Will I be able to bring Sancocho, a Pasteton 🍲🍲 ? I want to feel comfortable showcasing my culture everyday.