Women at Work: Latinas Leading the Way

Capital One’s Senior Vice President of Commercial Closing and Loan Operations speaks to empowering Latina leaders

Karelis Barrios, who leads Commercial Closing and Loan Operations at Capital One, joined Latina business leaders at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s panel discussion on Latinas Leading the Way during its annual leadership conference. 

She oversees a team of 270 associates that provide operations coverage for more than 30 products across lines of business.

The panel focused on how Latinas can build their careers, overcome biases and barriers and advocate for themselves and one another. Panelists also discussed how companies can better support Latina women and families. 

Barrios shared her perspective, personal experiences and advice throughout the panel session.

Q: What do you define as your secret to advancement?

KB: For me, the secret to advancement has been education and a dedication to learning. That’s not just traditional education, but also continuing to refine my skills and knowledge. Continuous learning has been key for me to get to this role. Gratitude has also been an important factor — gratitude for where I come from and how I’ve gotten here.

Q: How can Latinas overcome personal biases and barriers?

KB: As Latinas, it’s in our DNA to take risks and take on challenges. We are so capable of it. We speak multiple languages and in some cases we’ve left our homes to find better opportunities. So it’s important to ask for those opportunities and advocate for ourselves. We must advocate for one another. We are one of the fastest-growing populations. I’d encourage Latinas to focus on, “una gente junto, una cultura.” (A people/culture together).

Q: How can companies and leaders ensure they are empowering Latinas?

KB: It’s important to reject the idea that there are not enough qualified Latinas out there. Rather, employers must establish talent pipelines from different places and evolve the idea of conventional recruiting to be more inclusive and intentional. 

Q: What are some effective networking strategies you’ve implemented as you’ve moved up in your career?

KB: There’s strength in a sisterhood of women trying to achieve the same thing: balancing home responsibilities, work, childcare and/or elder care. Together, we learn a lot from each other, so building that network is extremely powerful. Once you’ve built your network, it’s important to find people and colleagues who can provide feedback. Feedback is hard, but it’s important to obtain feedback at all levels, both internally and externally. I’ve gotten some of the best, most authentic feedback from colleagues who are more junior in their careers.

Q: How do you think about and deal with imposter syndrome? 

KB: First, if you’re worried about imposter syndrome, you’re not an imposter. If you’re worried about your qualifications, you’re not an imposter. For me, I try to realize when I’m falling into this imposter syndrome trap so I can pull back from that behavior. None of these habits completely go away, but you learn to understand when you’re doing it; you can recognize when you fall into these traps and pause yourself.

Q: How have you seen your organization supporting families and mothers in particular?

Supporting families is so important for us to keep women in the workplace, especially in the financial sector. To me, when we talk about supporting families, it’s not only supporting mothers who are raising children, but also about being able to support associates with aging parents or aging grandparents through policies that accommodate caregivers. 

KB: Especially in the Hispanic/Latinx community, we have a commitment to our aging society. I feel a sense of responsibility to work hard because of my family. Being part of a company that gives me space to do that and that recognizes its importance is tremendous. And beyond the written policy of maternity or paternity leave, the unwritten parts of the corporate culture matter just as much. Leaders need to foster a culture of acceptance and encourage their employees and colleagues to take the time they need to support their families. That’s what really makes a company great.

Q: What advice do you have for future Latina leaders? 

KB: You are your greatest advocate — don’t forget that! So, ask for something. It could be something small, but continue to ask for those opportunities and advocate for yourself. We have an extraordinary opportunity to reimagine how we work and we can come up with much better and more creative ideas on how we approach work. The future can be really bright with all of us putting our minds together.

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