Level Up Latina: How three Latinas create a space for women empowerment


Courtesy of Level Up Latina

Meet Cecy, Vero and Irene, las mujeres de poder.

Gillian Moran-Perez, News Editor

In honor of Women’s History month, The Sundial spoke with three vivacious Latina women, Veronica “Vero” Burgos-Gudiel, Cecilia “Cecy” Rodriguez, and Irene Quevedo, who have created Level Up Latina, or LUL, an online platform where they empower more women in their finances, professional life, and personal wellness.

Cecy oversees self-care and encourages having a balanced life. Irene strives to empower women to become leaders and Vero teaches Latinas how to manage their finances, something that isn’t taught to them, she said.

“We’re a really good balance, we’re the crazy girls that went to UCSB, down to earthiness,” Irene said. “We crack up at each other’s silly jokes, keep each other real as an entity and identity.”

Aside from their business, LUL has their own podcast that can be found on their website and Spotify. They host conversations on various topics, from breaking stereotypes to talking about advice that they would give to their younger selves.

In uncertain times of self-isolation, the ladies of LUL have offered some self care tips.

What are some self care tips to practice during quarantine?

Vero: Go outside and get fresh air … don’t just stay inside. Do something you have been putting off for a while. Read that book, watch that one film, call that one person, organize your closet, write in your journal, or try to meditate.

Cecy: Go for a run or a walk (making sure to stay six feet from others) unless you’re feeling sick. Listen to podcasts. Work on your day and nighttime skin care routine (now you have the time to do 20 minute masks). Exercise at home with your roomie, friend or significant other (a lot of trainers are doing live workouts or adding at-home workouts on their social media during this quarantine).

Irene: Pray (if you’re faith-based). Find social opportunities to fill moments of boredom, or your desire to interact, via FaceTime calls or Zoom/Google hangouts. Admit/vent to a friend or close relative if you’re feeling fear or anxiety. Don’t keep those very honest emotions bottled up — better to release them, take a deep breath, and let go of tension/stress felt by not sharing.

How is it harder for women of color to get that pay raise/salary? Is there a bigger gender gap with women of color?

Irene: Compared to men we are definitely making a fraction, it’s super important that we are always on that message. We lead the charge in LUL, telling women to put themselves out there. Vero was leading large-scale events, bringing in so much revenue for her company. The coaching she does is keeping a diligent record that goes above and beyond and asking her clients, “Are you sharing that? Are you doing more than your male counterpart?” You need to show that. A good example is now with the coronavirus, she gets to decide what board members are going to say and thank god she can push through and be taken seriously and paid in relation. You gotta be the good cop and different, women don’t get access to the CEO chair. This gets me fired up!

Vero: Boy, we’re going to get there kicking and screaming, making as much as a male! I don’t deserve it and I earned it! (“Put it on a T-shirt!” Cecy and Irene cheered in the background.)

Does it help that all three of you are mothers and can fully understand each other compared to other environments in the workforce?

Cecy: We all came into LUL and we were already mothers so we understood what that entails and what we needed to. Our priorities were as a mother and from a business standpoint what needs to get done, to be flexible with childcare, all very understanding with schedules. Vero and I are stay-at-home moms, sometimes we don’t have childcare. It’s different from a workplace with not so much flexibility.

Vero: It definitely worked out. There have been moments where it’s been stressful because everyone is at different places in motherhoods, but I’m thankful for my friends and their support. Irene has years of experience, she’s been very patient and understanding. Even though we had to accommodate and be flexible, we do understand that there are different needs of motherhood.

Irene: It’s just a culture thing, I couldn’t last this long if it wasn’t an environment that didn’t create a work-life balance, renegotiate commitment, not drive each other crazy or feel crappy. That’s what’s cool about being an entrepreneur, they have flexibility to be untraditional and have the standards of a business, so mothers cannot go crazy to help each other work around each other. More businesses should embrace that and we’re gonna try to be the example of that. It’s not fair that dad should be in the work office and mom is in the PTA meeting. This is a greater call to show flexibility, patience, what’s traditional and not, especially in business. Cecy worked at a law firm, she was a cherished employee. She brought her culture to work, like she brought Dia de los Muertos. Be direct, be respectful, say what’s on your mind. You grew up with a feisty grandmother or mother, learn to use it in business respectfully.

Vero: At LUL, not only do we bring in the story into the workplace, LUL can assist other companies. With more women entering the workforce, we’re going to need the right support system. It’s very likely that if you are a woman in an industry you will find yourself becoming a mom and companies need to provide flexibility and comfort to their women. We have a lot to show for ourselves, (and we prove that) day-by-day in the industry. If you are a woman and a boss you understand that, slowly but surely, we’ll get to that point. LUL can definitely help other companies understand to implement that from the get-go instead of waiting for their first woman to go on maternity leave.

What is the most asked question or advice you get from your clients?

Cecy: From recent clients, how not to feel guilty, how do you go about higher education, how do you go about giving input at work without being looked down by elders.

Irene: How to leave a toxic work environment, elevating careers, how do I get unstuck.

Why is it important for spaces like LUL to exist?

Vero: For me, it became very evident that big companies and corporations did not have women or people that look like me to reach out and assist me to put a career path for me as a Latina woman. A lot of industries I worked at were male dominated … Having something like Level Up Latina would really help in that transition as a college grad into their professional career. I didn’t even have people in my family to reach out at the time, not one (professional) woman in her family, LUL was a void that needed to be filled.

Irene: On the work side, as a Latina there is a need to bridge the gap between how our parents grew up and how we were growing up. All three of us are the first to go to college. We’re having to navigate spaces before us, the confidence that Latinas build in women gives women courage. We don’t have everything figured out so that more of us are represented, but we have each other’s back.

What advice would you give to students graduating from college?

Vero: I have three nieces who I mentored, one of them recently graduated from Sacramento State and she felt lost. I told her there are three things I recommend. There’s people who know what to do after they graduate, then there’s people who have an idea of what they’re good at but unsure which way to guide their strengths:
1. Volunteer at organizations that spike your interest.
2. Look for an internship that has a stipend.
3. Get a job. Doesn’t have to be the perfect job or the ideal place. At least it’s somewhere to start off, because what happens six months later are student loans. It could be somewhere that at least interests you, work in that place for at least a year and it helps to see commitment on a resume.
Don’t just stay at home stressing or worrying. The first year out of college is stressful because families at home can be expecting, there’s so many people like yourself trying to get a job. Just be patient, there’s no direct or right way to get where you want to be. Slow down, don’t stress, give yourself a shot.
One of your podcasts’ topics is asking for help. Being the breadwinners and breaking stereotypes, how can women continue to do so?

Cecy: Just exactly what we’re doing by sharing our struggles, telling people that we are okay with it, changing the way that our families have brought us up, sharing that story, talking to women, coaching women that are following similar footsteps or wanting to go to grad school, letting them know it’s okay that you’re going to be the only breadwinner in the household.

Vero: The conversation starts there with a close circle of friends, this is one of the best times in your life because that’s when you get to be so close to your people and discuss ideologies and systems in place. It starts there, by starting a conversation with your friends. Hey, even when you do find someone interested in dating, (you can ask them), how do you feel with the woman making more money than you? … Times are changing and even though women are getting paid less to the dollar now we are getting into industries that require higher salary. We need to be comfortable with that and communicate that with life partners. It’s a perfect time to show that with our family. Things are a little different, you can find that someone that can take care of you is you — the younger you are and understand that, the better you’ll be in life.

How does LUL tackle the issue of financial literacy?

Irene: A lot of us grow up with issues about money. When I deal with the client, I ask what beliefs they have about money, guilt, and how they see money — as abundance or scarcity?

Vero: In general, a lot of Latinas/os come from low-income families, we find the best way to make a little bit of money to go a long way. All three of us had moms saying, “Be careful with your money,” to be able to maintain a well-balanced household. We were told not to ask questions … but financial wealth affects our personal health. (You have to ask yourself): “What are my basic needs and wants?” At the end of the day money comes and goes but we can’t be afraid of it. We’re young and growing, leaning towards living longer lives. We’re going to need the finances to be able to live a comfortable life, make little choices and decisions, money is such an everyday thing we cannot be afraid of it and we can’t be afraid to make decisions on it just because we didn’t learn about it. We have to be able to bring ourselves to be comfortable.

How can first-generation individuals trailblaze through cultural influences?

Irene: Best advice, we are always leveling up, even those who have gone through their 20s, 30s. I want to keep leveling up at 92. However you choose to live your life, you just got to get better with every year, every decade, if you’re not growing you’re dying. That’s leveling up, just getting better with age.

Cecy: Your journey is going to change, things change, people come into your lives, things change again; that journey should be open to that change. Be open to change, level it up each year and be open to other experiences.

Vero: Be confident in yourself and the decisions you make, be adaptable to change and try to adapt as quickly as possible and be able to ask for help for what you don’t know. Don’t pretend, we can’t expect ourselves to know everything. Just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean you devalue yourself.

How would the three of you describe each other in a few words?

Irene: Cecy is the heart. Vero is the humor, no one more charismatic, witty. Cecy keeps up in the most positive mood.

Cecy: Irene is the one that keeps us in line. Irene the sergeant, and Vero is the financial momma.

Vero: Irene is definitely the storyteller, she has this vivacious way of speaking and understanding her idea of things. Cecy is her own, professional sexy choreographer, a duality creature, she’s our balance.