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Mariela Dabbah Headshot

What Keeps Latinos from Helping Other Latinos?

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A frequent complaint I hear from Latinos trying to break into power circles is that other Latinos who are already there don't extend a helping hand. I've seen it myself. And if you wonder, like I do, why there aren't more visible Latino leaders or why our share of power is nowhere near the percentage of the Latino population in this country, part of the answer might lie in the lack of a helping Latino hand.

As a media contributor at national and local levels, I have spent the last few years pursuing opportunities in English media, because I believe that in order to expand my message and influence, I need to move beyond talking to an audience with a background similar to my own. Otherwise, I'm just preaching to the choir instead of raising awareness in a segment of the population that may not understand a Latino perspective.

Unfortunately, like most of you, I have often heard renowned Latinos give public speeches about the importance of pulling up those who follow in their footsteps--then seen them turn around and cut the rope when they are asked for help. A few days ago, I ran into an acquaintance of mine, one of those well-positioned Latinos, who I had personally heard saying repeatedly that more diversity was needed in the newsroom. Only a few days earlier I had sent him an email asking for help introducing me to one of his producers and he had responded with a suggestion that was not particularly helpful. When we met, he said 'hello' from a distance of only five feet and then turned and walked away as I was opening my mouth to follow up on our email exchange. The introduction I was hoping for wasn't going to happen.

I know the world doesn't revolve around me and my agenda. That people are protective of their connections and their turf. That many are extremely busy, understaffed and underpaid. That most high-ranking Latinos receive an overwhelming number of requests that they cannot possibly fulfill, and that these requests often come from people who are not the right candidates for the help they seek.

But nobody builds a successful career alone. No matter how smart you are, all successful careers are built upon a large, strong network and with the help of sponsors who at some point champion you as the right candidate for that awesome opportunity. So why do people find it so hard to help others who are respected professionals in their fields when they reach the pinnacle of their careers and it's within their power to do so? And I'm not talking about helping other Latinos only because of their ethnicity. No, I'm talking about giving access to corporate networks to accomplished professionals who are still developing their networks given their more recent entry into the corporate world.

I can't help question people's motives. Whenever any one of us resists opening a door, we are shrinking the pie instead of expanding it for everyone. You may do it because you are one of very few Latinos in your company and you don't want others to perceive you as an activist. You may do it because you don't want your bosses to think your personal network is mainly Hispanic. You may do it because you fear that if other Latinos walk in they may take something away from you. Or because you feel that if they do a less than stellar job it will reflect poorly on you. Whatever the reason, it may be worth re-examining.

The truth is that if you have to protect yourself in such a way, it probably means you're not as indispensable as you think. Or you are the "token Latino" in the wrong company and eventually they will get rid of you, too. In practical terms, you are putting up a stumbling block for all Hispanics trying to move into circles of power, something that in the end affects all of us. Because as long as we continue to have such poor representation at executive levels in the private and public sectors of this country, the Hispanic community will continue to be discounted. We don't need one leader. We need many leaders who can carry the very diverse voices of this community.

So, while you're busy making sure nobody else climbs the ladder next to you, you are missing the chance of a lifetime: to become the power broker for every Latino and Latina of high caliber. To create a legacy of leadership beyond your own and be remembered as someone who helped set the stage for a new conversation in this wonderful country of ours.

An earlier version of this column appeared on Fox News Latino on July 27, 2011 under a different title.