Inspirational Woman: Alexandra Navarro | Chief of Staff at Paystand

Alexandra Navarro is a Latina executive who has spent 20 years working her way up to various leadership roles. She made it her mission to be a member of the C-suite when she realized the CEOs and executives she was networking with looked nothing like her.

Navarro graduated at age 20 with a degree in engineering in Colombia. She was the only female in the department. Navarro quickly landed a great job in the financial industry. But when she moved to the U.S., she had to start over because she didn’t speak English and was either underqualified or overqualified for jobs. Additionally, she only saw white males in C-suite positions and vowed to find a way to get to that level.
After going to graduate school, travelling the world (she met the Dalai Lama and Pope), writing motivational books, and key jobs under her belt, Navarro is using her experience to help women get into the tech industry.
Navarro is currently the Chief of Staff at Paystand and wants to serve as a mentor for underrepresented communities and help them realize it is possible to build a successful career no matter where you are from, your race or gender.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.

My background is in engineering. When I graduated, I was one of very few women —a ratio of one woman for every 100 men —in my engineering program in Colombia, my home country. I decided to come to the United States to pursue a master’s degree. There were difficult circumstances in my country at that time and I wanted to pursue my dreams and eventually help others in Colombia. But when I got to the United States, I had to face the cruel reality that I did not have the language skills and my degree and career experience were worthless here.

I was disappointed and frustrated because even despite all my efforts to learn English, my accent was hard for many people to understand and I was being judged for that as well.

I went down a deep rabbit hole for years. I didn’t know what to do with my life, with my happiness, with my mission. I took a break to rediscover how I might be most successful in achieving my dreams. I wanted to use what I had learned by living in the U.S., and not lose more time or lose more of my inner power.

With the methodology that was successful for me, I created a book How to Balance Your Life. I created steps to believe in myself again, believe in my dreams, in my mission, and keep working toward my goals. And, that book was published and sold well. Then, I was called to be a contributing author for two other books: The Confident Woman: Tapping Into Your Inner Power and What’s the Difference? Embracing Diversity & Inclusivity.

Once I moved into the nonprofit world, I was able to support some of the many Latinx youth in underrepresented communities in California and help them find opportunities in the workforce in Silicon Valley.

Following that role, I jumped into the C-suite at a nonprofit called Latinas in Tech. There, I helped bridge the gap between the corporate and the nonprofit world to better understand the many disadvantages that Latina women experience when they want to participate in the technology world.

What I found is that a staggering 83% of Latinas don’t have opportunities beyond entry-level jobs in tech. This fueled me and helped me focus on where I wanted to go next. I decided to make it my goal to join the C-suite in the technology world.

I spent time learning and making sure I was prepared. Then, I put myself out there and went through many interviews until I became the chief of staff at Paystand, a company with the mission to decentralize the financial world in the B2B sector.

Part of my role here is to make sure that the company — across the C level — attains the results that are expected so we can IPO. I am also the head of the culture at Paystand, which means I must convey the vision and mission of the leadership to the staff. I am also the head of the Paystand Foundation, whose mission is to help with the decentralization of the financial world and to help underrepresented communities become self-sustainable, hopefully creating circular economies around emerging communities.

I have three kids who I adore and they are the reason and the inspiration of my life. I know that I have the responsibility to do this work – not just for me but for my kids and other Latinas. I want to be that example for other Latinas to say if she can make it, I can make it too.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Ever since I was young and trying to figure out my passions and interests, I always envisioned myself building a bridge between the United States and Colombia for people lacking opportunities in Latin America.

I originally decided to become an engineer because of a conversation I overheard between my dad and his best friend. They were discussing engineering and innovation, specifically in the context of food engineering. The point was that food wouldn’t run out, so my dad’s advice was to always plan to work on something in the present that has relevance for the future – something that would never run out, like food.

But when I became an engineer, I didn’t enjoy it – solely because I was afraid of failing in a world of men. That’s when I realized the flaw in my plan. I shifted my focus to simply earn more money, aiming to climb the corporate ladder and to eventually become a director or manager. This all happened while I was in my home country.

However, when I arrived in the U.S. and had to start again from scratch, my plan had to start over as well. I began by selling flowers, and earrings, and I had to start without a valid professional title in this country. It wasn’t until four years ago that I consciously began to refocus my path. This was after my time at Digital NEST, where I was part of the executive team and learned about the nonprofit world.

I decided I wanted to use my role for good to help Latinos build their careers. But first, I knew I had to work on myself and make sure I was truly focused and continuing to learn. Digital NEST allowed me to tap into my youthful spirit.

The next step was clear: to work in a larger nonprofit organization and then progress to a C-suite position, while acquiring the skills and certifications I was missing. Now, I’m at Paystand, where I began pondering what the next step would be. Currently, I hold the position of Chief of Staff and Culture Officer. This role provides me with more visibility, more opportunities, and a greater impact.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, all the time. Being a woman, being Latina – the only Latina woman in my professional career. Being Colombian, having the voice of a woman, my accent, being a mother of three children, and wanting to be professionally successful. For many years, I was in survival mode where I couldn’t make ends meet, where I had my children without health insurance, not having enough money to pay the rent, and facing the challenges that arise in a marriage.

Until one day I decided that I was my own greatest challenge. I learned to love and accept myself just as I am, to listen to myself, and to know what the next steps were in my career, in my personal and professional life. I truly listened to that intuition or compass that I call God. I started from scratch multiple times. Starting over in life is a big challenge, but once I had the vision of what I want, a life mission, established values, and faith in God – everything became possible.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The one thing I believe has been a factor in my success is the persistence of the vision I have of what I want to achieve, and the clarity of my mission – what I am looking to achieve. Keep moving forward.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I believe that everyone should have a mentor. I have been a mentor several times, and I love being one. I have had mentors in my life who have come and gone, but they have always helped me, inspired me, and advised me. I think everyone should have a coach, a spiritual guide, a mentor, and an advocate to help them on their road to professional success.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I would like to see more women supporting each other and competing less. Let’s focus on building each other up and criticise each other less. While easier said than done, we need to judge ourselves and each other less. There are enough pressures and stresses in the world today. We don’t need to add more, but instead should embrace our differences, uniqueness and sisterhood. We don’t see men competing like a lot of women do. I believe we are starting to see a shift. The more we support and encourage one another, the more we will prosper and the sooner we will reach gender equality.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Being the head of the Paystand Foundation, from the corporate side.

 I worked for many years in the nonprofit sector. I had drafted the pain points that non-profits and people without resources face because I was on that side for many years. I always believed that corporations must help and have social responsibility. So, achieving the role of being a bridge between corporate and nonprofit, between the United States and Latin America—starting with leading the foundation of a company that aims to decentralize the financial system—fills me with pride. It is a significant achievement.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

The advice would be to plan from the very beginning, from a young age, to figure out what I want, write it down, and understand why I want it. To always live by my values, to never lose that compass that, for me, is God, guiding me, giving me strength, and providing discernment.

I would tell myself not to be afraid to ask for help to take pride in who I am, in my roots, and not to fear or be ashamed of my identity. I would advise myself to engage in networking and pursue a master’s degree because education is the way to break into the system and move forward.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Right now, my current challenge is bringing change and a cultural shift at Paystand. Our company has significant objectives and goals so we need to be focused and disciplined to achieve results. We place a lot of focus on the core values that we want all employees to live by. I want the corporate culture to become a part of the company’s DNA, where everyone takes pride in who we are, and where employees have a clear understanding of our company mission, vision, values, and results. We need to effectively communicate, grow leaders within the company, and become stronger leaders in our personal lives.

Read more from our inspirational women here.

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