According to a report by UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, Latinas are leaving the workforce at higher rates than any other demographic. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of Latinas in the workforce dropped by 2.74%, meaning there are 336,000 fewer Latinas in the labor force. Like the millions of non-Latinx workers who have also vacated their workstations, these women mostly attribute their departures to family needs and a lack of child care support. However, the reason for these resignations are undoubtedly compounded for marginalized communities in ways statistics have yet to fully show.
For some Latinas, the mirage of the American Dream faded amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and many chose to divest from the cultural, societal, and professional standards placed on first- and second-generation communities. Watching elders, namely family matriarchs, work tirelessly to provide for relatives in the U.S. and back home, oftentimes sacrificing their own needs to ensure their loved ones have a better life, offered a sobering view of this intangible dream few of us have truly achieved. After witnessing firsthand the emotional, mental, and physical toll of this investment, Latinas are increasingly ditching traditional work models in favor of peace of mind, work-life balance, overall health and, yes, family. Here’s why and how four Latinas have left their jobs or industries.
Juliana Pache, 29, Social Media Professional in New York
Media breeds an unhealthy culture where people are constantly working and feeling guilty when they’re not. Executives attribute this unspoken expectation to be on-call 24/7 to the nature of the business or a byproduct of the round-the-clock news cycle, rather than a structural issue that must be addressed.
As a social media professional, I’m used to days that involve assignments that go beyond my job description and intersect with different departments. My days leading strategy and production across social media platforms are jam-packed with reviewing calendars, searching for content, promoting original stories, editing videos, and requesting, tracking, or sometimes creating assets. I’m touching base with a number of teams internally and externally to ensure social media goals are met and delivering insights to my colleagues to make sure they’re briefed on the metrics.
Throughout my nine years in social media, I’ve experienced challenging and toxic work environments. Each time, I have voiced my concerns with my managers in hopes they’d be resolved—for me, the team, and the company. But it was my last position at a music magazine that served as a wake-up call. Working from home due to the pandemic shifted my values. It allowed me to implement feasible boundaries, like closing my laptop and not responding to Slack messages after 6 p.m. But despite the changes I was making, I still felt burnt out while executing an aggressive social media strategy that fell on a team of two. I don’t think I’ve ever had panic attacks before, but one week I was having them pretty frequently.
For my mental and physical health, I quit in August. But something unexpected happened: I was asked to stay and was assured that my requests for support, such as hiring additional team members and clear communication on responsibilities and output, would be met. However, when I returned from a two-week break—an accommodation made only after I walked off the job—I found that nothing had changed. In October, roughly five weeks later, I realized I was working harder than before and gave in my notice again—this time for good. I’m now happily self-employed, working as a freelance social media strategist and managing my jewelry shop, Clay Jewels by Jules.
Dr. Erika Cantu, 37, Pediatrics Specialist in Houston, Texas
I’m the first doctor in my family. I didn’t always know that I wanted to work in the medical field. It’s something I discovered while working at a community center in Boston's Latinx immigrant neighborhood of Jamaica Plains and volunteering in the pediatrics unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. While I enjoyed helping kids, I had to convince myself I was worthy to go to medical school. I appreciate my mother so much for constantly encouraging me. Back then, her affirmations helped me work through imposter syndrome while I was completing my tenure at UT Southwestern Medical School, doing my residency, and after joining my first practice.
I knew that I wanted to serve an immigrant population—it was important for me to help my community—so I took a position at a faraway clinic that mostly served children of Central and South American, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and African descent. But while I loved the work I was doing, I was burning out. The commute was long, and the workdays were even longer. On top of my six-days-a week clinic schedule, I was on-call, squeezing in time with newborns at the hospital when I could.
When my three-year contract ended, I should have taken a break. Instead, I put pressure on myself to get back to work and locked down my next gig. At this new clinic, there weren’t weekend shifts, but I was just as busy. It was a fast-paced environment, and the short period of time I had with patients made me nervous. There might be a kid with cancer, or another serious ailment, and I was worried that I was going to miss it because things were moving so fast. There was so much pressure to get the patients in and out. Within two months, I was exhausted—again.
Then the pandemic hit. The number of patients dropped, and uncertainty around job security grew. Ultimately, my salary was cut by 20%, but I was given Wednesdays off. As I had more free time to hike and enjoy life, I realized that I only wanted to work part time from there on out. Once my two-year contract was up, I began interviewing and landed a 30-hour position at a slower-paced clinic. Though it’s still a bit of a drive, I’m happy. And once again, my mom has encouraged me and reassured me about my decision. Sometimes I look back and think, why didn't I make this decision sooner?
Cristina Martinez, 30, Academic in New York
Anyone in academia will tell you the industry is toxic, competitive, ego-driven, territorial, and insincere. Trying to navigate it as a Latina has left me jaded. To start, there's a baseline expectation for anyone who wants to get a tenure-track position in academia: for the first six years of your career, you have to be willing to move and live anywhere in the world. As a native of Brooklyn, New York, a majority of my family resides in the city, and I had hoped to remain in the tri-state area. But with jobs so few and far between, I ended up taking a coveted position in the Midwest.
It was the start of the pandemic, and stay-at-home orders were in place across the country, so I was able to arrange temporarily working remotely in New York. Things were looking up. But then I received some life-changing news: I found out I was pregnant. It was a joyous moment until I learned about my employer’s parental leave policy: they offered two weeks of paid leave and three months unpaid. I was stunned. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) granted the standard 12 weeks within a 12-month period of unpaid, job-protected leave, that just wasn’t enough.
Getting pregnant during a pandemic helped me reframe my thinking. I’ve realized that what's important to me doesn’t totally align with societal standards of success and happiness. Our society needs a more holistic, progressive, and positive look on work-life balance and parenthood. Personally, I’ve taken a step back to adjust to this life change. Right now, I want to be present for my child and write a book. I’ll worry about picking up my career again at another time.
Jessica Fuentes, 28, Nonprofit Professional in Houston, Texas
Working from home has been a struggle. When the government agency I worked for stopped meeting in the office, my clerical work had to be done from a small section in the room where I used to play video games. The transition magnified everyday work stressors and feelings that I was undervalued. I had never been offered a promotion, and I was severely overworked and undercompensated. It began to take a toll on my mental health. Still, I tried to make the best out of the situation.
Whenever something happened at work and I wanted to leave my job, I always thought of my Salvadoran mother, a hardworking single mom who never had the option to quit her job as a day laborer or a school custodian. Watching her work tirelessly to make a better life for herself and our family, I learned what it means to persevere in spite of challenges. And now that I’m older, my income helps to support our household; quitting a position I was in for four years was off the table—at least until I found a new opportunity.
Thankfully, my decade-plus volunteer work with the Houston community led to a job offer in April 2020. I even get to go into the office and give back to the community. Whether I’m organizing community events or offering in-person disaster relief, I enjoy a combination of in-office and field work activities, which complements my hands-on work style.
My biggest lesson, though: Recharge my battery. These days, I prioritize outdoor activities, like running, walking, and cycling. Also, if I need to take the day to mentally regenerate, I know I have the option to do so because my employer offers mental health days. We Latinas have been programmed to basically be as strong as possible in everything that we do. But there are times when we have to sit back and think about what is best for ourselves.