See It to Be It : Strategic HR Consultant (w/ Angelica Patlán)

Amy C. Waninger chats with Angelica Patlán, human resources coordinator at Assemble HR Consulting, on this installment of See It to Be It. As the proud daughter of a single mother and first-generation college graduate, Angelica has been making waves since day one by overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers, so it is no surprise that she is making waves within the HR space to break down obstacles and barriers for others and make a better future for work and HR.

You can connect with Angelica on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about Assemble HR? Check out their website.

TRANSCRIPT

Zach: Living Corporate is brought to you by The Break Room. Have you ever felt burnt out, depressed or otherwise exhausted by being one of the only ones at work? You know what I’m talking about. Hosted by Black psychologists, psychiatrists and PhDs, The Break Room is a live weekly web show in the Living Corporate network that discusses mental health, wellness, and healing for Black folks at work. Name another weekly show explicitly focused on mental health, wellness, and healing for Black folks at work. I’ll wait. This is why you’ve got to check out The Break Room airing every Thursday 7PM Central Standard time on livingcorporate.tv.
Amy [00:47]:  Hello everyone. This is See It To Be It, the Saturday podcast from Living Corporate. Living Corporate is a digital media network that centers and amplifies Black and brown people at work. My name is Amy C. Waninger and I’m the host of See It to Be It. When I was growing up in rural Southern Indiana, I didn’t know about people who went to college or who worked in professional roles. Why? Because when people went to college, they didn’t come back. I didn’t know what those jobs looked like or how to break into them, but this show isn’t about me, it’s about our guests. Every Saturday I bring you career stories from everyday role models in jobs you may not know exist. More importantly, the folks I interview share their perspectives as Black and brown professionals in jobs and environments where they may be the only. My guest today is Angelica Patlan, a strategic HR consultant, but before we get to the interview, we’re going to tap in with Tristan for some career advice.
Tristan [01:49]:  What is going on, y’all? It’s Tristan Layfield of Layfield Resume Consulting, and I’ve teamed up with Living Corporate to bring you all a weekly career tip. This week let’s talk about the length of your resume. Have you ever been told that your resume has to be 1-page? I get so many questions during my consultations on how long can their resume be. I think getting your resume to one page is definitely a good goal but I also understand that sometimes that’s just not possible. I definitely understand the logic behind a 1 page resume. With the average job posting getting 200+ applicants and recruiters scanning resumes for 6 seconds on average, getting to the point is definitely necessary, but I think there is another factor we need to take into consideration and that’s relevancy. I always tell my clients that there are a two things you want to consider before adding a second page. First, when it comes to things older roles, awards, certifications, and more try to be honest with yourself, are these things adding skills or experience that aren’t already represented by more recent roles OR are you holding on to it due to an emotional attachment. If it’s adding value, then keep it. But if you want it there because you think it brings you some sort of clout then I would reconsider keeping it on your resume because it may land you in the no pile. The second thing you should ask yourself is can you fill an entire page. I’m by no means a 1-page advocate but I do believe that if you are going to use a second page it needs to be filled with relevant content. If you have anything less than three quarters of a page, I would suggest you try to figure out a way to condense. While I can definitely see the benefit of a second page, I don’t recommend adding pages beyond that. Remember, this advice is for resumes. If you have a CV, that’s a little bit of a different story. This tip was brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, twitter, and facebook at @LayfieldResume or connect with me, Tristan Layfield, on LinkedIn!
Zach: Living Corporate is brought to you by The Group Chat, a bi-weekly web show on the Living Corporate network that tackles diversity, equity and inclusion topics your jobs, legal and HR departments would never let fly. With topics like white supremacy at work, finding out that I’m a Karen, decolonizing D&I, racial gaslighting at work and impostor syndrome while Black, you may be able to see why, but you may also be able to see why so many folks love it. Between our incredible host and our guests, which range from Fortune 500 executives to academics, to activists, to entrepreneurs, every other Saturday at 10:00 AM Central Standard is something special. So make sure you check out The Group Chat on livingcorporate.tv.
Amy [04:39]:  As the proud daughter of a single mother and first-generation college graduate, Angelica has been making waves since day one by overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers. So it’s no surprise that she’s making waves within the HR space to break down obstacles and barriers for others and make a better future for work and for HR. She has a BA in anthropology and a Master’s of Science in human resource management. Angelica, welcome to the show.
Angelica [05:07]: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Amy [05:11]:  I am so glad to have you. I’ve had a number of D&I professionals on the show. I don’t know if I’ve ever had anyone in HR that still worked in HR at a company. So I had an HR consultant at one point, and so I just really want to dig into this because there are a lot of things that people think they know about HR, and there are a lot of myths and misconceptions, and I want to clear all of that up, or at least some of it today, but can you just start by telling us what drew you into this field? How did you get started in human resources?
Angelica [05:45]: Sure. So I started in human resources really out of a toxic workplace. I had joined an organization right out of college. I was super excited, bright eyed, ready to start an amazing career, and what I was met with was something that I had never experienced before, walking on eggshells, questioning myself, wondering “Is it me? Am I doing something wrong?” And really feeling like there wasn’t a lot of support to really talk through thes situation, and I really wondered, “Is this all there is in life? Is this what work is supposed to be like?” Now like you said, I am the daughter of a single mom and so my grandparents, my maternal grandparents also helped raise me and their mentality was just put your head down, work hard, keep doing hard work and you’ll be okay. People will see your value and your achievements, but it doesn’t always happen that way and so I had to learn the hard way, and after that experience I thought, “What is going on? How can we fix this? And who is supposed to be fixing this?” Because at the time I had no idea and I thought to myself, “What does HR actually do?” Because like you said, there are a lot of myths, and the HR that I knew was all about hiring, disciplining, and firing, and that’s it. So when I started to look into it more, I actually found strategic human resources, and I enrolled in a program with Southern New Hampshire University where we really went over the human resources that I don’t think is in a lot of organizations, which is truly sad, but it inspired me to realize that human resources is way more than we think it is, and that’s the path I decided to take.
Amy [07:37]:  That’s great. I want to dive into so many of the things that you said, but let’s start with the term strategic human resources, because that’s a new phrase for a lot of people I’m guessing . Can you kind of explain what you mean by that and what that work entails?
Angelica [07:54]: Sure. So when we usually think about HR, it’s usually transactional. Like “Here’s your paperwork, thanks so much, here, you’re hired,” and that kind of thing, but really strategic human resources should be a business partner, which means they understand what is going on in the business, the organizational goals, they understand the objectives of their stakeholders. So that’s C-suite leadership, but also middle managers, and they are the strategic masterminds basically of how to get all of these resources to work together in a way that helps the organization meet its goal and do it in a way that keeps the humanity within the workplace and keeps people engaged.
Amy [08:35]:  So can you give us some examples of how that works in real life? What are some of the projects that you undertake or like, some of the actual work that you do day to day. Make this real for us.
Angelica [08:47]: So I recently began as; I’m an HR consultant, but my official title is human resource coordinator with Assemble Network or Assemble HR Consulting, and the whole mission is to bring people-focused leadership back to the workplace. So that means putting together programs, whether it’s about D&I or decision-making feedback, so that people understand how to work together with their leaders. But there are also ones that are particular just to leadership, because that allows people in those leadership positions to understand where there may be gaps in their skills and where there may be areas that they need to strengthen or improve on, because at the end of the day, we’re all just people interacting with each other and if HR isn’t there to kind of support that growth and that development, then that’s when those separations and fractions can occur.
Amy [09:42]:  So when you look at the work that you were doing prior, when you said “Does it really have to be this way? Is this all there is?”, how might someone in your role have helped in that situation?
Angelica [09:56]: I think it’s all about being intentional and aware, and what I mean by that is you should have an intention with human resources, with your people. So being intentional about your conversations, getting to know someone past just “Hello, how are you,” or “Here’s your paperwork and benefits, thanks so much, here’s an email to contact us.” And it’s also about being aware. So if there are certain situations that are coming up that are a pattern with certain people, then that could be a situation that you need to be aware of and be proactive with rather than reactive, and that would have helped in the situation that I was in because oftentimes it was very reactive. A situation would come up, “Oh, deal with that really fast and then get it over with,” whereas if we would have just taken the first steps to really understand “What is the dynamic in this particular department,” or “What is the culture within this department, and how is that affecting this situation? How is that kind of continuing a pattern?” It would have been solved a lot easier and probably would have helped all of the employees within that department.

Amy [11:07]:  Thank you for kind of connecting those dots for us, I appreciate that. One of the things that you said that really struck me, I hear this so much from people who are first-generation college students, first-generation professionals whose parents were maybe working class or working poor or lower middle class, this notion that you just work hard and people will notice, and that will be enough, and those of us who got that advice early on sadly wasted a lot of time in our careers trying to follow it. So can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned since then and how that’s impacted your work?
Angelica [11:48]: Oh, it’s impacted my work a ton. I’ve had to realize that nobody is going to see the work that you do unless you advocate for yourself.. I’ve really learned that it’s important to be an advocate for yourself, to really sell yourself and almost market yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with depending on your culture. So me being a Latina and the way that I was brought up, that can feel very uncomfortable to try to talk about yourself in a way that almost feels like you’re being arrogant or boasting, but I think it’s important to remember that it’s not boasting. It’s true and we did all of these things. We were not lying. We have major accomplishments that often we don’t celebrate, we don’t acknowledge, we don’t highlight for fear of being mistaken as arrogant or whatnot. But in reality, that’s just us. We are pretty magnificent people and we do work hard, and so that helped me really understand, “Well, I have the ability to speak up for myself, and I need to do so if I really want to progress in my career.”
Amy [12:59]:  Absolutely. I love that. It’s not boasting if it’s true. It ain’t bragging if it’s true.  That was something that for me was such a struggle because I just wanted to do a good job, and one of my parents’ favorite phrases when I was growing up is, and you could probably finish this one for me, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.” Have you ever heard that one?
Angelica [13:23]: No, I haven’t heard that one.
Amy [13:25]:  So in my Southern Indiana upbringing that was a favorite, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back,” meaning don’t talk about how great you are, just keep working, just keep going,” and it occurs to me that those of us who grew up in those kinds of environments, those heads down, work hard, fruits of your labor kinds of environments, that is true. If you’re too busy shooting the [bleep], you’re not going to get the work done. I mean, for the people that I knew growing up, manufacturing and farming and those sorts of things, the results were there, and everybody could see it because it piled up at the end of the day, but it doesn’t work that way when you’re sitting in a cubicle in an office. And Angelica, I’m wondering, given the cultural background that you came from, how much of that was also a struggle between wanting to kind of break out of the class culture and the subculture that you grew up in in terms of “How do I apply who I am, still be authentic to me in the workplace,” but then there’s also a balance there I would imagine, especially for a young Latina woman, about being in a white-dominated, male-dominated workplace and not wanting to—the word that I’m coming up with is not the right word, but not wanting to, like, get out of your place. There’s also backlash against people who don’t fit the mold, don’t fit the historical mold, and then who try to break in. So it’s like you have to do a certain amount of speaking up for yourself to be seen as a professional, but then if you do too much of that as a young Latina, now you’re painted into a different corner that you may not want to be. Can you talk a little bit about how you experienced that? Because I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
Angelica [15:23]: Yes. You know, funny enough, I was able to go to a predominantly white institution for college at Smith College in Massachusetts, and that was the experience that really opened my eyes to the need to balance, especially in situations where you are in a predominantly white setting, and there are certain nuances that while not explicitly stated are frowned upon and you can tell based on people’s reactions. So going into the workplace, I had to really read my audience and understand, “Okay, who is this person? What is important to them?” It’s almost like playing a game, you really need to understand who the person is sitting across from you. “What is important to them?” How can you help them with what’s important to them, but then not lose yourself in that organization and trying to prove yourself that you are worthy or valuable? So for me, I struggled with that early on in my first organization. I definitely lost my identity. I molded myself, conformed into what I thought people would want to see, but at the end of the day, the only person that was left really struggling and really lost was me. And after that experience, I realized you can change yourself for other people and try to make yourself into what you think they want but at the end of the day, it’s not really going to matter because you’re not going to be able to keep that up for the long-term, and if somebody doesn’t like you for who you are, then that’s not on you, that’s on the other person, and sometimes we have to separate that. We have to understand that sometimes other people’s responses to our authentic self is not our responsibility. If we know that we came from a place of wholeness, a place of honesty, a place of true authenticity, then that’s what matters, and that’s what I’ve had to lead with, is I’m not going to be everything for everyone, and that’s okay.
Amy [17:23]:  I think that is so important for people to hear and for people to internalize early in their careers, because oftentimes when we feel like a fish out of water, when we feel like we’re the only, and we have to succeed because it’s not just us that’s dependent on that, it’s our families that put so much into us to get us to that point. So there’s a lot more pressure than just our own pressure in those kinds of situations, and so we feel all of the burden, right, of those expectations. It can be easy to forget who we are and what we want and so thank you for sharing that. Is there really a defining moment for you where this kind of came to a head and you said, “This is it, this is the line in the sand, I’ve got to do something different,” or was this a slow realization over time for you? 
 Angelica [18:11]: I think it was a little bit of both for me. I had spent over three years in the job that I had when I came out of college and slowly but surely I kept feeling that gnawing and feeling that something was off, something was just not right and at the end, I’ll be honest, I pretty much like slipped into a depression. After that job, I felt like “Who am I, what am I doing here? I have no clue. This is not the life that I thought I was going to have.” I think sometimes we’re, especially as brown and Black people, we are taught this narrative that if you do X, Y, and Z you’ll get to happiness and success. There’s like almost this recipe that you have to follow, and so at the end I was like, “I did the recipe, where’s my dish?” And it really kind of shook me. It really made me feel like, “Wow,” like, “Now what? How am I going to navigate this? And how am I going to figure out what I actually need to be doing?” So I would say it was slow in the beginning, and then it hit me at the end, and it still was slow a little bit after that to realize I don’t have to fit into somebody else’s narrative to be valuable and worthy and I just need to show up as myself and that’s what matters, because I know that my work ethic will speak for itself. But if I’m not showing up as myself and being true to who I am, then I’m going to end up in the same situation I was in.
Amy [19:37]:  Yes, wow. Thank you for sharing that with us. I hope that our listeners are appreciating this and the vulnerability that you’re sharing, because I feel like in therapy, it’s like, oh my gosh, you’re speaking so many people’s truth right now. So thank you for that. Let me shift back a little bit to your role at Assemble; how can Assemble help leaders bridge that gap between wanting to build diverse teams, but then also meeting the needs of diverse teams? Because there’s a difference there. You can’t just bring people in and expect them to assimilate. you have to bring them in and make them feel welcome. How does your organization help with that?
Angelica [20:15]: So Assemble has a D&I framework that they use, and really you can’t have people say they want diverse teams if they don’t even understand the basic tenants of diversity, equity and inclusion, and that’s not everybody’s upbringing, culture, socialization narrative. So you really have to start with the basics and help them understand that having the basics is not enough, and that’s what Assemble teaches is really having the basic knowledge, but then moving into the hard conversations, the ones that make you uncomfortable, and it also means bringing in the people that are affected the most. So I know that Assemble holds roundtables with organizations, with their employees, to really understand how the employees are experiencing diversity, equity and inclusion, and then they also revert back to the leaders as well to say, “Hey, what is your idea of what’s going on in this organization?” And it really helps both sides come together and understand, “We may have a gap, we may have things that need to be built upon, or we may not even understand what exactly we’re trying to do at all,” and so I found that that’s super important because, like you said, you can bring as many people as you want into your organization who are diverse, but if you don’t have the structure and the basic knowledge to support those people, they are not going to stay.
Amy [21:38]:  Absolutely. I was scrolling through my Twitter feed of, like, things you learn when you grow up poor, because I didn’t grow up–I mean, we weren’t destitute, but we didn’t have a lot of money, and I certainly had friends who were on free lunches and that sort of thing, and it just occurs to me that one of the things that was in that thread was you never talk about what you dream about when you’re young and you’re poor because people are there to tell you you’ll never get there, you can’t have it, and then those same kids grow up into adults who go into the workplace and one of the first conversations their managers have with them is “So what are your goals? What are your dreams? What are your ambitions?” And they can’t, in those few moments, undo a lifetime of being conditioned out of those conversations. And so there’s just so much, I think, to unwrap when we get to all the different perspectives that people might have coming in all the different ways that they were raised and different value systems that they bring and then all of the expectations of people who have had a seat in these offices for a while who don’t realize that that’s even happening. So yes, there’s just a lot. It’s a lot of moving parts to get them all working together, to get really high performing teams and to make sure that your clients are succeeding for the long-term with their talent, I would imagine.
Angelica [22:59]: Exactly, yes. There’s so much that goes into it. I think sometimes we get focused on one aspect of diversity or we don’t even focus on equity, but yet we want inclusion, but we have to be able to balance it and understand, like you said, it’s more than just getting people into seats. It’s understanding how you’re going to support these people who come from diverse backgrounds, different upbringings and socialization, because as a leader, you should be wanting your team to grow and develop, and sometimes that is going to mean speaking with them and having a conversation and understanding those nuances of “Wait, well, I’m asking you about your goals, but is that really your goal or is that what you want me to hear?” Or I had somebody once ask me, “Where do you see yourself in <x> years?” And that was an informational interview and I said, “Well, I think I’d like to be a director of HR, and the person looked at me and she said, “Why did you not say a CPO?” And I kind of looked at her surprised and I was like, “I didn’t know that was possible.” She was like, “You need to dream big and put out there what you want,” and that taught me a lot. And this person was white, and I was like, “Wow, they’re right, why didn’t I say that?” And I think we really do have to unlearn some of that humbleness that we were taught like, “Oh, just be humble.” And yes, that’s important, have humility, but also have the confidence and the drive that you know is in there to say, “This is what I want to do and this is what I want to achieve in X number of years.”
Amy [24:33]:  So it’s occurred to me, Angelica, that your first book, assuming you haven’t already written one, the title could be Ambitious Humility and you could explore that dichotomy between the being humble but the having ambition, because I think those are our two forces that are constantly at work within a lot of people in the workplace and getting the right balance of those two that feels natural but also that gets them on the path that they want to be on can be really valuable. So let me ask you before I just plan your whole life for you, as you look at, for Assemble, who are your top clients? Who’s the best client–what’s the best client profile for your organization? 
Angelica [25:17]: Basically, our clients are people who want to learn and want to grow and want their business to have people-centered leadership and want to bring that either back into the workplace or just grow it within the workplace and continue to grow it. Our clients are companies that are usually just very, very, very fast. As of the research that I’ve done, they are growing, sometimes they have combined three different companies into one, and so you have to be able to move quickly to overcome that, but also do it in a way that is sustainable and keeps all the people from those three companies in the same place working together cohesively.
Amy [26:02]:  So Angelica, where do you go for community as an HR professional? Because I think there’s a lot of–let me give some background to the question. I think there’s a lot of us versus them in the HR space. HR can be a very isolating place to work. So where do you go for community? 
Angelica [26:22]: So I’ll answer this in two parts because–it’s interesting, HR can also be isolating within itself. So if we look at the data, people like me are not well-represented in HR. HR, I think from what I last looked, was 88% white, and so even the dynamics within the discipline can be isolating. So for me, I tend to just find other HR people who are diverse. There’s Clubhouse. A lot of people have been talking about that, and that has really allowed me to meet other HR professionals who I may not have met on LinkedIn or elsewhere and really just share our thoughts, and it’s a community that has helped me to grow my network in a diverse way and have an HR community that feels wholesome and true to who I am, because it is easy to get trapped in that homogeneous thinking or to be within the same groups that you work with. So I think it’s important to get out of that mindset and try to find other people within the discipline, especially if you find that you’re the only or the few. As far as just in general, I find community, whether it’s on LinkedIn or on Clubhouse, I love to just talk with people, and I have found that sometimes community can happen in the most unexpected ways, and I have been able to find a community on Clubhouse called Professional Women of Color. It’s a club, so if you are looking for one, that is one that I highly recommend. It brings together women or people who are non-binary into a discussion about the scary thing they did that week, and that one started by two women called Aneri and Lola, and it’s been great. I’ve met people from marketing, I’ve met people from the start-up life, and it’s allowed me to feel supported, but also know that there’s more to life than just HR and there’s more to life than just work.
Amy [28:26]:  I’m so glad you found community, and I know Clubhouse is kind of an emerging platform, but I’ve talked to so many people who have found really good spaces there, and so I’m really happy to hear that that’s working well for you. If somebody is new in the HR space, or if they’re wanting to break into the HR space because they want to help people in similar ways to the ways you help people, where can they start? Where can they learn more about this career path?
Angelica [28:54]: So I would recommend really starting within, and I know that sounds weird, but you really have to understand why you want to go into HR and you really need to understand like, what your mission, vision and your values are, because we don’t often talk about that as individuals. We know that companies have them, but we don’t often have them as ourselves. So I really recommend that people start within, because it allows you to understand “Is HR actually what I want to do, or is there another facet of HR?” and start there. But if they want to learn more about where to go from there, I would recommend looking into the different facets of HR. HR is basically an umbrella term for all kinds of different disciplines, whether it’s recruiting, whether it’s learning and development. So really start to research what it is that you’re passionate about. Is it teaching people and helping build programs? Is it connecting with people to recruit them for a job? Is it looking at people’s resumes to source them and starting to build that jargon, because that’s super important when you’re transitioning into HR – you need to know how to speak the language, and that’s going to be important for you when you go into the workplace as well. As far as education, I think that’s a personal decision. If you want to do a certification or you want to get a master’s or bachelor’s, depending on where you are in your education, I think really taking the time to dissect that, and if you have a mentor or somebody within the HR space you can talk to to see if that’s necessary. Then I would go from there. 
Amy [30:27]:  Angelica Patlan, thank you so much for your time today, for your insights. I appreciate that you are out there knocking down the obstacles for those who come next and welcoming new people into this space. Thank you so much. 
Angelica [30:40]: Thanks so much for having me.
Zach: Living Corporate is brought to you by The Access Point. The reality is this is the largest influx of Black and brown talent corporate America has ever had, and as a result, a variety of talent entering the workforce are first-generation professionals. The other reality? Most of these folks aren’t learning what it means to navigate a majority-white workplace in their college classes. Enter The Access Point, a live weekly web show within the Living Corporate network that gives Black and brown college students the real talk they need and likely haven’t heard elsewhere. Every week, our hosts and special guests are dropping gems, so don’t miss out. Check out The Access Point, airing every Tuesday at 7p.m. Central Standard on livingcorporate.tv.
Amy [31:30]:  Wasn’t Angelica wonderful? What I loved about this interview was the way she talked so matter of factly about the discrepancy between the values that were instilled in her growing up and the values that were important in the workplace. I think this is something that a lot of us who are first-generation in professional jobs struggle with, and I think it’s especially a struggle for people who are Black or brown in the workplace. Because again, there’s this certain amount of people expecting you to show up a certain way or to stay in your place in these white-dominated office spaces. So I love what Angelica shared about just being authentic to yourself and figuring out that the people that are for you are for you. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to Living Corporate and share us with your friends and colleagues. You can also help us out by leaving us a six-star review wherever you get your podcasts. And maybe you’re thinking, “But there are only five stars. I can’t leave a sixth.” Yes, you can. You give us all five of those first stars, but then you go to the next step and you leave a couple of sentences in your own words telling us what you liked about the show. Don’t forget to visit living-corporate.com to learn more about our other podcasts, videos, web shows, and more. This is Amy C. Waninger signing off, and I’ll see you next week.

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