When Daniela Pierre-Bravo, 31, now a bookings producer for MSNBC’s Morning Joe, first began to pursue a career in television, she knew that it would be a challenging road as a woman of color to break into an industry that is not known for its diversity. Her situation had an additional layer of complexity, as Pierre-Bravo was an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. from Chile when she was 11 years old.
Pierre-Bravo’s life changed drastically in 2012 (the year she graduated from college), when President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
Although DACA opened the door for Pierre-Bravo to work legally, she still grappled with the same challenges that a large majority of women of color continue to face in the workplace today, where inequities, microaggressions, and even overt racism are still rampant.
In her new book, The Other: How to Own Your Power at Work as a Woman of Color (out Aug. 23), Pierre-Bravo shares her journey in an effort to help women of color reshape the way they think about career advancement. She spoke to Well+Good about how these women can use their differences as an advantage to advocate for themselves without losing their sense of identity.
Well+Good: You’ve talked openly about the challenges you faced trying to launch your career as an undocumented immigrant and as a DACA recipient. How did those experiences tie into the idea to write this book?
Daniela Pierre-Bravo: I co-wrote my first book, Earn It! Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in Your 20s and Beyond with Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski in 2019, and I talked a little bit about my story and the challenges it brought as I attempted to cultivate a career.
Even though my experience as a DACA recipient was portrayed in that book, I felt like there needed to be even more of a space for having this conversation [with] women of color. Even more than that, it’s for people who have felt like “others” in their lives and how that’s related to the ability to bring more power into the workplace.
My sense of “otherness” comes from growing up undocumented. Yes, I’m Latina; yes, I’m an immigrant, and I face difficulties with that. But I’m a white Latina at the end of the day, and I have been afforded certain privileges that, for example, my sister who is Afro-Latina, probably didn’t have just because of the color of her skin. I wanted to have a book that was specifically written for our community by our community. The book is not just only my voice and my sense of how my own otherness muted me and got in the way of my own career; it’s also the stories of Black women, Asian women, Middle Eastern women, Afro-Latinas, etc., who have also had difficulty in reckoning with their own identity, with their sense of otherness and how that’s hindered their ability to take up more space in the workplace.
W+G: Early on in the book you write: “Your ability to show up with authority and confidence at work won’t have a chance to develop at work if you’re constantly constraining and checking yourself, or staying in your lane so as not to ruffle any feathers.” Was that something you ever struggled with?
DPB: It’s so important for me and for everybody else to understand the origins of how we labeled ourselves “others,” because, yes, I’ve battled with that sense of walking on eggshells when I’ve been the youngest woman, the only woman, or the only Latina, and that internal threat of stereotypes goes up, which is what a lot of other women who I spoke to for the book felt.
We need to understand that our sense of “otherness”—our sense of feeling not good enough—comes down to an experience where somebody told us we weren’t the same as them, which could have been early on in your life, such as in your high school or college days. That has an effect on how we show up in the workplace. It shows up in a meeting when you have something of value to say, for example, about the community that you’re a part of, or something that you can understand better than anybody else in the room because of your identity, but you feel like it might not be well received. If you were to say those things confidently and to advocate for your ideas rather than staying quiet, that will have a ripple effect on your career growth and what rooms you’ve allowed in to have a seat at the table.
W+G: You also wrote that: “Our duality is our superpower, but when we constantly outsource for acceptance or to belong, we are masking key parts of who we are.” Did you personally have experiences where you felt you had to hide certain parts of yourself to be able to achieve professional advancement?
DPB: Yes. One example is when I got promoted to being a booking producer at MSNBC, where I was now helping to choose the editorial coverage for the next day’s show. I had the power of bringing in voices to be on TV, and sometimes those voices were minority reporters or minority experts who had never done TV before. I had the power to bring them on and to get that exposure for them. But the problem was that even when I had the seat at the table to express my ideas, I was afraid I wasn’t smart enough and that my ideas wouldn’t be well-received by higher-ups or other people around me.
For me, it was also about not being Latina “enough—or being “too” Latina—in the spaces that I was in. I spent so many years trying to suppress who I was as an immigrant… I’ve always been proud of it, but I’ve always felt shame about being undocumented. There’s a lot of internal shame and internal guilt that gets buried in those early experiences and feelings of being an immigrant who shouldn’t be here because of those messages I heard all the time growing up.
Whenever I entered a room after I found success at the beginning of my career, my instinct was to subconsciously hide that part of myself and to tread lightly. I had to reckon with this idea that, yes, I could be 100 percent American, and yes, I can also be 100 percent Latina, and I don’t have to be ashamed of that.
W+G: You mention that while many people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, evidence shows that minority communities are disproportionately affected, and that it should fall heavily on workplace leadership to create a sense of belonging and inclusion for women of color. What specifically would you like to see workplaces doing better in this regard?
DPB: Imposter syndrome is a label that is hard for me to talk about with all the noise around it because for women of color, imposter syndrome is something different. There are the feelings of feeling like you’re not good enough, which comes from yourself. But then there are the real, structural and systematic ways that we are oppressed.
In the workplace, when we talk about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, it’s a call-out to leaders, managers, [and] people who are recruiting women (and men) of color to give them equity and not just a seat at the table. This means listening and implementing their ideas when they do talk about them, not overlooking them for promotions and advancement, and really giving them support. If a woman is hired for a specific role, that woman should be given support to do what she came to do.
One of the biggest complaints the women I talked to for the book had was that they were being used to highlight diversity and inclusion, but then they weren’t being given the support that they needed to actually do their jobs. I think for leaders who really want to be part of this conversation in a real and meaningful way, it’s not enough to simply bring women of color on board.
W+G: In the book, you give advice on how to turn the tables when you’re met with microaggressions. Having been in those kinds of situations many times myself, I can say that’s often easier said than done. What kind of advice would you offer someone there?
DPB: I hesitate to put blanket career advice on this because there are some situations where if you call out a microaggression, [you] will have real repercussions. Unfortunately, we have to carefully strategize how we want to deal with it until the system changes.
If you’re in a position where a comment was made and you didn’t say anything in the moment and it’s sitting with you, interfering with your ability to work, I would absolutely say have a conversation with that person and ask for clarification on what they meant. If they double-down on what they said, or if it’s a recurring situation, I would consider escalating it with HR.
It’s also important to have a support system you can rely on for self care. During the pandemic, I started a virtual women’s career and mentorship community called Acceso Community, where we have small sessions where we would meet to talk about these things and share tips on how to deal with them.
W+G: Has having such a public-facing career lent itself to additional challenges related to your immigration status or vice versa? Has it impacted your mental health at all?
DPB: I work in news, so every day I see the consequences of hate and vitriol. In the book, I also talk about an instance in 2019, where I did a talk in my hometown of Lima, Ohio, after my first book release, which was promoted on the local news the day before. That night, I got a really nasty email about how I didn’t belong here because of my immigration status, and it had me weighing if I should skip the event, which I ultimately did not do.
I debated whether or not I wanted to give this incident space in the book and ended up including it because I wanted people to understand what’s at stake when we do decide to believe those hateful, biased and prejudicial things that people might throw our way. That’s the message of the entire book, which is realizing that by believing those comments, we are tainting our own narrative about ourselves and that takes away our power.
W+G: And on the other side, has sometimes being the only minority worked to your advantage in some ways?
DPB: Being able to speak Spanish has allowed me to be able to collaborate across platforms and do reporting in Spanish, which has, of course, been beneficial to my career. I think in any workplace setting, bringing that duality and that second language or second culture is always going to make what you have to offer and what you bring to the table more rich and robust.
Once I really embraced that duality about being 100 percent Latina and 100 percent American, I was finally able to be more confident in writing about my story. I was more comfortable expressing ideas because I knew there were other people out there who would be reflected in my story and in the stories that we put out there for the show.
I think that’s the power of understanding your own identity; to know and to realize that this country and the demographic of this country is growing toward being more diverse. Gen Z is the most diverse generation out there, and I think that’s what we have to remember: that pretty soon, we’re not going to be the only and the few. That’s why it’s so important to really understand how to use our seat at the table.
W+G: It’s no secret that women are still out-earned by men in this country, with the wage gap being even more vast for women of color, and Latinas specifically being at the bottom of the chain. What changes do you think need to be made to help us get closer to reaching pay equity for women of color?
DPB: I think that there are two sides of the coin here. One falls squarely on leadership to open the playing field and really double down and actually walk the walk on the diversity and inclusion bit, to give, as I mentioned before, more equity to women of color.
The other part is to focus on what we can control, which is how we choose to advocate and negotiate for ourselves. The big part of the journey that I take the reader on, which is the more introspective part, is to understand the origins of our “otherness,” and how our culture hinders and also helps us. For example, I love my mom and my abuelita, and they gave great advice sometimes. But sometimes that advice was “Put your head down and do the work.” I heard the words “be grateful” so many times growing up. I think we have to reckon with our own lived experiences as minorities and immigrants because these are messages that are not just part of the Latino community. It’s this feeling of not knowing how to discern when the value of your work is actually worth more than it is. It’s so important to learn to discern when you need to ask for more and how to do it. Knowing how to discern when you’ve taken on too much and advocating for yourself is also so important.
The second thing is to know the market rate, especially when you’re in a role where that information might not be clear-cut or out there. This is where getting a support system and not being afraid of asking people what their rates are, or asking people for their salaries is so important, and I have some language in the book to help with this. Obviously start with a colleague or community that you’re comfortable with; my Acceso Community is an example where we do talk about these things openly.
W+G: In the book, you talk about how you tried to downplay your Latinidad growing up. I found that super-relatable, as I’m Peruvian and spent my high school years in a small, very white town in Oregon. I felt like I had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously by my peers and teachers. What message would you want to send to young Latinas in similar situations, especially if they’re feeling insecure about bringing their true selves to work?
DPB: That’s where I started thinking differently about myself, like, “Yeah, I’m an immigrant, I’m a Latina, and I’m the only one here, great; let me use it. Let me bring other people to the table.” Know that your heritage, culture, and identity are beautiful, robust and rich and allow you to see the world in a different way. When you embrace your duality and feel more at ease with who you are, you’ll also allow other people to follow in your footsteps.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.