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Colorado program expands to help develop more Latino leaders

The Latino Leadership Institute created Ignite to provide coaching and mentorship and to help its participants achieve their leadership potential.

DENVER — Ale Spray no longer hides who she is when she goes to work – a Latina, the only woman to graduate among her class with an engineering degree. A Mexicana and a leader.

"I had to deal with people making fun of how I say things," she said. "I have to figure out how to hide that accent. So that was really a hit on my self-confidence when I speak. And my job was to talk to people."

It's a struggle she hopes others don't have to encounter. She said that if no one was going to give her a seat at the table, "I am going to fight for it."

Spray attributes her success to the Latino Leadership Institute, led by Joelle Martinez, who shares a similar experience.

"I remember early in my career, folks saying, 'Don't wear the big, dangly earrings, wear pearls instead,' " said Martinez, president and CEO of the institute. " 'Maybe don't wear the red lipstick today if you want to be taken seriously.' "

It's why she created Ignite, a program that's expanding this year to develop more Latino leaders. Latinos make up about 20% of the workforce but remain underrepresented in leadership positions, she said.

"We address the fact that Latinos actually fear success more than they fear failure, oftentimes because we don't have mentors and role models that look like us, that understand our journey, to help us navigate this space," Martinez said.

Ignite is designed to reflect and celebrate diverse experiences in the Latino community while supporting the individual needs of its participants. The program provides coaching, mentorship and community. About 300 participants have gone through the program in nine months, Martinez said.

"It's just going to be a domino effect of all of us finding our voice, finding more confidence," Spray said. "I'm Mexican, I'm Puerto Rican, and that's my superpower."

> Video below: An extended interview with Joelle Martinez, president and CEO of the Latino Leadership Institute:

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