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As any working mother knows, juggling the demands of one’s personal and professional lives is no easy feat. For Irelia Navarro, however, the challenges to succeeding in the dual roles of mom and corporate executive are well worth the effort.

As senior director of Business Integration at Sam’s Club, Navarro is responsible for supporting in-club merchandising activities, feature planning, as well as collaborating with merchandising, marketing, operations, and other support functions. Navarro started her Walmart career in 2004 in her native Puerto Rico. There, she held several roles in Internal Audit and Sam’s Club Operations and had the opportunity to travel to countries including Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile where she witnessed rst- hand the power of diversity at work.

“When I joined Walmart, having a broad perspective of the world and being able to work with people from different countries was crucial for me. It was very ful lling and provided a lot of enrichment in my career to be able to consult and collaborate with diverse people from different countries,” explains Navarro.

Previous to her employment at Walmart, Navarro worked for Arthur Andersen, LLP and Banco Santander. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a major in accounting, as well as a J.D. degree from the University of Puerto Rico.

Presence matters

Navarro has experienced numerous moments and highlights throughout her career that have provided her with key opportunities to grow and learn. One lesson, for example, is the importance of adaptation, especially as the corporate landscape evolves to re ect the near constant changes and advances in technology. “We are in a fast-moving environment, and we must evolve to meet our customers’ needs especially now that our business is moving into the digital sphere.” At the same time, the Boricua points out the signi cance of maintaining face to face relationships in an increasingly computerized world. “At Sam’s Club, learning about and understanding our associates, being in touch with their reality, and leading them has been meaningful for me,” says Navarro.

Advice for Hispanics

As a successful Latina professional, Navarro has her own thoughts on what Hispanics must do in order to succeed and advance in Corporate America. “I think that the most important thing is to have a very strong and diverse network of people from all levels that can get to know you and sponsor you. You have to do a great job, excel, and be the best at what you’re doing, so that others notice your work and advocate for you,” says Navarro.

Additionally, Navarro speaks about the importance of going beyond the duties and responsibilities of one’s day- to-day work and truly investing time and energy in other professionals. “You have to take the time and schedule time with people: go have coffee, go have lunch, go to events, to learn how to help them with their professional growth. You have to show you are interested in learning about them and make the time to do so,” explains Navarro.

“It’s very hard because you are so busy as a professional, and you have goals and things you have to do for your job, and sometimes you don’t think you have time to spare to chat, but it’s so important to make time and be intentional about it.”

Navarro also understands the value of advocacy and inclusion efforts at the corporate level. Currently, she is a leader with Walmart’s Hispanic Latino Associate Resource Group (HLARG) at Sam’s Club. In this capacity, Navarro is responsible for community, of cer, and associate engagement initiatives. “What we do is support different initiatives intended to bring awareness of diversity both inside and outside the company and in the community. I get to partner with entities that have similar interests in bringing diversity and inclusion to the area,” explains Navarro.

Although the Hispanic population continues to grow exponentially in the United States, executives like Navarro are cognizant of the need to improve efforts to re ect this demographic within companies’ upper ranks.

“I think the number one thing is that the discussion needs to be there, about how we need to increase representation – not just of Hispanics – but of all people of color,” assures Navarro. “And when we say representation, I mean it needs to be part of a company’s objectives, and it needs to cascade down and have measurable goals and be discussed frequently. It needs to be a priority for the board of directors and for the CEO, and then once it becomes part of the company’s objectives, there needs to be a strong discussion of what still needs to be ful lled.”

According to Navarro, this exact precedent is already being set at her company, with Walmart President and CEO, Doug McMillon, having issued a corporate-wide list of goals and objectives which includes strengthening diversity and inclusion efforts in the company’s leadership.

“It’s very important because it shows that the company cares about this. Our talent team in the Global Of ce of Culture Diversity and Inclusion is preparing tactics to go along with the objective, in order to achieve that. That openness to acknowledge and build opportunities for associates and acknowledge that more needs to be done is key for our company,” explains Navarro.

According to Navarro, “it’s very important to make Hispanic representation at all levels of leadership a key topic for discussion and have statistics and studies to ensure that the boards and presidents of the largest companies understand what’s behind the data.”

Navarro also touches on the signi cance of the role of individuals such as parents and educators, with regards to their ability to shape and mold the country’s future leaders. “We have so many talented, successful Hispanic leaders. It’s important to showcase positive experiences from different Hispanic leaders and to show and promote role models, people who work hard and succeed, to [young Hispanics],” explains Navarro.

Corporate America should follow the same lead, she adds. “We have valuable Hispanic business leaders, we can learn from them. That’s another way to break stereotypes and unconscious bias, by showing successful leaders leading these businesses.” In the end, Navarro believes that Hispanics must rmly embrace their roots and have faith in their own capabilities if they want to become leaders at the corporate level. “You need to be really proud of your identity, that’s rst. Secondly, be con dent in your skills and expertise. Be con dent in what you know, continue to pay it forward, and have the courage to face adversity,” assures Navarro.

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