If Dr. Angelica Perez sees a young 20-something girl working in a store, it’s not rare for her to ask, “Are you in college?”
“That’s something I’ve always done, and I’ll do that forever, until I die,” she says. “That to me, is my life mission.”
Dr. Perez has always been an independent thinker. When she was a teenager, although all of her peers applied to the nearest high schools, Perez never limited herself. Instead, she thought, “I want to go to the best school I could go to.”
Today at 45, that way of thinking has taken her far. Besides having her own clinical psychology practice, she also is the publisher and CEO of New Latina — an online resource for other career-driven Latinas, and the newly created online ELLA Leadership Institute, which after only a week of existing, already has more than 2,000 members worldwide.
“What I love the most is when I can help a woman truly identify her potential and embrace it,” says Dr. Perez. “When I can help her see how much bigger she is than she thinks she is, that’s true empowerment… Having them own that, makes my day.
Growing up, as the eldest daughter of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic, she says she grew up very fast in a neighborhood known for drugs and shootings in the 1980’s.
“You’re what they call the ‘cultural broker’ or bridge — I was always empowering people around me,” says the woman who as a girl made her bedroom a little classroom. “I never felt like I had a childhood or teenage-hood. I almost felt like I was a social worker growing up — putting fires out for a lot of people.”
She says little by little she learned by observing people, how to resolve issues.
“Psychology was a perfect match for someone who wanted to help people and intervene,” says Dr. Perez, who originally set out to be a pediatrician because of her father’s dream.
Eventually, she went on to complete her PhD in clinical psychology from Fordham University.
“The majority of my work is on women,” says the mother of four children, about her 25 year career.
“What I started realizing is that a lot of these Latinas coming to my practice were coming in because they were frustrated by the challenges they were facing in trying to become ambitious Latinas, and figuring out what they need to do,” she says. “So I found myself doing more career coaching than psychiatric evaluations.”
She soon realized what the underlying issue was.
“They were coming in without mentors at work and not having role models,” says Dr. Perez about her patients who had parents who have never worked in corporate America, or attended college. “I hardly have women who are depressed, they just don’t have a lot of confidence.”
She says just as our mother’s were pioneers in a new country, the new generation is now navigating their way into the unchartered corporate world.
“That’s why it’s important to give women connections to influential networks, and teach them what is the strategy to succeed in their career sector,” says Dr. Perez who has been working on creating the Ella Leadership Institute for about a year. “What I want to do is not have inspirational events anymore where women are inspired, and then go home and there’s nothing. What I want to do is create an event that’s value driven.”
She plans on hosting an annual conference and networking events that are TEDx style, with an exchange of ideas. What started off as a group on Facebook, is now an online network of more than 27 groups of like-minded women, grouped by region and expertise.
“I really believe that Latinas are going to globally take over the world,” she says.
Originally published on NBCLatino.com.