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‘That’s part of my brand!’ Kenvuer Mayra Goncalves on accents, traditions and celebrating Hispanic & Latino cultures

Mayra Hispanic Heritage Month

As Kenvue celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with Kenvuer Mayra Goncalves, Research & Development Senior Director. Goncalves also co-lead’s Kenvue’s employee resource group for Hispanic and Latino team members. Goncalves discusses the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month, the best way to celebrate the occasion and why making hallacas is an honored family tradition.

Can you tell us about your work at Kenvue?

I currently lead the Research and Development team for the Body category under the Skin Health segment for Kenvue. What I love most about my job is that we identify unmet consumer needs, working relentlessly to develop products that deliver delightful experiences and meaningful outcomes to our consumers and customers, while having fun in a really diverse and collaborative environment.

What do you think makes a great employee resource group?

In the past, the majority of employee resource groups aimed at Hispanics and Latinos were heavily focused on community activities — things like Taco Tuesday and salsa dancing. And while those community building activities are important, for me, what’s more important is understanding the cultural and background differences that make Hispanics and Latinos attractive for the workplace, and making sure we cultivate and develop the best Hispanic and Latino talent out there.

Kenvue is more than a place where people with similar cultures can come together. It’s a place where we can actively go to the marketplace and attract top Hispanic and Latino talent, providing them with leadership and development opportunities and coaching and mentoring them along the way.

Why is Hispanic Heritage Month so important?

It’s important to recognize diversity at work, and the value diversity plays to drive better business outcomes. When we think of Hispanics and Latinos, we’re talking about probably 30 different countries. It’s not just one country. So how do we make the month relevant for everyone and anyone who can be considered Hispanic or Latino?

I personally prefer to refer to us as Latinos. It feels bigger, includes more of the Latin-American culture, the people who speak other languages besides Spanish. It’s important to really think about what makes us unique. What do we bring to the table from a business perspective? We bring a lot to the table.

How do you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

It’s not about just celebrating a month for me, it’s about everyday celebration of our culture and traditions. I was born and raised in Venezuela with ancestry from Europe. One thing I do every day: I make sure my two daughters are proud of their Latino and Hispanic heritage. I’ve taught them to speak Spanish—even if they don’t want to—so that they can communicate with their grandparents and family members who don’t live in the states. I think that’s a very important way to celebrate our Hispanic heritage.

As part of our everyday cultural rituals, I celebrate some traditions at home. Arepas are a staple in our kitchen. I serve them for breakfast almost every weekend. It warms my heart when my younger one says, “I want arepas and nothing else!”

For Christmastime, the whole family comes together to help make hallacas (a traditional holiday dish in Venezuela). It’s a very laborious process—cooking the stew, making the dough, cleaning the banana leaves. When I was younger, I always thought, “Oh no, we’re making this again?! It’s too much work!” But making this dish in the past has led to some of my fondest holiday memories. That’s why I continued the tradition in my own home. Since we don’t have a lot of family in the states, we invite our Venezuelan friends over—our chosen family—and make the the hallacas together to keep the tradition alive.

What was the best thing about growing up Latino?

It’s a very lively culture and very community oriented. It’s all about rituals, bringing people together, arepas, music, food, colors. That liveliness has really influenced who I am and how I bring myself to work. I think it all plays a little bit into my personality, in terms of my positivity, my interest in community building, my ability to engage people.

What makes you proud to be Latino? Have you faced any particular challenges as a Latino person? If so, how have you overcome them?

When I started in the workforce 20 years ago—really, when I started traveling to the U.S.—there was always this sense that, “the accent makes you sound dumb, like you aren’t smart enough.” I don’t know if it was real or made up in my head. Still, you’d sense people’s impatience as you tried to articulate something.

I think the world has evolved a lot since then as far as understanding and respecting people’s differences. I’m really proud of the fact that I don’t just speak one language; I speak four: Spanish, Portuguese, English and Italian. My Italian could be better, but I can read and understand it very well.

Now, I don’t care that I have an accent—that’s part of my brand! Instead of making me feel “less than,” my accent makes me, Mayra, feel like I’m bringing something to the table. I’ve lived and worked in many different countries, so I have a different point of view, and I think that’s really valuable.

What steps should Kenvue take to continue elevating and supporting the Latino community?

Employee resource groups definitely help, because they can act in different ways, attracting diverse talent visiting colleges and universities to grow Hispanic and Latino representation in the company, and engaging our Hispanic and Latino talent in the workplace to provide mentorship and advancement opportunities. It makes such a big difference when you see someone like yourself in a leadership position. It makes joining and staying in a company sound like a much more appealing prospect. I’m fully committed to helping in that regard, and since I’m now in a leadership role myself, I’m in a perfect position to elevate other Hispanics and Latinos.