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Eva Longoria: How to help Latinas succeed in the workplace

"We need a seat at the table at every industry," the actress tells Know Your Value
Image: Eva Longoria
American actress Eva Longoria arrives for an event celebrating the 15th anniversary of Glamour Magazine in Mexico City, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013.Marco Ugarte / AP

Eva Longoria was never interested in being just a pretty face.

Her role on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” brought her into the mainstream as a gorgeous Latina with a powerful voice. But being an actress, she said, comes with limitations.

“I would get on set, say my lines and leave,” Longoria told Know Your Value’s Daniela Pierre-Bravo at the Forbes Women Summit on June 17. “And I always wondered ‘who are the people behind the monitors? Who are the people making the decisions?’”

Fast forward about seven years, and Longoria runs the production company UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, which has produced three award-winning documentaries: “Reversing Roe,” “Food Chains” and “The Harvest.” Her acclaimed adapted soap opera “Gran Hotel” is also available on Netflix.

She also runs the Eva Longoria Foundation, which helps Latinas succeed through education and entrepreneurship. And now that she’s making the decisions, Longoria sees firsthand that women in general, and particularly Latinas, are lagging in representation.

Here are some tips from Longoria guaranteeing success for Latinas in the workplace.

Nurture Latinas from a young age.

The Eva Longoria Foundation conducted a study to find out what helps Latinas succeed, and it boiled down to having an engaged parent.

“It’s saying the word ‘college’ in your household,” she said. “Supporting them during homework time. Going to school to advocate for them to get in a different class.”

Participation in after-school programs also contributed heavily to success, Longoria said.

“It could be anything from cheerleading to band to robotics to science club,” Longoria said. “Any extracurricular activity that kept them in school longer showed an increase in going to college and staying in college.”

Nurturing young Latinas will help them overcome language and socioeconomic barriers that might impede their progress, according to Longoria.

Eliminate unconscious bias.

Pierre-Bravo asked what Latinas could do better to excel in the workforce, but Longoria argued that the problem was in the system, not in Latinas.

“We need to change the systematic oppression of women and unconscious bias in hiring practices,” Longoria said. “[Latinas] don’t have the access to opportunity like other people do.”

Give women a seat at the table in every industry.

Latinas are particularly underrepresented, but Longoria spoke on behalf of all women, who only comprise 6.6 percent of CEO roles in the Fortune 500.

“It’s about women in general. We don’t get the equal footing that men get,” she said. “I think we need to do a better job in our patriarchal society and making sure that the workplaces reflect our populations.

Be choosy about what you take on.

Longoria is highly selective about the films she produces for UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, which stems from a lesson she learned from Oprah.

“She said produce with purpose. Even if the purpose is to entertain or make you laugh, that’s a purpose,” Longoria said. “But is there a deeper meaning to what you’re doing?...We get so many submissions and I’ll read something and I go: right and then what? And then what happens? How does this change a community or our perception of a character?”

Reach your full potential.

Longoria was not satisfied with her role as an actress. Now, she’s not only behind the camera, she’s in the C-suite.

“I felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential,” she said. “What motivated me was the desire to want to do more and understand the business side of our industry, and also to have control of the final product and what actually gets put out there.”