About the Author: More Than Ready

More Than Ready
By Cecilia Muñoz

As women of color, we are among a generation accomplishing “firsts”—whether the first in our families to attend college, enter a traditional workplace, or embark on a nontraditional path. There was nobody that looked like us or who grew up like us taking on these roles before we did. Our stories have largely not been written because they are still unfolding.

Just as we are often “firsts,” it’s not unusual for us also to be “onlies:” the only woman in the room; the only person of color; and the only one bringing our particular set of experiences and expertise to our workplaces, our classrooms, our and teams—the various circles in which we conduct our lives. Sometimes being a “first” or an “only” means that we doubt ourselves. We wonder if whether we really belong in these spaces, and whether what we bring to them is really enough.

I know this because I hear it all the time. Whenever I’m speaking in public, recounting my experiences as a woman of color who has spent a life in public service, the first Latina to lead the Domestic Policy Council for the President of the United States, I hear from women of color, seek me out afterwards to say things like, “Thank you for raising what it’s like to be the only woman of color in the room. I’m that person all the time, and you named what I feel.”

It was those women that persuaded me to start writing. I hoped to engage with a lot more women creating their own paths through a world that they will change just by virtue of their presence. The world doesn’t make it easy—there are obstacles—but maybe sharing what I have learned will help to reduce obstacles of our own making. That’s the insight that led to More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You… and Other Lessons for Women of Color On the Rise, coming from Seal Press in April. It’s an honest look at what I have experienced and overcome as a Latina in arenas dominated by white men.

Weaving together stories from my decades of work in the Latins civil rights movement and my eight years on the senior team of the Obama White House, I draw lessons from some of the challenges, large and small, that are both part of my story and yet not at all unique to me. I have been the short woman literally elbowing her way into a circle of tall, male colleagues; the target of criticism from within my community; and the Midwestern Latina patiently explaining my community to the senator who complimented my English. I have discovered that other women were watching out for me while I wasn’t looking, and I have learned how to pay it forward.

I wasn’t always sure of myself. Many times, I hesitated to put myself forward, wondering if whether I would get it “right.”  I wrote in the hope that you will hear a different voice—your own, strong voice—and to remind you that what you bring into any room is valuable. We can —and must— be seen and heard. For too long, decisions that affect every aspect of our lives have been made by others who often don’t understand us or what we know about the world. The world really needs what we bring.

Cecilia Muñoz served for eight years on President Obama’s senior staff, becoming the nation’s longest-serving Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Before the White House, she served for 20 years at the National Council of La Raza (now UNIDOS US) and earned a MacArthur Fellowship for her work on immigration and civil rights. She is the Vice President for Public Interest Technology and Local Initiatives at New America.