Silvana Montenegro is the Global Head of Advancing Hispanics & Latinos (DEI) at JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she leads a unified vision and strategy to advance the unique priorities of the Hispanic and Latino communities, both within the firm and externally.
Silvana is recognized for her continued commitment to empower leadership teams and individuals to reach their full potential. She embodies the values of the Advancing Hispanics & Latinos initiative to create a future where Hispanics and Latinos worldwide have equal opportunities to grow and thrive. Silvana shares her keys to success and the importance of being community focused.
If we want to drive meaningful impact to our communities, to our business, to the world, quite frankly, we need to have the right representation at the decision making tables.
Editor: Thank you again, Silvana, for joining us. We’re excited to delve into your journey. You’ve been a keen advocate for leadership development. Why do you think it’s important that programs exist for senior managers and executives and not just younger professionals?
First of all, thank you. It’s wonderful to be talking with you today.
I think there are a number of reasons [programs for senior managers should exist], but the number one reason that I would mention is that if we want to drive meaningful impact to our communities, to our business, to the world, quite frankly, we need to have the right representation at the decision-making tables.
To get there, there is the short-term game and there is the long-term game, which is how JPMorgan Chase thinks about this. We need to continue to invest in our senior employees, mid-level employees, and we need to make sure that we’re bringing in the next generation of leaders that can really take our work even further. I think it’s imperative that we have that really strong representation at the decision-making tables.
Thank you. You’ve been with JPMorgan Chase for over 25 years. What part of the culture has led you to stay this long?
I would say there are many parts. I remember when I joined this company 26 years ago as an intern in Brazil, and I would never have imagined that 26 years later I would be living in a different country and leading this beautiful mission that is Advancing Hispanic & Latinos. I think what I’ve learned throughout and what makes this company so special, is both culture; the commitment to doing everything in a first class way, and that there are opportunities. I’ve done my part because, of course, I need to do my part. I performed, I invested in my growth, I lifted up my own community… But as I was doing that, the company had my back. I had very important mentors and sponsors along the way. I also did my part in terms of asking for what I wanted. I think what’s really special about JPMorgan Chase is that we have a genuine commitment to improving everything that we touch, and to driving positive impact. That starts with our employees, that is how we support our clients, it’s how we support communities. I could share a number of examples, but I think that’s really the core of who we are as a company.
What is the driving force that’s led to your personal success?
If I had to break it down into three important buckets, I think that the first one really is about purpose and persistence. What I mean by that is the first thing that every human needs to do—and that’s how I’m raising my kids – is first finding what we’re passionate about. That may change throughout life, but for me, any job I had in this company, was not only just a job. It has always been a mission and a mission towards helping someone in some way. Now, that’s all very beautiful and noble, but it takes persistence. It’s about what’s important to me and what’s important for the mission I’m driving. I need to be persistent and be ready to really keep at it, especially when things are challenging. It’s very easy to be persistent when it’s calm waters, but challenging times test us and we cannot give up no matter what happens. It doesn’t mean we’re going to feel happy all the time, we’re going to feel it, but you have to stay the course.
I think number two is really about commitment to growth and learning from mistakes. That’s something that has been very true throughout my career and quite honestly, throughout my life. No career, no life is a straight line. We all go through our ups and downs. I think that as we’re going through these ups and downs, there are things that we can control and there are things that we can’t control.
Having said that, I do believe that every situation, every experience we have that we do not perceive went well has a lesson, and it’s on us to learn and grow. There are two things that I do very often, and I take it to heart: One is, let’s say I go to a meeting or something happens at work that does not go well according to my judgment, because sometimes we have our own perceptions. I always ask for feedback, and I listen, even when it hurts. I think that the biggest, and this is my personal opinion, it’s not the master truth. I think the biggest behavior that derails career progress is not knowing your blind spots.
If we have a meeting that didn’t go well, I would go and ask for feedback. I had a manager midway through my career, and I remember going to a meeting with her. After my presentation, the room was silent. This was a very senior crowd. One of the women in the room, I think, feeling bad for me, she said, “Oh, thank you, Silvana. It’s just that we’re not used to seeing this information in this way.” I went back to my office. I was feeling miserable. My manager at the time, very bluntly, told me, “Silvana, that did not go well.” I knew that, of course, but she gave me a very important life lesson. She said, “Next time, when you don’t have the expertise on something, bring in the expert to do the work. You don’t have to do it yourself.” I took that to heart, and I remember that. Really learning from your mistakes and embracing feedback so you’re not blindsided is very important.
The last bucket, I would say, is really around taking on and running towards challenges, even when you’re scared. For me, what that meant in my career was when I was offered an opportunity that seemed too big for me at the moment or too new, instead of overthinking and analyzing, which probably would lead me to saying, “Oh, no, thank you very much, but not now.” I jumped on it! I committed to myself that I was going to figure it out.
One great example is when we were opening a financial corporation in Colombia, and I was asked to lead the human resources efforts in Colombia. I did not speak Spanish. I had never studied labor laws, never developed benefits packages, none of that. I was definitely scared. When my boss asked me, I said, “Wow, I’m so excited.” I went downstairs. I took a few walks around the block. I couldn’t breathe. But guess what? That’s one of the experiences I’ve had in my career where I grew the most. I didn’t do it alone. I asked colleagues for information. I read. I asked for input on how I was thinking about something. I think it’s to take the risk within reason. If somebody says, “Let’s go climb Mount Everest,” I would probably die, and then get the help to make it happen.
If we play it too safe, we don’t grow. The only way we can grow in our careers and in our lives is by being a little uncomfortable.
That’s really insightful. I think a lot of people shy away from the challenges you talk about and definitely limit their growth. Could you tell us about the Advancing Hispanics & Latino DEI organization at JPMorgan Chase?
Absolutely. This organization is part of our commitment and mission to help all communities grow and thrive. What I mean by that really is that when we think about how JPMorgan Chase can drive real impact for our employees, students, communities, businesses, individuals, we have a very intentional strategy. With that intentionality comes how we’re organized, which is really focused on all communities and each community.
We have seven centers of excellence, and each center of excellence is focused on a different community. That focus is from a lens of deep dive, and then we work together across. I am the fortunate leader that runs our Hispanic and Latino efforts. What we’re really here to do is create access and create meaningful opportunities so that our Hispanic community can actually realize their dreams. How do we do that? We do that by focusing on four different areas.
- One is around supporting students and employees to have meaningful careers. That means recruiting, developing, and retaining employees,career, development and success.
- I think the second bucket is: How do we help businesses at every stage grow and scale, which in turn, contributes to economic growth.
- The other one is financial health and wealth creation. We know that despite many contributions of our community and all communities, there are significant barriers that exist today around building wealth. That’s where we come in and for Hispanics and Latinos in particular, we’re very focused on providing financial health education to individuals so that they can build wealth. In addition obviously to connecting them to banking services and resources.
- Last but not least is the work that we do with our communities, which is really around how do we go and make an impact in Miami? How do we go and we make an impact in Indianapolis? Because we can say, this is what we’re doing for the US but when I live in a city, in a neighborhood, my needs are my needs. We need to get local.
There seems to be real intentionality in providing services across the four pillars of the program. Since the inception of this initiative, what’s been a highlight or an impactful success story you can share with us?
From a more high level, I would say it is amazing what impact we can drive by working within the firm and across the system. I would never have imagined that two years into Advancing Hispanics & Latinos, we would have made such important connections where we bring the entire firm and we bring in very important partners in the community and drive impact together.
As an example, we have a collaboration with the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation. They are the foundation arm of the Latin Grammy’s, and they’re doing amazing work with students. They’re supporting students in terms of their musical careers but we know that regardless of what you’re doing, you need to have the tools so that you can build wealth. We provide financial health education to the students that are part of the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation Network, including their parents. We know that it’s an ecosystem.
The other one, and I’m not going to share them all, there are many, but the other one that is near and dear to my heart is a collaboration we have with the Latino Business Action Network, where we work with them on the scaling program they run. This is for businesses that are willing to scale but may be stuck around the 1 million revenue mark. We not only sponsor a cohort of businesses, we also bring in our expertise throughout the program. As a bank, we have experts that can advise on how to create a business, how to grow a business, how to get capital? Bringing that JPMorgan Chase ecosystem, we’re really impacting those businesses in a more meaningful way than it would be otherwise if we were not collaborating.
We’ll be following to hear more about the continued impact. That brings me to the question of, why does representation actually matter?
Representation matters because the more voices and different voices you have at the table, the more innovation you’re driving, the more comprehensive everything you develop becomes. Imagine if we were here building a car and we only have two engineers on the team. Where is the building expertise? When we think about anything that humans develop, I’m going to have a perspective, you’re going to have another one. We need different voices, different experiences at the table because that makes the world better. Sometimes we may shy away from it as humans because it’s more comfortable to work with people that look like us, have similar experiences that are like us. And, it can be messy when you start working with a team that is very diverse. But guess what? It is complex to drive innovation. It is complex to serve clients. Everything has its own complexity. Without bringing that diversity of thought, experiences, and expertise, we’re not moving forward.
Yes, I agree. In terms of your program, would you say that language is a barrier when it comes to financial literacy for the Hispanic and Latino community? I understand that it’s not a monolithic community. How do we explain that? And how do you work with all the diversity within what is supposed to be one community, but many faces, many voices, many experiences?
Well, before I talk about language, your last point deserves a priority response. I think what you’re saying is super important. Because we sometimes just say, Hispanic and Latino communities, that could not be more wrong. We have so many communities within our own communities. There is not one single person that can understand and live all those experiences. My role here is to work on presenting a unified view and developing efforts that support the communities. I may do something slightly different in Miami or in another community, but I think that that diversity is critical.
When we think about language, I would say that the biggest barrier for financial health education is actually lack of access or lack of information. We know there are preconceptions in the world about Latinos not being able to speak English, but most Latinos in the United States speak English well. Yes, we have a small part of the population that needs support with language, and that’s important as well. But, I think that it is about access to information. It’s about access to resources.
That’s good to know. I think that dispels a lot of people’s preconceived notions. Silvana as a woman who has reached notable success, what lessons can you share that have helped you excel as a woman of color in corporate America?
I think that the most important for me was to accept that whatever label the world may have given me, that I am Silvana. I need to own the gifts I bring to the table, and I also can’t ignore the challenges. It’s not easy to be the only one in the room. I’ve been in that situation many times. But I found my supporters. I found the people that could help lift me up. I think that when I moved to the US (I grew up in Brazil, I moved to the US 22 years ago) all of a sudden, I had this label, Hispanic. I was so confused. In my life, I was just Silvana. I think at first what that did was make me try to fit in. I was trying to behave in a certain way. I spent so much energy observing how people talk in meetings. I tried to lose my accent. Until one day this woman comes to me and she says, “Silvana, you have a very different style and you’re so impactful.” That was a wake-up call. I asked myself, “Why am I trying to be something I’m not?”
I decided, “You know what? I’m going to be myself. I’m going to own what is good about me.” That’s the only way I can show up, otherwise, it’s exhausting and it comes at a very high price.
- Know what your superpowers are, own them.
- Get your support system. We all need that.
- And use your voice.
As Latinas and Latinos, we’re not great at using our voice. We’re grateful. Our attitude is humble and important, but we also need to use our voice talk about what matters to us and share our views.
This will impact a lot of people in our audience who are struggling with finding their voice, struggling to raise their voice, and who are trying to fit in and losing the dynamic, diverse, and really impactful ways that they can show up.
Lastly, in a high pressure and demanding role such as yours, how do you find work-life balance? Do you have time for outside activities?
I find time. I think that something I learned (because there were moments in my career where I would work like a crazy person and never stopped to rest.) I think what I learned is that when we need to be all in, working super hard, do that. That works for me. It’s not a recipe for everyone. If I have to travel, and I travel a lot, I’ll travel. But when I’m not under a lot of pressure or when I’m home, I am home. I am present with my kids. If I don’t have to, I don’t overextend myself. I always make sure that whatever I commit to doing is excellent. I think we need to set our boundaries because otherwise, nobody can do that for us.
ABOUT Advancing Hispanics & Latinos
The JPMorgan Chase Advancing Hispanics & Latinos initiative is dedicated to advancing equity and inclusion for global Hispanic and Latino communities and is committed to creating a future where Hispanics and Latinos worldwide have equal opportunities to grow and thrive. As a firm, JPMorgan Chase is harnessing their expertise in business, policy and philanthropy and have initially committed $30 billion by the end of 2025 to drive an inclusive recovery, support employees and break down systemic barriers. By investing and supporting Hispanic and Latino communities, JPMorgan Chase is reframing the narrative surrounding these communities’ potential and promoting a pathway to education, wealth building, business growth and community development.
- Accelerating Hispanic- and Latino-Owned Businesses
- Improving Financial Health in Hispanic and Latino Communities
- Advancing the Career Growth of Hispanic and Latino Talent
- Supporting Hispanic and Latino Communities