Originally from Mexico and new to the Netherlands, Ana Ramirez-Saenz was repeatedly told by her childhood classmates: ‘If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much’ .
Ramirez-Saenz — the third child of a hardworking single mother who brought her family to the United States for better opportunities — took those hurtful words and used them as fuel for her lifelong mission to make advance social and economic equity for Latin Americans.
“When I heard that (insult), it lit such a fire under me,” Ramirez-Saenz said. “Anyway, I’m a gregarious, feisty person, so I came home, and I said to my mom, and she was like, ‘OK, so what are you going to do? And I said to him, ‘Mom, I’m not going to let anyone tell me that I’m not much. I will show them who I am and what I can do. Mom said: ‘Ándele, adelante’ — ‘It’s true; go forward.’ It was that spirit of, don’t let anyone tell you who you are and what you can and can’t do.
From then on, Ramirez-Saenz strove to be the best. At school, she participated in almost every sport she could, including gymnastics, diving, swimming, and track and field, as well as participating in an orchestra and band and lessons.
“I didn’t want to give (people) any excuse to say I wasn’t good enough,” she said.
One of Ramirez-Saenz’s early aspirations was to become a Spanish-language interpreter for the United Nations. While studying Spanish Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, she applied to take a test that would allow her to enter an interpreter certification program at Georgetown University. Unbeknownst to her, she was competing against diplomats and professionals who were fluent in four or five languages, and Ramirez-Saenz was not admitted to the program.
Organization: LaFuente Consulting and LaFuente Communications
Position: Founder and President
Place of birth: Tampico, Mexico
Family: mother, Francisca Castillo; daughters, Amanda Saenz-Farfan and Catalina Ramirez-Saenz; a gender; two grandsons
Business/community involvement: Vice Chairman of the Ferris State University Board of Trustees and Chair of the Academic and Student Services Committee, Board Member of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Board Member of the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Member, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Member
Biggest career break: Being hired by Wells Fargo to launch its ethnic loan program
Undaunted, she graduated and earned an MBA with a concentration in finance from UM after an undergraduate accounting course she took revealed she was good with numbers.
“I loved marketing, but talking to my (academic) advisors and my mentor, I said, ‘I can’t do this. As a Latina, I need to have a degree and a concentration where no one can question my credibility, where no one can question my education. I toughened it up and (pursued) a major in finance. I knew that as a Latina woman entering the market in the mid-80s, when not very many of us came out of trade school, I knew I had to be taken seriously.
Now, looking back on that choice, Ramirez-Saenz has no regrets, as her understanding of finance helped her launch and run her own diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultancy, La Fuente ConsultingIn 2000.
LaFuente Consulting helps companies compete in the global marketplace by aligning organizations’ diversity and inclusion strategies with the company’s strategic plan, assessing the skills and knowledge of managers responsible for multicultural teams, designing and developing programs to sensitize staff members to the need to respect differences and mentor senior managers to work with multicultural teams across multiple time zones.
She created a language services division within the company in 2003, and last year she spun that division into her own company, La Fuente Communicationswhich offers translation, interpreting and multimedia language services to businesses and organizations to communicate with their multilingual employees, connect with customers and reach potential customers around the world.
Ramirez-Saenz is proud of her roots and her family and says she is inspired every day by her mother, Francisca Castillo.
Her mother was one of six children in a family that could only send her to school until third grade. After Castillo divorced her husband, Ramirez-Saenz’s father, when Ramirez-Saenz was a toddler, she followed her brother, Juan, to Laredo, Texas, where she landed a job as a housekeeper. As Castillo began to settle in America, she made a friend named Irene, who was from a migrant family who followed the harvest across the United States. Irene told her about the small town of Holland, Michigan, which she described as clean, pretty, and full. of flowers, with a church on each corner.
Castillo was enchanted by the description and moved with her three children to Holland in 1968 during tulip season – only later discovering the harsh realities of winter. She went to work at the Heinz pickle factory, while her friend, Irene, set up the first Mexican market and restaurant in Holland.
“We had arrived, we had our own apartment; it was fantastic. We were living the dream,” Ramirez-Saenz said. “Those formative years were really the ones that cemented our character, cemented our values, because there was no shortage of people willing to help us, and they were willing to help us because of my mother’s hard work. . They saw her strength and what she wanted to do for her children – the dedication, determination and drive she had.
Ramirez-Saenz said Castillo was blessed with hospitality and friendliness, and the Dutch were drawn to that.
“Our house was the house of choice, so when anyone needed anything they would go to Kika – that’s my mum’s nickname – because they knew she would be able to help. “, she said.
Although Ramirez-Saenz said growing up in Holland was wonderful in some ways – the safety, the sense of community, the spirit of service and the plethora of churches where she could attend Bible school – she also felt the lack of DEI – a theme that recurred throughout his life and professional career.
As a natural extension of Castillo’s “relentless work ethic”, Ramirez-Saenz said she and her siblings all had to go to college. Her older sister went to the University of Michigan, then Rutgers University Law School, and her older brother went to Hope College.
When it came time for Ramirez-Saenz to choose, she decided to follow in her sister’s footsteps at UM. The accounting course she took in her second year helped her progress through various part-time jobs that gave her more and more business experience and allowed her to help support the needs of his family. By the time she got her MBA, she was ready to launch a career in banking.
During her second banking job, Wells Fargo, Ramirez-Saenz seized the opportunity to work in the Los Angeles market, home to the largest Latino community in the United States, where she helped the bank create a ethnic loan.
After a few years in Los Angeles, she returned home to West Michigan to work at Steelcase Financial, so she could settle down and start a family. After a four-year career at Steelcase, Ramirez-Saenz was eager to take what she had learned about DEI to the workplace and apply those skills to help companies implement strategies.
“The foundations had been laid over the years; I just didn’t once say, “Oh, I’m going to be a diversity consultant,” Ramirez-Saenz said. “Every experience I’ve had throughout my career in one way or another, I’ve been involved and drawn into this discussion about diversity, about increasing recruitment of people of color, and I’ve always been involved in a committee or a sub-committee, with people asking me, ‘How can we bring you more into our organization?’ I had built that knowledge base, and so I was really doing diversity work with my employers when it wasn’t called diversity work.
Ramirez-Saenz had also faced widespread discrimination in the workplace, including some bank customers asking that she be removed from managing their accounts because of her race.
At the time she started LaFuente Consulting, Ramirez-Saenz said West Michigan companies were way behind when it came to implementing DEI policies and strategies, so most of her customers came from out of the region and out of state. Through 2015-2017, it estimates that approximately 60% to 70% of its business was conducted outside the state of Michigan. Now she sees West Michigan making more progress in becoming a more welcoming and inclusive place, and she is gradually becoming better known as a DEI consultant in this field.
“Congratulations to the chamber, at The Right Place, for so much of the programming that has been done collectively to make Grand Rapids and West Michigan a more diverse and welcoming place,” she said. “I can see the results and the benefits. But when you look, in terms of the industry as a whole here, I would say the intent hasn’t changed. We still have to have the difficult conversations. … We are making progress, but we still face the same race issues. We are always faced with identity problems. We still struggle with the same membership issues and we still struggle with the same equity issues. What has changed is that more and more companies have started the conversation; more and more companies have started work.
Ramirez-Saenz said she looks forward to continuing to do this “essential” work in the area she has called home for so many years.
“There are a lot of people working on it. We’ve come a long way, but if West Michigan is really going to thrive, more than we are right now…if we really want to make it to this list of the most diverse and inclusive cities, we all need to come together. and recognize that we must work together for the betterment of our community and for the betterment of our region. … We have to be intentional. We have to be strategic and we all have to be open to each other.