“I created a network early on by getting involved with community organizations, local politics, and boards. Then, I had my daughter and that changed everything. And I didn’t plan for it to be that way, I expected a shift, but not of that magnitude. So, I dropped everything I was doing, in terms of board engagement and volunteering, because I wanted to focus on this girl, going to work, and coming back home. But I knew that was going to be a moment in time,” said Carmen Arce-Bowen, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader.
Reinvention is a meta skill. Learning how to establish yourself in a new place, whether it’s a country, city, job, or life-stage, is something we all have to do. And with the chaos of the past few years, a lot has changed. So for many, finding ways to feel grounded again with new priorities and circumstances, is top of mind. How do you build a more effective process to integrate what’s new while retaining your sense of self, purpose, and power?
Learn how Carmen emigrated from Mexico as a student and went on to build relationships, influence, and community, as a change agent within our most powerful systems.
Find Your People
Carmen said, “I was intentional about volunteering and doing things locally. Because I have a heavy accent and was very nervous about how to show up as myself, I started volunteering for the Mexican consulate. And it was easy to find other people from there who might be doing things in Boston.”
As her confidence grew, she got more involved in public service. “I did a program at the State House to learn how the legislative process works here. So, I was meeting people and creating connections. I can’t even tell you how many people I met in that program who are still my friends!”
Volunteer to Serve and Learn
Carmen said, “That led me from one opportunity to another. I volunteered in other organizations and even got involved in local politics.” Although the political landscape often feels divisive, it’s also where the some of the most important advocacy, service and equity work happens.
She added, “Anyone can get involved with their neighborhood association or a local race. And that was my way ‘in’ to this city so I was no longer just as a person in transit. I had the opportunity to create those roots.”
Be Selective with Your Time (and Energy)
Carmen said, “I feel like everyone can make some time, if they really, really, want to. And my priorities started changing because my daughter’s needs started changing.” Although most Moms are desperate to reclaim time, especially for our health and creative pursuits, community and public service can be quite fulfilling. So, she decided to be more strategic.
“So, I started getting involved again, but I was definitely more selective. Because having her made me prioritize how to spend not just time but my energy. And think about who I wanted to get involved with and what kind of impact I wanted to have.”
Know Your Value
We’re conditioned to be accommodating. So, when getting established, it can be tempting to say ‘yes’ to everything. But your perspective is beneficial, whether you’re experienced yet or not. Carmen said, “When I came here seventeen years ago, I didn’t think I had as much to bring to professional circles. At the beginning of my journey, I felt like ‘of course I need to say yes’ I was just so thankful that people were engaging with me. But now, I know that I can say no and view opportunities more through my lens. And think about, ‘is this something that I really want to do or not?’ And why?”
Find Strength to Say ‘no’ When it Doesn’t Fit
You can’t pursue every opportunity even if you want to. And because we constantly add new commitments for our kids and careers, it’s self-protective to be choosy. Carmen said, “I don’t feel as guilty saying no. Sometimes, I provide names of other people, where it might be the right time for them to be engaged in a policy initiative or on a board.”
She applies more stringent criteria now before getting involved. “I have to know I can really bring value. And that it’s something I want to do. It was the motherhood journey that helped me through that because of the more limited resources I have to engage.”
Consider the Stakeholders for Your Time
Carmen’s work is tied to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Which for those of us in communities of color, can feel exhausting. But as part of her strategy, to manage energy, she will seek feedback. “Sometimes, I consult with my 13 year old daughter, because why I want to say no to something may involve her. So, now I will ask her, ‘what do you think about that’ And she won’t know every single detail but she will give me her opinion and I consider it. It’s not just about it being her, but it’s another set of eyes to keep me real about what I think I want to get involved with.” Brilliant!
And Loose the Guilt
How many times do we worry about making the wrong choice because of our kids? If it’s age appropriate, consulting with them, can bring important perspective. And possibly give you the permission to pursue your big vision. Carmen said, “I’m just not as guilty about saying no. And am more mindful and thoughtful about how I get involved with things these days. I’m involved in quite a few things, but believe it or not, they’re what I believe are the right things for me at this time.”
Choose Your Level of Involvement
We discussed how the work of social change and activism can be intense. But it’s what lights Carmen up. And she’s developed a formula to make her portfolio of commitments, work for her life. “Most of my engagement, at the committee level for the boards that I’m on is also diversity, equity, and inclusion work. But it’s with different organizations, that have different challenges, issues, and teams. So, when I get involved, I get to see who I’m going to work with. Because even though it might be a very big topic, my engagement is a little bit different depending on who’s in the room. And that’s the way I balance it, I cannot have the same level of engagement with every single organization.
Balance Your Role Within a Team
Carmen explained, “Because every organization is different in terms of the people we’re dealing with and their journeys, and I try to the best of my ability, to balance that out. And ask, myself, ‘okay, is this an organization that needs me to be more present? Or is this more behind the scenes? Is this something that other board members, volunteers or team members can take on? So, even though it’s a big issue we’re dealing with, how I bring my energy in all depends on the people that I surround myself with in those organizations. I try to be mindful about how I balance that so, I do not burn out.”
So, go on! Find those opportunities to get established while using your gifts to make our communities, and the world around us, better.
Many thanks to the talented Carmen Arce-Bowen!
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Carmen Arce-Bowen is the Chief Operating Officer of The Partnership, Inc. a Boston based organization focused on attracting, developing, and retaining professionals of color in the region. She also co-chairs the organization’s Executive Council a group of nearly 80 heads of HR and D&I that convene to share best practices, tackle challenges in the field and serve as a sounding board to each other.
Prior to joining The Partnership, Arce-Bowen served for over three years as Director of Personnel and Administration in the office of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick overseeing and managing all matters related to high-level personnel transactions in the executive branch. Prior to this role, she served as Project Director of ONE Massachusetts at the Public Policy Institute and trained more than 250 community leaders on issues related to community empowerment and public policy strategy.
Arce-Bowen currently serves as a trustee of Buckingham Browne and Nichols School and chairs its newly created Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee. She also serves on the board of WBUR, Boston NPR news station, on the leadership board of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and on the newly created Governor’s Council on Latino Empowerment. Arce-Bowen also served on the boards of MassVote, the Chelsea Collaborative, Emerge Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women.
In 2022, Tufts University recognized Arce-Bowen with a 2021 Distinguished Achievement Award – one the highest recognitions the university awards every year to its alumni. The Boston Business Journal named Arce-Bowen as one of its 2018 40 Under 40 honorees, a competitive awards program that recognizes Boston’s most promising young professionals. In 2019, Boston executives selected Arce-Bowen to be part of a 10-member cohort representing Boston at the Harvard Business School “Young American Leaders Program” around issues of cross-sector collaboration in the US.
Originally from Mexico, Arce-Bowen graduated with a LL.B from Universidad Panamericana Law School in Guadalajara Mexico, a LL.M from Suffolk University Law School and a MALD degree from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy focusing on International Development – Social and Political Change.
Arce-Bowen is the proud mom of 13-year old Pilar.Tags: Achieving Goals, Career Development for Moms, establishing yourself, Moms Personal Growth