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Change Agent: Shirley Aldana

Stories | 11.12.19

After experiencing a long journey to find inclusion and acceptance, Shirley Aldana hopes to help pave the way for others. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology through Adler University’s Online Campus and wants to help companies and organizations become more diverse and inclusive.

Aldana was taken to Los Angeles from Guatemala when she was only 10 and began a decades-long fight to become a citizen of the country where she has lived most of her life.

“It was not an easy journey. It certainly was not an easy adjustment adapting to living in the U.S.,” Aldana said. Adding to that stress, her attempts at applying for legal status kept getting denied, and she was never told why.

Fortunately, she had many supporters and mentors who have helped her stay employed since 1986, which allowed her to build her business acumen. “During the years, I have been able to work with managers and supervisors who saw potential in me,” she said. “I was very fortunate that I had had that type of mentorship in my life.”

In 2007, Aldana was connected through her employer to a lawyer who made sure her application was accurately viewed and processed. In fall of that year, when she finally received her green card, the immigration officer looked at her standing beside her 18-year-old daughter and asked, “Why have you waited so long?” She had no words.
“The immigration system is broken,” said Aldana, who became a naturalized citizen on February 13, 2015. “We need to fix it. There is a lot of bias from decision-makers about why people are fleeing their home countries.” Aldana, who lives in Austin, Texas, is now helping other immigrants to know their rights through volunteering and daily advocacy on social media and in person through several organizations.

Earlier this year, she returned to Guatemala to do advocacy and grant writing work for Mujeres Iniciando en las Americas (Women Initiating in the Americas), a U.S.-based nonprofit raising awareness of the systemic violence against women happening in the Central American country. “Recent research has shown that since the beginning of the 21st century, violent deaths of women in the region have been increasing,” Aldana said, adding that femicide is increasingly frequent in drug trafficking, human trafficking, gangs, and organized crime.

“People are fleeing because it is not a safe country,” Aldana said, explaining that Guatemala has high rates of political corruption, gang activity, and violent crime.
“And on top of that, it is a country that sits on approximately 40-plus volcanos, three of which are extremely active and have caused catastrophic devastation in the last few years.” She added that citizens are also exposed to water pollution and disease, and have limited access to clean water.

In addition to championing immigrant rights, Aldana hopes to combat systems of inequality in the workplace. “I was exposed to a lot of gender inequality and racial prejudice in the work that I was doing,” Aldana said of her career in the automotive industry in Los Angeles. This pushed Aldana to pursue a Ph.D. She had been working in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and was ready to take more action. When she found Adler University, she instantly connected with its mission and vision. She said she knew Adler University would help prepare her to be “a change agent who can successfully articulate a business case for equitable workplaces, and help organizations champion policies and practices that foster a just, inclusive, and equitable work culture.”

Aldana launched Enlace Consulting and Resource Group in 2013 and cofacilitates diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings and racial justice conversations in Austin. She plans to use her degree to expand her business and reach.

“It is the time now for action,” Aldana said. “It’s no longer the time to just sit back and be observers of these things that are happening. We must take steps to actually make changes.”

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