Our Communities: La Familia

Community leads Stephanie Wharton and Ulises Giacoman highlight La Familia, one of Handshake’s 12 employee communities, and share how this rich, multidimensional and vibrant community is empowered by diversity.

At Handshake, Communities (or Employee Resource Groups) are ingrained in the company culture. Our communities provide a sense of belonging for employees, a place where they can be themselves and know that no matter what, they are enough. 

La Familia includes anyone connected to the Hispanic-Latiné Diaspora. While members of this group have plenty of shared experiences and culture, they also come from very different places and have different stories about how they arrived at Handshake. In a way, they are as alike as they are different, showcasing the diversity that exists even in the community.

Language is one of those areas where you see this come to life. Members of La Familia may speak Spanish as a first language or only know conversational Spanish; some members have never learned Spanish. Some immigrated or grew up in predominantly Latiné neighborhoods, while others were raised in suburbs where they were the only Hispanic family on the block. 

Stephanie Wharton, Manager of DEI Recruiting at Handshake, had this experience in her household. Her family moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was just three years old, so she remembers very little about their life there. But her older sisters were in middle school and remembered that part of their childhood well. This made for a sort of “bicultural upbringing,” as Stephanie explained it. 

As a co-leader of La Familia, Stephanie feels responsible for creating a safe space for all members, fostering an environment of learning, being vulnerable and transparent about her own experiences, and providing opportunities for members to bond and have fun. 

Stephanie shares this responsibility with her co-leader, Ulises Giacoman, a Senior iOS Engineer at Handshake. His first role at Handshake was only his second job out of college, and as the third iOS engineer hired, he was part of building the foundations of the mobile team. He was also part of building La Familia and the culture of Communities at Handshake. When he first started at the company in late 2017, there were no Employee Resource Groups. La Familia was one of the first ERGs founded, and it’s still thriving.

Ulises and Stephanie work to provide a safe space for members to educate each other about their shared but unique cultural identities. “In America, we have these labels – Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, Latiné,” said Ulises. “Each label represents a community, and that’s who we are. But within these communities, there are a lot of different identities. There are differences in the way we think and our political views. And people outside of these communities may not understand these nuances.”

Knowing there are many perspectives at the table, the members of La Familia focus on listening and supporting one another. Even if they can’t always relate to each other’s experiences, they understand the value of empathy and support. 

Through their events and programming, La Familia provides members with a space to discuss these nuances and educate the larger Handshake community. 

For example, Stephanie and Ulises host monthly chats they call Cafecito, or “little coffee.” These are virtual conversations with no agenda or expectations. Stephanie recalls a particularly engaging Cafecito where members discussed the weddings they had been to across all of their countries of origin and how fun it was to learn about different cultural traditions.

When La Familia comes together as a virtual group, Stephanie and Ulises feel it’s important to develop new ways to keep everyone engaged. Earlier this year, the co-leads created Cafecito merch for all the members to bring them together. Members received their packages with SWAG, like mugs, stickers, and candles in the mail. Now when they meet via Zoom, they all raise their Cafecito mugs and say, “¡Salud!”. It’s a simple reminder that they are all a part of this amazing group and that no matter their background or history, they all belong. 

Some group discussions are more serious, such as bonding over what it’s like to be first generation and the expectations of some immigrant parents – an experience that can be rich but also uniquely challenging and hard at times for others to understand. Discussions like these can be used as an opportunity to inspire future programming for the wider community. 

Just as important as fostering a sense of belonging within the group is providing educational opportunities for everyone in the company, such as those organized during this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15). La Familia invited Juan Felipe Herrera, a former U.S. and California Poet Laureate, to do a poetry reading, fireside chat, and Q&A session for the larger Handshake community.

Pictured: Poet and activist Juan Felipe Herrera at Handshake’s Hispanic Heritage Month La Familia Community Event (September 28, 2022).

The group also planned three events just for members. The first was a virtual happy hour, and card game focused on Hispanic culture to give everyone a chance to cut loose and relax. They also planned a separate event for members that encouraged more serious conversations around their identities and who they are within the community. Lastly, the community hosted a Latiné Flow Yoga, facilitated by certified Yoga instructor and La Familia member Miranda Ordoñez.

So whether it’s language, geography, food, culture, music, traditions, or events, La Familia is a community that brings people together. It is this diversity that makes the group so rich and vibrant. And as Handshake continues to grow, Stephanie and Ulises look forward to welcoming new members to join their dynamic community.

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