Eva Longoria is an entrepreneur. You may think of her first as an award-winning actress, producer, director, mother, or activist. But through them all, runs the bright line of entrepreneurship. There is no shortage of ventures she’s successfully launched—from her own production company, fashion line, fragrance and cookbook, to a recent partnership inked with Century 21 Real Estate.
I had the opportunity to interview Longoria and learn how she thinks. In that conversation, it was clear she has not lost sight of who she is. A woman. A Latina. Nor has she lost sight of the responsibility that entails. (For her recent ABC series “Grand Hotel,” she hired people of color in key roles behind and in front of the camera and hired women to direct a majority of the episodes.) It was also clear that as an entrepreneur she has a set of business principles that guide her decisions. Those tenets have led to her success and can be applied by anyone, Latina or otherwise, seeking success of their own.
Chaka Booker: The Eva Longoria Foundation focuses on education and entrepreneurship. Within education, two areas of focus are STEM and parent engagement. Why those two strategies?
Eva Longoria: To create sustainable change, you have to be laser focused on the result you want. I commissioned a study from UCLA and found the best poverty interventions were educational programs and parent engagement. One engaged parent, let alone two, increases the likelihood of high school graduation and then college. So, we partnered with PIQE, an organization doing amazing work in underserved communities. The results have been outstanding. We’ve witnessed a multiplying effect. One mom will take a class and then go home and tell her neighbors, her sister, her friends. Now those other women are impacted and didn’t even take the class. Suddenly, we’ve affected ten families as opposed to one. That ability to scale and the ability to measure results are important.
Booker: What was your thinking behind STEM?
Longoria: I did my master’s thesis on Latinas in STEM. Only 1% of STEM jobs are filled by a Latina. Yet we are 18% of the population and Latinos will be a huge part of the future workforce in the U.S. Latinas need to be empowered and ready for those future jobs, whether it’s computer engineering or coding, there’s so much opportunity and not enough talent. My thought process was, well, let’s get Latinas prepared for that future.
Booker: You could have stopped there, but you’ve also invested in entrepreneurship…
Longoria: I’m an entrepreneur myself. It’s an experience I understand. When I started researching, I found Latinas start small businesses at six times the national average. There are more Latinas starting small businesses than any other group in our country, but they don’t have the same access to capital or business training. There is knowledge and funding that they are lacking to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. That’s what we wanted to provide them with my foundation.
Booker: What hurdles exist for Latinas pursuing entrepreneurship?
Longoria: Women in general have more barriers in the entrepreneurial space. Venture capital firms have a gender bias. The process for getting bank loans is biased. Unconscious bias exists. Then when you add intersectionality—a woman and Latina—that bias affects you even more. I’ve seen so many obstacles to success that don’t need to be. The light being shed on that is important. At the same time, we need to better prepare women to be entrepreneurs. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning how to write a business plan or teaching critical bookkeeping skills. That exposure changes their perspective. Access is part of it, but so is preparation. Successful entrepreneurialism is about preparation.
Booker: Your perspective feels directly aligned with your Century 21 Real Estate partnership.
Longoria: Yes, I’m so excited about it. Century 21 approached us with the Empowering Latinas initiative because they saw our work with entrepreneurs. Real estate agents are basically entrepreneurs. They drum up their own business, build clientele, do research. A range of entrepreneurial skills are needed in real estate. Century 21 offered us 21 scholarships for Latinas in the L.A. area to study and obtain their real estate license. Again, it’s about knowledge and tools. It’s about hands-on training and mentorship from experienced Century 21 agents. Mentorship is one of our other pillars of work, so Century 21 is also supporting our high school mentorship program in Los Angeles. The program includes a confidence-building curriculum, helps students prepare and plan for college, and connects ambitious Latina students with their peers and professional women who share their backgrounds. These relationships and role models inspire young women to dream big. It’s a perfect partnership.
Booker: Mentorship is central to the Century 21 partnership as well as other initiatives you’ve undertaken. What’s the link between mentorship and entrepreneurship?
Longoria: We can’t be what we can’t see. Our research shows that access to mentors leads to higher graduation and college attendance rates for Latina students. Entrepreneurs are often doing something that’s new to them. When you present someone with a living example of success, it really inspires them to say, “Hey, she did that. So, I can too.” That’s the power of mentorship. It helps you see opportunities, believe in yourself and grab them. That’s what’s exciting about the Century 21 partnership.
Booker: What’s one piece of advice you’d give entrepreneurs in the Century 21 initiative or for entrepreneurs in general?
Longoria: We had this amazing panel the other day in San Jose with really smart women and the theme they kept sharing was that to succeed in business, you have to get your credit in order. It goes back to preparation. Credit is the passport into the financial world. If you don’t have good credit, you’re not getting a bank loan. You’re not getting venture capital. You’re not getting investors. You have to prove you are fiscally responsible prior to starting your business. Get your student loan debt down. Get your credit card paid off. Make your car payments on time, so when any financial person looks at your portfolio, they give you a shot.
Booker: What’s some advice for young Latinas sitting in a classroom somewhere right now, who want to be successful?
Longoria: Surround yourself with peers that believe in the same thing as you. You want people around who are driven, who have dreams. There are enough people that are going to tell you “no.” Make sure that’s not your circle of friends. Find a mentor. Somebody you want to emulate and learn from. Carefully prepare a list of questions you want to ask that person. Mentors don’t have a lot of time. Be specific with what you want to learn. To get from point A to point B, be specific with your questions. That’s vital.
Booker: You mentioned the importance of measuring results. What is your measure for the social impact work you do?
Longoria: We collect data from all of our foundation’s programs to help us understand how we’re helping our beneficiaries and what else they need to succeed. And we track outcomes over the long-term. The end goal is social mobility. Whether we’re working toward immigrant rights or farm worker rights, I want more people to become economically mobile. More people able to afford housing, with better health and better education. We want to improve quality of life. Using education and entrepreneurship and then looking for improvements in housing, health and academic achievement is how I’ll know we’re succeeding.
Booker: You’ve touched on key levers for professional success. Preparation, focus, mentorship, measurable, scalable. Across your range of work, are there other common drivers?
Longoria: I look for simple solutions to big problems. Whether business or social impact. If you use that approach, you don’t have to be rich and famous to make a difference. I want to debunk that myth. Sometimes people look at the world issues and go, “Oh my God, that’s overwhelming. I couldn’t possibly make a dent. I can’t possibly get ahead.” Yes, you can. My mentality has been to help one family at a time, that family betters their community and that community betters their cities and those cities better their states. That’s how to approach issues that can sometimes feel overwhelming. Start simple and that’s how you’ll reach your goals. Start simple and that’s how we will improve our nation.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. Chaka Booker is a leadership development expert and author of Mastering the Hire: 12 Strategies to Improve Your Odds of Finding the Best Hire.