When Anna Dapelo-Garcia turned 50, she had a good talk with herself. “I did a mental checklist and assessment,” she said, highlighting the milestones that were most important to her in life. “Mother? Check. Married? Check. Education? Check.” She also had done a lot of soul-searching on the subject of success, and she decided to stop chasing titles and define success as making a difference through her work. That left one last checklist item to complete: “Giving back.”
One of the ways Dapelo-Garcia has chosen to give back is by founding Lean In Latinas, a chapter of the Lean In organization founded by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Named after Sandberg’s best-selling book, the Lean In organization’s mission is “to empower women to achieve their ambitions.” Lean In does this in three ways: through “Circles,” (small groups that meet virtually or in person), public awareness, and education.
Education always has been key for Dapelo-Garcia on her career trajectory. As a young woman growing up in a crime-ridden neighborhood of San Jose, Calif., she didn’t have any role models for becoming the leader she is today. The Hispanic daughter of parents who worked in blue-collar jobs, Dapelo-Garcia said the odds of her going to college were against her.
“My career hasn’t been a traditional one,” she said. “I didn’t have a formal education, just a lot of initiative and ambition.” She worked her way up from a clerk to now administrative director of patient access services at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, Calif. Along the way, she earned her bachelor’s degree in management from St. Mary’s College of California and her master’s in public administration and health services administration from the University of San Francisco.
However, her education didn’t always take place in the classroom. “I came to the work world with a desire to do a good job and with lots of ‘street smarts,'” Dapelo-Garcia said. “No money, no fancy name, but I was learning. I watched how management interacted and how they dressed, looked, and sounded to see what people needed in order to be in the jobs I wanted to be considered for someday.”
Mentors played a big role in Dapelo-Garcia’s education, too. “My first real mentor who reached out to me was Linda Cook,” Dapelo-Garcia said. Cook hired Dapelo-Garcia for her first management position at Stanford. “She saw that I had a lot of potential, but I was a little rough around the edges. When Linda became vice president of the clinics, she took me with her,” and Dapelo-Garcia’s career took off.
Another mentor was David Haray, FHFMA, former vice president of patient financial services at Stanford and previously president of the Northern California HFMA chapter. Dapelo-Garcia gives Haray credit for getting her involved in their HFMA chapter as a board member.
Dapelo-Garcia is a graduate of HOPE Leadership Institute (HLI), a statewide leadership program designed for professional Latinas in California. The Institute was a training ground for Dapelo-Garcia, providing vital leadership and advocacy skills that have assisted her at work and in the community. While in the HLI program, she was appointed in 2013 to be a California State Commissioner for the state senate’s Advisory Commission on Cost Control. Dapelo-Garcia is also a member of the advisory board of the University of San Francisco’s MPA program, and she recently was appointed to the board of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley.
Other accomplishments on Dapelo-Garcia’s profile include being the recipient of the HFMA Future Financial Leaders Award in 2012; in 2013, she received a “Women of Influence” award by the Silicon Valley Business Journal; and she was recognized as the 2017 Woman of the Year by Women Health Care Executives.
As Dapelo-Garcia reviewed her checklist after that big birthday, her vision to make a difference kept leading her back to the Lean In organization, and in 2015 she became founder of the Lean In Latinas chapter. The chapter now has 14 circles and more than 500 members across the country. Due to the explosive growth of her chapter, Dapelo-Garcia was recruited to be part of a Lean In regional leaders chapter as one of only 30 women in the world at the time, and she said it’s thrilling to be on monthly calls with other women from across the globe and to learn from each other.
In spite of her many astonishing accomplishments, Dapelo-Garcia’s philosophy of leading a team is simple: respect people, regardless of their titles. “I’m still that girl who was sitting at the registration desk,” she confided. “I know some people pigeon-holed me—I had great ideas but no fancy title. Now that I’m a leader, I make it a point to respect people, and I want to hear ideas from all different perspectives.” She gives credit to a previous boss she had, Dr. Shefren, who saw how career-driven she was and who advised her, “Anna, don’t lose your identity within your title.”
“That kept me humble,” she said. “To our staff, titles can be intimidating. I tell them, ‘You’re the person closest to the work—you define the patient experience.’ We all play a very important part, and we all need to be heard in order to contribute.”
To learn more about Lean In Latinas, visit www.leaninlatinas.org .
Vickie Austin is a business and career coach, founder of CHOICES Worldwide, and author of Circles of Gold: Honoring Your Network for Business and Career Success. She has spoken at ANI and is a frequent speaker at HFMA and HERe chapters around the country. Email her at [email protected].