Going down the path of surviving to thriving, Venus V. Piñeyro hopes to inspire others with her own journey.
By Georgia Valles
Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Venus V. Piñeyro never expected to leave her home and become an immigrant by relocating to Austin. For 20 years, she lived her life closely surrounded by domestic violence. She experienced it firsthand and saw it happen to her mother at a young age. It wasn’t until she was 20 that Piñeyro, along with her mother and little sister, then only 4, were forced to flee Mexico. The three of them ended up in Austin, and to keep their safety, they lived “underground” as best as they could to avoid being found by her father.
In order to stay in Austin legally, Piñeyro and her mother enrolled at UT Austin—Piñeyro as an economics undergrad student, and her mother as a Ph.D. student. Her mother struggled with side effects from physical trauma she experienced at the hands of her husband. It took her 11 years to finish her Ph.D., and in light of her perseverance, Piñeyro found, and continues to find, inspiration in her mother.
“She is one of the smartest people I know,” Piñeyro says. “With all that we went through, she was able to achieve her dream of graduating.”
Now, 30 years later, Piñeyro is 51 years old and thriving as an entrepreneur with multiple successful organizations and as president of Association of Latino Professionals For America Austin (ALPFA). Piñeyro has never forgotten her experiences and brings those hardships into her businesses in order to inspire other survivors to thrive in their newfound success, both personally and professionally.
“The theme of my life right now is that progression between surviving through striving into thriving,” she explains.
It wasn’t an easy road, but Piñeyro was able to follow her successes from early adulthood in college—starting with her economics degree and MBA from St. Edward’s University—to her building a career in business intelligence and analytics at esteemed companies such as Dell.
Over the years, Piñeyro has added other certificates to her “toolbox,” as she calls it. Her project management certification kickstarted a round of other certificates she gained as a way to keep in motion. These experiences led her to a top five consulting firm, followed by her start in technology at Dell. Despite the certifications and work opportunities, Piñeyro was still trying to claw her way through the immigration process. “I knew no one who could open doors for me,” she explains. “It was hard for me to stay here legally. When you have a H-1B visa, you can’t switch roles.” For many years, this caused her to lose out on promotions and further experiences in higher positions. She watched as many people she knew rose in the ranks while she stayed planted.
Piñeyro reflected on this with a saying from her mother: “Flourish where you are planted.” Though she was planted in one position at the consulting firm, with the help of her toolbox and eagerness to strive, when she was approved for her visa, Piñeyro already had a great deal of experience under her belt.
“It’s important that you are in motion,” she explains. “As long as you’re in motion, you’re able to steer your life in the way that you want to based on the new information you’re receiving.”
For a few years, Piñeyro stayed with business intelligence and analytics, making her way through companies such as Dell, General Motors and Facebook. When the pandemic hit, her years of working at Facebook came to an end.
“A window of opportunity opened up for me to do something meaningful, which was to be an entrepreneur and to focus on diversity, equality and inclusion.”
Her exit from corporate America was not an easy transition. Piñeyro recalls struggling with imposter syndrome, which caused her to deep dive into a series of new certifications to add to her toolbox. She became a certified executive coach, mediator and diversity executive, but these were accreditations she was collecting and not putting into practice. “If you are out there doing it, yes, learning is important, but you need to be able to put that into practice,” she says. Her work and experiences led her to build two successful organizations, Strong Latina Project and The Inclusion Plus Institute.
The Strong Latina Project comes from her time as a women’s coach in corporate America and her own experiences as a Latina in a mostly white male environment.
“I ended up coaching a lot of Latina women,” Piñeyro says. “But I was seeing that there was so much similarity in the resilience and the grit and the unique way in which these Latinas were using their strengths.”
The organization was created to give Latinas a space to share their stories, grow and flourish in their successes, creating opportunities for them to be able to learn, such as the Latina Changemaker Fellowship and The Strong Latina Playbook. Piñeyro explains, “Inspiration and hope happen when you see that other people have been there and they have done that. If you see that they could, you start to think, ‘Well maybe I could too.’”
Piñeyro reflects on a moment when she met a woman who came up to her crying. “[At first,] I was mortified,” she recalls. “[Then] the lady told me she was crying because I gave her hope through my story as a single mom and immigrant, all the things that have been on my survival path. She was able to see herself in a different part of the journey to survival. Her tears were of relief; it told me I wasn’t alone and that others have walked this path.”
With her organization The Inclusion Plus Institute, the goal is to “make the world better, one organization at a time.” They provide a series of capability offerings for companies such as consulting, training and meditation and facilitation. Their most recent service, SafeSpace+, is dedicated to helping organizations prevent workplace misconduct like harassment, discrimination and bullying. Piñeyro, who has experienced these things in the workplace, insists that “once you go through something hard, you have the ability to use your resources to create something to help others. SafeSpace+ is one of my biggest focuses.”
SafeSpace+ had their biggest event in August, when they helped create a code of conduct for the ALPFA Convention in San Antonio, with over 5,400 people in attendance. “I think [SafeSpace+] aligns perfectly with turning surviving into thriving,” Piñeyro says.
SafeSpace+ wants organizations to fulfill their greatest potential. With events like the one they held in August, the organization continues to successfully bring international change to the community.
Venus V. Piñeyro showcases her constant efforts to inspire survivors like herself, through all stages of their journey, in all of her work. “For survivors, we don’t decide the deck of cards that gets dealt to us in life,” she says. “But you do have control of how you react to them. Having that awareness that there’s a level of agency, regardless of what you’re going through, in terms of how you’re reacting to it, I think is important. The path from surviving to thriving involves an element of self-determination and agency to reclaim your power and define your destiny.”