Numbers don’t lie; there are not enough women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Females in various science fields and STEM professions, especially in leadership roles, are hard to come by, and that disparity is even more severe for women of color and Latinas.
It’s also undeniable that future generations of Latinas need role models in STEM fields to show them there is a place for them in the ever-changing and perpetually relevant scientific fields. After all, it’s hard to be something or someone you cannot see, and chemist Genesis Velazquez is on a mission to be a part of that shift — changing the game with her new entrepreneurial venture Elitegen Innovation and inspiring Latinas to pursue opportunities in STEM roles.
Once upon a time, the concept of a woman in a white lab coat or a female engineer would have seemed like a pipe dream — like an unrealistic pursuit in an industry not welcoming to women. But times are changing, largely thanks to ambitious women who are paving the way.
Genesis Velazquez is one of those women. She is a Latina on a mission, both personal and professional. Her goal was always to combine her passions into a career in the chemistry and beauty arena, but being able to do so in a way that also clears a path for other Latinas and future generations of young girls is an opportunity she does not take lightly.
A prevalent underrepresentation
STEM fields are male-dominated, both in education and in professional roles in science and mathematics careers.
According to research from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019, women only made up about 27 percent of all STEM workers in the United States. Clearly, men make up the bulk of individuals in these fields. On the bright side, those numbers are improving compared to 1970, when women made up only 8 percent of STEM workers.
The most significant gains for women in STEM were seen in social science occupations — those roles saw an increase of women from 19% in 1970 to 64% in 2019. In the same year, women made up nearly half of those in math (47%) and life and physical science (45%) occupations.
So, there is good news, and we see things move in the right direction in terms of representation in STEM. That said, it’s still not enough. Women are still the minority in the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math, and it’s also clearly not just a professional problem.
This is why it’s so important to have mentors and role models to turn to, especially for Latinas entering STEM. Enter Genesis Velazquez, a Latina chemist on a mission to inspire others.
Being a part of the Change
Genesis is a product development chemist with several years of experience launching skincare, personal care, hair care, and other consumer goods. She is a scientist with a passion for beauty product innovation, inspired by her love of creating pretty things and the science that brings them to life.
Her career began in beauty research and development labs, where she worked to create and perfect haircare, skincare, and personal care products. After several years in corporate roles, working on big brands, she realized she also had an entrepreneurial spirit. And so Elitegen Innovation was born — a turn-key product development company that helps beauty brand owners bring their vision to life, starting with research and development through product management support.
At Elitegen Innovation, Genesis is joined by a team of expert formulators, product developers, and brand designers to help independent beauty brands launch successful products. “It’s a dream job,” Genesis tells BeLatina. It’s a chance to use her expertise and knowledge as a chemist and beauty product developer and her desire to help inspire other entrepreneurs and chemists and show people that science and beauty are NOT mutually exclusive. Elitegen Innovation is her way of showing other women and Latinas that there is a space for them in the STEM world, and they are deserving of every opportunity they work for.
And as if being a chemist and a business owner doesn’t keep Genesis busy enough, she is also the founder of AVO Haircare, an avocado oil-based hair care brand made of good-for-hair ingredients that replenish all the essential nutrients hair needs. She is also the host of “The Glam Chemist Podcast,” a podcast where she gets to share her insights into finding success in the beauty science industry.
We sat down to chat with Genesis about her path to success, her goals for the future, her advice for Latinas interested in STEM, and what inspires her.
What first inspired you to chase your dreams of being a chemist and an entrepreneur and pursuing a career path in science and beauty?
I actually found out about chemistry, and a lot of the inspiration for me to pursue STEM came from growing up in Puerto Rico. Many people don’t know this, but much pharmaceutical manufacturing came from Puerto Rico in the early 60s and 70s. I grew up with my godfather studying STEM, and he worked in the pharmaceutical companies, so my first experience with chemistry and knowing what a scientist was came from him. That was really my first experience with the magical world of science that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. And I didn’t realize that was what first inspired me until I was much older. Once I got into high school, I knew I was really good at STEM, and I enjoyed it. Still, I didn’t necessarily consider it a career path because that isn’t how it is pictured – especially as a female in STEM, it’s not really a predominant space for women who look like me. But in my experience, what was helpful was finding cosmetic science.
I already had a true love for beauty. I grew up in Washington Heights with my grandmother owning a salon, and beauty was always in my life because of her. So, the minute I found a space that was cosmetic science, I wholeheartedly pursued it. I knew I wanted to be a chemist, I wanted to go into R&D (research and development), and I wanted to make pretty things. That’s how it all began for me; it was pieces of my growing up coming together, all beginning with my love for STEM and then finding that wonderful world where all my passions collided.
Tell us a little about your company Elitegen Innovation. What services do you provide to independent beauty brands?
At Elitegen Innovation, we provide a service for product development for independent beauty brands. So, we do the 360 development; that basically means for any independent beauty brand owner, who may or may not be a part of the industry, who may or may not know where to start or how to pursue product development, we help them by giving them the full team they would have access to if they were a big beauty brand like a L’Oréal. So, you get a product development manager, a formulation chemist, a designer to help with a logo and packaging, and all the way down to helping brands find a manufacturer.
We’ve been really lucky to have a great collection of brands that we are working with. Social media has been the biggest tool for finding new brands to work with and posting educational content about our business. The beauty science world has been helpful to peak interest and generate leads. I post educational content and videos about what I’m working on in the lab, and that often peaks inquiries and lets people know that if they have an idea and don’t know where to start, Elitegen Innovation is there for them and can accommodate to their needs and budget – the goal is to be accessible to all the brands to help bring more innovation to the market.
As a Latina, what has been the most challenging part of becoming an entrepreneur and creating Elitegen Innovation? What has been the most rewarding?
There are two sides to this coin: I’m quite young, only 26 years old, so it can be really difficult to be taken seriously, especially in the STEM space, which often feels like an old man’s game. I’ve had many managers and superiors who have been doing things the same way and making the same products for 30 years, so they don’t care about innovation. They’re not looking to change the status quo, which has been difficult and is part of why I created a space for myself where I don’t have to be overly questioned, or I don’t have to worry about being taken seriously. And then, as a first-generation graduate and the first entrepreneur in my family, I’m still figuring it all out and often feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I went to a wonderful university, but it lacked diversity, especially in my field. I was the only Latina I knew in my university and the only female pursuing cosmetic science in my program. I spent a lot of time justifying what I was studying and validating what I was trying to do academically and professionally. It got to the point where if I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously, I left to make my own path.
There are a lot of daily struggles resulting from the fact that I don’t come from a place of privilege, but I have found my community. I have met other Latina entrepreneurs who are so willing to open their doors and share tips and experiences. Building a community and having mentorships is key. It’s essential to provide space for other Latinas in business and science. I’m hopeful that the more we continue this conversation, the more we’ll look across the table, and there will be someone who looks like us or come from our community. My big thing has always been that no matter what I had to go through to get where I am, I want to make sure it’s a little bit easier for the next person. I’m so happy and proud to be a part of any effort to clear a path for others and make it easier for someone else to pursue their dreams.
What advice do you have for other Latinas who are intimidated to pursue a career in STEM?
The most important thing to remember is that despite any obstacle that might come your way, you’re more than qualified to be in that space. Don’t let anyone discourage you or convince you that you’re not meant to be there, whatever that space is. I always say, “don’t let them make you wash the glassware; that’s not what you are there for.” Remember that you have more than enough qualifications to provide your input and share your research and ideas. Don’t let anyone make you feel like just because you come from a different community or you represent something that’s not typical of that space, that you’re not qualified. No one can tell you who you are. And don’t be afraid to share just how qualified you are.
What’s next for Elitegen Innovation? What are your goals for the future?
Immediately my goal is to launch all of the products and brands we’ve been working on this year. We have an incredible client base, and we’ve been creating some really cool projects that I can’t share just yet. But keep an eye on our website, where we’ll be posting a lot of project and consumer profiles. I’m hoping most of our projects will be ready to launch by the Christmas season. And then, after that, I really hope to provide more educational resources. I’m hoping to provide an e-book or webinar so that even if brands aren’t able to work directly with us at this moment, they can still have resources to help them develop their brand.
And then, ultimately, I hope to have our own manufacturing facility. With that, we can bottle and batch the products for our brands, so all they need to tell us is where to ship the goods. That’s a long-term goal to really have Elitegen Innovation be a one-stop shop for everything you need as a brand owner. And in addition to all of this, I am also a brand owner, and we’ll be launching some new formulas for AVO in time for Christmas.