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Recognition and Respect for Essential Workers

Stephanie Carlos

When you’re walking around our offices, how often do you run into a janitor? How often do you say hello or speak to them? 

Our janitors at Palo Alto Networks are hardworking people who don’t get enough recognition.The majority of them are Latino and now is a great time to highlight their daily contributions to our company.

Sometimes, they get overlooked because their jobs seem so simple and so humble - words often used to describe Latinos. Because they also work quietly so as not to disturb anyone, there is a sense of invisibility that comes with the role. 

But that means too many individuals go unnoticed. People rarely know their names or stories. 

I am proud to have been raised by parents who spent their careers as janitors because of what their dedication and work ethic instilled in me. I learned that everyone in any company deserves respect and gratitude for what they contribute, and I learned to value what I have along with the opportunities I’ve been given because of the work my parents did.

I am a first-generation Latina, first-generation college student, first-generation graduate student, and first-generation tech employee. None of it would have been possible without my family and the hard work of my parents. They kept food on our table and a roof over our heads my entire life and for that, I will always be grateful. 

My dad worked at a community college for 26 years and just retired this summer. He started as a custodian and was promoted to supervisor - a position he held for the last 20 years. The majority of his co-workers also stayed there for most of their careers. I know this because when I’d visit my dad as a teenager or young adult, they’d say they remembered when I was a little girl and came to see my dad on Friday afternoons.

My mom also retired over the summer after having spent 20 years working as a housekeeper at a hospital. Her manager was sad to see her go, saying his “best employee was leaving” him. During the peak of COVID-19, I saw the stress and fear my mom felt going to work, but that didn’t stop her from doing her job. She and her colleagues kept themselves safe while being essential to the hospital doing its lifesaving work. 

Without both of my parents working in janitorial roles, my family couldn’t have afforded to live in the Bay Area. My brother and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities we had, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

I probably would never have found Palo Alto Networks or the community we have here.

One special janitor I had the honor of knowing here was our beloved Yolanda, whom we lost to COVID-19 earlier this year. “Yoli” was such a sweet woman who would go out of her way to help others and she always took time to get to know people. She had a humble background and struggled to overcome obstacles to be a happy mother, grandmother, and friend. 

LHM Blog Stephanie

“Yoli,” (pictured) who died earlier this year from COVID-19

When news spread of her passing, stories were shared on Slack about the type of person she was and each one was full of love and admiration for this wonderful woman. 

I spoke to her often and loved hearing about her family and seeing her joy when she told me there was another grandchild on the way. She once crossed the Building 3 cafe just to come give me a hug and talk for a bit. 

A co-worker sitting with me then said Yoli probably enjoyed talking to me because I speak to her in Spanish and she’s more comfortable conversing in her native language. It hadn’t occurred to me that others didn’t speak to her in Spanish and I then realized how few employees around headquarters speak Spanish and are able to easily communicate with our janitorial staff. 

Yet, I have seen colleagues who don’t speak Spanish taking time to try and connect with our janitors and every time I do, it brings me such joy. 

As a child of janitors, I thank those who make the effort to pay attention to our cleaning staff in spite of any language barriers. I especially thank them for seeing our janitors as people who deserve the same level of respect as anyone in any other job. 

During Latinx Heritage Month, and beyond, I urge all of you to reflect on these “invisible” workers who make our jobs easier. If you can, make them less invisible by chatting with them and showing appreciation for what they do.

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