According to a 2019 report by Statista, 76 percent of U.S. millionaires were white or Caucasian, with Latinos only accounting for 7 percent of the total demographic. In the Rio Grande Valley, located at 2121 East Griffin Pkwy #2 in Mission, you can find one Latina who defies these odds: Diana Izaguirre, a self-made millionaire.
Izaguirre is the president and founder of Izaguirre Engineering Group, a company that provides land development services across the Valley and Austin, Houston, and Puerto Rico.
At 22, she started her company in 2007 after graduating from the University of Texas at A&M Kingsville with a bachelor’s in civil engineering in 2006. The Mission native, now 36, owns 100 percent of the company.
As an engineer and real estate developer, Izaguirre explained her work days start as early as 6 a.m., sometimes having to get ready for the day while on phone calls with contractors. Although her days are “hectic,” she said she would not trade her job for the world.
However, Izaguirre did not always want to be an engineer. She grew up wanting to be a doctor and got accepted to the then-University of Texas-Pan American to study pre-med. Having a father with an engineering background and who is a self-employed land developer, Izaguirre said seeing him work subconsciously inspired her to pursue a civil engineering degree.
“My parents came from Mexico,” she said. “My father went to school, barefoot, when he was little. All his life, he kept saying, ‘One day, I’m not going to be like this.’ So he worked so hard, and now he’s an inspiration. I don’t think I ever dreamed of all the things that I’ve been able to be a part of. I’ve always been a very hard worker. I’ve always been very dedicated.”
According to a 2020 study by the State of U.S. Science and Engineering, Latinos make up 16 percent of the United States’ population. Still, only 8.6 percent of the STEM workforce identify as Latino.
Fourteen years after opening Izaguirre Engineering Group, the company is thriving. Izaguirre explained most of her clients come via word of mouth. The last time she handed out a business card was in 2008.
“I think teamwork is the best,” she said. “My little sister helps with all the financial stuff because she has the mortgage loan originator license. My little brother is going to law school. So he helps out in our office, as well. I learn from my father and my mother. My mother taught us a lot of discipline, and we’re just very goal-oriented kids. We’ve been very blessed with work and good projects. And I’ve learned a lot along the way.”
One of the things Izaguirre has had to come face-to-face with is being a woman in a male-dominated industry — and being a young business owner. According to a 2019 study by the Society of Women Engineers, only 13 percent of engineers in the United States’ workforce are women.
“Some men just didn’t want to talk to me,” she said. “I’ve been told, ‘We don’t want to work with you because you’re a woman.’ I’ve also been told, ‘You’re the first woman I’ve ever worked with.’ I’ve been told things that could make you feel discouraged. It was a challenge. It just made me want to prove that it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman or it doesn’t matter that I’m young. I can do it just as well as any other engineer that has been doing this.”
According to Catalyst, a nonprofit working to build better workplaces for women, only 14 percent of women of color earned STEM-related bachelor’s degrees from 2017 to 2018, with Latinas earning only 4.3 percent. However, the percentage of Latina engineers in the workforce decreases to 2.3 percent. Izaguirre explained her college graduating class was dominated by men, and although being one of the few women in the field has its difficulties, hard work and respect can go a long way.
“I’ve learned to be patient, and that nothing is impossible,” she said. “It might take a little longer. You have to be very dedicated. When all my friends were out having a good time, I was still working. I would work from 8 to 8 at night. It’s a lot of growing without knowing how fast you’re growing.”
Izaguirre said the most rewarding part of her career is giving back to her community. She does public speaking events at various Mission high schools, such as Thelma R. Salinas T-STEM Early College High School, to encourage more girls in STEM. Additionally, she is the chairwoman for the Mission Housing Authority and Zoning Board and the board president of the Hidalgo County Irrigation District 6.
“I think it’s so cute how these kids have so much more opportunities than we had,” she said. “They have all this technology. All we just do is say, ‘You can do it, too.’ I was one of those kids once. I didn’t know that I wanted to do engineering. But had I seen or gone to these presentations and seen a woman up there saying, ‘Hey, I’m a civil engineer,’ it would have been easier for me to pick.”
Izaguirre said she believes in staying humble and having priorities. She credits her friends and family as her support system. She explained having hard-working parents has served as an inspiration.
“It just depends how you set your goals,” she said. “I think you can have ideas or can have dreams, but if you don’t put action into them, they’re going to stay as a dream — versus if you take action and put in the hard work. Sometimes you have to sacrifice certain things like going out. I sacrificed my personal life, but I was able to do all the things that I wanted.”
In addition to setting goals, Izaguirre said she wants young girls and women to know their worth.
“Sometimes even if (people) put you down or say no, or say ‘I don’t want to work with you because you’re a woman,’ it doesn’t matter,” she said. “Get up and keep going. Don’t let anybody stop you.”