Latinas and Corporate America: Achievements and Challenges

By Marcela Miguel Berland and Frank Gómez

Hispanic Heritage Month is a fitting opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Latinas in Corporate America. We can celebrate that they are growing in numbers and influence. And we can reflect on the pioneers who opened doors for future executives, who sacrificed to advocate for Latinos – especially Latinas – and to secure corporate support to help organizations and advance careers.

Despite their progress, Latinas face many challenges in Corporate America – lack of representation in the C-Suite and corporate boards, barriers to advancement, salary disparities, discrimination and more.

Of 10 Fortune 500 Latino CEOs, none is a Latina, although Geisha Williams stepped down last year as CEO of PG&E. And Latinas in C-Suites are woefully underrepresented. Many companies make lofty pronouncements and feature principles and practices on their websites, but a look at the executive ranks betrays a lack of action.

The numbers are not good, but are getting better, says Esther Aguilera, President, Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA). “Latinas hold only 0.85% of board seats in Fortune 1000 firms. However, our growing membership and our BoardReady Institute help us grow these numbers. It’s not a supply issue, it’s a demand issue—to increase the bottom line, companies must be intentional about board diversity.”

Our firm recently completed a major study of Latinos in a leading industry sector. Focus groups, interviews and an online survey revealed persistent discrimination against Latinas, opportunities denied and more. In that industry – and in many others – frustration often means exit and the pursuit of other opportunities.

“Latinas face a wage gap,” says Marlene Orozco, Lead Research Analyst, Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. “The average woman earns 80 cents and Latinas 53 cents on the dollar paid to men. Low pay, the ‘glass ceiling’ and their higher education and skills may be pushing Latinas to start their own businesses.”

As Orozco indicates, Latina-owned companies are rapidly increasing in numbers, representing nearly half of the growth of all Latino businesses. Since 2012, Latino-owned firms have grown more than 30%, more than double the growth rate of all businesses in the country.

Julio Portalatín, Marsh & McLennan Vice-Chair and former head of its Mercer unit, exemplifies advocacy. “We achieved 50/50 gender parity at the executive committee level,” he explains. “First as a commitment from the top, making it a business issue, establishing goals with measurements and being transparent about where we were on the journey. We invited all to recognize the importance and participate in achieving the goals. Answering the tough questions,” he says, “ensures that we address deeper issues like unconscious bias or pipeline adequacy.”

Our research at Latin Insights shows that to advance Latinas corporations should:

Have a clear mandate from the C-Suite down, with specific goals

– Identify and highlight middle- and upper-level Latinas

– Use mentor programs to acquire tools for success

– Better demonstrate how they can help grow the bottom line

Indeed, let’s celebrate the achievements of Latinas, continue the struggle to overcome, and ensure that they have the opportunities to continue to excel.

Marcela Miguel Berland is the founder and President of New York City-based Latin Insights. Frank Gómez, a veteran Latino activist, is her partner. Reach Marcela at mberland@latininsights.com.

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