Latinas, Time to Get on Board
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
Having a gender diverse board is not only good for business but good for diversity of thought. While many reports and corporations have captured the importance of a diverse board, women, specifically Latinas remain underrepresented in the C-suite and the boardroom.
According to data from the “Missing Pieces Report,” a multiyear study published by the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD), in collaboration with Deloitte, Fortune 500 key findings show Hispanic/Latino men gained 21 seats in 2018, an increase of 14.3 percent from 2016. Hispanic/Latina women gained only four seats in 2018, an increase of 9.8 percent from 2016. Though there have been gains, the board turnover remains slow.
“According to McKinsey, Latinas represent only two percent of boards, two percent of the C-suite, and two percent of senior management ranks. Given these low figures, to prepare the next generation of Latinas for corporate board positions, we must significantly increase the number of Latinas in senior management and C-level positions, which starts with hiring and advancing more Latinas from the beginning of their careers,” states Nina Vaca, CEO & Chairman of Pinnacle Group and Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. “It is important for boards to reflect the diversity of their customers and employees, and including Latinas is an obvious need. It’s not just about inclusion or diversity for its own sake — this is smart business! Studies indicate that diverse boards are more effective boards and companies that value diversity perform better financially. Latinos also represent the fastest-growing consumer segment for a large number of corporations and to not have input from this demographic at all levels, including at the board level, is short-sighted and will likely result in missed opportunities and sub-optimal financial performance.”
Vaca is Chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group, one of the fastest-growing women-owned companies in the country and one of the few Latinas in the nation serving on the boards of publicly-traded companies such as Cinemark and Comerica Bank.
Vaca believes boards should represent a wide set of diverse perspectives to help ensure there are no blind spots in the corporation’s strategy or governance. By providing their experience and perspective, board members help ensure that corporations are responsibly governed, have a sound strategy, and are well-positioned to execute on that strategy.
“Directors impact their boards via their collective experiences over a wide range of subjects and perspectives,” she shares. “Collectively, directors must understand all the issues a company will face, including financial issues, risk, environmental, social, and governance factor, sustainability, compensation, strategy, technology, to name a few.”
While Latinas such as Vaca have achieved a board seat, Sara Tucker, Former Chairman, University of Texas Board of Regents, and board member of American Electric Power, Nationwide, and Service Corporation, International, believes Latinas bring a unique point of view and voice that are needed in the corporate boardroom.
“Not only do we have insights into a major U.S. demographic, our collective skills and experiences can help companies unlock their potential for growth,” she shares. “I would hope my board colleagues would say that I bring a diverse perspective, not only as a Hispanic female but also someone shaped by a wide variety of deep experience in corporate America, at a large, national not-for-profit organization and in the administration of a President of the United States. All of these help me see board governance through a variety of lenses.”
Previously serving as Chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee and on the Audit, Compliance, and Risk Management Committee; the Finance and Planning Committee; and the Health Affairs Committee. She also served on the Board for Lease of University Lands and the Special Advisory Committee on the Brackenridge Tract.
Another Latina working to make great strides in changing the status quo is Esther Aguilera, CEO of the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA). LCDA is a community of U.S. Latinos at the highest levels of corporate leadership that are committed to paying it forward. The mission is to develop, support, and increase the number of U.S. Latinos on corporate boards. LCDA’s strategy to accelerate Latino placements on corporate boards is focused on three areas: Grow Demand, Grow Supply and Raise Awareness.
“We focus on developing, supporting, and increasing the number of Latino and Latinas on boards,” shares Aguilera. We are a group of very important business leaders who are committed to paying it forward and helping others serve on boards as well. We need to do this together as a community, and also have our Latinos help the path and position of Latinas on boards.”
For aspiring directors, Aguilera invites Latina executives to join the organization to not only broaden their network but to participate in their institute, which helps Latinas with their board journey.
“The practical tools and learning experience and the network is the preparation they need to make it happen,” Aguilera shares. “Our number of Latinas on boards is awful and we are being left out. What we have set up to do is launch the Latino Voices for Boardroom Equity. We have to as a community apply our own pressure and speak out to the community that this is unacceptable, and we have to create a movement.”
In mid-September, the LCDA launched Latino Voices for Boardroom Equity, in partnership with several national Latino organizations to assert diversity without the inclusion of Latinos, is not acceptable.
The Latino Voices objectives are: 1. Triple Latino representation on public company boards by 2023. 2. Act to target corporations with no Latino representation. 3. Track progress through the publication of a quarterly scorecard.
“In the short term, increasing Latina participation on corporate boards requires intentionality on the part of corporate boards to identify talented Latinas and bring them into their boardrooms,” shares Vaca. “In the longer term, it’s critical for Latinas and all minority groups to place more emphasis on higher education and advanced degrees, and for corporations to place more emphasis on diversifying their entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level ranks in order to expand the pool of qualified board candidates. Organizations working on board readiness initiatives can also play a key role by ensuring they are enrolling more diverse candidates in their programs.
Tuckers’ advice on how to prepare for board seats is to help Latinas who have the requisite skills and experiences gain exposure to CEOs, board chairs, and search firms. In addition, she believes it is important to broaden the pipeline of Latinas by ensuring young talent understand and seek the foundational career building blocks required. Curiosity, an ability to constructively ask difficult questions and/or challenge the company’s thinking; balanced judgment; strong financial acumen and analytical capacity, and the ability to build consensus are some qualities she believes can assist any Latina to be a successful board member.
“I can’t over-estimate the importance of having our young talent gain an appreciation on how to manage their careers so they build portfolios that will be sought after by boards,” she shares. “Some examples are running large profit and loss of business units or major cost centers or spending time in corporate headquarters locations. Opportunities that make them competitive for the C-suite will also make them attractive to corporate boards.”
It is great to see many Latinas throughout the nation accomplish the executive ranks in Corporate America, however, many board positions are not being filled by talented Latinas. While Latinas hold only two percent of corporate board seats and four percent of executive positions in the Fortune 100 companies, it is essential to note that including Latina executives in a company’s Board of Directors provides a purposeful pillar to continue the development of diversity and inclusion within corporate America. Meet eight Latinas who are living proof of what it means to be intentional leaders, and have a seat at the table. By doing so, businesses across the country are positively impacted by the devotion and expertise Latinas bring with them. Their endless efforts to advocate for the next generation allows young professional Latinas to dream big and take a seat.