Blog Post

The Latino Executive Manifesto

March 13, 2018

Today Latinos are nearly invisible at leadership levels in corporate America. And, given corporations’ full-throated embrace of meritocracy, there is no excuse for this reality when Latinos represent 17 percent of the population.

Given the estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, that percentage will grow to approximately 30 percent of the population by 2050. This is not a surprise considering that in the first decade of the 21st century, the number of Latinos increased at three times the growth rate of the rest of the U.S. population. And given this growth, there is no doubt that the workforce of the future will have an increasingly Latino identity.

Today, Latinos in the U.S are having a deep impact on the economy, politics, culture, and the workplace. In 2016, Time magazine highlighted the growing Latino economic impact which indicates that the Hispanic market is no longer a niche market; it has become the market.

  • With $ 1.4 trillion in purchasing power, the size of the Latino spend in the U.S. now surpasses the total GNP of Mexico.
  • The total Latino purchasing power in the United States is has been growing by approximately $ 100 billion per year.
  • Latinos are launching new small businesses at a rate more than sixty times that of non-Latinos, and Latina-owned businesses grew at 137 percent over the last nine years.
  • Hispanic owned businesses are generating close to $ 500 billion in revenue per year.

Yet, despite their economic contributions, Latino prospects in corporate America remain dim. According to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), Latinos held just 4 percent of executive officer positions of participating companies in their Corporate Inclusion Index. We call this the Corporate 4 percent Shame.

While Latino population and economic impact are continuing to grow, only 3.5 percent of Fortune 500 board seats were held by Latinos in 2016 according to data from the Alliance for Board Diversity. These figures represent a meager .5 percent increase in the representation for Hispanic board members between 2010 and 2016.

Additionally, a 2013 Harris Interactive poll found that over 75 percent of Latinos feel people with their background are discriminated against by not being hired or promoted for a job and being called names or insulted. Plus, according to a 2016 study published by the Center for Talent Innovation, Latinos at Work: Unleashing the Power of Culture, most Latinos in the U.S. do not feel that they can bring their whole sense of Latino-ness to the office. The study found that the vast majority of Latinos (76 percent) repress parts of their personas at work.

These statistics tell us that corporations sit at the edge of a yawning talent divide when it comes to Latinos in the U.S. Yet most companies are still asleep at the wheel. Those corporations that wake up to this gap first will be best poised to win the talent war for future generations.

So let’s look at Latino Leaders.

Because of this gap, we decided to study the Latino executive experience in corporate America. Our goal was to try to identify paths and strategies that offer the keys to success that have worked well for Latino executives. Ultimately, we sought to codify what we believe will provide a guide for the next generation of Latino leaders.

The research we undertook included the following:

  • In-depth interviews with 20 Latino and Latina executives included CEOs, SVPs and corporate board directors.
  • A targeted survey completed by Latino executives and senior leaders.
  • Five focus groups with up-and-coming Latinos and Latinas under the age of 40 in the geographically dispersed locations of New York City, Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
  • A targeted survey filled out by over 300 under-40 upwardly mobile Latinos and Latinas.
  • Two focus groups consisting entirely of participants in Latina leadership development programs.
  • Secondary research synthesis of over a dozen studies on Latinos in the workplace, Latino advancement, and markers of success.
  • A journalistic look at major sociocultural, economic, political, and corporate trends that mark the impact the growing Latino presence is having on U.S. society and business.
  • This research approach and the subsequent insights shared in this book were filtered through our own personal and professional journeys. We have a combined 30 years of corporate experience in the topic and have served more than 200 global and domestic clients in every industry.

The Latino Executive Manifesto

Based on our research and insights gained, we summarize the entirety of our case through a ten-point Latino executive manifesto. You may ask yourself, is there anything unique about the career journey and the leadership qualities of executives because of their Hispanic heritage? The answer is an unequivocal yes and these 10 items provide the foundation for sustainable Latino career success.

Corporations have failed to become true meritocracies.
They must shed the self-image that they are color-blind, and instead proactively address the conscious and unconscious biases that have kept Latinos from rising to the heights of their potential.

Latino leaders must engage with and resolve their own cultural identity.
Conclusions will vary for each leader about what it means for them, so we must allow for variances. But it can’t be ignored and the sooner it can be addressed, the more effective Latino leaders will be.

Latinos must reclaim our communal spirit to overcome intra-Latino divides.
Focusing on national, socioeconomic, and regional rivalries leads to a lack of unity and weakens the power of our numbers, our institutions, and our leadership.

Corporations must be willing to adapt to and capitalize on the differences that Latinos bring to corporate culture.
Embracing Latino culture will create more inclusive environments for Latino talent and equip companies to better serve Latino consumers and clients. Non-Latinos will benefit from Latino cultural assets in same way Latinos have been enriched by other cultures.

Latinos need to double down on the relentless pursuit of higher education and rally behind it as a civil rights issue.
Latino college attendance is trending upward and we need to accelerate this trend significantly by any means necessary in the face of massive budget cutbacks. Education is the greatest bulwark against hostility and biases, and for achieving the highest levels of leadership.

Latinos must embrace ambition as an honorable intent.
While maintaining humility, we also must not be naïve. No one is going to hand us opportunities if we are not openly seeking them. The community should celebrate those who demonstrate this ambition because we all benefit.

Latino leader must give back to the community.
True excellence requires leveraging high personal achievement reached to help others achieve success. The journey of the Latino executive is incomplete if they don’t give back to others.

Latinos need to get over their ambivalence about power by claiming more of it and redefining it on our own terms.
Where ambition is personal, power is collective. The impact of Latino power in corporations, government, and society is incongruent with our massive numbers. Yet, even as we operate with more power we must contribute a differentiated way of wielding it.

The next generation of Latino leaders can be more powerful by pursuing the path of a bicultural identity.
Resist assimilation. Instead develop a differentiating American-Latino identity that embraces and celebrates the multiple influences of mainstream American culture and that of one’s specific Latino heritage(s).

Master the rules of corporate culture so you can break them when the right time comes.
Master the rules of your own culture as well, and in the crucible of being a successful Latino in corporate America, find ways to have both cultures shape and influence each other. It this, create the conditions for greater creativity, innovation, and transformation.

After placing a focus on Latinos and what we need to do to get ahead, we then turned to the outside forces that also have a responsibility, the ability and the resources to accelerate the advancement of Latino leaders.

For diversity and inclusion professionals in particular, here are our top 5 recommendations on how to help drive the Latino talent agenda within your organization:

  • Become more knowledgeable of Latino culture and values and stop pressing Latinos to assimilate. Instead, help create the conditions that nurture Latino professional success. Incorporate some Latino culture into your corporate culture and stop trying to “fix” Latinos.
  • Aggressively accelerate Latino leadership development holistically through internal and/or external leadership development programs, mentorship, sponsorship and assessments but most importantly, through critical career stretch assignments.
  • Encourage your highest-ranking Latino leaders and executives to work together to advance the Latino talent agenda via the establishment of a Latino officer caucus or roundtable.
  • Differentiate among the various Latino talent pools and segmented markets in ways that are as rigorous and sophisticated as Hispanic marketing campaigns. There is no single Latino talent force in the same way there is no single Latino consumer market.
  • Gather your Latino professionals together in an internal Latino talent summit. This will allow your internal Latino talent pool to network with others with similar background, raise their visibility with senior executives, validate that your company values their Latino contributions and potential serve as a way to more effective connect with the Hispanic consumer market.

Dr. Robert Rodriguez is the president of DRR Advisors LLC. He specializes in Latino talent initiatives and has worked with hundreds of corporations helping them with their Hispanic initiatives. Besides co-authoring “Auténtico: The Definitive Guide to Latino Career Success,” he is the author of “Latino Talent: Effective Strategies to Recruit, Retain & Develop Hispanic Professionals.”

Andrés T. Tapia is a Senior Client Partner and a global D&I strategy leader at Korn Ferry. He is a leading voice in shaping a contemporary, next-generation approach to diversity and inclusion with 25 years of experience as a C-suite management consultant. He is the author of, “The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity” as well as co-author of “Auténtico: The Definitive Guide to Latino Career Success.”