Why more Latinos are needed on corporate boards
Symposium by HACR prepares Hispanics for leadership roles in business.
Lucy Pinto took a break last week from her job at Google to immerse herself in a leadership development conference for top Hispanics in business. She walked away with new skills and a solid network of high-achieving Latinas to aid her as she pursues her corporate career.
She is excited that one of those Latinas, Pinto said, is a managing director at a Big Four company (the four largest international accounting and professional services firms) and someone Pinto hopes to emulate.
“I met so many powerful Latinas,” said Pinto, one of about 400 people who attended the 27th annual Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) Symposium at the J.W. Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami.
Other highlights of the symposium included a conversation with Rosie G. Rios, the country’s 43rd Treasurer who is currently a visiting scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University; the role of higher education in helping to prepare Latinos to sit on corporate boards; and several by invitation only networking breakfasts and meetings.
“The panels themselves were ok but I feel like I learned the most from other Latinas in attendance,” Pinto said. “Some of us are planning to grab coffee one-on-one to learn more about our experiences navigating the corporate landscape.”
Pinto, who works for Google as a diversity systems & design program manager, was chosen to be part of HACR’s Young Corporate Achievers program, a leadership development effort. She hopes her bosses will view her time at the HACR symposium as a sound investment in both of their futures.
It remains to be seen whether it will all be enough to propel Pinto, who defines her job on LinkedIn as “work on initiatives that invest in communities that are underrepresented online to untap their potential and drive bottom line impact," into the upper echelons of the business world.
According to a report released last year and discussed during the HACR symposium: Latinas hold only two percent of corporate board seats and four percent of executive positions in the Fortune 100 companies.
Only one percent of direct reports to CEOs are Latinas.
This is true, even as Latinas are the fastest-growing sector of the entrepreneurial market and are the primary financial decision makers in their households, according to HACR, which is launching a year-long research project to determine the obstacles Latinas face in securing corporate board seats.
Those who do make it to the top are under a microscope with their every move scrutinized. Earlier this year, Geisha Williams, the first and only Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company, stepped down from leading Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Company, an investor-owned utility, amid accusations linking the company to wildfires. A Cuban-American businesswoman, WIlliams became CEO and President in 2017.
Alejandro Arango-Escalante, an IT Financial Advisor for American Family Insurance, is another up-and-comer who participated in HACR’s Young Corporate Achievers program. He was nominated by his company’s Vice President of Inclusive Excellence.
Arango-Escalante would love nothing more, he says, than to serve on a corporate board. But he’s realistic: “Unfortunately most of those board positions are filled by seasoned people,” he said. He wonders, though, why companies don’t have “board-in-training” positions.
“This would be a good way to get some diversity of thought on boards and would also serve to train the future leaders,” Arango-Escalante said.
Based in Wisconsin, he said the “most beneficial part of the symposium was that it helped me get back to my Latin roots.” And like Pinto he was impressed with the people he met.
"It was great to see so many accomplished Latinx that have overcome adversity to become the future leaders in corporate America,” Arango-Escalante said. “I truly believe that I’ve made lifelong friends and that together we would support each other through our careers.”
The good news: Since 2012, the number of Fortune 500 companies that are more than 40 percent diverse has doubled. Also, African American/Black women and Asian/Pacific Islander women made the largest percentage increase in board seats gained in both the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies.
ABD set a target for 40 percent of all board seats to be occupied by women and/or minorities in the Fortune 500 by 2020. At this pace, they say the target will be met in 2024.
- Between 2016 and 2018, Hispanic men gained three seats on the boards of Fortune 100 companies, bringing the total to 40. They gained 21 seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies, making the total 147.
- Seventy percent or nearly 350 companies of the Fortune 500 did not have a Hispanic on their board.
- Only two percent or 10 Fortune 500 CEOs are of Hispanic heritage.
- Only four percent of Fortune 500 companies had two Hispanics on their board.
Another reason Latina women need to be represented at the top, advocates say: Between 2016 and 2026, Hispanic women are projected to have the largest percentage increase in the labor force among all women, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit that works with CEOs and companies “to build workplaces that work for women,” and a member of ABD.
Cid Wilson, President & CEO of HACR, called for leaders at the symposium and beyond to advocate on behalf of their Hispanic counterparts. He mentioned that when he meets other CEOs and major leaders, he educates them on the dynamics of the Hispanic community and the power they could wield.
“I tell these CEOs all the time that diversity and inclusion is a better strategy than globalization,” Wilson said. “This is the time for Hispanic communities to rise up and say 'we are here and we need to be on these boards.'”
Donald, who runs a company with more than 120,000 employees, told the audience the surest way to increase the number of minorities and women on corporate a boards would be for business leaders to simply “own it.”
“You have to be intentional and purposeful,” Donald said. “You have to say this is important to my company.”
Donald, one of a few black CEOs leading a Fortune 500 company, did not hold back as he spoke at HACR’s symposium. Corporate business leaders, Donald said, have to give diversity and inclusion the same priority they give to making money.
“Nobody says ‘oh we’re going to think about making some profit,’” he said. “They just do it.”
He urged existing underrepresented board members to help bring in new blood to their organizations rather than just taking on more board appointments.
The Missing Pieces Report pointed out the “recycle rates” — the rate at which individuals serve on more than one board — increased for many minority groups from 2016 to 2018. Hispanic/Latina and African American/Black women had “recycle rates” of 1.36 and 1.39, respectively.
In contrast, Caucasian/White men had a recycle rate of 1.19.
Pinto said the CEO roundtable was a sign that “more and more C-suite (a term used to describe corporate officers and directors) level executives are interested in getting more proximate to our community given the collective economic [and] purchasing power that we have.”
She added: “This is an opportunity for our community to capitalize on.”
Consultant Jose Piñero has worked on both sides of the aisle, coaching Hispanics on how to get ahead and helping companies diversify. Piñero, owner of The Cultivation Company, has worked with Fortune 100 and 500 companies including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft on the best way to embrace inclusion.
“We need to have people on boards that understand our story, our values and how we think,” said Piñero, noting that Hispanics will eventually make up one third of the U.S. population. Companies that ignore the Latino voice are simply ignoring the bottom line, he said. Published reports put Hispanic purchasing power at $1.7 trillion.
At the same time, Hispanics need to be self-aware and set higher expectations for themselves, Piñero said. They also need to adapt without losing their Hispanic identity. “It doesn’t work if we hide who we are to be successful,” Piñero said.
He didn’t attend the HACR symposium, but Piñero said organizations like HACR need to continue advocating for better representation on corporate boards and preparing Hispanics to take on such high-profile jobs.
“We have to keep pushing the boundaries,” he said.