Fortune 500 companies and the lack of Hispanic female presence at the corporate level
Some of the most important Spanish-speaking corporate leaders gave their impressions of the underrepresentation of women at the executive level.
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Through a series of interviews granted to USA Today after it revealed that Hispanic and Latina women represent only 1.6% of the senior executives of the S&P 100 companies, a group of corporate leaders made their opinions known about the notorious lack of representation of this segment within the most powerful companies in the United States.
Since Geisha Williams was appointed CEO of PG&E in 2017, becoming the first Latina executive director of a Fortune 500 company, only one more Hispanic woman has achieved this milestone.
Through the interviews, they pointed out how on many occasions they are seen as caregivers and not as true corporate leaders, while highlighting the lack of mentors and the few opportunities they receive when companies make promotions.
According to the study, Hispanic/Latino women lag behind nearly every other major demographic group (including white men and white women, black men and women, and Hispanic and Latino men) in the executive ranks, but are disproportionately represented in low-mobility and lower-wage jobs.
Williams, the daughter of Cuban political refugees, was angry that she is still one of only two Latina CEOs of the Fortune 500, and stressed that this situation has to change.
Having landed the job a few months before PG&E power lines ignited deadly wildfires, resigning in less than two years as the California utility prepared to file for bankruptcy, Williams notes that “there is an incredible amount of supremely qualified and capable women,” ruling out that it is a question of a lack of availability to fill these positions.
“If they speak English with an accent, they are told they are too hard to understand or that they are not articulate enough. They face stereotypes of being the sexy or fiery Latina. And, despite high levels of education and experience, they are mistaken for domestic help and asked to get coffee or clear tables,” it is highlighted.
In addition to the lack of representation on boards of directors, USA Today notes that of the 92 S&P 100 companies reviewed, 18 did not have Latina or Hispanic women in senior executive positions, including Apple, BlackRock, Costco, Netflix, and Simon Property Group. For their part, none of the companies had a percentage equal to that of the U.S. workforce, although three companies came close: PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Visa.
Likewise, the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA) points out that Latinas occupy fewer positions on the boards of directors of Fortune 500 companies than any major ethnic or gender group, representing only 1%.
For Esther Aguilera, executive director of the LCDA, remedying this situation goes beyond doing the right thing, and seeks to draw the attention of corporations so that they side with an increasingly diverse nation.
“It's about making sure you're keeping up with the fastest growing demographic,” Aguilera says, referring to projections that by 2029 Latinas will make up 9.3% of the U.S. workforce.
Marta Ronquillo Newhart, an experienced communications executive who has worked for Boeing and Westinghouse, stresses that corporations without Latinas at the table are missing out on valuable perspectives.
Ronquillo points out how, when she was a new employee, she and 15 other people considered to be high potential met with the director of human resources, who went around the room asking everyone questions. When he got to her he asked her: "Where are you from?" She proudly replied that she was Mexican-American and he told her, "Thank God, you don't look like it."
For her part, Elisa Garcia, a successful corporate attorney who has worked for Domino's Pizza, Office Depot, and Macy's, is currently advocating to boost Latina women's leadership.
“You have got to see people who look like you to know you can do it. Having these role models basically tells Latino lawyers and Latino executives that sí se puede, yes, you can do this,” noted García.
“Workplace bias and a corporate culture rooted in the professional norms of white men are to blame, from assumptions based on negative stereotypes to microaggressions,” says Lisette Garcia, assistant vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Penn State.
Bias leads to impressions that Latinas are not management material.
For her part, Elena Gómez, who is of Salvadoran and Mexican descent and today is financial director of Toast, which provides software and hardware for restaurant services, reported that during one of her first meetings as financial director she had to intervene to clarify that it was she, and not a man who accompanied her, the director. "They thought I was the one taking notes," she said.
"God forbid anyone tell your daughters that they are too ambitious," said Carla Piñeyro Sublett, a former director of marketing at IBM, referring to an episode in which she was reprimanded for applying for a promotion on the grounds of being "too ambitious.”
“It’s a very specific kind of visibility and invisibility. You’re visible insofar as you’re there to serve people but you’re invisible as a participant and you are certainly never seen as an equal,” said Nicole Sanchez, former vice president of social impact at GitHub and CEO of diversity firm Vaya Consulting.
“Even when we are in the C-suite, even when we are in these positions of power, we are still these outsiders looking in,” says Daisy Auger-Domínguez, author of “Inclusion Revolution” and the chief people officer at Vice Media Group.
“When I finally started to make that shift into really leaning into my authentic self, that is when my career really took off,” said Michelle Freyre, global brand president of Clinique for The Estee Lauder Companies, pointing out how Latinas feel pressured to repress parts of themselves (their appearance and body language, how they communicate) in order to blend in.
Freyre remembers putting away her dresses, hoop earrings, and red lipstick when she entered the workforce 25 years ago. As her confidence grew, she stopped holding back.
In addition to the valuable opinions of these Hispanic leaders, the USA Today publication highlights the following information that sheds light on the lack of representation of these women at the corporate level:
- According to EEO-1, federal workforce registries that break down the race, ethnicity, and gender of a company's workforce by job categories, Latinas and Hispanics are underrepresented as managers (4.4%), and as professionals (3.2%).
- Hispanic women earned 16.4% of bachelor's degrees and 12.3% of master's degrees in 2020, according to the National Centers for Education Statistics.
- Research from the Lean In Foundation and McKinsey & Co. shows that Latinas apply for promotions and raises at rates similar to white men, but for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 71 Latinas get the nod.
- The majority of Latinas and Hispanics in the nation's largest companies are trapped in low-paying jobs, particularly in the financial, retail, and grocery sectors. They are 7.3% of the U.S. workforce, but 14.4% of service workers, and 14.1% of administrative assistants.
- Latinas are underpaid at all levels. On average, they earn 55 cents for every dollar non-Latino white men earn, even in the same job. That disparity extends to professional occupations and executive roles. The pay gap is widest for Latinas with college degrees, according to Lean In.
- Latinas say they are excluded from formal and informal networking opportunities. Only 5% of Latino professionals in large companies have a sponsor.