Senior-level Latina talent is heading for the exits of corporate America at an alarming rate, according to a study released last year by the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and Hispanic marketing platform Latinarrific. At a time when annual Hispanic buying power is approaching $1.7 trillion, yet there are no Latina CEOs within the Fortune 500 and Latinas represent the fastest growing sector of small business entrepreneurs, the study provides essential insights into the drivers of Latina career advancement and ways in which companies can better identify, promote and retain Latina leaders for a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

“We’re seeing gains in equality through middle management, but there’s still a sparse pipeline of women of color, especially Latinas, for senior leadership positions,” said NEW CEO Sarah Alter. “Once we understand why, we can begin to shift the tide, knowing that diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do, it’s an imperative business strategy in today’s multicultural landscape.” 

The study, Latinas in Corporate America – A Foot in Two Worlds: Elevating the Latina Experience, examined a wide body of research, centering its primary findings on a focus group of 36 senior and mid-level Latina executives. The group included a cross-section of first, second and third-generation Latina-Americans from multiple countries and cultures of origin. 

“The report represents the broad experiences that the majority of focus group participants shared,” said study co-author Arminda Figueroa, Latinarrific Vice President of Strategy and Audience Engagement. “Within any ethnic group is a heterogeneous set of experiences, worldviews and backgrounds, so identified trends cannot be viewed as reflective of every Latina’s journey.” 

Many of the Latinas interviewed said they don’t feel they fit easily into the typical corporate culture of the United States. While this could be celebrated from a differences-add-strength perspective, study insights show far too many companies quashing Latina diversity. With the current standard for everything from promotability to executive presence based on white male norms, Latina executives have generally succeeded despite their corporate culture, not because of it. 

The Latina executives interviewed rejected the notion that prioritizing family diminishes commitment to career and described themselves as clear and focused in taking on a variety of responsibilities and roles, showing up consistently with integrity and reliably getting the job done. They may do it differently than their traditional white male counterparts, making it home for dinner more often or taking a couple hours to visit their child’s classroom. But that balanced approach is part of the diversity and value Latinas bring to the table. 

“Interestingly, many of the traits cited by the focus group as drawbacks within the traditional, white male dominated workplace – making time for family, empathy, expressiveness – have become celebrated assets in the COVID-19 work-from-home landscape,” said study co-author Karianne Gomez, NEW Vice President of Strategic Value. “What remains to be seen, as the country reopens, is whether a newly enlightened C-suite will embrace the unique attributes Latinas bring to the table, or revert to its old ways, forcing an emboldened Latina talent pool to flee corporate America even faster.” 

What Companies Can Do 

The study authors urge corporate leaders to look to Latinas as individuals, so they can build a more robust talent development plan, addressing the isolation and bias participants described. 

Recommendations include: 

• Embrace diversity and inclusion as “smart business” 

Study after study show diverse companies outperforming their competitors. Companies with culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to see better-than-average profits, according to a McKinsey & Company report, and when that diversity extends to a company’s Board of Directors, the competitive advantage increases to 43 percent. Leveraging the thinking of diverse groups leads to smarter ideation and decision-making that reduces a company’s risk of being blindsided by something a diverse team would have flagged.  

• Recognize bias 

Latinas are subject to a range of bias in the workplace, both conscious and unconscious. Focus group participants referenced the “mañana” stereotype, presuming individuals from Latin cultures put things off until tomorrow rather than addressing them head-on today, and employers’ assumption they are somehow less intelligent because they have an accent. Some described being disparaged not only by native English-speakers, but sometimes by Latin co-workers for their regional dialect. The study authors encourage companies to continue, or enact, unconscious bias training, noting that building the empathy and emotional intelligence of managers helps build better relationships with all employees, but especially multicultural ones. 

• Practice inclusive leadership 

Without inclusion, diversity walks out the door. True cultural competence means understanding and valuing the uniqueness of diverse others, while also accepting them as members of the group. Companies that celebrate differences and identify how those differences are making a positive business impact will win and retain Latina talent. 

• Instill a culture of accountability 

To significantly move the needle, companies need to hold leaders accountable for diversity and more importantly, inclusion. This means putting measures into place that are tied to performance reviews and ultimately executive compensation. 

To view or download the complete Latinas in Corporate America – A Foot in Two Worlds: Elevating the Latina Experience report, visit newonline.org/latina. 

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