I’ve been reflecting about the role Latina women have played in both my personal and professional development. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I was surrounded by fierce, passionate and unapologetic women. My grandmother, who is the matriarch of the family, raised three daughters alone during the ’70s, when it was uncommon for women in the Caribbean and Latin culture to be divorced. She went onto becoming a senior manager at Sears, a first for a Hispanic woman in the retail industry, in charge of a whole department that constantly exceeded its own sales records.
My mother, who quoted Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to my brother and me every time she taught us a life lesson, opened a tile business 35 years ago in Puerto Rico. She is a strong and very visible force in the construction industry on the island, a space mostly dominated by men. She recently lobbied the San Juan mayor, a woman, to transform the street where her store is located into a design district to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and stimulate the economy on the Island. She doesn’t tout her prowess and accomplishments often, but I do hope she realizes the impact she has had on changing the narrative in her industry and creating more space for women to lead.
I shared a brief glimpse into my upbringing to demonstrate the power and importance of support structures and the benefits of having female leaders at the forefront of organizations. I also recognize that not everyone may have had the opportunity to rely on mentors, which is why we should leverage the role of companies and organizations to create a more equitable and purposeful environment for Hispanic women that replicates those support structures.
According to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), by 2016, “Hispanic women will represent more than one-third of the U.S. female population. They are also the fastest growing sector of the entrepreneurial market. However, even with that pioneering spirit and diversity they bring to Corporate America, they remain underpaid and underrepresented at all stages of the career pipeline. Hispanic women account for less than two percent of executives and hold less than three percent of all corporate board seats.”
As a Latina woman, I feel a deep responsibility to help change this and advise organizations on how to get there. As part of their diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, companies and organizations should look for ways to constantly empower Hispanic women to pave their way toward leadership positions. Here are some of the benefits and opportunities for organizations to put Hispanic women at the forefront of leadership positions:
1. Increased opportunities for Hispanic staff at an organization to learn from trailblazers. We want to look up to leaders who grew up in similar circumstances and communities as ourselves. Leaders who sound like us, accents and all. Women who bring their full and authentic selves to work and can change the image of who belongs in Corporate America, who can share lessons from their stories to help us shape our own.
2. Influence a national conversation and show up where our community needs us. That means looking for opportunities to remind everyone at all levels of endeavor about the issues impacting our community and to come up with collective solutions to help tackle some of the challenges we face.
3. Appreciate our cultural heritage by sharing a different and nuanced ways of seeing the world. It also means sharing diverse perspectives with colleagues in the boardroom, at c-suite level meetings or at the employee town-halls—being authentic to your background by challenging the conventional thinking and way of doing things.
4. Remind Hispanic colleagues that they don’t need to be molded into a single version of the ideal employee or leader. We all bring different things to the table. That there is not a single path to success. Our time will come.
5. Build a like-minded network of Latina women whom which we can emulate and learn from. To not just create mentorship opportunities but also, to stand up for each other and give the floor to other Latina women when their voices have not been heard in a meeting or conversation. Give them active roles beyond merely taking notes or drafting up agendas. Show up for them and helping them navigate difficult moments. Pull up the chair at the table and create opportunities for them to shape the work.
As one of the first women in my family to work in the corporate sector, my personal goal and mission is to help build a strong and robust pipeline of proactive Latina women (and men). I am committed to, like those who have led the charge before me, continuing to empower and raise the next generation of Latinx leaders through my work and actions.
This is a joint effort. We need help from companies and organizations to implement change and empower individuals through authentic actions.