Recap: Latinos in Corporate America: Keys to Success

New York City (Thursday, June 25, 2015) — By 2020, one in three Americans will be Latino, yet only 3 percent of the executive suite is represented by Latino individuals. “That should be unacceptable to everyone in this room,” said Hernan Saenz, a member of the 2015 class of The Alumni Society, a network of America’s foremost Latino executives.

This was one of several topics leaders from corporate America discussed during the panel “Latinos in Corporate America: Keys to Success” at the inaugural leadership summit of The Alumni Society, held at Tribeca Rooftop in New York City on June 25. Victor Arias, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, moderated the discussion among Lisa Garcia Quiroz of Time Warner, Elizabeth Nieto of MetLife, Saenz of Bain & Company, Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri of Goldman Sachs, and Cesar Villalpando of Kaiser Permanente.

The panelists discussed the efficacy of employee resource groups (ERGs) and the cultural expectations that hold Latinos back in corporate America. “You can reach the middle of an organization based on intellect and skill,” said Quiroz, “but to reach beyond that level, it suddenly becomes how much people like you, who you know, and who is opening doors for you.” The panel discussed the usefulness of ERGs in promoting diversity. Villalpando pointed out that ERGs cannot succeed alone. “There has to be a very good business alignment with your ERGs,” he said.

The talk then shifted into sponsorship, with several panelists agreeing that sponsorship opens doors for up-and-coming talent, while mentorship only provides guidance. Sponsorship is necessary for advancement in corporate America. Saenz reminded the audience that there’s more to advancement than representing a group. “I don’t want to be the Latino executive,” he said. “I want to be the best executive.” He went on to say that many people get stuck in middle management, and opportunities to advance beyond it are not given democratically, which is what makes sponsorship crucial. “We [Latinos] have to be more visible,” Saenz said. “We can’t just be in Tribeca in New York. We need to be everywhere.”

Villalpondo tackled the challenges unique to Latinos because of cultural expectations. “Latinos struggle with, am I abandoning my humility by hanging my shingle?” he said. “And you’re not!” Quiroz responded to this by saying many Latinos feel they need to achieve more than their colleagues before they attempt to advance in corporations. “I struggle with this issue of, I’ve always felt that I’ve had to be better to be noticed. And I think that’s something we all face,” Quiroz said. “I feel passionately that the value of this organization is to bring us all together again and remind us that it’s our responsibility to open the doors.”

The discussion circled back to the actions necessary to improve the pipeline of Latino talent into executive positions. “No institution can solve this by itself,” Nieto reminded everyone. “It’s not just the universities—it’s up to the companies to show that they want these candidates. They have to spend the time and the money to do this.” Saenz said we can’t forget that we’ve made progress. “There is no university that doesn’t take pride in its diversity,” he said. But he added that no one is solving the affordability issue. Many universities are successful at recruitment but fail at retention, and both are necessary to promote lasting change.

The panel also conducted a Q&A with the crowd.

Demographics are shifting incredibly quickly, and people are concerned. Numbers are moving, but hiring isn’t moving with it. What should colleges do to move that needle?

Vazquez-Ubarri: Because this is a numbers game, and it takes time to develop people in the pipeline, we [Goldman Sachs] are going to the high school level.”

Saenz: We potentially face a future in which America is a country of laborers. We need to foster the expectation among Latino youth that they will not work in blue-collar jobs, but will make it to white-collar positions. They have to expect to attend school and graduate.

Ricardo Anzaldua (cofounder of the Alumni Society and executive vice president and general counsel at MetLife): It happens at different levels. We need to put emphasis on advancement. We need to focus on specific goals, and not be caught up in the big picture. We have to avoid going back to how we felt when we were undergrads—that we were going to boil the ocean.

Manny Sanchez (founder and managing partner of Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP and an attendee): It’s essential that we promote networking. This is an unbelievable, unique collection of leaders and corporate stars in our community. I’ve attended many inaugural events that fizzled out after the initial excitement for the mission had died away, but I am hopeful that The Alumni Society will build on its momentum and fulfill its lofty goals. Don’t let it die here. Let’s not leave it in New York in 2015. Let’s keep this going.

What does it mean to “hang your shingle?”

Villalpando: It means to let your organization know that you are interested and capable of doing more and growing within your company. Latinos get caught up in cultural expectations, which emphasize hard work and humility, so Latinos in corporations have to let leaders know that they can do more.

Nieto: A particularly harmful stereotype of Latinos is that they are not ambitious and don’t work hard. You have to challenge those stereotypes.

Villalpando: You need to tell people you’re ready.

There’s a blurring of lines between industries—finance, tech, so on. How do we prepare ourselves to continue matriculating into these leadership positions?

Saenz: There was a time when you could go to college, get four years of education, and go to work. That isn’t true anymore. If you want to continue growing, you have to get better every day.

Vazquez-Ubarri: I am a lawyer who now works in talent development. You have to try different things and understand where you fit in the firm you’re in. Often, you just need to look around, raise your hand, and say, ‘I’ll do that.’

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