Reflections on Corporate America’s Latina Leadership Crisis During Hispanic Heritage Month

As we commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Motion team has been reflecting on diversity and inclusion—not only from a humanistic and societal perspective, but also as a strategic business imperative.

We recently had the honor of launching a study with the Network of Executive Women (NEW), one of our clients. It was designed to examine why, at a time when annual Hispanic buying power is approaching $1.7 trillion, senior-level Latina talent is heading for the exits of corporate America at an alarming rate. The study provides essential insights into the drivers of Latina career advancement and how companies can better identify, promote and retain Latina leaders for a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Interestingly, when asked about traits that are often perceived as drawbacks within the traditional white, male workplace, Latina professionals in NEW’s focus groups cited expressiveness, empathy and a desire for work-life balance, all of which have become celebrated assets in the COVID-altered work-from-home landscape. 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 that already represents this country’s fastest growing sector of small-business entrepreneurs to flee corporate America even faster.

Among 36 senior and mid-level Latina executives interviewed, most said they didn’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 historic 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.

Barriers to Inclusion

Factors hindering Latinas from seeing an opportunity for authentic advancement in large corporations include:

Collectivism vs. Individualism

Having been raised in collectivist cultures where the good of the group trumps individual pursuits, many Latinas learned from an early age to be selfless, generous and respect authority figures. Within the very individualistic culture of U.S. business, where assertiveness, independence and appropriate “pushback” are valued, Latinas are often viewed by managers as less “hungry” or personally qualified for advancement.

“Latina-ness” vs. Reserve

Corporate poker face is in direct contrast to the use of hands and passionate expression most Latinas learned as essential to communication. Focus group participants described being perceived as having a “Latin temper,” being “a drama queen” or overly sensitive, all while trying to discern what their coworkers’ neutral expressions meant in meetings.

Personalismo vs. “Too Familiar”

Touching and close physical proximity are common ways to connect personally and respectfully with someone when conducting business in Latin cultures, but sometimes go beyond the American norm of friendliness at work.

Prioritizing Family vs. “Whatever It Takes”

Many Latinas place a significant emphasis on spending time with their family, something corporate America says it values but often does not accommodate well. The Latina executives interviewed rejected the notion that prioritizing family diminishes one’s commitment to their career or their ability to reliably get the job done. They may make it home for dinner more often than their traditional white male counterparts, but that balanced approach is part of the diversity and value Latinas bring to the table.

Next Steps

The NEW report, “Latinas in Corporate America—A Foot in Two Worlds: Elevating the Latina Experience,” shares actionable strategies for companies looking to attract, grow and retain Latina leaders at this pivotal juncture. Unconscious bias and emotional intelligence training, intentional sponsorship programs and accountability measures that tie executive performance reviews to diversity and inclusion markers are among the steps study authors assert as key to creating authentic, profit-driving connections with Latina talent. This study and many of the above actionable strategies are being shared and implemented as we are taking purposeful actions to make diversity and inclusion a core pillar of our overall operations, culture and business.

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