If Latinos represent 16 percent of the U.S. population, potentially they also represent a significant percentage of consumers, employees, taxpayers and voters. So what are the barriers that impede Hispanics to break the glass ceiling in corporate America?
“Although economic and political numbers are impressive, we still have not made strides in other important areas that drive us to success such as education and acculturation to the corporate environment,” Carlos Orta, president and CEO of HACR said to VOXXI.
The Pew Hispanic Center reports that 76.3 percent of all Hispanics ages 18 to 24 had a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) degree in 2011, an important growth from former years. However, they still lag behind their white counterparts.
A record share of those graduated from high school or nearly half (45.6%) enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges. The number of Hispanic youth enrolled in college has been growing due to population growth but also to greater eligibility as more Latino students are graduating from high schools around the country. Still, graduation rates among Hispanics are lower than their white counterparts with only 21.7 percent graduating from two-year colleges and almost 12 percent from four-year colleges.
“It has been proven that the road to work in corporate is a college degree,” said Orta, “Not only from good schools but also from the right schools. We need to get them to consider going to an Ivy League school where friendships and networks are created for life.”
Culture getting in the way of getting to the C-Suite?
Moreover, he believes our cultural assets sometimes get in the way of the corporate ladder. “U.S. born Hispanics tend to be nice. We believe that if we work hard, someone will notice. In that sense, we are similar to the Asian culture,” he said. “We don’t like confrontation but the corporate environment responds to the ‘squeaky wheel.’”
He remembers his years in corporate working for Ford Motor Company when the company asked him to move to Detroit for two to four years. Knowing that a transfer would take at least six months, after the first 18, Orta reminded his HR it was time to move. He then was promoted and relocated to Detroit within two years.
“This story brings up another challenge for Latinos, which is mobility. High corporate executives might move an average of 15 to 20 times in their career but Latinos prefer to stay close to their families. If you pass the opportunity once or twice, probably they won’t ask again,” he shared.
According to Orta, understanding the rules of engagement is crucial in navigating the corporate waters but because many Latinos are the first to attend college in their families, they do not have role models or mentors to guide them through these convoluted roads to the C-suite.
“I was not the first college graduate in my family. My mother was a teacher and my father a CPA but both worked outside the corporate world.” Orta, who was born in Cuba, migrated with his parents to Miami in 1971, after two years of residence in Spain. He is grateful for some of the corporate executives he worked with, who showed him those rules of engagement.
From the corporate side, he interacted with HACR for six years, and now he presides over this professional association. “I got to know this organization during those years and always thought there were great opportunities to work with it. Now, I can devise programs for others because I know the best and the worst of both worlds,” Orta affirmed. “Also, I get to work with 16 Hispanic leaders on daily bases who are HACR’s board members.”
Latinas face up to the corporate world
If Latino males face challenges at achieving positions of high management in Fortune 500 companies, for Latino females it is so much tougher, Orta affirmed. “Not only because the corporate world is run by white males but also for women, pressure to stay home and take care of family is a common value. From family members to spouses and even peers, Latinas carry the cultural burden of feeling responsible for the well-being of their husbands and children.
However, Orta feels optimistic just by observing the attitudes and behaviors of the new generation Latinas. “With the use of technology, young Latinas—and Latinos—are jumping over those barriers and making themselves noticed in the workplace. In addition, Latinas—or women in general—are more strategic, can look at the big picture and get the job done,” he said. “Latinas are multi-taskers because they need to handle both their personal and professional lives.”
In general, Orta believes Latinos bring an array of benefits to the corporate world. “We speak and think in two languages and understand cultural differences, which is of great value,” he said.
Being an immigrant himself, he understands the difficulties Hispanics face. “We had to ‘take the dive’ when we first came to the United States so we know what it means to start all over. Because we have migrated or have lived with migrating parents, we quickly adapt to new circumstances and take nothing for granted,” he concluded.