Latinas struggle to break the glass ceiling in corporate America and this is no news to those who are climbing the corporate ladder. However, it seems that the once considered the ultimate achievement for any Latina –to become a part of the establishment–, has now given way to a new alternative: Latinas are leaving corporate America, starting their own businesses and succeeding as entrepreneurs.
While entrepreneurial activity in the country is growing at a slower pace, you would never know it by looking at data on Latina entrepreneurs; they are the fastest growing cohort in the female entrepreneurial demographics.
According to the State of Women-Owned Businesses 2014, the number of Latina-owned firms has more than tripled in the past 15 years. Further, their employment has risen to 85 percent and revenues have doubled; by contrast, growth of all women owned firms in America is only 68 percent with only a 72 percent growth in revenue. Today, four in ten minority women-owned firms are owned by Latinas.
The background of these Latinas is not confined to one group. It includes not only Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans but also a mixture of nationalities from Central and South America. It appears that most Latinas started their entrepreneurial endeavors in the fourth or fifth decade of life. Despite a late start, Latina entrepreneurs have appeared to overcome many barriers to succeed as entrepreneurs.
These numbers, however, don’t explain why such phenomenal growth rates have occurred. Equally compelling is why so many Latinas are now leaving corporate America in record numbers.
Placida V. Gallegos, Latina Advancement Specialist for the Center for Hispanic Leadership, explains in her interviews that Latinas reveal the main causes of digging into the entrepreneurial spirit including:
1) Wanting to do some type of meaningful work and influence the course of their career
2) Willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and
3) Having an entrepreneurial spirit and not being afraid of risk taking.
So why are Latinas starting their businesses?
When interviewing Latinas for our feature articles, not only I like to know more about them and their businesses but also the reasons why they started their entrepreneurial journey. From microbusinesses to larger small businesses, there is some common ground in the reasons Latinas mentioned for starting businesses at staggering rates.
If we are talking about startups and very small businesses, the size and type of business is most of the time related to some very basic reasons I have discussed in our several interviews with Latina business owners, such as:
1) Being the head of household and/or main bread-winner of an extended family
2) Language barriers that prevent them to access the labor market
3) Lack of a formal education
4) A skill acquired in the country of origin that is translatable to the US local economy –especially in Spanish-speaking clusters (cooking, hair styling, retail merchandising, cleaning, etc.)
These reasons usually trigger a microbusiness venture (1 to 5 employees) that might expand into a larger venture: a catering service might become an ethnic food restaurant; a hair stylist that might open her own salon; a cleaning service that employs extended family and other immigrants from their own country of origin; and other examples of microbusinesses.
Why are Latinas leaving corporate America?
However, career oriented Latinas are also venturing into the entrepreneurial field. Having been through enough struggles in their own lives, many Latinas now feel that a corporate career is not for them. They also note that working hours could be inhumane, there is cut throat competition at all costs, and little time can be dedicated to their families and their communities.
I interviewed once a high executive of a global corporation and she told me the sacrifice she had to make to achieve at her company: She spent the first birthday of her son and, as she said, many birthdays, working in a foreign country. Would YOU have missed that precious moment? Latinas insist they have always been eager to succeed but not at the cost of sacrificing their values and families.
Driven by their generous purpose and relational connection, other Latinas believe that large corporations only enrich themselves without really paying back to the communities they serve, and this is against their way of doing or understanding how business needs to be done.
Many Latinas who were in large companies also mentioned that the there is an “old boys” club mentality and lot of political maneuvering in corporate America. Otherwise, they might get stuck in certain positions related to their language skills and Latino cultural knowledge and denied the promotions they deserve.
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What are the reasons behind Latina entrepreneurs’ success?
Some of the reasons Latinas have expressed as important stepping stones to excel as entrepreneurs include the following:
- They are not afraid to work hard, are very flexible and willing to do whatever it takes to serve their clients.
- They have relied on family and friends for building their business, reaching out to them for funding or labor, and they have returned the favor to the community when they succeed. Latinas are always eager to improve the economic welfare of their community and tend to avoid individualistic success.
- Because Latinas have always been forced to survive in dire workplaces, they often see opportunities where others see gloom. Their sense of excitement and enthusiasm helps them tolerate all adverse atmospheres in the workplace.
- Latinas also tend to be innovators and even if they are afraid of taking risks, they are constantly searching for opportunities. Many are extremely religious and trust in their faith to guide them through their journey.
- Having a pioneering spirit, Latinas tend to view life differently because of all the difficulties they have faced. They tend to be practical, creative and cheerful.
- Do or die. Many Latinas are fully aware of the sacrifices their parents made to raise them in a foreign country. Thus, they take every opportunity to do better, work harder and achieve more because they want to improve opportunities for themselves and their children.Many Latinas agree that coming into a new culture has made them very competitive. Their parents’ struggles in their country of origin have been replaced by a feeling of empowerment that anything is possible in America.
When they first came to America, nothing was handed over to them on a silver plate and they had to find out everything for themselves. They had to support and help others at the same time.
The success of many Latinas leaving corporate America has inspired others to follow on their path, and more Latinas prefer to have their own business rather than work for someone else. The majority of Latina entrepreneurs who have succeeded say that it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to succeed in America, but at the end of the day they all agree, the tears are those of happiness and reward.