Esther Aguilera, LCDA

“We are being left behind” in the C-suite and boardroom says LCDA CEO Esther Aguilera

Esther Aguilera is the CEO of the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA).  With 30 years of experience working in Washington, DC. Esther is passionate about elevating Latinxs to positions of power and preparing them for a seat at the table. 

Esther Aguilera, LCDA CEO (Photo courtesy LCDA)

LCDA serves as an advocate and resource to corporate boards, search firms, private equity, and institutional investors interested in gaining access to exceptional Latinx board talent.

In the second installment of the National Leaders for Latinx Advancement Series, Latinas in Business President and CEO, Susana G Baumann, spoke to Esther about LCDA’s work in advancing Latinx visibility in C-level positions and company boards. 

“We are being left behind” in the C-suite and boardroom 

The Latino Corporate Directors Association became fully operational in 2016 and was founded by a pioneering group of Latino corporate directors, serving on publicly traded or large private company boards who had grown tired of the low number of Latinos in the boardroom. Search firms and companies were saying, “We can’t find qualified Latinos for the boardroom.” LCDA was established as a way to address this issue and increase the number of U.S. Latinos on corporate boards. 

Historically, Latinos are the least represented compared to any other group. Only 3% of the Fortune 1000 company board seats are held by Latinos, despite the large size of the U.S. Latino population.

“We are being left behind,” said Esther. “In fact, over the last 10 years, between 2010 and 2020, Latinos only gained 1%. We went from 2% of corporate board seats to 3%. Latinos and Latinas are invisible in the C-suite and the boardroom. For Latinas, it’s even smaller. Only about 1% of the public company board seats are held by Latinas. Yet, we are such a large and contributing sector, we have a long tradition of entrepreneurship and growing corporate business businesses nationwide.”

Visibility is the main challenge facing Latinas and Latinos aspiring for C-level positions and this is what LCDA is working to address through its programs and membership. One of the ways they are doing this is by growing the pool of Latino board-qualified candidates. 

“What we have done is focused on growing the supply. Our membership has tripled in the last couple of years and we are showcasing and bringing together qualified Latinos for the boardroom,” said Esther.  

By doing this, it takes away the excuse so many have used in the past, that they simply cannot find qualified Latinos for board positions. The Latino Corporate Directors Association brings together ample talent from corporate directors, current and former corporate CEOs, to C-suite and top executives in corporate America in a one-of-a-kind network that has never existed for the Latino community before. 

“We have set it upon ourselves, so now that we have the talent pool, and the supply, we work directly with companies,” said Esther. “We’re writing to companies to say, there is ample talent, and we can help you find it. We work with companies, search firms, private equity, to tap that talent.” 

The LCDA’s efforts have made historic numbers this past year. In just the first six months of 2021, LCDA has, directly and indirectly, influenced 175 corporate board appointments, which is four times greater than last year’s 43 appointments. 

You might be interested: New America Alliance CEO Solange Brooks says, “Diversity is one of the elements of success”

Latinx workplace advancement opportunities 

Another challenge facing Latinx individuals in corporate America is access to advancement opportunities. 

Esther Aguilera, LCDA CEO, speaking at the 4th Annual LCDA Board Leaders Convening 2019 (Photo courtesy LCDA)

“I have a couple of stories working with some of our Latina executives and they shared with me some of the barriers that they have faced. One of them was approached by her HR person, and they said, ‘Here’s a job for you to consider, it pays a little more, etc.’ And she went to a mentor and said, ‘HR is steering me in this direction. What should I be aware of?’ And her mentor said, ‘I’m so glad you came to me, that job is a dead-end job. It will take you maybe another step. But then there’s no opportunity for advancement there.’”

This story is one many Latinos and Latinas have faced before. They are presented with a seemingly great opportunity only to later discover the new position offers no room for further advancement. In the case of this particular woman’s story, the power of a good mentor helped steer her in the right direction to make the best choice for her career. 

In the LCDA’s network, mentorship and coaching from experienced directors helps advance aspiring executives as they pay it forward and prepare the next group of executives for the boardroom. 

LCDA, BoardReady Institute

The BoardReady Institute prepares executives for the boardroom. (Graphic Source)

One of the Association’s key programs is the BoardReady Institute, a unique and comprehensive program that prepares interested executives for boardroom positions. The program is comprised of four components. The first is a toolkit that helps executives prepare their board bio and practice their pitch. The second component is corporate governance and the third is all about the network and coaching. Finally, the fourth component is promoting the executives for board opportunities.

“Last year, we helped with about 105, board search requests. Today, we’re already at 200, and will likely help with about 300 by the end of the year. We get requests for certain skillsets for a board position and we sort through our membership and give them as many qualified people and work with them to make sure that we can connect them to board talent.” 

The work achieved so far by the Latino Corporate Directors Association shows that Latino advancement is not only possible but necessary. By increasing Latinx visibility in the C-suite and boardroom, corporate America has no more excuses for excluding Latino and Latinas from the table.

gender diversity in corporate America

Gender diversity in the C-suite, where Latinas stand

If the overall consensus in the business world is that gender diversity is now an ethical and business imperative–at least in declaration–, why is gender discrimination still rampant in the corporate world?

A few days ago, I was horrified reading an article on The New York Times in which the author talks about the gender discrimination nightmares she suffered working in a male dominant environment such as Wall Street. It prompted these thoughts about the need to keep on pushing and pushing harder to encourage women in general and Latinas at work in particular  to reclaim gender diversity in the workplace.

gender diversity in corporate America where Latinas stand

If the overall consensus in the business world is that gender diversity is now an ethical and business imperative–at least in declaration–, why is gender discrimination still rampant in the corporate world?

A few days ago, I was horrified reading an article on The New York Times in which the author talks about the gender discrimination nightmares she suffered working in a male dominant environment such as Wall Street. It prompted these thoughts about the need to keep on pushing and pushing harder to encourage women in general and Latinas at work in particular  to reclaim gender diversity in the workplace.

Time after time I attend diversity conferences, summits and business events, large corporations declare they recognize the need for including gender diversity in their upper ranks. Unfortunately, the gender diversity pathway is still excruciatingly slow, especially for Latinas.

Despite some advances, women are under-represented at every level of the corporate world, especially when it comes to leadership positions. The number of women in senior level positions has increased compared to ten years ago, but still have not met anyone’s expectations.

According to the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility (HACR) 2015 Corporate Inclusion Index (HACR CII), “Hispanics held just over 7 percent of board seats amongst the participating companies, which is higher than the average within the Fortune 500, but is still considered low.” The latest? United Airlines named Oscar Muñoz as its new CEO last year, after the company’s CEO and chairman Jeff Smisek stepped down amid an investigation into wrongdoing at the airline.

Latinas? Although many are climbing the ranks, none are sitting as CEO’s and only 37 out of 5,511 board seats in Fortune 500 companies gather around corporate board tables.

Gender diversity in the developed world

The World Economic Forum makes the case for gender diversity in the workplace: “Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world’s available talent pool thus has a vast bearing on how competitive a country may become or how efficient a company may be. There is clearly also a values-based case for gender equality: women are one half of the world’s population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential and political decision-making power. Ultimately, gender equality is fundamental to whether and how societies thrive.”

In Europe the gap in gender diversity in the corporate world is gradually disappearing. Countries like France, Norway, Israel, Germany, Belgium, Spain, etc, all have at least 30 percent females on their corporate board. For the year 2016, the European Union has asked for a 40 percent quota for women in business organizations in European countries. By contrast, in the USA there are no such mandatories and having women in corporate ranks is completely voluntary. In the top 500 fortune companies in the USA, there are less than 17 percent women on corporate boards and more than 50 percent of these companies do not even have any women on their boards.

What does gender diversity inclusion entitle?

Only recently has senior leadership devoted time to addressing this problem. Gender diversity is a top ten strategy of only one fourth of corporations in the USA, and in more than a third of companies there is no strategic agenda on this matter. There is universal agreement that for gender diversity to succeed in the corporate world, a company needs firm commitment from the top, otherwise all other initiatives along the pathway will fail.

The process of increasing diversity requires broad interventions in the entire company and everyone has to be aligned with the same objective –often a difficult task because not everyone in the company may agree to such changes. To counter such sentiments, one has to design certain conditions so that change can take place.

Working Latinas and gender diversity in the workplace

Young mothers’ needs are not considered in the corporate environment despite that gender diversity has been proven to be effective for corporate success.

Maternity leave, dedication to family and work, and other parenting responsibilities have often been cited as obstacles to career achievement among women by gender diversity-resistant officers. Women’s performances are attached to different standards when it comes to annual reviews for promotional opportunities.

Imaginary case scenarios –“she won’t be able to travel or she won’t be able to work long hours” –may be cited as justifications for not offering women real advancement opportunities. Women’s needs in the workplace have not been addressed by corporations in all its real and full complexity. In fact, most work procedures and best practices never take in consideration a gender approach.

Even when a commitment to change the culture of a company has been made, it takes time to implement those changes. Of course, all companies want competent women leaders and this can often be a challenge in some professions lacking competent senior females. But really, are there no competent women in certain fields? And if so, what about the competent ones that abound in other fields?

Competence is not a birth right, but a set of skills acquired overtime usually through mentoring and sponsoring opportunities. Visibility is also part of competency but it is used as a privilege of those who only see advantages in choosing peers to work with. Women might make men feel uncomfortable because they have a different perspective on issues or a different approach to solving problems. So there is a great deal of adjustment for both genders to be made in the culture of a company that can only be accomplished by increasing gender inclusion in the discussion process.

Do women on corporate boards help organizations?

The question that is often asked, “Why is there a need for gender diversity in the corporate world?” must then be answered by another question, “Does having women on a corporate board help the organization?”

The answer is a resounding yes. More evidence seems to indicate that when women are on a corporate board it benefits the company in more ways than one. One study showed that for every female on the corporate board, the company paid less for acquisitions it made. This suggests that women on corporate boards are more prudent, have less interest in risky mergers and tend to remain focused on higher returns.

A recent study by Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals, “Mining the Metrics of Board Diversity show “… how the progression of women on boards has increased gradually over the past five years but that, on average, companies with mixed-gender boards have marginally better, or similar, performance to a benchmark index, such as the MSCI World, particularly over the past 18 months. Whereas, on average, companies with no women on their boards underperformed relative to gender-diverse boards and had slightly higher tracking errors, indicating potentially more volatility.”

Surveys of board directors have also revealed that women seem to make better business decisions that improve the company’s performance or indicate that women on corporate boards are more trusted by their peers than their male counterparts and show good skills often with a positive outcome for the company. Based on these data there is a call to rescind the mandate of a minimum number of women on the board because it makes good business sense.

A long way to go still ahead for Latinas in the workplace Young businesswoman walking up on corporate ladder

Sadly, while women are gaining a foothold in the corporate world in the USA, it is hard to find one Latina at a top senior level. Despite being a large population in the USA, Latinas have been completely under represented. Why Latinas do not make it to the upper echelons of the corporate world remains a mystery. Is it because they lack education or experience? Or is it because Latinas themselves are not interested in the world of business?

Anecdotal reports indicate that Latinas simply are ignored irrespective of their qualifications and experience. While the “all American female” is finally getting a break in life, Latinas still have a long way to go. Until then, the only thing to do is to keep on trying.

The road ahead might be less difficult because the door to gender diversity has already been opened. Awareness of this issue is no longer a problem and gradually corporations are making themselves committed to gender equality across the board.

Now,  aren’t Hispanic women qualified for these jobs? Those in senior executive positions, are they being considered for their experience? What would it take to be part of the short list of candidates?

What unique assets can Latinas offer because of our heritage and culture? How can Latinas make themselves visible by proving their potential as sound corporate leaders? What strengths do they bring to the table of large corporations that are instrumental in successful leadership?

We need to find these answers and we need to find them now.

 

 

 

Yvonne Garcia ALPFA Most Powerful Latinas

ALPFA Yvonne Garcia, the impact of Latino leadership on global markets

 

Yvonne Garcia, National Chairwoman of ALPFA

Yvonne Garcia, National Chairwoman of ALPFA

I first contacted Yvonne Garcia to write her profile in 2007 as the Experto de Hispanos for About.com, . She impressed me with her assertiveness and dedication to her career, which has grown and blossomed into national exposure. Yvonne is the National Chairwoman for the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA), a 48,000-member organization that thrives to empower and develop Latino men and women as leaders of character for the nation in every sector of the global economy.

This year, over 3000 ALPFA members gathered in the Big Apple to advance the role of Latinos not only in the national stage but also in the world markets. “We had a record-breaking convention this year in New York,” she shared with LIBizus. “Not only has it been the largest convention ever but the one with the most memorable highlights,” she affirmed.

Among the memorable programs was the Women of ALPFA Day, which featured an invitation-only breakfast with guest speakers discussing the global gender gap; panel discussions and workshops focused on soft skill development for Latina leaders; and the Women of ALPFA Luncheon where the accomplishments of Latinas were highlighted and celebrated.

“Our honoree this year for the Latina Excellence Award was Nina Vacca, Chief Executive Officer of Pinnacle Technical Resources, and Chair Emeritus of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” Yvonne said. “She talked about her journey to over 2000 attendees during the Women of ALPFA Luncheon,” she said.

According to the ALPFA National Chairwoman, Latinas in corporate are making headways and preparing for landing leadership roles. Knowing the personal sacrifices Yvonne made to build her professional career, a topic of our first conversation back in 2007, I was curious to know if the path has become somewhat easier for the upcoming Hispanic women eager to climb the corporate ladder.

“If anything, I believe it is harder now,” she said. “Although we are more aware of the importance of supporting Latinas to ensure more diversity in the workplace, they are now demanded to make even more sacrifices, working longer hours not only in their day jobs but also contributing to professional organizations,” she said.

ALPFA is committed to lead the support for Latinas through a more concerted effort in finding the right mentors to help those in the pipelines. “This is the commitment we ask from top corporate management; there must be a mandate from CEOs to mentor and train our women in order to build not only technical skills but also to develop leadership strength and charisma,” she added.

At her day job, Garcia, presently the Senior Vice President and Global Head of Client Solutions and PMO of the Investment Manager Services group for State Street Corporation, has global responsibility for developing new client relationships, deploying cutting-edge technology and operational processes, and delivering complex consulting engagements for existing and potential State Street clients.

Nina Vacca, Yvonne Garcia, Josefina Bonilla at the Women of ALPFA Luncheon.

Josefina Bonilla, Nina Vacca, Yvonne Garcia at the Women of ALPFA Luncheon.

She was born in Queens, New York, from the marriage of a Lebanese mother and a Dominican father, who came from the Dominican Republic in 1961. Yvonne had diverse experiences growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood but spending the summer months at her father’s country of origin. She learned Spanish as her first language.

Since she was a child, she was interested in the concept of money. At age six she organized a book sale in front of her house. She played with stamps making believe the papers she stamped were bank transactions. Always a saver, even when her brothers asked her to borrow money she would charge them interest.

Yvonne graduated with an MBA from Boston University in finance and marketing and a BA from the Sorbonne in Paris, France, where she lived while studying its economy and culture.

Beginning at the very bottom in sales in 1995, answering calls from customers in Spanish for a small community bank, she was promoted to the department of international staff given her fluency in English and French.

Yvonne Garcia ALPFA Chairwoman Closing Remarks

Yvonne Garcia ALPFA Chairwoman Closing Remarks

She then moved on to Merrill Lynch as a Financial Adviser and decided to continue her studies obtaining a master’s degree in business administration from Boston University, focusing her career in Finance and Marketing. By that time, she had also started a family and had a small baby. Yvonne found a new passion in marketing that, despite being also demanding, allowed her to manage her time in a more flexible manner.

Yvonne was appointed as Vice President of strategic assistance of the Construction Bank of China in America. In this role, Yvonne and her team were responsible for the creation and implementation of sales processes and service within the bank’s capitalization centers, which included implementation of roles, responsibilities, and tools for the sales force and the management team.

In the midst of her travels to China, Yvonne also spent more than seven weeks in North Carolina, where she acquired her certifications as Six Sigma Green and Black Belts.

She recalls China as the largest professional sacrifice because she had to leave her son to travel to China for three weeks in a row, but was also her greatest professional achievement.

She was then offered a position at Liberty Mutual as the VP and Director of Marketing to consumer market segments. In this role, Yvonne was responsible for the creation and implementation of integrated marketing strategies that resulted in the penetration of selected consumption targets throughout the country.

Student of the Year Award ALPFA Convention 2015

Student of the Year Award ALPFA Convention 2015

“I found this role through my network of ALPFA, which opened the doors for this opportunity,” she recalls. ALPFA’s is committed to grow aggressively to 100,000 members within the next two years. Anybody who is seriously devoted to their professional career must consider joining this national organization,” she added.

And she concluded, “Moreover, as the ALPFA Chairwoman in this year’s convention, all the sacrifices I made were well-rewarded when I saw the happy faces of over 40 students who received scholarships in recognition and celebration of their academic achievement and demonstrated leadership skills. We witnessed the talent of Latino students from across the country; they work hard through the year to deserve such important recognition.”