Latinas leaving corporate America, startups, small business, launching a business

Latinas leaving corporate America and succeeding as entrepreneurs

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.

Latinas leaving corporate America, startups, small business, launching a business

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?

Rosario Gamboa

Rosario Gamboa, founder and owner of Canela Bakery

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.

You might be interested: Gender diversity in the C-suite, where Latinas stand

gender diversity in corporate America

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.

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.