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.

National Hispanic Corporate Council graduates 2015_feature

Advancing Hispanic corporate leaders from diversity into inclusion

The National Hispanic Corporate Council and SMU Cox Graduates Cohort of Potential Hispanic Corporate Leaders 2015.

The National Hispanic Corporate Council and SMU Cox Graduates Cohort of Potential Hispanic Corporate Leaders 2015


Despite national and regional organizations’ efforts, the continued lack of inclusion of Latinos in general –and Latinas in particular– in key corporate leading positions continues to be a matter of concern. According to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) annual report, Hispanic inclusion on Fortune 500 boards still lags behind compared with other demographic groups at around three percent, and has remained almost untouched for the last three decades. (LIBizus) was born with the vision of advocating for the economic empowerment of Latinas in business and the workplace. Our goal is to promote, encourage and provide information and tools to ensure that Latinas receive the exposure and support they deserve for their participation and representation in the economic force of our country.

So when an organization such as the National Hispanic Corporate Council (NHCC) announces that this year the Corporate Executive Development Program (CEDP), a leadership training that grooms Hispanic managers to ascend into corporate leadership roles, graduated the largest-ever number of participants in the history of the program, we pay attention.

“As the nation’s leading organization founded with the mission of maximizing our corporate members’ Hispanic market opportunity, NHCC is making a tremendous impact in working with Fortune 1000 companies to increase the pool of Hispanic executive leadership.  We are delighted to renew our partnership with the SMU Cox School of Business to offer CEDP in both 2016 and 2017,” said Octavio A. Hinojosa-Mier, NHCC Executive Director.

The program, established in 2011 by the NHCC and the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University (SMU Cox), is the only national program specifically designed to increase the Hispanic executive talent pool for corporate America, according to its organizers.

SMU Cox School of Business

SMU Cox School of Business

NHCC and SMU Cox Executive Education developed CEDP for Hispanic employees identified by their corporate employers as potential executives for leadership roles. The nine-month program combines business and leadership coursework modules taught by nationally-recognized SMU Cox faculty. Many of the program graduates have already progressed to executive positions with Fortune 1000 companies.

“We are proud to partner with the NHCC in this continued effort to prepare Latino talent for corporate executive responsibilities,” said Frank Lloyd, associate dean of Executive Education at SMU Cox.  “CEDP graduates consistently deliver positive business results at high levels.”

Lloyd reported that 38 percent of the 110 participants across the five CEDP cohorts since 2011 have been Latinas. In 2015 alone, 12 participants were women. Involvement of Latinas in the five cohorts has ranged from 26 percent to 53 percent. “Latinas are well-represented in the CEDP, and their inclusion suggests that sponsoring companies are well aware of their management capabilities and potential,” he told LIBizus.

CEDP participants’ employers sponsoring them into the program are primarily Fortune 1000 companies. The fifth CEDP cohort led by Miguel Quiñones, the O. Paul Corley Distinguished Chair in Organizational Behavior at SMU Cox, had 33 participants from a number of NHCC corporate member companies, including: Comcast NBCUniversal, Darden Restaurants, Marriott International, Shell, State Farm Insurance and Wal-Mart.

However, Lloyd said, Raza Development Fund, a non-profit organization that invests capital and creates financing solutions to increase opportunities for the Latino community, has also sponsored a participant in the last two programs.

SMU Cox School of Business Dean Albert Niemi has waived the facility fees for the program.  That waiver entitles SMU to enroll one of its high potential Latino staff leaders in each rendition.  “SMU is therefore ‘walking the talk’ about developing Hispanic talent,” Lloyd made a remark.

Sponsorship and mentorship as main program components

Frank LLoyd SMU associate dean Executive Education

Frank LLoyd, SMU associate dean Executive Education

According to the SMU associate dean, potential participants enroll through an application process but each applicant must show support from their immediate supervisors, their top managers, and a senior human resources leader.

“Each participant’s management team has a stake in the participant’s success both during the program and afterwards,” Lloyd added. Moreover, he said, an advisory board comprised of senior talent, marketing, and diversity executives from selected sponsoring companies shares information about each firm’s selection criteria to ensure a rough peer group of participants in each program and to share best practices for their on-going support.

“While each company has its own process to support participants following the program, the application and advisory board processes encourage company ownership of the participants’ post-program success,” he told LIBizus.

Several program features support application of new learning and behavior change throughout the program and afterwards.  “For example, each participant is assigned a current or recently retired senior Latino executive as a mentor.  This established relationship enables them to receive coaching on applying program insights and tools to current workplace situations,” he explains.

Working with mentors also provides guidance for participants in preparing and executing personal development plans.  Some of these mentoring relationships continue after the program.

“In addition to mentoring relationships, each participant engages in a ‘360’ assessment process in which they receive behavior feedback from superiors, peers, and direct reports,” Lloyd noted.  During the program they receive instruction on how to use this feedback for improved job performance and career advancement.  Their mentors offer on-going guidance in this process as well.

Finally, the networks that participants establish among themselves provide a continuing resource after the program.  Trusted colleagues in other firms are available for informal consultation on work and career issues.

The CEDP has proven its goal of accelerating the progress of Latino high potentials to top corporate executive positions.  Of the over 100 CEDP alumni who’ve completed the program since 2011, more than 70 percent have achieved significant new responsibilities, often during the program.

The Cox school also provides tools to facilitate on-going application of learning and behavior change post-program participation.  “We maintain an on-line community of past participants.  We track participants’ movements as they achieve new career opportunities, and we share news in the community,” Lloyd said.

The program gives past participants the opportunity to serve as mentors to less experienced and lower level managers who enroll in a program for Rising Leaders.  Many are delighted to receive the opportunity to “give back” by lending a helping hand to a following group of Latino management talent.

As the economic power of the Hispanic market continues to grow, many companies still struggle to understand the full potential of a diverse and inclusive workforce. Positioning Latino and Latina leaders in high decision-making ranks ensures the company’s competitive advantage at maintaining and increasing their market share. Commitment to send their potential leaders to strategic training programs such as CEDP creates a safety net that attracts and empowers a diverse workforce while allowing rising Hispanic leaders to advance to the positions they deserve.