The Hispanic imperative

Although economic data demonstrate the significant and growing clout of Hispanics, the numbers also raise concern about Latinos’ advancement to the top: On the one hand, published research shows Hispanics’ buying power in the United States now is estimated to exceed $1 trillion. On the other hand, they hold barely 2% of the seats on the board of Fortune 1000 companies.

“US businesses are lagging in their recognition of a major business imperative,” says Victor Arias, senior client partner, CEO and Board Services, and global leader, Diversity and Inclusion. “Hispanics are an integral part of this country’s economic and social fabric, and they are creating big and booming markets. Organizations can best tap into these only if they have savvy Latino talent at the top.

“The number of successful Hispanic business leaders continues to grow, and some are finding successful routes to corporate boards,” Arias says. “But corporate America is at a crossroads, and more intentional outreach for Hispanic representation on boards is a must for optimum outcomes.”

A new Korn Ferry Hay Group study, led by Arias, finds that Hispanics are moving up to boards—albeit in painfully slow fashion—not only through traditional advancement in corporate ranks. They’re also finding routes through government and public service, volunteerism with nonprofits and academic institutions, entrepreneurship, and with the support of external talent organizations.

The firm’s study underscores the importance for aspiring corporate directors to act themselves, networking extensively, and participating in influential professional and affinity groups. Mentors and sponsors play key roles, and working with them can be transformational for some candidates, Korn Ferry finds. These steps and more increase candidates’ visibility and capacity, helping to debunk the myth that there is a dearth of ready, willing, and exceedingly able Hispanic leaders for board service.

“We know from professional experience and research that companies desperately want to diversify their boards to deal with increasingly complex market conditions,” Arias says. “They don’t want cookie-cutter directors who have only been CEOs or corporate finance experts, as huge as those achievements may be. To deal with the big changes businesses confront, companies also are crying out for leaders with entrepreneurial skills, tech or cybersecurity expertise, and deep knowledge on reaching out to new audiences and consumers. There are boardroom-ready Hispanics with those very capacities.”

The firm’s study tells the personal stories of Hispanic leaders, and provides insights for organizations on finding, recruiting, and bringing on beneficial top talent in the best ways.

“Board nominating committees, for example, may wish to alter traditional practices, reaching out more broadly to talent organizations and affinity and professional groups, bringing in more confidential finalists, and ensuring that they’re truly committed to ‘walking the walk’ in diversifying their directors,” Arias says. “With the Hispanic community being so young, vibrant, and increasingly affluent, organizations that look to their future can’t help but do the right thing by increasing their Latino board members.”