From the Barrio to the Boardroom

ispanics in the United States now number 50 million, or nearly 17 percent of our nation’s total population of 308 million. Release of this demographic information reinforced what many of us already knew: Latinos are creating a tipping point in race and ethnic relations by virtue of their rocketing growth rate, while non-Hispanic whites experience slower trends based on an aging population and lower birth rates.

Also, the Hispanic Consumer Market is now an economic force in the marketplace with an annual purchasing power of $1 trillion, which is projected to grow to $1.5 trillion by 2015---an amount greater than the economies of all but eight countries in the world. This consumer spending, along with projections of continued growth, has captured the imaginations of corporate America, not-for-profit organizations and public agencies wishing to improve their relationships with the growing number of Hispanic businesses, consumers, employees, students, taxpayers and voters.

U.S. corporations, especially those involved in consumer goods and services, already recognize the importance of having their boards and employees reflect the increasingly diverse customer base and stakeholders. These companies are aware of the advocacy groups and government requirements related to board diversity; however for these stalwarts of Corporate Social Responsibility, profitability seems to be the most important reason for inclusion of diverse stakeholders in policy making.

Studies have found that inclusion of diverse racial, ethnic and women candidates to corporate boards is closely tied to improvements in stock performance. Companies with the highest number of historically underrepresented members of society had greater shareholder returns than those that had not yet grasped the value of inclusion. In 2000, there were approximately 22,000 board members serving on 2,000 U.S. corporate boards. Less than 100 were Latinos, who remain the most underrepresented among corporate senior executives and governing director levels---positions from which new board members are most frequently recruited.

But we have a larger problem. As a nation we are not adequately preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce and professional manager slots to fill the void of Latinos in corporate boardrooms and C-Suites. Nationwide, 77 percent of non-Hispanic white and 81 percent of Asian American students graduate high school, compared to only 56 percent of all Hispanics. Based on the historically poor academic performance of Latino students it appears our public education system is lacking the skills or commitment to teach our nation’s fastest-growing ethnic population.

Consider in 2010, 25 percent of all incoming kindergarten students in the U.S. were Latinos and by 2011 they constituted more than 50 percent of all K-12 public school students in California and Texas, states that are home to over 50 percent of the nation’s total Hispanic population. In 2002, the Department of Education found one in three teachers working with English-language learning students lacked the academic training, proper certification or cultural competence. Yet we fail to see the need to correct this situation and leave remedial education to employers or workforce development agencies.

In 2010, nearly six in ten Hispanics aged 16 and over were gainfully employed with more than eight in ten employed in the private sector. At nearly 23 million, they represented 15 percent of the U.S. labor force and are expected to reach 18 percent by 2018.

Additionally, corporate America is experiencing its own “drop-out” problem---Latinos, women and other non-white professionals have a “quit rate” higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. Culturally relevant retention and mentoring programs may be needed as part of the solution; but unless corporations address this corporate flight issue, efforts to attract executives and board members may never get them to the levels of diversity they seek. Placing a greater emphasis on retention of Latinos in executive positions will require the same type of mind-set changes required of public education.

Extraordinary population growth rates, along with the public education system’s inability to keep pace with the rapidly growing number of Latino students, present myriad challenges. We hear from corporate and political leaders how public education must do a better job if we are to maintain our global competitiveness. Educating this segment of the student population---that will soon become the majority---is a good place to start practicing what we preach.

It is time for corporate America, educators, politicians and Latino advocacy organizations to begin working together to identify how best to ensure the success of U.S. Latino students and entry-level professionals. Allowing them access to more meaningful and well-paying careers will enable them to contribute greater amounts of tax dollars to support public services and take a more active role as civic-minded residents in their communities. It is no secret that success in classrooms today will result in better “bottom lines” tomorrow for America. We must expand that concept to make it more inclusive, especially the pathway from the barrios to the boardrooms.

Ignacio Salazar is the President and CEO of SER Jobs for Progress National, and the past Chairman of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR).