By Kristin Schneider and Pablo Schneider
The $1.3 trillion Hispanic market is booming. It accounts for a critical mass of corporate growth and nearly half of all consumer spending growth in America. Latinas are critical to the Hispanic market boom. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a Latina perspective on boards then? Sadly, as of 2013, only 3.3 percent of Fortune 500 board seats were held by Hispanics and of those seats 85 percent were held by Latinos and 15 percent were held by Latinas. Among the LATINA Style 50, there are nine Latinas that serve on a combined total of 12 boards of the companies voted by Latinas as the top 50 for whom to work for. This means that about one-quarter of the LATINA Style 50 have Latinas serving on their boards and have a Latina voice at the table. Here we profile six of the Latina corporate directors of these companies, who share some of their insights on board diversity, on why it’s important to have Latinas on corporate boards, and on how we can increase the representation of Latinas on boards. They also offer advice to Latinas interested in board service.
Aida Alvarez serves on the board of Walmart, which is ranked number one on the Fortune 500 with $476.3 billion in revenue, $16.0 billion in profit, and a market value of $246.8 billion. She also serves on the boards of Progress Financial Corporation and of Zoosk. With a background in finance, journalism, and public service, Alvarez has always been a trailblazer.
She served as the first Director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight before being named the first Hispanic woman in a U.S. President’s cabinet, where she served as an Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Alvarez is also dedicated to nonprofit service, serving as the Commissioner for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, on the Board of Governors of the San Francisco Symphony, and as the chair of Latino Community Foundation.
“Most retail companies recognize that shopping decisions are by and large made by women,” expresses Alvarez, a believer in the value of Latinas on boards. “Given our growing demographics, Latinas represent an important consumer base. The presence of Latinas on boards will enhance the company’s competitiveness. Furthermore, our unique experiences bring a diversity of thought that can only lead to more creative thinking at the board level.”
This value that Latinas bring is one of the reasons there should be more Latinas on corporate boards, Alvarez believes. “Certainly one way to increase the number of Latinas on corporate boards is to bring value to the company,” she states. “As companies recognize that Latina board members are important to their success, they will actively seek us out.”
Sally Hernandez-Piñero serves on the board of Consolidated Edison, which is ranked number 225 on the Fortune 500 with revenues of $12.3 billion, profits of $1.0 billion, and a market value of $15.7 billion. With a strong business development, government, and legal background, Hernandez-Piñero currently serves as a hearing officer with the New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Health Tribunal, Managing Director of Fannie Mae American Communities Fund, Chairwoman of the New York City Housing Authority, Deputy Mayor for Finance and Economic Development, and Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Financial Services Corporation of New York City.
She has also served as both the President of East Harlem Business Capital Corporation and Executive Director of City Harvest. When it comes to increasing Latina board participation, Hernandez-Piñero believes that “we can increase the number of Latinas on corporate boards by supporting leadership institutes and mentoring programs. We can lead by example and introduce emerging Latina executives to business strategies and models that may nurture the development of future leaders.”
Dr. Cynthia Telles
Dr. Cynthia Telles, Ph.D., serves on the board of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals. The organization, known as Kaiser Permanente, which was founded in 1945, serves 9.5 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. With 2013 revenues of $53.1 billion and a net income of $2.1, Kaiser is one of the largest and best known healthcare organizations in the U.S. Dr. Telles also serves on The Airport Commissioners of Los Angeles World Airports.
From April of 2010 through June of 2014 Telles served on the board of General Motors, which is ranked number seven on the Fortune 500 with revenues of $155.4 billion, profits of $5.3 billion, and a market value of $54.7 billion.
With a strong background in leadership and medicine, she is also the director of the Spanish speaking Psychosocial Clinic of the Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital and a faculty member at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine.
She is also highly devoted to public service, currently serving on the White House Commission for Presidential Scholars with numerous past appointments including service as the Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles as well as the President of the Commission on the Status of Women. Her non-profit board service includes active positions on the Pacific Council on International Policy, the Music Center, LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, with past positions including board service on the Policy Institute of California, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and Pitzer College.
“Enlightened corporations recognize the substantial value added by Latina voices on their Boards,” explains Telles when asked about the importance of Latinas on boards, “They understand the business imperative driven by changing demographics and growing purchasing power. In order to remain competitive, companies need to develop the cultural competencies needed to deal with national and global diversity.”
Sara Martinez Tucker
Sara Martinez Tucker serves on the board of Xerox Corporation, which is ranked number 137 on the Fortune 500 with revenues of $21.8 billion, profits of $1.1 billion, and a market value of $13.4 billion. She also serves on the boards of American Electric Power (Fortune #186), Sprint, and Teach for America. Her active dedication to education is seen through her service as the Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, where she has developed and implemented programs such as college.gov to help increasing student access to colleges. Prior to holding this position, Tucker also served as CEO and president of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) as well as a senior executive at AT&T, where she was the first Latina named to the company’s executive level. “Boards appreciate individuals who can challenge the strategic direction and thinking of an organization and bring the voice of the shareholder into the boardroom,” states Tucker, a strong believer in the benefit diversity brings to boards. “Diverse perspectives across an organization, and especially among senior leadership teams and boards, help drive the creativity, insights and innovation needed for any business to be successful over time.”
Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg serves on the board of General Mills, which is ranked number 159 on the Fortune 500 with revenues of $17.7 billion, profits of $1.8 billion, and a market value of $31.8 billion. She also serves on the boards of McGraw-Hill Companies (Fortune #484),Cementos Pacasmayo, S.A.A., and the Atlantic Council of the United States. A native of Venezuela, Ochoa-Brillembourg serves as Chairman and CEO of Strategic Investment Group, which she founded in 1987. Her many non-profit leadership positions include serving as a Trustee of the Committee for Economic Development, a member of the World Economic Forum, and on the advisory committee of the Harvard David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.
When asked why it’s important for Latina voices to be included on corporate boards, Ochoa Brillembourg answers, “Because well-educated, experienced and diverse views strengthen governance and management processes. Latinas make up roughly eight percent of U.S. population and arguably a larger portion of some company public revenues including Latin American operations. Their input is critically insightful.”
Nina Vaca serves on the board of Comerica, Inc., which is ranked number 810 on the Fortune 1000 with revenues of $2.6 billion, profits of $541 million, and a market value of $9.4 billion. She also serves on the board of Kohl’s Corporation (Fortune #151). An entrepreneur dedicated to both building her business and encouraging Vaca is highly involved in growing the next generation of Latina leaders through her work as the Chairman Emeritus of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We [also] need to make sure that those potential candidates are adequately prepared for board service and have demonstrated excellence in their field of expertise and other areas,” states Vaca, who believes in actively helping Latinas prepare for board candidacy. “The key, though, is educating potential board candidates on the need to be as informed as possible about the requirements to joining a corporate board and creating a process to get there.” Vaca has also been named to the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship and has represented both the U.S. and Latinas in numerous transatlantic leadership forums.
Advice to Latina Professionals
Whenever the lack of Latinas on boards is discussed on panels and in forums, one of the first questions directed to Latina corporate directors is, “What advice do you have for Latinas who would like to serve on boards?” We asked each of these venerable Latina corporate directors this very question.
One common theme was the importance of deliberately building and developing the talents and skills of Latina board candidates.
“Develop and/or strengthen your critical thinking and analytical skills. Be knowledgeable about corporate financials, have the confidence to ask probing questions, and be a team player.” — Sara Martinez Tucker.
“It is important to develop a niche or expertise that would make a significant contribution, whether it is in the financial arena or community investment, for example.” — Cynthia Telles.
A second common theme was to gain experience through both non-profit and for-profit board service.
“Not only does the non-profit board experience teach us about good governance practices, [but] often successful corporate leaders serve on those boards. They may identify us as good board candidates for their own companies.” — Aida Alvarez.
“Build the training blocks of board participation through community and other leadership activities in the not-for-profit and profit sectors.” — Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg. A third common theme was to spend time and effort to network and connect professionally.
“Tap into director registry databases that introduce prospective directors to boards that are conducting director searches.” — Sally Hernandez-Piñero.
“Relationship-building remains fundamental to boards becoming more diverse. High-level
and strategic networking are crucial to this effort.” — Nina Vaca.
“My advice would be to find something that you are passionate about, whether it’s your community or a particular business sector, and consider the type of board where your talent and experience would have the greatest relevance.” — Sally Hernandez-Piñero
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