Latinas in corporate
LeanIn.Org CEO Rachel Thomas recently sat down with the Latin Times to discuss the challenges Latinas in corporate America face today. KOBU Agency/Unsplash

Latinas are the least represented group at the highest level of corporate America, with only 1% of C-suite, or executive positions being held by Latinas. Most alarmingly, they are the group that see the biggest drop in representation as they move up the corporate ladder.

Those figures come from a recently published study from LeanIn.Org, titled "The State of Latinas in Corporate America," the organization's first study of its kind. It drew heavily on Lean In and McKinsey & Company's annual Women in the Workplace study, looking at data from the past five years, as well as in-depth interviews with 26 Latinas across multiple industries, roles and levels.

According to their findings, Latinas begin their careers underrepresented in corporate America, with just 5% of entry-level workers being Latinas, compared to 9% of the population. This group also sees the biggest drop in representation from entry-level to the C-suite, as they lose 78% representation by the time they reach the highest levels of leadership, while men gain 64%.

Latinas also face other challenges, such as a substantial pay gap compared to men and other women, being the "Only" Latina in their workplace, and not being readily considered for promotions.

To understand the extent and possible solutions to these challenges, LeanIn.Org CEO Rachel Thomas recently sat down for a lengthy discussion with The Latin Times.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Latin Times: How would you summarize the current state of Latinas in corporate America?

Rachel Thomas: for 10 years, we've been doing the women in the workplace study. And so the top line, if you look across all the data in all those years, is that women are having a worse experience in the workplace than men. And women of color are having a worse experience than white women. And of course, that includes Latinas. So that is kind of the top line. When you look at our report, the state of Latinas in corporate America that we're releasing today, the main finding is frustratingly, that Latinas experience the biggest drop in representation from entry level to the C-suite, that means as a result is only 1% of C-suite leaders are Latina, and that makes them the least representative group of employees in the C-suite.

LT: Speaking of C-suite representation, yourstudy mentions that Latinas lose 78% of representation by the time they reach the highest level of leadership, while main men gain 64%. Where do you think these differences come from?

RT: There's kind of two approaches to that one. So in terms of how they're moving through the pipeline, Latinas start out at a disadvantage. Despite making up 9% of the population, they hold only 5% of entry level roles in corporate America. And that makes them the least representative of any group of women. That obviously matters, because that means they're underrepresented, and kind of they are at a disadvantage from the get go. And then on top of that, they face significant promotion gaps. One is that the first step up to manager, we often have talked about this over the years, we call it the broken rung. And for every 100 men in 2023, who were promoted to manager, only 76 Latinas were. And the other critical promotion gap is that this step up to VP, which is really the step up into senior leadership, where you know, the C-suite is in sight. So that's another critical moment in the pipeline. And there, Latinas are also overlooked. So as a result, the compounding effect of starting out underrepresented, facing that first promotion gap, at the step up to manager facing that second big promotion gap at the step up to VP, those are three of the big things happening in the pipeline that explain what's happening to Latinas.

In terms of kind of unpacking more of what we see in the data. We know Latinos are very ambitious. Despite all this. We know they're more ambitious than white women, they're more interested in being promoted to the next level, they're more interested in being senior leaders. So ambition is not the issue. But they're getting less support from managers, particularly in areas that link to advancement, so they are less likely to have a manager show interest in their career advancement, they're less likely for managers to make sure they get credit for their work. And then we also know that flexible work can really be an unlock for ambition. Employees that work remotely, for example, are more likely and I mean employees of all genders, they're more likely to say they have time to balance work in life, they're more likely to say they feel less burned out. And so flexibility really matters. And yet, Latinas are less likely to say they have access to a lot of flexibility. So they're less likely to be able to work remotely, set flexible hours, step away from work to deal with unexpected events, or even when they are able to work flexibly, there are some signs that they're less comfortable doing it.

And then finally, we talk about this all the time, but Latinas face micro aggressions in the workplace, we know that Latinas are more likely to be "onlys" for their race and ethnicity. And more than one in three Latinas are only, and that's three times more likely to be an only than women overall. And we know that Latina onlys has experience more and more in micro aggressions. And so I think when you take all of this together, to me, a peach, the story of an ambitious group of women, just getting less of the things that matter that we know or unlock to be able to balance work in life and to advance in corporate America.

LT: You mention ambition and flexibility being major factors in Latinas' experience in the workplace. Do you think these are culturally-stemmed issues?

RT: That's a really good question. So when we talk about Latinas in flexibility, I think there's a couple things. One, we know that Latinos are less likely than white women and women overall, to say their manager trusts them to get their work done without micromanaging when they work remotely. And they're also less likely to say their manager focuses on results, instead of worrying when work gets done. So there's some signals in the data, that managers are judging them maybe a bit more harshly when they work remotely or you know, or evaluating them a little differently when they work remotely. And that may be rooted back in those biases. If you think that Latinos are less qualified, or less talented, you know, it's a deep seated unconscious bias that may be showing up, I want to be clear, I'm not implying managers are doing that purposely. Bias is pretty powerful. And we're all kind of victims of falling into it, but I think some of it is if your managers respond to you differently. And you're not feeling like you're getting the support and encouragement, that obviously is going to have an impact on when I'm choosing to use flexible work options.

And then the other thing you talked about, I think is right. And we see this in that in that qualitative analysis, we did have kind of our discussions with Latinos. But one thing that came up, which you alluded to was this kind of cultural norm, that you should have a lot of gratitude for work through your work as a Latina, that you should keep your heads down at work. And I think that probably does make it harder for Latinas to feel confident taking advantage of flexibility.

LT: In the report, you go into steps companies can take to incorporate Latinas and make sure they are feeling welcomed in the workplace. Can you talk a bit more about these steps?

RT: I'm glad you're talking about solutions, because we think it's important to understand the problem and the challenges, but we're also very optimistic at LeanIn, and there's always something to be done. And that's kind of where I would start. I think the power of this report is that it shines a bright light on the experiences of Latinas in particular. And then that, you know, pretty significant drop in representation that they experience. So I hope it's a wake up call for companies because, we're big believers, you have to see the problem, you've got to internalize the problem. And then you have to act on the problem to create change. So my number one message to companies is, read the report, take it in and double down on supporting and advancing the Latinas in your organization. And then in terms of practical things that companies can do, expanding recruitment efforts to make sure that you're getting more Latinas into the entry level, when there are so many talented Latinas graduating. Hire more of them. Yeah. And so, recruiting from Hispanic Serving colleges and professional organizations, being really aware of hiring rates for Latinas and Latinos as well. So really expanding recruiting efforts. And then you know, we talked about those two gaps in promotions that Latinos experience. One way to start closing those gaps is really focusing on debiasing the performance review and promotion process.

LT: Taking the studies' figures into account, as well as the recommendations you just mentioned, how do you envision the future of Latinas in corporate America?

RT: I hope this report plays a small role in moving the dial. Because I do think information is power, and organizations understanding that Latinas are facing this biggest drop off in representation, hopefully leads to action. When it comes to changing representation, and changing the corporate pipeline, progress is often very hard and very slow. But I'm optimistic. And then in terms of what Latinas can do, you know, obviously, it's not on Latinas to fix the system. But I do think getting more comfortable, self promoting, and sharing their success stories helps. Often we recommend women of any identity, you know, form a party, if you don't want to do it yourself, get a group of people and agree to celebrate each other's accomplishments. So I think focusing on making sure they're not being overlooked is really important. I always say I hate to tell women that you have to negotiate or you have to self-advocate knowing that you're a woman and knowing that there is sometimes some pushback when you do those things, but that is the reality. And so the more adept you get at it, the better. But those are some things you can do for yourself now. And then the other thing I would say to any woman, including Latinas is, there was a real moment for me in my career, when I realized some of the pushback that I was experiencing had nothing to do with Rachel Thomas, the individual, and had more to do with Rachel Thomas, as a woman. I think sometimes even knowing that can really be like a great kind of comfort, and help you build your resilience. As you're moving to the workplace. I know that in many instances, being able to step back and say, "wait, this is about me, as a woman. This is not about me, as an individual" in my actual performance has been really helpful for me.

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