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Latinas Rising

Barriers are falling for Latinas

By Marcela Miguel Berland and Frank Gómez

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In November, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada was re-elected. In 2017, she became the first Latina United States Senator. Shey epitomizes the rise of Latinas who are defining agendas, making decisions and shaping our nation’s destiny.  

The list of “firsts” is long:  Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice; Rita Moreno, an “EGOT” winner with an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony; Ellen Ochoa, Ph.D., former astronaut and former Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The list goes on.    

Barriers are falling as Latinas emerge in areas once reserved for men.  An area where progress is slow, however, is corporate America, particularly senior management and on board.  Priscilla Almodóvar became the CEO of Fannie Mae at year’s end, the only Latina to head a Fortune 500 company today, and only the third Latina Fortune 500 CEO.  

This past December, Afro-Latina Carla Vernón was named CEO of The Honest Company, a publicly listed company which was co-founded by Jessica Alba. 

The growing pipeline of Latinas who are corporate board ready and CEO ready is a promising sign, thanks in large measure to the Latino Corporate Directors Association (  

“Latinas are making gains in boardrooms; the candidate pool is growing,” said Esther Aguilera, LCDA CEO.  “Among Latinos appointed to boards in 2021, 43% were Latinas, a record level.  Just this year, Grace Puma joined the Target board, and Monica Gil was elected to the board of Nike. LCDA is proud to position Latinas for boards.”

A 2020 KPMG/LCDA study found that 73% of Fortune 1000 firms had no Hispanics on their boards.  LCDA’s Board Ready Institute is valuable tool to bring about change.  And research shows that corporations with diverse boards and top leadership outperform others.  Women executives, moreover, show greater interest in employee wellbeing and advancement.
It is widely known that Latinas lead the nation in new business creation.  The pandemic took its toll, however, and Latina entrepreneurs, already facing more challenges than their male counterparts, suffered.  But grit, innovation and creativity allowed them to overcome.  
Little research exists on the challenges Latina business owners face – their sources of capital, caring for families while working and their motivations.  We know about the numbers of pandemic-induced Latina business closings, but more research is needed on the reasons underpinning them.    
A look at the professional landscape shows Latinas emerging in virtually every field.  They outpace  Latinos in college graduation and are moving rapidly into tech studies and tech careers.  Consider Ellen Ochoa and France Córdoba, Ph.D., astrophysicist, former President of Purdue University, former head of the National Science Foundation and now President of the Science Philosophy Alliance. 

Sylvia Acevedo, a real rocket scientist, used her Stanford engineering degrees at NASA, in leading tech companies and as CEO of the Girl Scouts where she championed STEM careers for young women.  Author of inspiring books on science, she is on the board of Qualcomm, has received many awards and, most importantly, advocates for Latinas and Latinos in science.  In December, Bloomberg named her one of the nation’s most influential 100 Latinos.  

Latinas are also achieving in the media, whether as anchors at local television outlets or cable hosts like Alicia Menéndez and her American Voices program on MSNBC.  We cheered when media pioneer and multi-award winner María Hinojosa won a Pulitzer for her Futuro Media Group.  And we delight when Voto Latino President María Teresa Kumar takes on the big boys in discussing electoral politics – and more!  And Selena Gómez, who has moved from a starring TV role to become a producer.  

Mildred García, Ph.D., former President of California State University at Fullerton, heads the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.  A longtime champion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, she uses her perch to help grow the pipeline of Latinos and other diverse groups in academia.  

In media, entertainment, business, academia, medicine, science, nonprofits, philanthropy, the arts – you name it – Latinas are rising.  They are exerting influence and helping to develop the next generation of Latinas who will even more shape the destiny of the Latino community – and of our nation.    

Marcela Miguel Berland is the founder and CEO of New York City-based market and opinion research firm Latin Insights.  Frank Gómez, a former corporate and nonprofit executive and a longtime Hispanic activist, is her business partner. 

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