WASHINGTON, DC — It is an absolute business imperative to have Latinos and Latinas in leadership positions in the business world, particularly on the boards of the country's top companies, where the numbers remain dismally low. That was the focus of a recent gathering here of many of the nation's business leaders to commemorate three decades of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), an organization that advocates for a greater number of Hispanics in corporate America.
Just over 7 percent of Latinos hold board seats among Fortune 500 companies, and just 4 percent of all executive positions.
"We have to continue to advocate to corporate America on why they need to be consciously searching for Latinos when they have vacancies," said Cid Wilson, HACR president and CEO. "They need to change their thinking about who do you know versus who can do the job ... There's no excuse not to find qualified Latinos because we have plenty who are ready to serve," Wilson told NBC News Latino, adding that there are an increasing number of companies that understand.
"Being a diverse company and being a profitable company is not mutually exclusive. You can do both. In fact, profitability grows as the Latino community continues to grow," said Wilson.
The Latino community accounts for nearly half of all consumer spending growth in the United States. While the numbers of Latinos in top business positions is low, it is even lower for Latinas - just 1 percent are in executive positions.
The HACR 30-year anniversary forum also focused on strategies to increase those numbers, bringing Latina executives to talk about their experiences and offer advice.
Susan Santana, assistant vice president for Federal Relations at AT&T, says Latinas have many qualities that fit well in leadership positions in the business community.
"It's okay to bring our authentic selves as Latinas (to work). We love our families, we're loyal, we're committed, and we're not afraid to be leaders in corporate America. It's okay to be your real self. It can be done and you can still advance."