As we celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month this past October, I thought about the great opportunities I’ve had as a Latino throughout my life. I also thought about the missed opportunities, not only for myself but for other Latino professionals.
According to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), Hispanics represent only 4% of the CEO positions held in the U.S. As a Latino myself—I was born in Mexico City and raised in Texas—I understand the unique challenges minorities face as we climb the career ladder.
I worked hard to surmount the obstacles I encountered. Today, as the South Houston Market President for St. Luke’s Health, I manage three hospitals within the larger organization of CommonSpirit Health, one of the largest not-for-profit, faith-based health systems in the U.S. Yet, as the statistics show, I’m still in the minority at 4%.
That’s why one of my main goals and greatest passions is to continue shining a light on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), not only in health care delivery, but also in the upper echelons of health care leadership.
Paving the Way for Career Success
In my earlier days, when I started moving into executive leadership positions, I would look around the room, and I didn’t see enough individuals who looked like me or the communities we serve. That’s where my passion to start the Texas Gulf Coast Chapter of the National Association of Latino Healthcare Executives (NALHE) began. I felt students and professionals in the early stages of their health care careers needed to know there’s a pathway to the boardroom and was compelled to help pull others along that journey—to help them get to where I am.
For example, one of NALHE’s many initiatives, the La Mesa Emerging Leaders Program, focuses on connecting Latinos, Latinas and multicultural students and young professionals with leadership figures from around the country who could mentor and empower them.
Answering the Call
Large corporations—Humana, 3M, Pfizer, Walmart, CVS Health, Alphabet, Johnson & Johnson, and many more—are also stepping up to even the playing field for Hispanic, Latino, and multicultural professionals. HACR’s 2021 Corporate Inclusion Index shows 97% of organizations surveyed reported an increase in DEI efforts; 62% reported an increase in their diversity and inclusion staffing budgets.
The same report found a marked increase in the number of companies offering a diversity recruitment strategy inclusive of Hispanics. In 2020, 89% of companies surveyed had such a program in place. That number increased to 98% in 2021. Employee resource groups were also asked if they were willing and ready to have open discussions about racial and social justice—84% said they were and 16% said they would consider taking small steps toward having these discussions. The 2022 report will be available next year, and it will be interesting to see what it shows.
Too Few Latinas in the C-Suite
It wasn’t too long ago that women in senior or executive positions were rarities. More women today are certainly being recognized for their leadership capabilities and strengths, management skills, and talent for running large organizations. Some women employ thousands of people at their companies. They also wear many hats (as we know) as heads of their households, mothers, spouses, and caregivers. They’re philanthropists, volunteers, and role models to all of us, and they make our community better.
According to research cited in the 2022 Women CEOs in America report, nearly 24% of C-suite positions in the U.S. are held by women. We’re making progress, but improvements are still needed. Women of color continue to account for just 4% of those executive roles, and only two Latinas have been CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. A recent article in USA Today cites Hispanic and Latina women make up just 1.6% of senior executives in the nation’s largest companies.
In the words of a board chair featured in a 2022 Female FTSE Board Report, “If you hire people in your own image, then don’t be surprised that all your decisions are the same all the time, and in a rapidly moving world, you’re going to miss things.”
One thing is true about all Latinos and Latinas: We don’t give up easily. That’s something I think my mom taught me. It’s that “si, se puede”—yes, we can—drive to make something out of nothing. My mother worked hard for us, and she instilled that work ethic in me.
“We don’t give up because we know our efforts are crucial for the progress that has taken years to achieve,” said Dr. Melissa Gonzalez, NALHE board member. “It’s more important than ever, as women, that we collectively help, mentor, and assist each other.”
Personally, I embrace the identity of a hard-working Latino, and that we never settle for a “no” or “not now.” Even though I may not have gotten a particular job, the setback would encourage me to learn from the lesson and drive me toward future success.
Today, I run three hospitals for St. Luke’s Health, and you might think, “Wow, how did you get here?” Believe in yourself. Whether others believe in you isn’t as important as believing in yourself. It will drive you to that next job interview, which might be a door of opportunity about to open.
As we work to improve access to health care services for everyone in our communities, we must also work harder to improve access to health care leadership opportunities.