At our first Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum, leaders unite to focus on jobs

In late September, our firm hosted its first Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum in Washington, DC, which may bring to mind data, numbers, and graphs.

And there were startling numbers. But there were also stories of war heroes and intrepid families, impromptu problem solving, and an outpouring of lessons learned, resources, and tips.

“I was thrilled with the outcome and level of engagement throughout the day,” said Lucy Pérez, a McKinsey partner and cancer research specialist who leads McKinsey’s Hispanic Latino Network (HLN).

“What struck me was how the discussion flowed and how we quickly came to a set of priorities to take forward as a community,” Lucy added. “It epitomized the inclusive environment we wanted to set up for the meeting.”

Carla Arellano, a McKinsey partner, presents statistics on Latinas in the workplace
Carla Arellano, a McKinsey partner, presents statistics on Latinas in the workplace.
Carla Arellano, a McKinsey partner, presents statistics on Latinas in the workplace

The forum was timed with National Hispanic Heritage Month in the US, which begins each year on September 15 and runs through October 15, marking the independence anniversaries for a number of Latin American countries.

McKinsey partnered with the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA) for the event. “This is a powerful and timely partnership,” Esther Aguilera, president and CEO of LCDA. “McKinsey brings research and industry expertise, and our members are industry leaders who are shaping the direction of corporate America.”

The 50+ participants represented some ten nationalities, from Brazil to Mexico, Cuba, and Spain. They included company founders, published authors, business and government leaders, media representatives, and social entrepreneurs.

Clearly, what’s good for Latinos is good for America.

Roel Campos chairman of LCDA and partner of Hughes Hubbard & Reed

Vivian Riefberg, a McKinsey senior partner, welcomed the group. “Our real objective,” she said, “is how do we help increase economic opportunities and the strength of the Hispanic and Latino community, both within and outside of McKinsey?”

The keynote session, led by McKinsey partner Pablo Illanes and Jorge Titinger, a well-known tech entrepreneur and author of Differences That Make a Difference, opened with some striking statistics on the future of work.

The team behind HLEF
The team behind our first Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum.
The team behind HLEF

Today, they explained, Hispanics represent 18 percent of the US population. Together, they would be counted as one of the top ten economies in the world. And by 2050, Hispanics and Latinos will be the majority population in the United States.

Yet, due to language, location, education, and other socioeconomic factors, Hispanics will be the single group most affected by the impact of automation on jobs: one in four workers are at risk of being displaced. And despite their growing numbers, Hispanics are underrepresented at every level of corporate America; they are undereducated, underbanked, and underinsured.

“With these different factors creating a perfect storm, the time to focus and help is now,” remarked Roel Campos, chairman of LCDA, a partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and former SEC commissioner. “Clearly, what’s good for Latinos is good for America”

There are multiple opportunities to address these workforce challenges, from the fundamental issue of changing mind-sets to the more pragmatic goals of developing skills-based training and scaling resources.

On the subject of mindsets, Carla Arellano, a McKinsey partner, walked the group through the common myths that hinder Latinas in the workplace:

They often quit their job to take care of the family.

They aren’t interested in advancing their careers.

They don’t want to be leaders.

She debunked them one at a time. In fact, only two percent of Latinas leave the workforce for family reasons, and 44 percent have aspirations for advancement—a rate higher, she said, than that of white men and women.

Ingrid Millan, an associate partner, also recruits Hispanic and Latino candidates
Ingrid Millán, an associate partner, also recruits Hispanic and Latino candidates.
Ingrid Millan, an associate partner, also recruits Hispanic and Latino candidates

Elizabeth Oliver-Farrow, the recently retired CEO of The Oliver Group, a public-policy and communications company, shared this anecdote. “Never let them know you are a Latina!’ This was the advice people gave me when I started my own advisory business out of my studio apartment with credit cards. It made me more determined than ever to show who I was and what I could do.”

Nina Vaca, chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group, advised the audience: “Be brave. Don’t be afraid to be the first or the only Hispanic in the room. You are a leader who happens to be Hispanic, and you bring value to the table.”

A number of attendees were looking for practical help. One participant asked for input into how he could help the Hispanic workers in his agricultural company make the shift to new technologies. The head of an architecture business wanted guidance on how to recruit Hispanic engineers. “I can help with that,” said another member of the audience, who worked extensively with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Participants shared information about innovative skills-building programs: a nine-month university program that helped actuaries deepen data science skills; an airline’s program that targeted local high-school students with vocational training for on-the-ground jobs; a program of wraparound services that was helping underprivileged students complete college.

They also talked about their personal experiences. “Many of the stories people shared had common elements and reminded me of my own story,” said Lucy. “They had newly emigrated or were the first generation of college graduates, had a devoted family life, a strong entrepreneurial streak, and Spanish was the common language. Many HLN colleagues comment on the unique opportunity we have in quickly creating a bond with our Hispanic clients and building a close relationship much faster as a result of the common language and culture.”

Jason Wright, a McKinsey partner
Jason Wright, a McKinsey partner.
Jason Wright, a McKinsey partner

McKinsey recruits Hispanic candidates through a myriad of programs starting at the high-school level through to graduate business school. “But perhaps the most important aspect to retaining colleagues is by addressing cultural nuances,” explained Ingrid Millán, an associate partner who leads our recruiting efforts.

“For example, in Latin America, where an implicit hierarchy is very pronounced, you would never ask for a leading role or activity when you come onto a work team,” says Ingrid. “You wait to be given that chance. Here in the US, if you wait for an opportunity it could be translated into ‘not taking ownership.’”

The one thing all Hispanic candidates look for in a company or firm? “Role models,” adds Ingrid. “People want to see people they can relate to—that they can see being successful.”

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