Companies in Houston need to bring more Hispanic executives into C-suites and board rooms, or risk losing out on a growing market and large source of talent, Hispanic business leaders say.
Hundreds of people in Houston’s Latino business community gathered Thursday night for the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s “State of Hispanics” event, listening to speakers make the case that businesses — particularly in Houston — need to integrate a growing and well-qualified pool of Hispanic candidates into their workforces and leadership.
Hispanics will become Houston’s largest ethnic group by 2020 and represent more than 25 percent of all spending in the region. The demographic group’s spending in Houston could top $80 billion by 2022, up from $55 billion today, according to the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Businesses are finally starting to take notice, said Laura Murillo, the president and CEO of the chamber, although she noted the conversation is “long overdue.” The chamber has grown as companies seek to connect with the Hispanic community. New members to the chamber include IBM, Citgo Petroleum, and the U.S. Army.
“This is a market that one must look at if you’re going to succeed,” Murillo said.
The Houston metropolitan area has more than 9,800 Hispanic owned businesses, accounting for about 11 percent of all businesses in the region, according to a presentation by Julio Arrieta, managing director and chief marketing officer for Lopez Negrete Communications, a Houston advertising agency.
About 2.7 million Hispanics live in the Houston metro area, according to projections by the Texas Demographic Center, the state’s liaison office to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics could be the largest demographic group in the state as early as 2020. Much of this growth will come from people moving here from other states, such as California, Louisiana and New York.
“The purchasing power of Hispanics in Houston is huge,” said Pablo Pinto, the director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.
Murillo said businesses in Houston could miss opportunities to tap into this market if they don’t consider Houston’s changing demographics as they make decisions about hiring, promotions and leadership within their own companies. Only 13 of the 275 people who hold board of director positions in a Fortune 500 company based in Houston are Hispanic, according to research presented by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
That represents just 5 percent of the board seats, even though Hispanics make up 40 percent of Houston’s population.
“Every time they have a vacancy, we want them to consciously think about us as an expert and a possibility,” Murillo said. “At the end of the day, may the best person win, but if we go to the same circle of people, then we’ve missed an opportunity.”
Some business executives said they face challenges in finding qualified applicants who speak Spanish because they are in such high demand. Arnold Gacita, CEO of Petra Oil Company, a Houston automotive products and services company, wanted a high-ranking employee who spoke Spanish to work with his Latin American customers, but less than half the people who applied met his requirement to speak Spanish.
“You have to pay at a high level to get those people, so it’s expensive,” Gacita said.
As for how corporations could rectify the problem, Gacita, Murillo and others said they need to engage with the Hispanic community all along the career track, from internships to C-suite positions.
Fernando Sanchez has lived in Houston his entire life and graduated from Texas Tech University in 2016. He said corporations and educational institutions need to start earlier in recruitment efforts—making resources available as early as high school.
“Definitely more work needs to be done,” said Sanchez, an associate relationship manager for Bank of Texas. “Corporations should invest more in mentorship by people who have gone through what you’re going through.”
Murillo said she has seen more corporations expand efforts to diversify their workforce and leadership efforts, but it remains a challenge for Hispanic business leaders to break into top executive positions because of the way most executive committees recruit. Often, executives are chosen based on recommendations by colleagues. If all the colleagues are white men, minorities and women are frequently overlooked, she said.
“What we’re saying is that we want a holistic approach to integration,” said Murillo, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Houston. “We want to be part of the fabric and not a thread to this blanket.”
The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of the estimated 9,806 Hispanic-owned businesses in Houston and its members include entrepreneurs, executives, small businesses and Fortune 500 firms.
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