Afro-Latino Executives Explore Race and Identity in the Workplace


The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility convened with four Afro-Latino executives, including HACR President and CEO Cid Wilson, to discuss their personal and professional corporate experiences on August 5, 2020 in their webinar, Afro-Latinos in Corporate America: A Conversation on Race. 

The United States is home to approximately 5 million Afro-Latinos. Given the country’s current state of unrest regarding race and ethnicity, Afro-Latino leaders provide a unique perspective concerning what it’s like to be Latino and Black in Corporate America. “My experiences are very broad,” said Julio Portalatin, vice chair at Marsh & McLennan, a professional services firm, who has traveled to over 100 cities for corporate duties. “But there is some consistency. There is a need to desensitize yourself to the environment you find yourself in. You can’t walk in [a room] and assume that everyone is going to see you as being just a person that…walked in. The reality is that many times, I find myself being the only one that looks like me when I walk into a room of 1500 executives. It does cause some turning of the heads almost…every time.”

Added Lori Montenegro, D.C. bureau chief for Noticias Telemundo, “I’ve always been in explanation mode,” regarding questions aimed at her identity as both Black and Hispanic. “You grow up, you get a job…and I didn’t realize this at the time, but I was probably one of two Afro-Latinas in the entire United States who were actually on camera.” A former supervisor even doubted her future success after Montenegro took a new job that would have her working side-by-side with Mexican colleagues. “He said to me that when the Mexicans saw that I was black, I would last about six months on the job. They wouldn’t want me and I would be out of a job.” Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case, and she went on to find success and acceptance at her new company. She rose through the journalism ranks with the perspective that if someone didn’t like her because of her race, “it’s not my problem—it’s their problem.”

Invariably, the same issues the panelists deal with inside Corporate America cross over into their lives outside the workplace. “There are…experiences that happen outside of corporate America in a positive way, but…I [do] have the experience that people just see me as a black woman outside and inside [the office],” said Lucida Plummer, head of diversity, asset, and wealth management at JP Morgan Chase. “The reality is that this country is facing a reckoning when it comes to race. A call to action for our [Hispanic] community is that we need to be more visible. We need to be more vocal. We can’t be quiet in standing with black colleagues and black relatives in supporting Black Lives Matter, because we need [each others’] support.”

Watch the video below to hear more perspectives and solutions from the panelists.