The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility is proud of its partnership with the Alliance for Board Diversity (ABD). In honor of Women’s History Month, HACR President and CEO Cid Wilson and fellow ABD CEO Lorraine Hariton of Catalyst spoke about the future of gender equality, the significance of Kamala Harris as our nation’s first female vice president, and more.
In its first couple of months, the Biden administration has already implemented new diversity and inclusion measures. What gender equality initiatives or policies would you like to see in 2021?
Lorraine Hariton: I’m excited to have a new administration that’s really focused on diversity and inclusion. We’re already seeing structurally that they’re really focusing on making sure the cabinet and all the political appointments mirror the population of the United States. And, of course, Kamala Harris and her groundbreaking role as the first biracial woman in a national office is really amazing. But there are a number of policy issues that are long overdue that I hope that they focus on. Childcare for all is really a critical one, as well as paid parental leave. We rank among the bottom countries in the world with these kinds of policies. We also need more transparency in diversity and inclusion measurements. It was also announced that the White House implemented a Council on Women and Girls. That’s a continuation of the council that was put in by the Obama administration, so we’re excited that they’re tackling these issues. Those are just a few of the issues that are being addressed, but in general, making equity a priority for everyone.
Cid Wilson: We are also very encouraged by what we’ve seen so far with the Biden administration, including rescinding the ban on diversity-focused trainings, the increased number of women and people of color, not only within the cabinet, but also in other areas within the administration and at the White House. Naturally, we’re looking to see more Latinos present, and that’s something that’s very, very important. But we’re encouraged by what we’re seeing, and this is important if we want the administration to be a leader in diversity and inclusion that Corporate America can follow. That requires a strong commitment at the top, and it starts with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Acknowledging intersectionality is a big part of achieving gender equity. With respect to Corporate America and the workforce, what are some ways we can prioritize intersectionality in both our hiring practices and in company culture?
CW: It’s so important that Corporate America recognizes that intentionality must be a part of its diversity and inclusion strategy. The reality is that there are still not enough Latinas in high-ranking positions within Corporate America, and even fewer that are serving on corporate boards. Less than 1% of all Fortune 500 board seats are held by Latinas. Corporate America must do better, and that requires a very intentional approach to increasing the pipeline of Latinas moving up the corporate ladder. In your hiring practices, make sure that you have pay equality. Make sure you recognize the unique challenges that Latinas and other minority women face and how you can work on those challenges to empower those employees and help them advance. Currently there is no Latina CEO of any Fortune 500 company. That needs to change, and that requires being intentional about cultivating diverse leadership.
LH: Companies need to walk the talk. We did a study in late spring 2020 that showed there’s an optimism gap between what employers are saying and what they’re actually doing. It’s really important that companies are intentional, as Cid said. There are four areas that I like to focus on. One is accountability through measurement. That means measuring things like representation, pay equity, hiring, promotions—you can’t get what you don’t measure. Number two is you have to have intentionality at the top of the organization. If the CEO is not committed to diversity and inclusion, they create that culture. That’s absolutely critical. Number three is to have policies and practices that mirror what your intention is. If it’s unbiased hiring, make sure you have diverse slates. Have targets at the board level and C-suite level to create successful sponsorship programs. The last thing is to build your culture. Building an inclusive culture means changing the way people think. It has to do with teaching people about allyship and unconscious bias across the whole organization, down to the first-line manager. This is the prescription for real change.
What is the best advice you have for young women entering a male-dominated workforce, and for those that are further in their careers, breaking into leadership and executive roles?
LH: Really look at the culture and the leadership of the company. See if there are already people like you in leadership and if there is a commitment to diversity. When I was a young woman I went to work at IBM. They had a lot of women in leadership roles, they had flexible work practices, there were a lot of things that IBM did well before the time that they won the Catalyst Award. I would also actively look for sponsors that can help you build your career. Mentors are important but sponsors probably even more so. Lastly, I think women have to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg said, into being assertive about their career opportunities and their capabilities.
Cid, after spending so much time on Wall Street, which is still predominantly male-occupied, what do you think the financial industry can do to be a more inclusive space for women?
CW: A lot of Corporate America, including the financial services sector, needs to stop asking women to assimilate to a male-centric culture. Instead, Corporate America needs to adjust its own culture away from that and towards a more inclusive culture for women, particularly women of color. That requires a cultural shift in corporate practices. In my 21 years working on Wall Street, it was very common for me to be in analyst meetings or shareholder and investor meetings where, in a room of 50 people, there would be maybe two or three or women. That’s just not acceptable. We have to ask ourselves why some of these industries are not being intentional in creating a culture that is welcoming of women and helps them progress into high-ranking roles. We need to see more women, more women of color, more Latinas in these leadership positions. That requires Corporate America to stop asking, not only women, but all diverse employees, to move away from a white- and male-centric culture towards a culture that is diverse, inclusive, and welcoming of women of color.
LH: think it’s also critical for women, particularly women of color, to have the opportunity in line positions, they need to be sponsored into them, and they need to get the experience necessary to compete for those top jobs. If you look at [President of Citi] Jane Fraser’s career, you’ll see that she had the experience, and that was very intentional. We need to see more of that.
Who are some women inspiring you right now?
LH: First off, Kamala Harris. I’ve known Kamala Harris since 2006 because I was very involved in Democratic politics in San Francisco, so I knew her when she was running for district attorney and then for attorney general, and I really admired her focus and tenacity. Roz Brewer becoming CEO of Walgreens is a big, big deal. She’s only the third black woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Beyond that, I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of really outstanding women leaders at Catalyst. Marillyn Hewson, my board chair, is an extraordinary leader, a real inclusive leader, and I’ve learned so much from her. I work closely with [CEO of Accenture] Julie Sweet, who’s also on my board. She’s incredible. Both of them were ranked the number one women business leaders in the country, and I just feel really lucky to be able to sit by their side and learn from them.
CW: I’d certainly also put Kamala Harris up there, as she’s our first woman and first woman of color Vice President of the United States. Dolores Huerta, the amazing civil rights leader, also comes to mind immediately. Other leaders such as Michelle Obama are inspiring me, and some Latina leaders that may not get enough recognition for their achievements, like Rosie Rios, who was the longest serving Treasurer of the United States, who I believe broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the most currency in the world with their signature on it. Alejandra Castillo, who is the first Latina to serve as president and CEO of the YWCA of the USA in its 160-year history. Janet Murguía at UnidosUS is a huge inspiration, in addition to business leaders like Monica Lozano, Gisel Ruiz, Myrna Soto, and many others who have reached great heights in business, served on Fortune 500 corporate boards, and have always stayed grounded to our Latino community. And the biggest inspiration of all—my mom, Nilda L. Wilson, who raised me to be the person I am today.
What are Catalyst and HACR doing in celebration of Women’s History Month?
LH: We’re doing a lot for Women’s History Month. We have our annual conference and awards dinner that’s usually held in one day, but we’re doing it with events and panels throughout the month, with a special focus on March 17th and March 18th. We also have our International Women’s Day campaign, which is a continuation of our #BiasCorrect campaign, which has focused on unconscious bias for the past couple of years. This year we’re adding to that structure the concept of “Making the Invisible Visible,” to show people what it feels like to be “the other” in a room.
CW: I’m so proud of the webinar we had in February that was valuable for both Women’s History Month and Black History Month. It was our first-ever Afro-Latina webinar, and our panelists discussed race, gender, and ethnicity. On March 9th and 10th, we have our second annual HACR Latina Empow(h)er Summit, bringing together high-ranking Latina corporate leaders for a two-day, virtual leadership development event. It will cover some really important topics and will be capped off by our flagship forum, the CEO Roundtable. To the best of our knowledge, it’s the first all-women CEO panel for a Latinx audience in history. We’re excited to celebrate Latinas in this way.
Learn more about the 2021 Catalyst Awards and registration here.
Learn more about the 2021 HACR Latina Empow(h)er Summit and registration here.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.